In February’s The Atlantic magazine I found an article titled Why You Can’t Keep a Secret, reporting on several studies that explore the cognitive and emotional toll of keeping secrets. Among the points I found interesting:
- In one recent study, subjects asked to conceal their sexual orientation in an interview performed worse on a spatial-ability task, reacted more rudely to criticism, and gave up sooner in a test of handgrip endurance .
- Another study found that subjects asked to recall a meaningful secret perceived hills to be steeper and distances to be longer than those asked to recall a trivial secret. When researchers requested help moving books from their lab, the subjects harboring meaningful secrets lifted fewer stacks .
- Other research shows an association between keeping an emotionally charged secret and ailments ranging from the common cold to chronic diseases .
Secrets weigh heavily on me. It’s exhausting to think of all the secrets I juggle. Though they all seem to stem from one central secret (“I’m gay!”), they grow up as separate beasts, each needing constant attention.
- I’m afraid to tell straight people that I’m gay.
- I’m afraid to tell gay people that I’m married to a woman.
- I’m afraid to tell my closest friends that after 30+ years of prayer and struggle, God hasn’t “healed” me of my same-sex attraction.
- I’m afraid to tell my gay Christian friends that I’m still struggling – really struggling – to reconcile being gay and being a Christian.
- I’m afraid to tell my online friends, who know my secrets and struggles, my true name.
- I’m afraid to tell my face-to-face friends, who know my true name, that I’m struggling with all this.
- And most of all, I’m afraid to tell my wife things that will hurt her.
My wife knew of my attraction to guys from the beginning. And in the early days, I regularly shared with her my ongoing struggle. We both thought that in time God would heal me. With prayer, and spiritual discipline, and maturity, and self-understanding, I would grow past those feelings. And our sex life was good! (A testament to how amazing and how beautiful she is!) But time didn’t bring healing; didn’t bring the so-hoped-for change. And over months and years I found that I couldn’t even face my own failure, let alone burden her with it. So I stopped sharing. Tried to close off that part of myself. And the secrets grew.
But I’ve made some progress. Sometime over the past couple of years (I don’t know exactly when), I found a way to tell myself the truth. My self-narrative shifted, and I stopped telling myself “I’m bisexual,” or “I’m straight, but I struggle with ‘homosexual temptation'” (a phrase that now find unspeakably irritating), or “I’m struggling with same-sex attraction, but I’m trusting God to deliver me.” No. I’m gay. I. AM. GAY. My war with secrets began by telling myself the truth.
Then, a year ago, I told my wife the truth. I told her the painful secrets that had broken our intimacy. Secrets I would have rather kept hidden. Her trust was shattered, her faith shaken. But in an amazing display of love, she still cared about me. Even through the flood of her own pain, she was able to empathize with my hurting. It’s been a hellish year. But we’re in counseling, we’re finding friends we can share with, and most important, we’re talking. Honestly. Fighting against secrets.
Last month, in a blog post, I told my secrets to a Christian friend who has known me from college days. Told her that I’m gay, and that my wife and I are struggling. Another step. Fighting against secrets.
And just last week, I told a new gay Christian friend my true name. Another step in the war on secrets.
I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to hide. I just want to be me. What would it be like, I wonder, to live openly? To not have to be on guard at every moment, lest someone suspect my deep, dark secrets?