Dirty Little Secret (Or, Intimacy vs. Loyalty)

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You remember back in April when I wrote about an online forum devoted to helping people deal with the challenges of living their lives in a closet? One discussion in this group involved people remarking with wonder and astonishment that when they finally "came out" to their spouses, even though it was really, really hard, especially in the immediate aftermath, eventually it brought a new level of closeness to the marriage--sometimes it even improved their sex lives! (This at least in the cases where incompatible sexual orientations weren't an issue.)

I didn't comment, but I wanted to shout, "You mean that when you finally began to be emotionally intimate with your partner, the intimacy in your marriage increased? You mean that when you finally stopped lying and withholding, both of you felt more trust and were better able to share what really mattered? You mean that when you became a more authentic person, your relationships were more authentic as well?"

I couldn't see how these people couldn't see that refusing to be intimate with one's partner would damage the intimacy of the partnership. But over the weekend I happened to pick up Fascinating Womanhood again, and read this:

When you see the sensitivity of a man's nature, you know how careful you must be in conversation. You cannot permit yourself to have an unbridled tongue and say anything you please. You cannot pour out your heart to him as you would to a a mentor. you must withhold feelings and confessions which would wound his sensitive pride. (183)

Admittedly, FW is an extreme example: I've read other marriage self-help books for Mormons (I was going to write a paper on them, but they were just so depressing and annoying that I gave up), and they stress that good marriages require good communication. But what does "good communication" consist of? Mormonism is so scripted: people are told what to believe, how to think, what to put up on their walls (photographs of the leaders of the church, or photographs of the various temples, or crap like this), what to wear, what to drink, and what to say to each other. They're also told what not to say: don't criticize the leaders. Don't disagree with gospel teachings. Don't even record negative thoughts or experiences in your journals, because someday after you're dead, someone else will read them, and you don't want to infect them with your doubt, do you? Remember, everything about your life must be faith-affirming.

If that's your model for good communication, it probably is a life-changing revelation when you finally bare your soul to another person--especially to the person you've married and produced children with.

But it can also be a big deal even when you bare your soul to someone who's just a friend.

I have been thinking about this lately because I am figuring out that if you want to be friends--and I mean plain old friends--with someone who is in a closet, your friendship will probably have to be closeted too.

It depends on the level of intimacy withheld from everyone outside the closet and reserved for the friendships inside. The greater the disparity between those who don't know what's going on in the closet and those who do, the more threatening, shameful and embarrassing the friendships of the closet will be.

This isn't such a problem if both people in the closeted friendship are also in personal closets. But if one of you is in and one of you is out, well, things could be messy.

If you're uncloseted, being friends with someone in a closet isn't so bad if they are preparing to get out, actively looking for a real living space to move into. For one thing, you can help them, in all sorts of ways. It's actually quite exciting to accompany someone while they go, metaphorically speaking, intellectual house-hunting.

Being friends with someone who is trying desperately to stay well inside a closet--even temporarily, until they get a different job, until their son gets home from his mission, until their spouse is a little less devout--isn't so great. You're something of a dirty little secret. They can't let anyone else know that they like hanging out at your place, and would love to move into a similar neighborhood. In a discussion that also includes someone outside the closet, the friend can't admit that they agree with you. They'll ask you to lie for them. They'll never be able to offer you support in public, because it would be too threatening to the sanctity of the closet. If anyone else is looking, they'll treat people they despise and hope to escape with more respect and generosity than they show you.

Never mind that you're one of the few people with whom they can be truly intimate. They're open enough to value intimacy, but frightened enough to value secrecy and deception more--because that protects the status quo.

One day, maybe, they'll want to change all that--they'll want real friendships, real intimacy. But you wonder how good they'll be at it, after decades of working to avoid it, after decades of viewing intimacy and honesty as threatening to the very foundations of their lives.

In other words, people in closets like this withhold intimacy from those who command their loyalty, and they withhold loyalty from those with whom they share intimacy.

That's fucked up. And it hurts--both the people denied the intimacy and the people denied the loyalty. It will take a long time to make reparation after that closet door finally swings open, if reparation can even be made.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on June 21, 2010 10:19 AM.

The Darkness Behind the Paintings of Light was the previous entry in this blog.

This Is the Way the World Ends, Not with a Bang but a Long Fast Leak is the next entry in this blog.

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