Dear Queer Diary: Top Secret

Dear Queer Diary_Rory Midhani_640px

There is nothing in the definition of the word “diary” to imply that it must be kept secret. According to my dear pal Google, a diary is simply “a book in which one keeps a daily record of events and experiences.” And yet, a non-secret diary is a bit like an ice cream sundae without hot fudge, or Tegan without Sara. I have never shared more than a few sentences of mine. In my book (pun intended!), privacy is one of the reasons that a journal is different from a blog or a personal essay or a letter to your former high school history teacher.

The appeal of a diary is that it is uncensored, full of scandalous anecdotes and withheld opinions that otherwise might never be known. We are under the impression that a person’s diary may be the only place that they tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, without the fear of hurt feelings or not being invited to so-and-sos birthday party. And so, there is something simultaneously taboo and delicious about the idea of reading someone’s journal.

This sweet mountain-themed journal doesn’t have lips, but if it did, they would be sealed. (Via Magpie Moonshine)

This sweet mountain-themed journal doesn’t have lips, but if it did, they would be sealed. (Via Magpie Moonshine)

If you are concerned about someone reading your journal without your knowledge, it is my pleasure to report that the ever-educational WikiHow has some fine suggestions. Perhaps you are interested in laying a single hair upon the cover of your diary and seeing if it is still in the same position when you return?

To be honest, I think anyone who read my journal would probably be disappointed. Who is hoping to find an exhaustive recounting what I ate for lunch or a lengthy disquisition on the pros and cons of moving to a new apartment? Sure, there might be a few exciting parts. But overall, its secrets are a little more Secret deodorant than Victoria’s Secret.

Because the world must never know that female bodies produce sweat! (Via Koupon Karen)

Because the world must never know that female bodies produce sweat! (Via Koupon Karen)

In spite of the relatively dull nature of my ponderings, I still feel on principle that it is crucial that my diary remain a chamber of secrets (preferably sans killer snake and/or dark wizard).

While part of me believes that our queerness means we are already pushed too frequently into silent, secret corners, at the same time, I think there is actually something liberating about having an entirely safe place to air one’s feelings with the knowledge that no one will ever encounter them. There are plenty of things that I find difficult enough to admit to myself—just imagine how difficult those same things might be to write down on paper knowing someone else could read them.

The public pronouncement of secrets has its own power (everyone say hello to my old obsession, PostSecret), but my journal is a place for working things out carefully, in private before those same thoughts can be released into the wide, wide world.

Other differences between my diary and the Chamber of Secrets: only one is a weapon of attempted genocide. (Via Harry Potter Fanzone)

Other differences between my diary and the Chamber of Secrets: only one is a weapon of attempted genocide. (Via Harry Potter Fanzone)

That’s not to mention the consequences associated with your brother or best friend or significant other-person encountering a secret in your diary that they might be better off not knowing: the impulsive complaint you scribbled after a fight but no longer mean or the secret that’s not yours to tell. David Sedaris, who seems to be a rather prolific diary-writer, told Time that “If you read somebody’s diary, you get what you deserve,” and I cannot argue with his sentiment.

There has been considerable debate online as to whether or not a parent might read a journal belonging to her child with impunity — a topic on which I feel insufficiently qualified to comment given my complete and utter lack of parenting experience. I am fairly sure that my own parents refrained from reading my journal in my youth, though I suspect that this is mostly due to the fact that they well knew that the most dangerous things I was doing were studying European history and pining after unrequited loves. More daring children might provide their parents with more acute temptations — did your parents ever crack open the covers of your dearest, queerest diaries when you were growing up?

I am sure these amazing lesbian mamas would think twice before invading the privacy of their adorable children. (Via Miami Herald)

I am sure these amazing lesbian mamas would think twice before invading the privacy of their adorable children. (Via Miami Herald)

More to the point, have you ever read someone’s diary? (If so, all I can say is that I hope you have a fan-freaking-tastic excuse for your perfidy. Anyone caught reading my diary will be sentenced to 48 consecutive hours spent watching How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days with only grape popsicles for sustenance.)

Would you ever let anyone read your journal, Straddlers? Who? Why? Under what circumstances? Is this a “when I am dead and in my grave” situation? Or are your middle school ponderings already in the public domain? Spill your secrets!

Dear Queer Diary is a column about the joys (and occasionally, the pains) of journaling. We crack open our tiny notebooks and break out the rainbow-colored pens on the regular, so get ready to limber up your writing hands and document all your beautiful feelings!

