To Tell, or Not to Tell

don't tellI keep secrets. Is that a confession? Maybe not so much. I would venture to say that everyone reading this probably has at least one secret of their own – big or small – squirreled safely away somewhere.

When we initially make the decision to “tick-a-lock” on something there are probably a few, large, generic categories of rationalization for our silence: fear of misunderstanding, fear of judgment, fear of punishment. Of course these broad, fear-based rationales can be broken down into far more uniquely personal excuses. In fact, the long numbered list of reasons that we give ourselves to justify the sequestering of personal tidbits of information is probably matched equally in length and variety by the list of the secrets themselves. But no matter how succinct or convoluted the excuse is for keeping the secret, I sincerely believe that it can always be distilled back down to some very simple fear of consequence. And one frightening consequence in particular – if I tell, those who love me will stop.

There is a quote that I am extremely fond of from author and politician Sir Gilbert Parker’s work of fiction, The Right of Way, “In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful they may be, or for what good end they may be set to serve. Secrecy means evasion, and evasion means a problem to the moral mind.”

Evasion; that single word alone now seems to me so densely packed.

I want to attempt here a splaying of my choice to initially keep secret my decision to try and biologically father a child. My goal is to better understand my psychological motivation to keep this kind of information secret – even from those who love me most.

Disclaimer: Even though I can promise that my process of mental self-dissection will always employ rigorous honesty, I cannot guarantee that the result will necessarily be any kind of an absolutely accurate epiphany. There, now that the irksome onus of self-improvement has been removed from these proceedings, I can begin to peel back the layers.

At this point in our quest for reproductive assistance – in the disillusioning aftermath of the negative experience that I had with our first fertility clinic – Paul was still the only person that I had told. Although hugely supportive, Paul was still living in New York and part of me was pretty sure that I had only told him in the beginning because I thought it might serve to put a convenient kibosh on our quickly developing relationship before I relocated from New York back to Los Angeles. Just the thought of another long distance relationship was exhausting. But now the mamas and I were considering how to move our plan forward with the results of my questionable sperm analysis. I knew that it was going to be an emotional roller coaster.

I was asked on a few occasions by one or both of the mamas about when I was planning to share with my loved ones the fact that I was trying to become a father. I remember specifically that there was a joke once made by one of us that perhaps I should just wait and let the baby tell my family and friends. It was funny at the time. It was. It’s funny now. But honestly, like all things that strike me as genuinely humorous, there was a vein of sadness in the observation. It had been nearly six months since I had made the decision to try and become a father, and still I was keeping the secret.

It is very like me not to tell. Thinking back, I never even came out of the closet – not directly, I mean. I never made a declaration, proud, fearful, or otherwise to my family and friends about my homosexuality. Instead of claiming it in some unequivocal pronouncement, I simply began to give in to what I was feeling and how I needed to live. I quietly made the transition from questioning to queer, and then in the years that followed I passively let those around me come to the not so stunning realization on their own.

I remember telling someone once about my protracted coming out process and them observing that they thought it was cool. This person told me that they admired the fact that I had never felt the need to make a big deal about it. I found some solace in that person’s opinion at the time, but the truth is that it was a big deal. When I began to understand who I was, the realization that I was gay made me different from every other person in my family.  In the world outside of my home it made me a member of a shunned and shameful subset of society. And in the eyes of my Catholic church it meant damnation. Right? I mean, come on. It was a big deal. It was a big, honkin’ deal. It deserved a proclamation of some kind. To this day when I hear or read about some remarkable person’s courageous coming out story, I am equal parts inspired and envious.

Yes, it is so very like me not to tell. I lived with my HIV diagnosis for almost a full decade before telling my family. In retrospect, that was a plague-filled span of time in which I could have easily died one hundred times over without ever having allowed those I needed most to be there for me.

For the two preceding examples I could compose any number of logical and compelling explanations to justify my secrecy. Most of the excuses would of course have little or nothing to do with me. For example I might claim, I didn’t want to upset them, or I didn’t want them to worry, or there was really nothing for them to do anyway. All or many of my assertions would probably have this same, selfless – it’s all about protecting them – affectation.

When it came to my decision to father a child, I would probably claim some very similar altruistic justification for withholding the news. I might say something like, I didn’t want them to be disappointed if it turned out not to be possible.  Partially true, I would argue, but still mostly bullshit.

