Gays and Honor: Some Truths About Lying

Men have been expected to tell the truth about facts, not about feelings. They have not been expected to talk about feelings at all.

Yet even about facts they have continually lied.

We assume that politicians are without honor. We read their statements trying to crack the code. The scandals of their politics: not that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed. We are accustomed to the contempt inherent in the political lie…

Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

– Adrienne Rich

Once upon a time, I was a terrible liar. It’s not that I tried and failed, because it’s actually pretty easy to successfully lie, ’cause people are too busy, generally, to take anything past face value. It’s that I couldn’t even try to lie.

Lying requires a detachment that I never mastered until getting into a line of work that thrust me, with unexpected force and surprising ease, into what could easily be described as “living a lie.” Consequently, I learned to lie.

Does a life “in the closet”–lying, perhaps of necessity, about ourselves to bosses, landlords, clients, colleagues, family, because the law and public opinion are founded on a lie–does this, can it, spread into private life, so that lying (described as discretion) becomes an easy way to avoid conflict or complication? Can it become a strategy so ingrained that it is used even with close friends and lovers?

Was lying easier than I’d expected? Yes. The art of lying was not hard to master, and I found myself suddenly capable of lying to anyone about anything, “friends and lovers” included. I suppose it happens to everyone in America or really any adult at all, sooner or later.

But the act of living with said lie, day in and day out, was exactly as challenging as I’d expected. It’s a sniper in the corner, a fortress that protects you from invaders but also blocks you from seeing anything, stops you from stepping forward, traps you.

In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even with our own lives.

I couldn’t really stand the lying, so I avoided people I had to lie to and eventually just started telling the truth with relative abandon. When I came across Adrienne Rich’s “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying,” it resonated and reinforced my decision that it would be fundamentally unethical for me to choose between truth and lying. The choice was to change my life into something I could be honest about, or stop lying. Eventually I chose the former.

Rich was talking about women’s relationships with other women, but the ideas are strong regardless of context — and because homophobia is rooted in gender discrimination, its context is relevant to DADT.

I started thinking about Adrienne Rich’s piece today as I was reading about Tuesday’s DADT hearing/dog-and-pony show, which was really just stacks of lies between liars lying about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it to please other liars and the lie-believers who vote for them.

I thought about the extent to which everything about our lives is basically built on lies and how it’s such a huge part of our culture that it’s literally not even worth mentioning. Isn’t that the only argument we need against DADT? If we’re worried about unit cohesion, isn’t honesty the best policy?

Truthfulness anywhere means a heightened complexity. But it is a movement into evolution. Women are only beginning to uncover our own truths; many of us would be grateful for some rest in that struggle, would be glad just to lie down with the shards we have painfully unearthed, and be satisfied with those. The politics worth having, the relationships worth having, demand that we delve still deeper.

Obviously Tuesday’s situation was a massive failure that makes us all look like bigoted assholes and I hate everyone in D.C. right now. It’s embarrassing and ridiculous. But even more absurd than the homophobia is the alarming disregard for HONESTY amongst soldiers, and the impact of LYING upon unit cohesion. The government lied about why we invaded Iraq in the first place so I guess nobody is too concerned about lies soldiers might tell each other on the ground about their personal lives.

It makes sense, in a strange way. I mean, who knows more about lying than Make-Believe Maverick John McCain? “Few politicians have so actively, or successfully, crafted their own myth of greatness,” wrote Rolling Stone in 2008.

Is America really the land of the free/brave, or is it just a bunch of liars governed by the liars who are best able to rally large groups of people into believing and spreading their own particular brand of lying?

Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, made a statement about the DADT filibuster, saying that the bill “had several harmful provisions that had nothing to do with defense, including repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the provision to turn medical facilities on military bases into abortion clinics. Senate Democrats tried to covertly hijack good legislation with provisions that are harmful to families and unborn children.”

Lies, right? Lies! But who cares. Certainly not John McCain or anyone speaking into a microphone in Washington these days. A bunch of liars voted in favor of lying! SURPRISE!

