Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Closeted Man and his Secrets

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.


  1. "Cameron":

    This is your friend from across the bridge.

    It may have escaped your attention, but you and your wife are separated, and neither one of you regards it as a trial separation.

    What you do on your own time is your own business, and your wife, her inquisitiveness, and her love for browbeating you can go suck it! :-P

    1. Heya "Anonymous" - Thanks for stopping by. I'm happy to report that my ex appears to have turned the corner, somewhat. A made a point similar to yours and she seems have to taken it to heart. The test will be when I tell her about Dean. Will she flip out or take the news in stride? I'm still expecting her to flip out.

  2. I had not really given lying much consideration, but on reflection, I remember that I used to tell little lies to cover up my whereabouts, etc. all the time when I was married. Now years later, and mostly out of the closet, I no longer need to tell those little white lies, and worst of all, remember each lie so that I would not be caught contradicting myself. I'm pretty much honest these days, but I do think being closeted leads to lies.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I've been hoping that exiting the closet would make me, more generally, an honest person.

  3. I totally agree here with Anonymous. Sure this will make things more contentious between you two, but what should it matter to her what you are doing? She sure didnt hide what she does from you! If she asks you where you were, and with who, tell her its none of her business, because it isnt and walk away.

    1. Hi Biki - As I said to Anonymous, we've spoken about this and she seems to have adjusted her attitude, but we'll see.

  4. OMG -- your wife carried on an open affair with another man for years, and yet you still cower to her. You should be the one browbeating her for all her bad choices and careless behavior.

    1. Browbeating is not one of my strengths. I hope that's mostly a good thing.

      I'm not sure that lecturing anyone changes their behavior, but maybe I'm saying that because I'm a coward.

  5. I'm not sure that I did well in my own situation but it's another approach -- my wife announced the divorce at the end of December and her attorney sent me a letter so I hired my own attorney. Three weeks later, she discovered that she had breast cancer. I went with her for the biopsy, and the first chemo.

    She wanted to me go to all the chemos to bring her home and I suggested that she get a better care plan. She was not happy but I felt that divorce means that you are no longer caring for each other beyond what two good people would offer. The divorce is complete and we all lived.

    1. Wow, that's quite a story. I'm glad it had a happy ending. Every chemo is a huge commitment. I wonder if she now understands that or if she's still resentful that you didn't take her to every appointment.

  6. I always like your posts and I thought this was a very insightful post. I realize I do the same thing. I don't want lying to be a part of my nature, but it is. As a physician, we tell white lies to patients all the time. Does that, and being closeted, translate into my personal life? Thinking about it, it probably does. Of course anyone could tell us that's not a healthy way to live.

    I'm glad Dean is forcing you to reexamine your patterns and placing honesty on a higher level. Hopefully once she is out of your life on a regular basis and you are just with Dean you can start living completely open and honest the way things should be.

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  8. I really liked this post. In reflecting my own life, a lot of what your wife said strikes true. I don't THINK I'm a compulsive liar, but I probably tell more lies than I should. As a physician we're supposed to always try to tell patients the truth, but more often we tell white lies or sugar coat the truth because it is easier that way, or explaining the depth of the medical knowledge would be too much. I've always found that patients are never angry when things are presented openly and honestly to them though.

    Personal relationships are probably the same way. I hope that I'm not addicted to lying, but who knows what toll staying in the closet is having on my psyche.

    I'm glad Dean champions honesty. Hopefully once you are less entangled directly with your wife you also can place honesty on the forefront and keep working on becoming a better version of yourself with him. He sounds too good to be true sometimes!

    1. argh it did double post..well there ya go. i keep failing the word verification.

    2. MadmanMD, You get big points for being consistent and persistent, even if you do fail the word verification too often!

      I wonder if you've paid any more attention to how often you lie in personal relationships since reading this entry? Once I started to be more aware of myself I was quite surprised by all the little things that I fibbed about. Lying was such a habit that I didn't know how often I did it.

      Dean's pretty darn good. He's not perfect, but I don't want him to be. That wouldn't be real. I'd like to think that we're a good match for a number of reasons, one of those is that we balance each other out. He's not good with plans and structure but I am. He likes that I've pushed him to be better focused on long-term goals. Giving, taking and sharing is all part of a healthy long-term relationship so I'm pretty optimistic about our future together.

  9. Cameron, I think your are right about your theory of lying. Certainly those of us who hid our true sexual feelings had to construct a barrier between our inner life, and the way we appeared in the world. That leads to several consequences. We have to fabricate a persona which is the macro lie, and we have to push back on the guilt we feel so we often overcompensate by trying to be "good" and please others all the time. We want to be liked but of course know one can like us for what we really are, so we are disappointed to still feel bad inside.

    It is lying and trying to please and then feeling resentful we are all doing things for others and sometimes that leads to bursts of anger or simmering resentment and then we feel terrible and then the cycle starts again. To the outside world we seem like we are always trying to be helpful and do things for others. On the inside we may feel bad and unappreciated, and suffer constant wishes we could get out of this life, or this family, or this relationship, or this group of unsuspecting friends. Or we daydream a lot.

    This much I know from therapy - not all trapped in this cycle are hiding their sexuality, but I suspect that most hiding their sexuality do become lying/pleasers who adopt some way to keep from going nuts - daydreaming, or becoming obsessive compulsives about something that channels our pent up energy.

    I recognized this in myself only after a lot of therapy and talking to one male friend who is the only one who knows who I really am. You can change this, and be coming out the way you did and now finding a man who is much more focused on living his true life, you also have a real role model.

    You have been very brave and bold for a man who was a pleaser most of his adult life, and we are happy you have found such a great fit for you in Dean. Now you can realize how many of your daily patterns and rituals were shaped by your self protection pattern of small and big lies. You are a very good person at heart, so do not think you are a bad person because you adapted as you did.

    1. Jayson,

      As always thank you for your insightful comments. I hadn't connected being a people pleaser to being in the closet but you may be right about that. It's a question I'll have to ponder.

      I don't think anyone in the closet should be angry or disappointed by themselves, even if they do recognize that they're habitual liars. In my opinion, it would be much more healthy for closeted people to realize how deeply their secret affects them, in ways they don't expect. Being self-aware counts for a lot.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting. I'm looking forward to seeing an update from you very soon. The summer is over - what's going on?????

  10. This was a really insightful article. I am slightly on a different end. I have encouraged the man I have been in a relationship with to be himself(I am a women). He has shared aspects of his experiences and feelings about it. I see the lying aspect of it and he has no reason to lie to me. He continues to share feelings but even with my encouragement he refuses to accept that he might be gay at very least bi. He is my best friend and insists he is in love with me. The sex is amazing. Safe of course. We experiment sexually. I have known him 22 years. He asked me to marry him. I just want him to be happy and find himself and I do not know why he cant be honest with himself. Any further insight would be great.