Surrendering a Secret
Our marriage therapist, Mike Solomon, had great wisdom. On his final day before retiring, we were Mike’s last clients. I think we might have contributed to his decision to retire.
In an earlier session, Cathy and I had talkedabout the decision to withhold information from our children about my gender dysphoria. When I was convinced I could get through my life without transitioning, it seemed the best course of action. Once I knew that was not possible, it felt like a foolish decision. It takes a very long time to prepare your children for the news their father is transgender – a lifetime maybe, or even longer.
Mike talked about the difference between a secret and what is private. Most people with good boundaries know the details of their sex lives are private. It is no one’s business what turns you on. What surgeries people have had is also private, which makes it fascinating that no one seems to have any difficulty asking me what gender confirmation surgeries I have had. (If it’s a male asking the question, I often ask if he has prostate trouble. If it is a female, I ask if she has her period. They usually get the point.)
Mike suggested what is private is just private. A secret, on the other hand, is information that if it becomes known, is likely to alter the course of one’s life. Some secrets hold moral implications; others hold societal implications. All are kept under wraps for a reason beyond mere privacy.
Jennifer Boylan, the author of She’s Not There, said the biggest change in the life of a transgender person is not their change of gender, but the surrender of their secret.
I thought of her words Sunday when the article about Jonathan (and by extension, me) was trending in the New York Times as the second most emailed article of the day. Both Jonathan and I have heard from people we hadn’t heard from in years. As the day came to a close, I thought, “Well, if there was anybody left who didn’t know about my transition, they surely know now.”
The surrender of a secret can be dangerous, even life threatening. It calls forth judgment and invites condemnation. Tribes have never tolerated members who speak unpleasant truths. They are commonly scapegoated and sometimes killed.
But a secret gnaws at your soul, even when you know there are no moral prohibitions against it. My secret was neither right nor wrong, but it was a great burden. I knew the friends who would depart if my secret became public. I was correct in my knowing. The rejection by the church was swift and almost universal.
I chose the terms of my surrender. I never placed myself in danger. Three people on earth knew of my dilemma. Two were therapists. The third was my spouse. I knew how to be self-protective. But holding the secret was on its way to killing me. It is not all right to deny who you are. I wrote a lot of poetry during that time. Most of it will never see the light of day, but a few lines from one of the poems is illustrative of how I was feeling:
So what about this calling
When it seems anymore
That no road leads home and
Every path’s become a thicket
The soul with its voice barely heard
The heart whispering for its time
Soft and quiet yet strong to bear
Scant hope of ways unseen
Secrets obscure the path forward. Shedding a secret lifts the fog and throws some light. Is it worth it? Most days, yes. Some days, I’m not so sure. Secrets surrendered have tentacles that ensnare the people you love. You might be able to breathe again, but now your loved ones cannot catch their breath. It is excruciating to watch.
I will tell you a secret. Coming out is not for the faint of heart. It has been harder than I expected, and I expected it to be hard. The pain it engenders is staggering. But it is the truth, and if we deny the truth, what do we have, really? I mean, look at our current cultural dilemma, in which a president lies with impunity and venerable media outlets are accused of delivering fake news. No society can long sustain the denial of truth. Eventually life crumbles from within.
I am staking my life on the veracity of Jesus’s words that truth sets us free. I trust that the surrender of my secret will bring about more redemption than harm, more reconciliation than alienation, and more hope than despair, especially in the hearts of those I love the most.
And so it goes.