The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show Tuesday night, the reasons given by the Republicans for blocking the bill are just malarkey: “Today Republicans did a historic thing, they chose to block funding for the entire military and they did it because they want to keep this anti-gay policy in place. They tried to dress it up as being about all these other things, but it was just about the gays.” When asked today about officials going through soldiers’ emails to uncover homosexual monsters, John McCain said that didn’t happen. When told such instances had occurred and been documented, John McCain said “that isn’t true.”

I don’t know how you do it, girls. All of you out there who have to lie about your sexuality. You’re all my heroes because I wouldn’t last a day in your shoes. Or maybe I would. Maybe it would be easier than I expected. But it wouldn’t be pleasant, and I admire all of you that can, but that are also here reading this, because if you’re here reading this it’s because you probably are dreaming or hoping or planning to one day live in a world where you don’t have to lie anymore, at least most of the time.

When I have to lie I feel like I’m wrapped up and muzzled, and I’ll scream and kick ’til somebody lets me out of it. It helps me as a writer but it makes me essentially unemployable. So instead I’m here, ranting about 30 different topics vaguely related to DADT that probably nobody will actually read, but that I’m going to publish anyhow, because you know, why not. It’s true and I’m tired and I want to kick things.

It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.

The possibility of life between us.


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2444 articles for us.

29 Comments

  1. I, for one, am glad that you’re doing what you do here, and shining one tiny light into the black hole of lies.

    I was going to compare McCain to Humbert from Lolita –a man so convinced in his mythology that he spends an entire novel defending his actions–but then remembered that McCain is not even 0.0001% as eloquent as Humbert, which makes this all the more depressing.

    Love the way you wove Rich through the piece–shows how powerful her prose is and how relevant, no matter the issue, no matter the time.

  2. “So instead I’m here, ranting about 30 different topics vaguely related to DADT that probably nobody will actually read…”

    I read it. Brianna read it. Others will read it. You are not screaming into a vacuum. You are not alone.

  3. So I want to rant about how I keep lying/ignoring questions about my being gay, but I can’t think of anything coherent, so I will just that this is going to have me thinking all afternoon.

  4. People can lie and lie and lie and everyone can lie according to the old idea of truth as correspondence, that something is true if it corresponds to a fact and a lie if it does not correspond to a fact. Lie lie lie, who the fuck cares. Truth isn’t that which corresponds to a fact.

    There is this idea instead that truth is that which gives life. Something is true if it gives life, and it is a lie if it takes life. Truth is subjective for the most part, it is subject to circumstance and experience and feelings and opinion and all the in-between. But as soon as circumstance and experience and feelings and opinion take away from life, from the other, from an other, as soon as a subjective truth abuses life, that subjective truth become objectively a lie. Because you cannot subject yourself or the other to abuse and still call that which allows the abuse truth.

    And I think that the experience you are talking about, of living with lies, living a lie, is not because of the lies themselves but because life was taken, is taken, from you when you live like that. Life is stripped out of you against your own will when you are forced to live in a way that does not give life.

    Anyway, it’s an idea.

    And there is no truth in an abusive, life-stripping, hopeless policy like DADT. And Jesus fucking Christ, if there is no truth in something, none at all, it needs to go the fuck away.

    This makes me sad. And I feel like my sadness is so wasted because I live and vote in a country that isn’t America, and isn’t the same as America. Like I wish my sad-energy could, you know, mean more than it does.

  5. omg. great point!: you would think honesty would be the best policy. in the military. the honorable military (!).

    and WOW, i have to get schooled on Adrienne Rich like asap because she sounds like a lady who KNOWS WHAT’S UP! i’m loving everything i’ve ever seen by her. thanks for this post & happy birthdayyy!

  6. I never had to lie because no one asked.

    Hence the “Don’t Ask” part of DADT

    And if someone ever did, I would’ve just given my standard Clintonesque reply…

    “It depends upon what the meaning of the word gay is.”

    It certainly worked for him.

    But go ahead and keep making McCain your sole object of ridicule while ignoring the fact that our current Commander-In-Chief has the ability to suspend any further discharges by executive order.