I want to be sure that I don’t inadvertently sidestep the ever-present pink elephant of implied shame. I think that there is a certain population – gay and straight – that might understand the implicit shame I might face associated with coming out of the closet, or sharing my HIV-positive status. That is to say – there are probably many who can sympathize with a fear induced silence associated with the thought of divulging either of those two things. I also think that there is another certain population, however, that would consider the desire to become a father to be in a wholly different category. They might feel that the first two examples of silence are arguably self-preserving in nature, while the third is somehow illogical.  After all, what implicit shame could there be in wanting to father a child? It occurs to me now that there could be much – if that desire to be a father was held in the heart of an HIV-positive, gay man. A man whose moral mind had long been poisoned by the implied guilt and shame associated with being a diseased homosexual. Me. Does that make sense? I think it does to me, but remember my disclaimer about absolutely accurate epiphanies – there may not be any.

So – at about six months into the process – I decided to tell. I would like to say that the initial impetus to share my secret was akin to one of those courageous coming out stories I so envy – where a brave soul decides that it must live honestly or not at all, and then stands up one day in the face of unimaginable adversity and bravely shares the truth.

Not.

In the beginning, my move to tell was probably compelled largely by politeness. Yawn. You see, I have lived much of my life weighed too heavily down by a desire to be appropriate. At this particular juncture I was sharing a home with my sister and her fiancé, and I realized that the close quarters were going to make it exceedingly difficult for me to hide the emotional peaks and valleys associated with my ongoing paternal quest. It would be a strain to hide my feelings, and I thought it would be uncomfortable and unfair to subject my housemates to the possible ups and downs of my mood without explanation.

My disclosure was at first unspectacular. The three of us were standing in our kitchen casually leaning against the butcher-block countertops in various positions of repose. I have no doubt that my arms were probably tightly folded across my body in some textbook transparent, protective posture.

And I told.

They responded with hugs and support, but the general ambiance surrounding the telling was relatively quiet and reserved – just how I had wanted it to be. The telling done – easy breezy – I headed down the hall to my room.

The secret was out.

Just minutes in, and I remember that already I was feeling empowered – more assured – more resolute – more clean.  I began to own it. I became more accountable. It was mine. In retrospect, it’s strange that the sharing of my secret seemed to somehow make it more real, more possible, more true, more my own.

After another few minutes, my sister appeared in my bedroom doorway. I could tell that somewhere in the short span of time between my telling and that moment in my doorway that she had become markedly less – what did I say before – quiet and reserved? To be honest, when it comes to coping with the raw emotions of others I don’t always find my skills to be too finely honed. Nonetheless, there were now tears in the eyes of someone I loved and my telling had been the cause.

I asked if she was OK.

“I’m just glad that you’re so hopeful,” she said. And then she gave me a gentle and heartfelt hug. That is the extent of what I can accurately recall from that brief but reassuring interchange. And then my sister smiled and disappeared down the hallway leaving me alone again.

They were tears of gladness – hers. That’s a good thing, yes? And hopeful? Drats! Hopeful was something that I had been fighting very hard not to become. I was still afraid that the entire prospect might be pulled out from under me at any time. Clearly, however, I was losing the battle to remain emotionally detached, because my sister had easily observed me to be hopeful – no – so hopeful. And – for better or for worse – the truth is that I was.

“Secrecy means evasion, and evasion means a problem to the moral mind.”

Evasion, it turns out, does not just happen. No, evasion is like a hefty churning turbine that requires a lot of energy. And it seems to me that the problem to my moral mind – the shame that I so long accepted as an implicit, convoluted truth in relation to my homosexuality and my HIV – was the perfect, poisonous fuel.

My first telling that day most certainly served to sever some of the fuel supply to my energy guzzling evasiveness, however the toxic exhaust of shame still hung in the air around me. And though I continued to sense a wafting fear that there might be some people whose feelings for me could be altered or diminished when the telling was done, I was hugely comforted to know that those who did continue to love me in the aftermath would do so more honestly and accurately.

Finally I came to realize that I would rather be loved accurately by no one, than mistakenly by many. And that bittersweet realization empowered me with a new kind of energy – one that was fueled by undeniable hope. And rather than evasion, rather than keeping secret my desire  to become a father – “however beautiful or joyful (it) may be, or for what good end (it) may be set to serve” – I was now compelled to tell.