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.