    If anyone is the liar here, it’s Obama. He’s playing us for fools.

  7. The only time I lie is when my kids ask me if Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy are real and even then I cannot bring myself to say, “Yes. They are real.” Instead, I say, “What do you think?” Sometimes, in my work as a social worker, my only purpose is to walk into people’s lives and speak the truth. We have always been a society afraid of the truth – it simply grows more apparent with time.

  8. I loved this. I think it is actually a pretty powerful comment on how our society is tackling this issue of equality. It would inherently difficult for me to value something I don’t have a clear and true perception of. I am I liar. I have adapted this method of lying to make other people comfortable, while also creating the semblance of peace in my life. The downside is the deep and dark overwhelming cloud in my heart where I should be able to live and love freely and without restraint. I am going to challenge myself everyday, “to change my life into something I could be honest about”. The hope being that the end result will be more meaningful relationships with the people in my life who matter, the growth of a spine and measurable pride in my sexual orientation, and finally restoration of the inner peace and the death of the cloud in my heart.

    Thanks for this!
    Happy Birthday!!!

  9. This was very powerful.

    I think the discussion of lies and what they mean is exceedingly relevant to the queer community- because we all know what lies feel like, the biggest lies, when you have to lie, or you’re so scared you feel like you must lie to protect yourself. And so much of the time we (or I at least, I guess I only know that I speak for myself for sure) just can’t understand why other people (politicians, etc) would CHOOSE to spread so much bullshit and lie like they do. For me, lying never feels good.

    Yeah, I guess I still just don’t understand the kind of lying that goes on, even though it’s the way of the world.

  10. This article is beautiful. It makes me want to be a better person.

    I feel like I learned to lie at a pretty young age, but wasn’t really aware I was lying because I was mostly lying to myself, you know? Do politicians sometimes believe their own lies do you think? All I know is that coming to terms with my sexuality made me so hyper aware of my lies (at least certain ones) that it feels icky to lie now.

  11. I had to take twelve hours to think about this article before I could formulate something to say. I’m still now having a hard time.

    That lie… It’s so heavy. It can be so hard to live a genuine life when you just feel afraid all the time. But I think Jenn had it right when saying that we’re all each others heroes. Because the lie is hard but the honesty is sometimes even harder.

    “The possibility of truth between us. The possibility of life between us.” It’s the best thing I’ve read all week. It’s how I want everything to feel forever.

  12. I think I’m fundamentally incapable of telling a lie that is really not true at the time that I say it

    The difficulty I have is my perception of truth, and my state of being, and how those things fluctuate, so that a lot of things I say honestly result in being misleading untruths

    Because of this I sometimes feel that “true” does not exist

    The whole thing makes relationships complicated/difficult

  13. I’m good at lying. I’m smart, I have an active imagination, and I already have elaborate fantasies in my head (that I know are not real) already. I keep massive logs of details about the comic stories I create and tons of seemingly random facts about all sorts of subjects, so it’s really not a stretch for me to fabricate a really convincing lie.

    That doesn’t at all mean that I like to do it, though. It’s not something that I enjoy or get off on. Lying is never something with which I want any business.

    But I lie at work and I lie to my mother’s parents – about being gay. It sucks. I don’t feel awesome about it. It hangs over me every. single. day. Worse yet, I don’t even know in either case if it is absolutely necessary, but the potential consequences of telling the truth don’t just involve me. If it was only about me, I would deal, but the fall out in either case can hurt some of the people I love most, also.
    I will take this on, but yeah, it means turning my life into being something that I can be honest about, and that’s not something that happens overnight. I almost wish they would just out me on their own, so I don’t have to be responsible for the reactions. I just have to endure them when they come.

  14. Re: DADT, I think the lying is hard, but the not telling has got to be somewhat harder. It kinda hurts my heart thinking about keeping so many secrets inside. I mean, when I realized I was gay, I was so scared and didn’t want to tell a soul. But when I fell in love with a woman, I was grinning from ear to ear and could barely keep it a secret. Most people knew something was up. I have nothing but love and respect for our gay service members who have to hide a part of themselves almost 24/7.

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