Header by Rory Midhani

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Maggie is a freckly, punctuation-loving queer living in the Boston area. She supports her book-buying and tea-drinking habits by teaching America’s youth how to write topic sentences and spends her free time writing postcards and making sandwiches for her girlfriend.

Maggie has written 53 articles for us.


  1. My diary is on LiveJournal, so, like, pretty much all of my friends have read it. (I do occasionally post to the “Private” filter, but rarely.) By the same token, I read my friends’ diaries on LJ (and the clone/fork, Dreamwidth) on the regular; in fact, I have one tab open with each right now.

    I have a private paper notebook that I carry with me, but I actually like the accountability of (sort-of) public journaling, because it forces me to get my thoughts in order and make some kind of sense, which is great for going back to reread the stuff I wrote ten years ago. It was written with an audience in mind who didn’t know me “irl,” but it’s useful to me now, when I barely recognize that girl.

  2. Interesting topic Maggie. I once made a new friend and when I went to her house to spend the evening with her she wipped out her diary and began reading me sections. I was a bit nonplussed and didn’t really know how to respond. She was reading me sections from when she had broken up with a boyfriend years and years ago but she was apparently still not over him. This didn’t make sense to me because its not something I would EVER do.

    Once someone I was dating/living with read my diary and they didn’t seem to have ANY qualms about doing so. They got upset about what they read and went at me about it. I feel this is really wrong and I really like the quote you included. Diaries exist in between the incorporeal and the physical. We write these things because we need to make them physical in order to untangle them. Things may be written that may or may not be truth, may or may not be acted on, but regardless of the outcome every person deserves the space and freedom to work them out. Reading someone’s diary (without their permission) is akin to invading their mind. People think all sorts of things that they don’t even have any control over. For someone to then get upset about what they found out is just wrong. That person themselves has all sorts of thoughts and feelings they wouldn’t dream of sharing with anyone.

    • “Diaries exist in between the incorporeal and the physical. We write these things because we need to make them physical in order to untangle them. Things may be written that may or may not be truth, may or may not be acted on, but regardless of the outcome every person deserves the space and freedom to work them out.”

      Well said.

      I also believe that while there is an appeal in sharing deeply what you have written in these sort of beautifully tangled moments, and that in certain intimate situations or relationships a person might be open to doing so, that I keep that weave of ponderings, writings, and in my case, doodles, as something that is very sacred to myself. I had a mentor tell me in a very recent situation involving sharing and intimacy (I am someone who holds honesty as central, and finding myself in a place where sharing everything that came to me became super hurtful and needing to sort and pair what I shared was really, really hard.) that someone, perhaps Parker Palmer? Had written that we actually do ourselves an injustice by SHARING everything in hopes to be seen completely, and actually, as long as you see yourself completely, it is good to keep some things just to yourself as the basis of a solid foundation from which you can enter into relationship with others.

      So, not only should diaries be secret if the person wants them to be, but if a person is sharing TOO much, maybe that’s a sign that they need to work a little more on self-love. Maybe.

      • I think I’m familiar with the quote you mentioned. The thought that sharing too much can be both detrimental and indicative of something in our own state which we ought to pay attention to is very interesting.

        I spent many years basically as a hermit and have been increasingly coming back out into the world for the past several. At the beginning it was really weird. I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had had anything to do with anyone and I found myself being pretty damn awkward at times, sharing too much info., or just misjudging a social situation in general. It’s gotten better but when I read that quote it hit home. There was something off about the way I had been living life and that came out every now and then with sharing too much.

  3. I think the secret is to start as you mean to continue and not make the mistake which I have of beginning a secret diary – a friend with lips sealed and then deciding to share gems with another person which lets her know she can read more since it feels tantalizing.

    My current journal is not one at all, it’s a way to note things for which I’m grateful which I attempt to capture in a few lines. It’s amazing how this changes my mood, the experience of the day and the sense of being myself. I have another beautiful book to write ideas and quotes in – keepers!

    No more using the diary as I kind of aircraft sick bag for my emotions and anger which when I read later made me feel even worse about myself.

    • I really like your turn of phrase, “… a kind of airsick back for my emotions and anger …” That’s quite an accurate description of how I often use my journal.

  4. My diary is the only material possession I would be really upset over losing. My mind races and jumps around a lot, my diary is there so I can dump my thoughts and read it later and try to make sense of what I was thinking at the time.

