GULFPORT, MS—Heavy-set, frumpily dressed Debbie Ayler and openly gay Curtis Gwinn are the best of friends, the pair reported Monday.
"Curtis is so fun," said Ayler, 25, talking about her boyfriend-substitute as the two sat at a coffee shop. "We met each other and instantly clicked. Now, we do everything together: shopping, movies, coffee. I even took him to my parents' house for Christmas last year."
Continued Ayler: "I told Mom and Dad, 'Don't get any ideas—Curtis and I are just friends,' but I don't think they believed me. Well, I guess if it makes them happy, let them think what they want."
Gwinn also speaks highly of Ayler.
"It's so great to have someone to lean on, someone you know will always be there for you," said Gwinn, 27. "I can call her any time, even in the middle of the night, and she's there to listen."
Ayler met Gwinn in January 2001, when the two were assigned as temps at the same law firm. Ayler soon began spending less time with her old group of friends, even occasionally skipping their weekly "girls' night out" at a local Chi-Chi's.
"I like my friends, but when I met Curtis, suddenly it was, like, I can relate to this person on a much deeper level, you know?" Ayler said. "We just connected. Plus, I can tell him anything. He is absolutely unshockable."
Gwinn instantly took to Ayler, as well.
"Debbie is just so crazy," Gwinn said. "I love that girl to pieces. The moment we met, I said, 'Uh oh, we are going to be one dangerous team.'"
In spite of Ayler's difficulties finding dates and her insecurity over her looks, Gwinn said she "has got it going on."
"Debbie is bootylicious," Gwinn said. "Just look at her. She should be Miss America. Some women are skinny as a stick, but Debbie has got curves. Look out!"
Neither Gwinn nor Ayler has had much luck in the romantic department of late—a situation over which the pair has bonded.
"I've mostly given up," said Ayler, who has never had a real boyfriend but regularly shares with Gwinn the crushes she has on coworkers. "As for Curtis, he just can't seem to find the right person. Most men are such assholes. We both agree on that."
"I admit, I had a little crush on Curtis when we first met," Ayler continued. "But then I found out he was gay. You know what they say about all good men: They're either gay or married."
Though Gwinn is often chastised for his sexual orientation, his homosexuality posed no problems for Ayler.
"People can be so closed-minded about homosexuality, especially here in the South," Ayler said. "But I am totally fine with it. In fact, I read somewhere that 90 percent of people are bisexual. I wonder if Curtis is actually bisexual. Maybe that's why he hasn't found anyone yet."
While "out" to his friends and family, Gwinn said that many people mistakenly assume he and Ayler are dating.
"It's so funny," Gwinn said. "We were at a diner last week, and this old woman says to Debbie, 'Your husband forgot his coat.' So Debbie says, 'We're not married,' and the woman lowers her voice to a whisper and says, 'My daughter is living with someone, too.' It was sooo funny!"
"They're always giving each other these little looks that only they understand," said Karen Bilblach, a longtime friend of Ayler's. "At first, I thought something was going on between them, like secret sex, but Debbie assured me there's nothing like that. It's like they're playing house or something."
Despite the platonic nature of their relationship, Ayler and Gwinn are physically demonstrative toward one another, with Ayler often stroking Gwinn's hair or leaning her head on him as they watch movies. Gwinn said he is perfectly comfortable undressing in front of Ayler and often does "fashion shows" for her in his living room, trying on newly purchased outfits to solicit her opinion.
Ayler said that having a gay best friend has "opened [her] eyes to a whole new world." Once oblivious to gay culture, she now spends much of her time discussing skin care or the latest hit Broadway musical with Gwinn. She has even begun frequenting gay bars with him.
"There's this place in the neighborhood called The Crowbar that we've been going to lately," Ayler said. "We have the best time there, dancing and checking out all the guys. Sometimes, we'll just sit at a table with a pitcher of beer and rate all the guys' buns as they walk past. It's so hilarious!"
"The nicest part, though, is that they totally accept me there," Ayler added. "You'd think they'd have a problem with it, me being a 'breeder' and all. But they totally don't. It's ironic, but I actually feel more accepted when I'm with Curtis at a place like that than when I'm with straight people."
According to psychiatrist Dr. Angela Paschal, Gwinn and Ayler's relationship makes perfect sense.
"For Debbie, Curtis is an ideal partner," Paschal said. "He provides friendship, emotional support, and a certain sense of exoticism via his homosexuality. And since she is long-accustomed to not having sex, she barely even misses that component in her quasi-romance. As for Curtis, he receives from Debbie social respectability, unconditional acceptance, and a major ego boost via her obvious but unspoken crush on him. Best of all, he doesn't have to feel the tiniest bit guilty or uncomfortable about her attraction to him because the relationship can never be consummated, thanks to his homosexuality. Curtis and Debbie enjoy a symbiotic relationship of the highest, most dysfunctional order."