I first became aware that I was attracted to boys at the age of twelve. Naturally I wanted to be normal and like girls, so for about nine months I ignored my feelings. Well, I tried to ignore my feelings but puberty made that impossible.
My inability to control myself made me feel like a failure. Months of struggling turned me into an emotional basket case. Finally, on one especially miserable day, I realized that I had no choice but to accept the obvious. I forced myself to look in the mirror and say in a very matter-of-fact voice, "You're gay."
As I said those words, I expected to be overwhelmed with relief. That didn't happen. Instead I cried myself a new ocean of self-pitying tears. Eventually I just couldn't cry any more. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to quarantine my problem. I literally said, "Just because I'm gay, that doesn't mean I have to tell anyone. It's my secret to keep and no one will ever know unless I tell them." With those words, I happily entered the closet at the age of thirteen.
This was back in the early 1980s when the threat of nuclear war was very real. At the time it was easy to correlate the finality of Reagan or Brezhnev launching a nuclear attack with the finality of me sharing my secret. Just as they faced a doomsday scenario, so did I. One wrong move and KABOOM, the whole world would blow up.
It's ridiculous and melodramatic now to compare coming out to nuclear war, but at the time, keeping my secret was deadly serious. The fear that revealing my true self would be a catastrophic event was a constant, powerful and self-perpetuating incentive to stay in the closet.
Because I grew into adulthood with this deeply-ingrained, self-protective mindset, I never had a reason to question it. Even as I began to explore sex and relationships with guys, and was therefore forced to take chances with my secret, I was always very cautious.
About eighteen months ago, a very wise straight wife told me about a pattern she'd seen among closeted married men. She said that their need to keep their attraction to men a secret, at all costs, profoundly affects their personalities. Instinctively and habitually, she said, they lie about the simplest and most inconsequential things. Worst of all, lying about everything is such a part of their everyday existence that they become desensitized to it, to the point where truth and lies are so completely interchangeable that some lies become the truth and some truths become lies.
At first, I was very skeptical. How can someone tell a lie and not know they're doing so? How can a person be so delusional as to confuse lies with reality? Why would keeping one big secret cause you to lie about a million little things that have absolutely nothing to do with the secret? None of that made any sense.
Then I started paying close attention to my own behavior. Wow, what an eye-opener!
I never kept an actual tally of how many "innocent" and "unimportant" lies I told in a day, but as soon as I started paying attention, I was shocked. I'm addicted to lying - and I didn't even know it.
One of the many fascinating things about Dean, my boyfriend of three months, is his regard for the truth. For example, less than a month after coming out to himself, he came out to his wife and his three kids. Why did he do that so quickly, I asked him. "Because it was important to me to tell them the truth." What?!! The truth is more important than the welfare and happiness of your family??? Not once had I ever considered that possibility. Yet, when I hear about his happy kids and compare them to my grumpy ones, I have to wonder.
In situation after situation, Dean often comes back to the theme of honesty. It's so important to him that if I wasn't trying to change my tendency to be dishonest, I'd be sick of talking about it. But I'm not. If anything, I'm more captivated than ever.
In a very low-key way, Dean has become my spiritual adviser for honesty. I tell him about situations where I either want to lie, or I actually do lie, and we discuss my motives and thinking. He's not judgmental but he constantly and patiently redirects me to his belief that honesty really is the best policy.
One thing I've learned about the habit of lying is that it's very difficult to give up. More and more, I'm inclined to believe that the wise old straight wife was right. Perhaps the decades I spent in the closet have permanently affected my personality. Still, I'm relishing the struggle. It feels great to be much more aware of what I'm saying and why I say it. I'm working on internalizing Dean's love of honesty. That's been a fun and engaging challenge.
Here's an interesting example:
In my opinion, the biggest lie in my life right now is hiding my relationship with Dean, especially from my ex-wife and kids. They're important to me, Dean is important to me, I hate sneaking around and I'm sick of making up lame excuses to disappear for long periods of time in order to see him. These statements beg the question: if I don't want to hide Dean, why do I?
Because I don't think Gabbie can cope. Why do I care if she can cope? Because we still live in the same house four days of the week and I don't want to fight with her. This is a pattern for me. Given the choice, I prefer lying to fighting.
The key words in the above paragraph are that "I don't think" Gabbie can cope. What if I'm wrong? Then I'm making up all these lies and enduring all this anxiety by hiding Dean for no reason. That would be totally stupid. Perhaps this is exactly the kind of scenario where I need to let go of my old, closeted behavior of playing it safe, and instead I should just be direct and honest.
