Guest Blogger

When secrecy becomes habit

Filed By Guest Blogger | June 26, 2008 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Bisexuality, closet cases, coming out of the closet, gay teens, secrecy, self loathing, sexual orientation

Editors' note: Rob Barton is a happily married IMG_mantel.jpgfather of five who works as a musician and owns a private music school in a small town in Mass. He also teaches martial arts. He is active with numerous LGBT organizations and works a great deal with LGBT youth particularly bisexual youth and their families. He has a useless advanced degree in Martial Arts Philosophy and serves as clergy for a small local congregation.

Recently I watched a problematic issue develop in the family of a queer teenager with whom I work. He was out to his mother and sister but was yet to be out to his stepfather. Coming out to the stepfather was promising to be an extremely minor event anyway and so was not causing any tension.

The problem had nothing to do with the family and everything to do with the teenager and what was happening to his perception of his family.

I have seen this specific problem before and I would like to take a few moment to describe it and hopefully identify a problem that can cause trouble for queer teens and which can be easily enough addressed.

In the two years that this young man was questioning until he was sure of his identity and for the two years that he kept it to himself before coming out to his mother this young man had developed a habit of secrecy. Even though he was out and had a loving and supportive mother and sister and eventually stepfather this habit of secrecy was standing in the way of communication. I was watching the tension level go up not because this boy was queer but because his mother was worried about him.

In fact, many people were becoming worried about him to the point that his peers were coming to me and expressing concerns. He was not communicating with his mother though she had no problem with his sexuality.

In him I was watching him build a serious misconception about his family. He was feeling that his family was rejecting him and that his mother really did have a problem with his sexuality. He was losing trust for his family. Nothing that he was feeling or experiencing was based on real events or actions on the part of his family or even of feelings that they harbored. He was feeling a gulf one between his family and himself and blaming them for it.

Meanwhile, his mother was responding to the growing withdrawal of the kid from his family by trying to find out what was going on. He knew that she was asking me though I can't give her specific answers about what he says to me yet he was even starting to withdraw from me as his general sense of trust collapsed.

I want to stress that there were no events bringing this about and that this growing gulf was reaching a crisis state in which I was starting to feel that child was nearing a point of danger. The situation has been resolved and they are fine with trust rebuilt and he is a normal healthy 16 year old boy spending his summer on a skateboard. The counseling work had to be done with the whole family but it was coming from a source that was not the sexuality of the kid or the view of his sexuality though it was attacking the relationship at that point. It even shattered his dating relationships with a girl and with a boy. He was reaching a point of not being able to trust anyone.

His whole problem was his habit of secrecy and how it was manifesting through his relationships. I know how the habit developed and how it develops in many of us. There may be a time in our lives when we must keep secrets to protect ourselves and so we learn to keep ourselves safe. But what about those "survival skills" when they are no longer needed, can they become the threat to our happiness? I watched this kid go from a happy well adjusted teenager who was out to his family to nearing a life threatening crisis. I have seen this before. Hell, thinking about it I have done it, I've been unnecessarily vague and redirected conversations when there was no real threat. How many of us have done these things? It is like the stereotypical Hollywood "soldier back from the war who can't stop fighting" we just keep going out of habit.

It is hard to assess the damage done by this. How many families have been driven apart not by the homophobia but by the secrecy? How many friendships are lost because of it? Maybe we just sit back and ask ourselves about this issue. When have we done it? Most importantly what I found with this kid and with a few others is that when we see it happening we need to step in and address it. Show the person what is going on and what he or she is doing and how that can damage life and relationships. I guess that you can let the boy out of the closet but we have to make sure that the boy lets the closet out of himself.

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I am intrigued by this article. How did secrecy play into the young man's problem? In what way did you help the young man move from distrust to trusting again? Could you elaborate further?


He had an extremely stressful time with another boy at the school leading him on etc. The other boy was just testing the waters a bit by trying it on with somebody 'safe'. When that collapsed the young man here was destroyed. But he wouldn't talk to his mother about it.
He started to believe that his mother was disappointed by his bisexuality and that his mother wanted him to pick a team especially the right team. He felt that his mother was spying on his computer activities and on him in general.
She was coming to me about the fact that she was seeing this but he wasn't communicating with her at all. He was becoming very depressed and withdrawn eventually withdrawing from me and then from the other kids.
The stepfather was aware that something was amiss but is the type of person who would not push anyone past their own comfort level.
So one day I called the mother in for a meeting and she and my wife and I all sat and talked. I told her that the only thing that she needed to change was that he needed to start going to an LGBT youth group and more contact with the community.
I told her that my being his only contact with the LGBT community was not health for him and was becoming unhealthy for me.
Then we had a meeting with the two of them and I told him that I think that he has convinced himself of some things that are not true. I also made it clear that the pressure that he was feeling in his family was being cause by his being excessively secretive. He sat and listened to us very carefully and realized that we were correct.
He then decided to come out to his stepfather which was an extremely peaceful and calming experience for him. Then I made arrangements for him to start with a youth group and worked with his family on how he can have safe contact with kids like him. Trust had always been there in this family and they had been close and supportive but the last nine months had seen a barrier develop but when he clearly saw what that barrier was he tore it down and the natural trust returned.

What a great guest post, Rob. I see that PageOneQ has picked it up to make sure others saw it too!

Thanks for this article, it extends my understanding of GLB issues.

I thought that this was just a problem that T's had. One that can, as you say, ruin lives.

Worse, for our own protection, the vast majority of us live Stealth after transitioning. To de-cloak can be quite literally fatal.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 27, 2008 5:54 AM

After a childhood of lies and half truths, shadings and denial I can now only seek truth. (oh the lies, shading and denials were not just about gayness) As you say it is hard to assess the damage done by this. Maybe there is no damage for some people and considerable or fatal damage to others. Teen age is tough for all kids because they are not just forming their sexual identity, they are forming their personal self definintion. You can only do the best you can do for them. Thank you for your post Rob!

This story really hit home for me. I, too, am out to most people in my life, but unpleasant circumstances in high school left me with a habit of silence that has been difficult to break, even when silence is unnecessary or even damaging. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks so much for your observations, Rob.

I've been pondering your thoughts for many hours already, and some fresh insights seem to be emerging.

When I started my coming out journey as a 33-y/o married guy, I realized I'd been hiding from my own deepest secret... that I was a gay man. My worst secret was that, no matter how much I adored my wife, I fell asleep, too many nights, dreaming of having a long, lazy, sleepy snuggle in the arms of another guy.

Letting the secret loose felt like stepping off a cliff, not knowing how far I'd fall, or how badly I'd feel, on hitting bottom.

Initially, the sense of relief was huge.

Ultimately, though, a couple of my most cherished loved ones settled into a pattern of blaming all that was lost -- the trust between me and my then-wife, the marriage, daily parent-child relationships between me and my kids -- on my former secret. The only solace those loved ones could find was in believing that they could hold the world at arms length, trusting only those who appeared to have no secrets.

In September, it will be 15 years since I first said out loud, "I think I might be gay."

I've been out and open about my orientation since then.

But, thinking about it in this context, I'm seeing the extent to which I continue to live with, be battered by, and even seek shelter within, coping skills based on keeping secrets.

Thanks, Rob... great stuff to chew on.