    I never started writing down my thoughts until I realised I was not like my friends. My diary served as a counsellor when it became apparent I could not accept my true identity due to internalised homophobia. Now, although I am not out to the world, or even my family or best friend, I am out to myself which was a HUGE step. My journal contains my actual tears from realising I will be ok someday.

    It contains angry and jealous ramblings from when my best female friend got a boyfriend. It contains my darkest fears and thoughts (a psychiatrist would have a field day with its contents). It contains my observations about the world around me. It contains a list of things I have to live for. It contains the life I am not ready to share with the world.

    I would be so hurt if someone read my diary. I would feel like someone has gone into my brain without my consent. I don’t want to even think of the possibility of it happening, it scares me.

    • OMG same!!! I get really paranoid about losing my journal. I lost one my freshman year of high school and it tore me apart for months. Something about seeing my internal workings fleshed out on paper is indispensable.

    • It contains angry and jealous ramblings from when my best female friend got a boyfriend.

      I am so glad to hear that I’m not the only queer woman who had this same problem…

  5. I don’t keep a diary but have regular stints of doing ‘morning pages’ – the daily routine of writing three sides of stream-of-consciousness every morning before doing anything else. It’s not good writing and it doesn’t always express my true feeling, but I often find that I have written the same thing for two weeks straight… which makes me realise it’s time to ACT.

    The thought of someone else seeing these pages makes my stomach churn. Everyone is entitled to a private place where they can externalise their weird thoughts, shameful secrets and whatever else. If I don’t mind someone reading my thoughts, I put them on my blog. Otherwise they go in my morning pages, which I regularly use as firepaper.

    • “The Artists Way?” I LOVED that book in college! i never did get the hang of the morning pages, but I loved the other activities.

    • I love my morning pages. As mentioned above, my “diary” is on LiveJournal and open for people to read if I have them listed as a friend, but my morning pages are my private, “keep out” diary and they’re so valuable. It’s the best way for me to start my day and I really feel it if I skip them.

  6. I don’t keep a regular diary but when I’m feeling a bit angsty, or in need of a good list, I write on scraps of paper. Usually the stuff I write is very personal, often things I wouldn’t even admit to my closest friends, so I would definitely feel betrayed if someone read it.

    One of my friends was going through a really tough time with mental illness and a manipulative boyfriend and we were getting distant. I remembered she had a tumblr, so I read it and some of the things she’d said made me cry hysterically. It was awful. I think I was able to help her more, but now I stay away from things like that.

  7. I stopped writing a journal/diary, but mines was a Lenovo Tablet(Android version) and if I wanted to I could have easily password(or pattern) protected it). Plus, I’ve notice people are less likely going to open up a journal app when playing around with it. Plus, I usually showed off the art app to demonstrate the pen. I want to move that to a Windows equiv, and I am pretty sure MS OneNote allows you to password protect the actual file.

  8. My mother read my diary when I was 14, and learned all about my feelings of finding girls attractive. She proceeded to wait for days, and then bring it up in the car on the way to a friends house, when she told me that I would not be sleeping over a friends ever again, or allowed to be alone with a friend ever again. It culminated in me being kicked out of the car and walking to my friend’s house, and not going home until the next day. When my mother never mentioned it again, and acted like nothing happened. She still claims she doesn’t remember it.

    The only time I ever read someone’s diary was when I suspected my then significant other was cheating, and had already tried multiple times to talk to her about it. Guess what? She was. That relationship ended pretty soon after that. It may have gone on longer had I not read her diary. I still felt like an asshole doing it though.

  9. No, but my lousy college boyfriend read my diary when I was having some feelings and not talking to him about them, and then I had to comfort his sorry ass for things I had written about him, because I was young and did not realize that was a firable offense. I haven’t really kept a diary since, though my girlfriend wouldn’t dare do anything like that, both because she is a decent person and because I have zero tolerance for that shit anymore.

  10. I’m an avid “journaler.” (I say “journaler” to make it sound more legit, as a Creative Writing major.) And if someone ventures into the pages of my journal, I defer to Sedaris: They get what they deserve. Guess who gets to read all about the organic farm I want to start in California for fifty pages?

    There have been occasions when I have shared the lines of an entry or two, and these too stem back to the Creative Writing major. You see, I’m one of those writers under the illusion (read: delusion) that I’m hilarious, so sometimes, when I’m journaling, I hit on a good joke, and I have to send it to my best friend, Josh. Needless to say, he’s usually the one to remind me that I am indeed deluded and that my journal stays untouched by others for a reason.