Perhaps. Luckily (or unluckily, as the case might be), I recently had a chance to see if being honest and direct is better in the long run than lying in order to avoid conflict...
Last week, I spent a few hours with Dean on a weekday when I would normally be at work. Because of my new determination to be honest as often as possible, I didn't lie to anyone about what I was doing, I just didn't volunteer the information. That's an acceptable decision in Dean's book. As I was getting dressed that morning, I put on a pair of tennis shoes, which is not what I would normally wear to work. It just so happened that Gabbie was talking to me as I was putting the tennis shoes on. Normally any "unusual" behavior on my part, like wearing the wrong kind of shoes, would spark some pointed questions from her. That didn't happen, but believe me, I was very worried that she was going to ask.
My plan was to beat her home that night so she wouldn't ask me any questions about why I was late. The usual drive from Dean's place is long, at least 75 minutes. That night it took nearly two hours. As the minutes ticked away I became more and more panicked. Yes, someday, I will tell her about Dean, but I'm not ready to do that yet. I was hoping, really, really hoping that I would get home before her, just so I could avoid being interrogated and not have to choose between telling a difficult truth or yet another lie.
Amazingly, as late as I was, I beat her home. Barely. Less than five minutes later she arrived. And the instant she saw me she asked, in her very pointed way, "Why are you wearing those shoes?"
As someone who prefers lying to conflict, my usual answer would have been something like, "I twisted my ankle and my work shoes were killing me." But now that I'm trying - really trying - not to lie, I simply said, "Because I wanted to."
I hoped that would be a good enough answer to satisfy her curiosity, but, of course, it wasn't. She asked three more questions in rapid fire and grew increasingly suspicious as my answers continued to be vague and evasive. Each of her questions narrowed down what I could have been doing that day, and more importantly, who I might be doing it with. By the time I gave her my third non-answer, she knew I'd been out on a date with a guy. She knew it, not because I said so, but because she knows me so well and because she eliminated all the other "sneaky" possibilities.
As I expected, she did not handle the news well. She was extremely agitated, but did her best to control her anger, just so she could try to pry as much information out of me as possible. "How do you know him?" I didn't answer. "Where did you meet?" I remained silent. "What are you hiding?!"
"I'm not hiding anything. I just don't want to talk about it. It's not a big deal." (Lies!)
I continued, "Besides, why are you asking? Do I demand that you tell me everything that you're doing every minute of the day?"
"Well, some of us don't have the luxury of skipping out on work whenever we like!" She went on a mini-rampage on that subject for a few minutes, and when I wouldn't engage her, she turned and left the room, then ignored me for the rest of the night.
Her illogical, angry reaction was exactly what I wanted to avoid. In spite of all the crazy and bad things that have happened with us over the past few years, we've stayed on good terms. I want that to continue and I'm willing to pay a high price to make sure it does. If being honest with her about dating is going to make the next few months a constant nightmare, then I should have lied. Dean and his love for honesty can go suck it. That might work for him, but it certainly doesn't work for me. If Gabbie really can't cope with the thought of me dating, then lying definitely would have been the better choice.
The next morning I had to eat those words. It turned out that, for as pissed off as Gabbie was, her discovery that I am dating did not ruin our relationship. She doesn't like it. She even seems jealous about it, but, I feel like I've taken a big and necessary step with her.
All she knows so far is that I've been out on one date, and I'm not ready to volunteer any more information than that - yet - but the subject has been broached, and now she can mentally prepare herself for the inevitable. And perhaps even more importantly, I can be a lot more confident about being more honest with her in the future. Whether she likes it or not.
So, honesty pulled out a surprise win. Who would have guessed? Certainly not the old, closeted me.
Although this post is about my struggle with honesty, I don't think I'm the only one who'd rather tell a lie than start a fight, ruin a relationship, or be embarrassed by my own devious behavior.
Yes, lying is a part of being human, but, the more I've observed the behavior of closeted bisexual and gay men, the more I've come to agree with what the wise straight wife said: many of us are uncontrollably unable to divulge the truth, even when it comes to very minor confessions.
Protecting ourselves requires constant lying and hiding, often on a minute-to-minute basis. We're forced to do it so frequently that we internalize the behavior and, without realizing it, it becomes part of our nature.
It's hard to say how our compulsion to lie affects our lives. That's something each of us has to assess on our own. However, I think the first step is an important one, and that's to be self-aware. How often do you lie? Why do you do it? Do you lie only about extremely important things? Or do you lie because it's easy to do? I encourage you to think about it - and to spend a few days cataloging the lies you tell. You might be very surprised by what you learn.