Coming out isn't the easiest process. So imagine how challenging it would be if you grew up in a Pentecostal Holiness church, were a preacher's kid and belonged to an award-winning gospel group with your siblings.
This was DeJuaii Pace's reality and factored into why she ignored her same-sex attraction for so long. In fact, the 45-year-old, who's also a virgin, never discussed her lesbianism with her family, including her eight sisters — seven of whom, along with her, make up gospel's the Anointed Pace Sisters. That changed during a taping of the new OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network show Addicted to Food, which premieres Tuesday night.
Pace, a compulsive overeater, is one of eight eating disorder patients (both over- and under-eaters) at treatment facility Shades of Hope in Buffalo Gap, Texas. With the help of therapists, the patients try to find the root of their food addiction, heal it and become mentally and physically healthier.
Pace, who started gaining extra weight when she was 21, says that her big secret contributed to her overeating and that food was a substitute for intimacy. The gospel singer talks to The Root about her weight-loss journey, her virginity and homosexuality in the black church.
The Root: Before you taped Addicted to Food, had you ever shared with anyone that you were attracted to women?
Dejuaii Pace: When I joined my church about 15 years [ago], because I wanted to be up front with my pastor, I told her that the attraction was there but I was denying that I was attracted to that [gay] lifestyle. I acknowledged it to myself in 2006 when I really took a deep evaluation of my life.
I was not married, was not dating and had not dated. And I was like, why is it so? And I just took a deep look at myself and realized that I've not been attracted to men ever and had just been friendly with them. At the end of the evaluation, I told myself that I had to acknowledge it.
I didn't tell anyone [in my family] I was a lesbian until December 2009, when I felt sick and tired of my life and wasn't happy. And I told one of my friends. I said, "Listen, I need you to help me to come out, because If I'm going to be happy, I've got to face this thing." About 98 percent of my friends are in "the lifestyle," and they knew I was struggling with it.
TR: DeJuaii, just speaking frankly, if someone in our family is gay, we typically know it. None of your sisters talked about it with you?
I was saying, just because I befriend these people doesn't mean I'm like that. I denied it and denied it. I was embarrassed about it, but I was just like, if I'm going to grow and get healed from the disease of being addicted to food and eating over this thing, I've got to face it and come out with it. I didn't want the disease anymore, so I had to get rid of the secret.
TR: You sound confident and sure of what you're doing. Are you at peace?
DP: I'm at peace because I made peace with God about it. And I told him, "Listen, You're the only who can deal with this thing; you're the only one who can direct me through it. But I'm going to be honest with you, God:
"Yes, I like it." I did three 40-day fasts to get rid of the "demon," or "the spirit," of the [gay] lifestyle, as we call it. And [fasting] kept things at bay, but the temptations were there when I wasn't deeply praying and fasting, and when I re-emerged, the temptations were still there.
And I kept saying, "God, if you're a God who delivers from all manner of [iniquity], then why is this thing still here?" Sometimes it's not strong for years, and then at moments it's strong. There's something that God is doing here that we in the church community need to take a closer look at. Don't just say, "You gotta get rid of it."
TR: For a lot of churches in the black community, homosexuality could be staring them in the face, whether it's the choir director or even the pastor, and people will pretend it's not there and speak against it. You seem very passionate about changing that type of behavior. Are you doing anything to help do that?
DP: I feel that is the beginning of what God is calling forth at this time. I do not have all of the answers. For me, I am taking it day by day.
I want my soul mate. However God brings that about is fine with me. I know that God loves me, and he has created me, and this thing is here. I feel that it is part of my destiny to find out what is really going on. Because I cannot say it's against God, and I cannot say God is for it. All I'm saying now is that we cannot tell people what we've been telling them. I have friends who've stopped going to church because of that.
TR: Speaking of soul mates, you have never had sex with a man or a woman, right?
TR: How has coming out affected your weight?
DP: It's been an eye-opener. It's been a deeper spiritual journey for me that's blown my mind. After the years I've been in church, here's another level of understanding, another level of clarity. I don't have all of the answers, but I'm even clearer about this thing: We really have to give people better answers than we've been giving them.
TR: You come from a family of heavier men and women, yet you attribute a lot of your weight gain to being in the closet. Why?
DP: I attribute my weight gain to not having a voice to speak out about things that were bothering me. And my number one thing was having that temptation to be with women. When I first went to Shades [of Hope], of course, they would not let us know how much we weighed.
After I came home in February [from Shades of Hope], I weighed 227. As of today, I weigh 215 pounds [down from 265 when I arrived at Shades of Hope in August]. My goal weight is 125 pounds. Even now I see my bone structure. I used to think I had big bones. No, now I really think I'm pretty small.
TR: You're the seventh of 10 children — nine girls and one boy. How did your siblings react to your coming out?
DP: At the time, the ones that were in the room were like, "Yeah, we understand what you're saying; thank you for sharing it." Then they'd act OK, but I feel that they are OK with it because I am not [sexually] active. If someone happens to come along and that person knocks me off my feet, and it's a woman, then it would be a different story.
TR: You've known since you were in the fourth grade that you were attracted to women. How do you feel overall since you've come out?
DP: I feel like a ton, a weight, has been lifted. I don't have to hide it anymore; I don't have to be ashamed. There are times when I'm like, "Oh God, I'm literally coming out with this thing; I'm being open about it. What are people going to say?"
And then I have to encourage myself again. I say, "You know what? It's up to God to take this thing and get us right." Nobody has the answers. Nobody can condemn me about it. There's only one God. I love God dearly and totally trust that he knows what he's doing, because in such a time as this, I am alive.
TR: How are you doing with the regimen?
DP: I am still eating the Shades way. That will be forever; that will never change. Every now and then, I may go out and treat myself — maybe one meal — but not eat that way for an entire day.
Now, [the Shades staff] may not agree with my exercise, because they thought I was an exercise addict.
TR: Your older brother, Murphy, died in February from complications related to being overweight. Has your weight loss inspired your sisters?
DP: I'm living with my two youngest sisters, and they are so excited about this. I cook for them, every meal. I even go grocery shopping. Actually, the first day I got home, my baby sister, when I prepared the meal, she was sitting at the table, and she started crying.
She was soulfully sulking, and I asked her what was wrong. And she said, "I just thank God for this. I've been wanting an answer and just to see you and you cooking the meals. You've lived this thing. It's not something that I have to wonder if it has to work. I can see that it works." And she's been doing the meal plan ever since. I really want to get the rest of my family on it.