    Despite the multitudinous parental errors I suffered as an adolescent, my parents were staunchly against violating my privacy. Thank god, because my teenage diaries definitely had entries that broke through the denial and were “Dear Queer Diary” entries. Of course, now my journal is unabashedly gay as fuck.

    P.s. I’m in love with the lesbian mommies. Can I be one? Please?

  11. My mother read my diary when I was in high school because she thought I was on drugs because I no longer wanted to go to church. I was raised Mormon so we spent about 150 hours a week in church. Not really, but it was a lot. And because I was behaving like a normal teenager and that was bad or something, she crawled into my head and read my thoughts. I clearly couldn’t talk to my family about many many many things in my life because of their religion– the one i was starting to break away from– and I didn’t have that best friend to confide in either, so it all was poured into my diary. Not only did she read it, but after the huge fight we had about it, after things had started to calm down, she would try to use things I had written against me in arguments. Things that were not meant for anyone’s ears– mean things about my father and sister that I would NEVER say out loud. She called me a slut because in my diary I said I was thinking about having sex with my boyfriend of a year. Thinking about it. So I was a slut.

    It was the worst betrayal I could/can imagine. And one that I may never quite forgive her for. We’ve come a long way, but this seriously forever broke our relationship. Parent’s should NEVER read their kids’ diaries. The ONLY exception would be if there is real legitimate concern that the kid is going to hurt themself and I mean confirmed by experts that this might be a thing.

    The other awful thing about this is that I’ve never been able to really journal since then. It never felt like a safe space again.
    But I’m about to start a new (grown up!!) job in a new city and have a new apartment all to myself. So maybe this is the time to rediscover my love of journaling. I’ve been stalking this column for a while and loving it. So maybe it’s time.

    • OMG! Thank you for what you said about how that experience made you journal shy!!! That happened to me with my experience too. Granted, a betrayal by a mother is far worse than someone you’re dating but it still had that affect on me. I actually never acknowledged that at the fore of my mind but reading what you wrote it was a total ‘aha! Yes, that’s so it” moment. Nice to have that insight. I only started to journal again a couple years ago (a long, long time after my ex’s prying). I’m actually pretty uptight about my journal now and keep it hidden.

    • I’m so sorry that happened! I dated a Mormon guy and convinced him to start writing in a journal and he couldn’t be honest in it at all because he was afraid his parents would find it (they did). They had absolutely no respect for his privacy, it was appalling.

    • I think the most important thing about journaling, especially in the wake of betrayal and a violation of your privacy, is to allow yourself the time it takes to get back to feeling safe. It doesn’t always come easy.

      Sometimes, I devote entire pages of my journal to writing other peoples’ words – poems, songs, quotes – that capture how I feel, because part of me still has trouble trusting that my own words on a page will be safe, should someone decide to crack open my book and crawl into my head, as you so aptly put it.

      I’m getting better, though, and the words are coming easier these days. This process itself has been very healing for me. I hope, if you choose to get back to writing, it can be for you, too.

      Good luck!

  12. I have been able to pretty much eliminate my censor while writing in my journals because I have complete trust that no one will read them. Growing up, both of my parents and I had journals. In our home we could leave them lying around in public places because there was an understanding that they were personal and private. I’ve come to really appreciate this, because if I’d been afraid that someone would read them I wouldn’t have been able to be completely authentic anywhere.
    Everyone who is close to me respects the privacy of my journals. That being said, if a stranger happened to pick it up and read it, I don’t think it would be that big of a deal. Like you said, it’s a lot of boring stuff with some steamy bits. I doubt anyone would have the patience to read the whole thing anyways.
    Sometimes I share parts from my elementary/middle school journals with other people because they’re super funny and awkward :P

    • As a child you didn’t read your parents’ journals? I am very shocked, but also kind of grateful there are less nosy, more respectful people in the world that myself. Looking through my mum’s things was/is one of my favourite things. She’s pretty quiet about her life before kids, which is what makes it all the more interesting.

      It’s super cool that your family were that respectful though, I’ll just be over here reevaluating my personal boundaries.

      • It may have had to do with a lesson I learned in elementary school. I wrote things in my little brother’s notebook where he was creating something similar to ‘Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide’ if you’ve ever seen that show. My dad found out and made me go get my journal. He took it from me then asked my little brother, “Do you want to read Sheridan’s journal?” My dad opened it up. I was crying and freaking out, then when I was sufficiently upset, he showed me he had opened it to a blank page. He gave it back without reading anything. He told me that we don’t read or write in other people’s journals in our house and I have never done it since. Mostly because whenever I see someone else’s journal lying around I think about how I would feel if it was mine and someone read it. Also, I felt like it was likely I would read something I REALLY did not want to know.

