Upon the passing of southern pioneer and drag legend Danny Leonard aka “Brandy Alexander” in March 2016, I was given a pile of 65+ notebook papers where she had begun writing her life story. Her hope was to publish a book one day. I have spent months sifting through the writings and recently finished transcribing the pages with college students from Davidson College.
As part of LGBTQ History month this October, I wanted to share a brief excerpt from the 1980s and her time at the Friend’s Lounge, the bar she owned located near Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps Base, in Jacksonville, N.C. The excerpt details a phone call she had with one of the Marines who had called her one night and shows how much these Marines relied on her and the Friend’s Lounge as a safe place. It reflects a time in history that may be all but forgotten in some respect. Nonetheless the fears remain the same in coming out.
One evening the phone rang and this voice on the other end said, “I need to talk to someone before I pull the trigger!”
I sat there trying to figure out what to say. I said, “Why do you want to kill yourself?” He said that he has been fighting these feelings and they are against everything that he was brought up with. I asked him if he wanted to talk to [some]one about it? I said: “Why don’t you put the gun down and tell me where you’re at and I’ll come pick you up and we will talk. It’s not as bad as it seems.”
“I can’t,” he said, “I have to kill myself.”
I said “Wait, wait a moment. Tell me exactly what has happened for you to feel this way.”
“I can’t take it anymore,” he said, “I have homosexual feelings for someone but they are straight. I can’t be around him without going nuts. I am very much a man,” he said, “and these feelings are wrong.”
“Why,” I asked.
“Everyone, all my life, has told me that homosexuality was wrong in the ‘Eyes of God’ and in society. Now I’m in the Marine Corps and they tell me it’s wrong.”
“Do you feel like it’s wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, “I don’t know what to think anymore, I feel like I’m going crazy.”
“You are not alone,” I said, “Why don’t you let me pick you up so we can talk face to face.”
“I can’t,” he said, “I have to die.”
“No, you don’t. There are a lot of other people like you in the world, thousands of them.”
“I really fucked up tonight,” he said. “I told my friend that I had feelings for him.”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Nothing. He stared at me, got up and walked out of the room. Now I’m afraid by morning everyone in my platoon will know what I am, and I can’t face that. I have disgraced my family, my country and my Corp.”
“No, you haven’t,” I said. “For the first time in your life you were honest with yourself. This does not make you any less of a man, God doesn’t hate you because you love another man and your country will always be proud of you for your service in the military.”
We talked another hour and I gave him numbers to call for Counseling and help, when he hung up I prayed to God that he would make it through the night.
In 1995 I got a phone call from someone whose voice sounded so familiar. I asked who it was and he told me the story about talking to me with a gun to his head 8 years earlier. He said he wanted to thank me for talking to [him)]that night.
“A thank you is not enough,” he said. “I thank God every night for you. I wanted [you] to know that I got out of the Corp and I went back to college and I got my teacher degree. I am now teaching 9th graders and I am a counselor for a gay youth group in my school. I have told them all about you and what you did for me. So I felt like I could help someone else too and to pass it on.”
“I am so proud of you,” I said, “and I want to thank you for letting me know that you are alright and are proud of who you are.”
When I hung up, I sat there alone and cried. I couldn’t believe that I had heard from him and he made it through all the bullshit. I wondered how many other people in this world had gone through the same thing and had the strength to beat the odds.
I think about all the ones who never made it …and thank God that I have been placed here, regardless of all the bullshit, and was given the strength and determination to stick it out. I figured if I was able to help one person, then everything was worth what I had been through so far. It was easy to relate to what he was feeling and what he was going through because I had been there myself.
There is much more to be read — some humorous and other parts tragic. Leave it to Brandy Alexander to speak to us from beyond the grave by telling her life story — and lessons of life.
As a national LGBTQ author and writer, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity and been given the responsibility to transcribe and read these first. I hope to continue bringing Brandy Alexander and the people in her stories to life in the months and years to come.
DRAG TIP: Never forget you have the power to change someone’s life — simply by answering the phone, listening, supporting and loving another human being.
SHOUT OUTS: Its Halloween! Check out Buff Faye’s Party Bus online and help support LGBTQ youth with Campus Pride. Buy a ticket online at CampusPride.org/PartyBus.
info: Buff Faye calls the Queen City her home and performs to make a difference in this world (and raise money for charities). Find her at your favorite bars and hotspots. Plus don’t forget her monthly Sunday drag brunch and regular Friday night party bus. Learn more at AllBuff.com. Follow on Twitter @BuffFaye