Let me ask you this: how many times has someone told you a secret and followed it up with, “you mustn’t tell anyone else” or “please don’t tell anyone” or “I’m telling you this but only between these four walls”? I’m guessing lots of times. As a community, we have a higher capability than most to keep secrets. As well as my own, lots of people have shared things with me that they wouldn’t tell anyone else.
My experience tells me that asking someone not to pass on your secret often has the opposite effect. Especially when its about our particular situations. I mean, come on, how juicy is our secret? In my case that I’m an ordinary, straight laced guy who works hard, is seemingly very normal and relatively successful. But lurking underneath is a tortured transgendered bi-sexual who struggles with their gender and sexuality every day, and has been known to go out in public wearing a skirt etc. I’m not being funny, but seriously, that is far better than many of the very mundane secrets that get shared with me.
My point is that it's the kind of secret that some people are going to find hard to keep. And that telling someone they can know my secret but that they can’t tell anyone is a recipe for disaster. I’m sure you know the feeling when you have trusted someone with a secret and that they have let you down. You feel utterly betrayed. Hurt. Offended. Upset. Numb. All those words and probably more. Don’t get me wrong in all of this, I think I should be able to share a confidence and it not go any further, but I’m also realistic about human nature.
So as a result, I have a policy. Its not written down or formalised or anything, but its a policy all the same. When I let people in on my big secret, I don’t ask them to keep it secret. That perhaps sounds bizarre, but it isn’t really. At this stage in my journey, I choose to tell people who I know care about me and who have my best interests at heart. When I out myself to them I say something like, “Clearly, I’m telling you this because I trust you and I want you to know that if there is anyone that you feel you really need to tell, then I understand that and I don’t mind.”
Most people’s responses to that are looks of horror. They say that they wouldn’t want to and that it isn’t their news to tell etc and I know that some won’t pass it on. Often, particularly with my male friends, they say that they want to tell their partner and I don’t have a problem with that at all. In all the time I’ve been doing this I think I have only twice named specific people I would rather weren’t told. To be honest, even those were a while ago and I’m not sure I’d be bothered about them knowing any more.
What’s really interesting is the way 'the policy' makes me feel. I care about the person I’m telling and the effect that the news will have on them. We all know people who have been badly affected by finding out the news that we are transgendered. But its me I have to live with, not them. By not restricting people and showing that I trust them, I have found that on the few occasions that someone has told other people and passed my secret on, I’ve been really pleased and thought, “actually, I would have told that person too, I’m really happy they did that.” But it also leaves me not worrying whether someone is going to betray me and that if they do tell someone, they are not going behind my back. 99% of the time they tell me who they've told because they know I'm unlikely to be upset about it.
Long preamble, but assuming you are still with me, the game changed this week. Someone who has my secret passed it on to someone I wouldn’t have told myself. Its really the first time that has happened and I have to say that initially I wasn’t completely sure about it.
Its interesting but recently, a few people at the edges of my friendship circles have been asking the people who are close to me whether I’m gay. I’m not sure why, I act and behave the same as ever, nothing is really changed day-to-day but it has happened a few times. So in fairness to my friend who gave away the secret, she was directly asked the question, “Is he gay?”. The person who asked is someone she trusts, so it works in terms of my policy, and I don't think he'll spread my secret. I know him too a little, but not well.
But in writing all of this, I realise what the problem really is - it's the first time (that I am aware of) where I have lost control of the message. I could write you a list of people who know my secret and how they found out and how I gave permission for them to know. The person who now knows my secret is the first one on a very different list. This list is of the people who have found out without me being able to protect myself, where I couldn’t give them my story, my way, with my controlled version.
It’s left me feeling like I’ve entered a new phase that I really don’t know how to navigate yet.