  13. My brother and his friend found and read my diary when I was 11 years old. They left me a note that said something along the lines of “HAHAHA. HAHA. HAHA” and then they signed their names. I look back and laugh now.

    When I get the urge to write/vent about my feelings, I use the “stickies” app on my mac and just let it fly. I read it back months later completely unaware I wrote it in the first place. Then I hit delete.

  14. I have recently been avoiding my journal for precisely this reason. I live with my sister and she has no concept of privacy or personal things. Closed doors mean nothing, neither do personal journals. I have actually caught her reading my journal in the past, and needless to say, I was pretty darn mad. So I no longer use it :/.

    The only other thing I have that is remotely like a journal is a notebook where I make hard copies of my poetry because I dread the inevitable day when my laptop crashes and I loose all of the ones saved on it. But I don’t really mind if she reads those.

  15. My mum read my twin sister’s diary when she was in her early teens. I only found out last year when she was talking about reading my younger sister’s diary (now 12). She sees no problem in having a quick look through every now and then, but I’m kind of horrified. I kept a diary on and off a bit later in my teens, which was in code and thank heavens for that! I specifically remember writing down a graphic gay sex dream which I don’t think my mum would have been so blaze about reading!

    However me and writing just don’t get along. I like being able to look back to see how i was feeling, but writing it down just doesn’t seem to work for me. So I’ve recently started making myself diary videos on youtube. They’re pretty anonymous so I don’t think anyone I know will ever see them. And it’s got to the point where there are enough of them and they are boring enough that I don’t think anyone would ever sit through them long enough to find anything interesting. It’s working pretty well for me actually.

  16. When I was 13, my mom read my diary. She and my dad were getting divorced, and I was taking it very hard (among other things, like realizing I was gay). I was very upset with her for reading it. Once I suspected she was doing so, I wrote a note to her in the diary, and asked her to sign it if she read it (such a 13-year-old thing to do). She did sign it, and later we talked about it, so I suppose it was okay. But I wrote things about her and my dad that I never, ever wanted her to read. Eleven years later, I’m still upset that she did.

    Fast forward to age 19. I gave my best friend one of my diaries to read. (We were extremely close.) She read it, and she even wrote little notes on sticky notes and stuck them all over the pages in response to what I’d written. We both loved this form of sharing, and even though she and I aren’t close anymore (we had a huge, devastating falling out when she started college, became a Super Catholic and decided I was probably going to go to hell), but I don’t regret letting her read it at all. The sticky notes are still in that journal, and I still cherish them.

  17. When I was little – maybe 8 or 9 – my dad bought me a diary with one of those cute little heart-shaped locks. The lock implied secrecy. So, when my stepmother read it, and subsequently punished me harshly for writing that one of her friends was “kind of weird,” it turned me off journaling – and telling the truth – for a long time.

    In my early teens, a few friends and I decided to keep summer journals that we would trade when we got back to school. Grappling with feelings of teen angst, inadequacy and having no male romantic interests to speak of, I wrote very entertaining works of fiction – not a journal. I made up entire humans (all of them male) to chronicle the details of our young romantic adventures for the amusement of my friends.

    Now, some 10 years later, I have allowed myself the space to journal openly and honestly for the first time. It’s remarkable what a difference it makes. And how freeing privacy can be.

  18. I started journaling as a self-care practice during a bout of depression, so my first journal – which I have brought with me through two changes of address because I can’t bear to let it go – is a weird collection of gentle self-care and extreme darkness. I’ve filled a couple of notebooks since, and even though they’re extremely personal and intimate – I journaled through the first year after I came out publicly, through mental health issues and my consistent failures at young adulthood – I don’t necessarily feel as if they have to be private? I feel like, if someone were to ask me a direct question about any of the topics covered in my journal entries, I would respond honestly, and so I guess in that way I don’t feel as if I need to protect the contents. There are absolutely entries that have the potential to harm someone, but that’s what you get for snooping.

    For me, it would be more about the breach of trust – if a stranger happened across my journal forgotten in a coffeeshop, say, and read the whole thing I would probably be fine with it, but if my girlfriend/best friend/family were to read it without my permission it would feel like a violation.

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