Secrets are risky. You can’t control them, like inert objects tucked away in the back of a drawer, sure they’ll stay where you put them. Some will remain docile, obedient harmless nuggets. Others usurp lives, even if they never come out of hiding. Many engage in a complex give and take – conferring certain powers to the holder, while simultaneously wielding power over the holder. While the content of the secret is material, the fact of the secret is at least as significant a factor in determining impact upon the bearer. Bearing a secret is a tricky dance with a reckless partner, and it’s never quite clear who leads and who follows.
I hadn’t given my secret much thought in years. After having been without secrets all my life, even nearly a decade past prostitution, slowly, with little conscious intention, I started to send my history into a secret underground.
Secret-carriers often adopt their role with little idea of what they’re entering into. Maybe it’s a sudden, barely-considered leap that feels irrevocable. Maybe we get there gradually via a reasonable-seeming grey area of filters and confidences. After all, no-one tells everyone everything about themselves without a relationship dance of increasing earned intimacy, it’s all a matter of degree.
For the longest time, I wasn’t so much keeping a secret as simply applying reasonable filters. When getting to know people, I assessed them. I looked for people who were open-minded compassionate, non-judgmental, interested in new things, able to appreciate and work with differences, empathetic, not authoritarian, and who had a sense of humility around their own privilege.
If a person meets those criteria (as I’d like to think you would), there was a good chance we could still be friends, even if I revealed my past. She’d pass through my filter, I’d allow her closer.
Those who struck me as narrow-minded, judgmental, morally black and white, self-righteous, bad at differences, who believe the poor are solely responsible for their problems – they never make it past my filter. I work with them, I am polite, I can collaborate well. But I never let them into my heart. They live on the other side of a screen.
This seemed a reasonable approach for a long time, and it seemed to have no ripple effects.
But somewhere along the way it shifted.
What makes content go from filter to secret?
When you protect it like a mother lion, with the kind of ferocity and care you give to your children, your partner, your career. When you don’t share it with those you’d like to, for fear they might accidently let it slip somewhere. When you refrain from sharing it in places where it would be relevant and helpful, for fear it would leak beyond that context. When the thought of it being discovered feels materially threatening (not just like you’ll have to have an uncomfortable discussion or two – but real threat). When your identity depends upon keeping it hidden. That’s when it morphs into a secret-secret, when it becomes costly, when that risky dance with that reckless partner becomes an inescapable fact of life.
Whether you get there by slipping through a grey area or all at once with a snap decision, by the time you recognize the toll that tricky dance takes, the cost of stopping feels exorbitant and unaffordable. Your partner may be inscrutable and dangerous, but you’ve leaned into him for balance for so long, how would you stand upright without him?