by Brandiilyne Dear
As you read this, we’re sure you will have a strong response. Be sure to check back in next week for Candice’s response.
Am I a pastor? Am I gay? Am I an anointed woman of God, or am I an abomination?
There were lots of questions as I began to evaluate my heart a couple of years ago. When I was 28, I felt the call of God on my life and soon thereafter founded a successful ministry for addicts. I was part of an extraordinary story about a junkie that, by the grace and power of God, went from “the pit to the pulpit.” That had been my identity. I was “Pastor Brandiilyne, founder of Dying To Live Ministries.”
But a couple of years into my ministry, I lost someone who was just getting their life on track and felt that I had to do more. I began to tirelessly raise funds to build the Z.A.C (Zeal And Compassion) Center for Women. The month before it was to open, I walked into a gym to ask for a donation, knowing that when ladies get clean and healthy, they sometimes put on some weight. I also knew what exercise does for the body and brain, so I thought I would take a shot and ask for free memberships for the clients of the ZAC Center. That was the day I met Susan
I began to spend more time at the gym with the ZAC girls and, in turn, spending time with Susan. She and her partner were going through a devastating break-up and I could see the effect it was having on her. As a minister, I naturally tried to help her, so we spent a lot of time talking. She did most of the talking. I mostly listened. Before long, Susan began to come out of her depression and I could see that she was beginning to heal. We became good friends, then great friends, sharing conversations and before I knew it, I started developing strong feelings for her.
I gathered myself, in the midst of this turmoil, so that I could clearly and honestly evaluate my heart. I wanted to know where I was having a real life identity crisis, needed to know whether this was just a phase or if this was a real dilemma. Could this be love? Or was it the “demonic force” that I had been warned about? I began to, cautiously and thoroughly embark on one of the most important journeys of my life, that of self-discovery.
Looking over my past relationships, I began to realize just how uncomfortable I was with the men in my life. I had never connected with any of them. I had been an addict, I had been depressed, I had become a minister, and through all of it, I had hated any physical contact with men. I just did what I thought I had to do. I had always been attracted to women, but only a certain type of woman, but I had convinced myself that everyone admired people of the same sex – they just wouldn’t admit it! As I continued to reflect on my life, I recalled the time that a childhood girlfriend and I had been caught making out and the shame that I was made to feel as a child. Almost immediately after that experience, I started using drugs.
Wow. What a delayed realization! After that, it was as if everything began to unfold. I started to see a clear picture of what was really going on. Now 37yo, my marriage had become practically non-existent. We hadn’t had any physical contact in years and I began to realize that this was my first attempt at a “sober “relationship. All my prior, failed attempts at love, had been clouded with drugs use, so each time my husband and I attempted to be intimate, the awkwardness was so apparent that neither one of us felt comfortable. After numerous failed attempts, we just stopped trying. Consequently I began to throw myself into work and stayed busy with my ministry, avoiding the marriage as much as possible.
But when I was with Susan, everything seemed perfect. For the first time in my life, I was truly comfortable with someone and all we had done was talk! She had no idea how I felt because, as far as she was concerned, I was “the straight married pastor.” I continued to wrestle with those feelings and even more with myself. I am, by definition, a Southern Belle, a “good Christian woman,” a minister of the Gospel. How could this be happening to me? Not only was I facing a scandal – which in the South can be debilitating because appearances are so important – but also my belief system and code of ethics were being challenged.
Needless to say my whole world seemed to be crumbling around me and my whole belief system was shaking. No one could ever know. Not her, not my husband, not anyone. I was alone in this, and questioned everything. Who was I anyway? Everything I had been taught was echoing in my head, and many questions were running through my mind. Why did my relationship with Susan feel so right when I had been taught that is was so wrong? Despite the obvious difficulties and obstacles, not to mention the scandal that developed, I felt as though I had broken free from something; a lifelong prison sentence. A prison to which I had held the keys. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders, and it was only now that I realized how accustomed I had become to carrying it. Now, it had finally been removed and for the first time I didn’t care what everyone would think or how they would react!
But I had not yet told Susan.
The stress had begun to take a toll on me. One day, I almost passed out at the gym, and Susan put me in her car to drive me home. But no one was there to care for me, so she took me to her house instead. The feelings welled up inside of me. The pressure was so intense I felt like I had to tell her or explode. So I blurted it out. I just came out and told her, “I love you. I know it’s crazy, but I’m just crazy about you.”
Her response was not, at all what I expected. She quickly sat up and said, “Hell no! I can’t let you ruin your life. You have this great thing going on and I will not let you do this!” Surprised, disappointed, discouraged, we left it at that and decided to just remain friends but that proved to be difficult as well. I could no longer live a lie, so I decided – despite everything – that I had to be myself. Lying, not only to myself but to everyone, was the real moral dilemma that I was facing so I decided to come out publicly, and live authentically.
When I came out at 37yo, I don’t think anyone was sure what to think. Many thought that I was back on drugs, or said that is was just a midlife crisis and that it would pass. Some thought I was having a mental breakdown, while others thought – and this was my favorite – that it was a demon. But they didn’t know about my struggles, and what it took to get to that place of publicly admitting who I really was and am. I have come to know that they may never understand, but I am who I am. Looking back, I suppose I always knew deep down that I was gay but denial had become my partner. We danced together most of my life. It was only when I met Susan that I found my life partner and, for the first time, everything feels right.
Brandiilyne Dear is star of the reality-doc Showtime original L-Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin. She has been able to take her passion and start The Dandelion Project where she hopes to create support for change in the LGBTQ community.