In a perfect world, there would be no secrets. There would be no shameful events. The reason that anything becomes a secret is that there is shame associated with it. There would also be no shaming by a greater society for those personal experiences.
I suspect that the most common arena of secrets is in the sexual. The second category is in the area of addiction, which can overlap with the sexual, but mostly involves chemical addictions, including alcohol. There are some that are financial. Then there are many others that would fall into the category of, “If people knew what I had done, they would think less of me, that I’m stupid, not a good friend, or [fill in the blank].”
When I was seeing patients, I had more than one woman confide in me that they had been raped or sexually assaulted. Sadly, that is not surprising. But what did surprise me, that some of them had never told their boyfriends or husbands. While I couldn’t imagine Denise or me keeping such a secret, once the women explained, their secrecy, it made some sense.
These women felt their husbands (can’t remember such a case between a lesbian couple) would be angry and think less of them with the knowledge of their rape. The husband’s/boyfriend’s anger would stem from the deep notion that some other man, forcefully, took something that belonged to them. The wife felt that anger would spill over and they would be blamed for that rape or assault or their husbands or boyfriends would see them as dirty. You know the story, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Dressing too suggestively, drinking too much, or giving the wrong signals, somehow makes the rape “deserved.”
Once I understood their situation, I supported their secrecy, although at the same time, I was hoping their husbands or boyfriends were more empathetic than they imagined.
There is another area of sexual abuse that goes unreported because of shame, and that is a man who was molested or raped as a young boy, by a man. It is not a surprise—although dreadful—that this has been a scandal within the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and more recently, within the Southern Baptist Church. I am a candid person and if this had ever happened to me, I would probably tell you here. I have no filter, by choice. But it hasn’t. Yet, I’ve known of many cases among friends and others.
But this later secret is held in a more secure place than even how the women hide their dark secrets. In my long career, I never remember a male patient confiding in me that they had been sexually assaulted or raped. This intense shame has been the major reason that the Catholic leadership got away with hiding it, as did the Baptists, and Boy Scouts, because the victims were so willing to keep it as a secret.
I’m no Freud, but I suggest that the reason the men being rapped as a boy is so shameful, is deeply tied into their homophobia. Even though the man may have been a helpless seven-year-old when a man raped them, forever they carry the humiliation that they have had “gay sex.” To many hetrosexual men, this is worse than death. This is why armies use rape of prisoners as their greatest form of torture.
I am not being so callused as to suggest that the humiliation and shame associated with being molested or raped as a child by a man is less for the gay man than the heterosexual. I’m just stating that the reason for the hetrosexual shame may be different. But again, I’m no Freud and don’t even play one on TV. But there is enough shame to change the course of life for all of the victims.
The reason I started this journey into secrets, pretentiousness, and avatars is tied to my thoughts about my next novel, tentatively called, Judy Springs. I have a rough draft of the first chapter.
SIDE BAR: My present novel, The Stones of Yemen, has finished its 10-month grueling process of editing with a professional and now we are in the proofreading stage. We are also negotiating with agents to pitch the book to major publishing houses, which is an arduous and humiliating process, regardless of how good your work is. If I go with my own publishing imprint, The Stones of Yemen will be on the market by January. If we are able to close a deal with a big publishing house, then who knows. I do feel encouraged as a few have read the final copy (even without the proofreading) and have given it high marks. I humbly realize that some of my previous works were not of this caliber. But I’ve worked hard to improve my writing. One friend who works in the publishing industry, told me “The Stones of Yemen was the best novel I have ever read.” I wrote this book after hearing on the news about an American-made bomb that was dropped on a Yemeni school bus full of first-grade boys, killing over sixty and having deep thoughts about bereavement as an impetus for peace, and terrorism. If I write Judy Springs, it will be because of my deep thoughts about toxic secrets.
In Judy Springs, I draw a lot from my own childhood, growing up in the Bible Belt of NE Tennessee. It is a story about a dark family secret. While fiction, it draws from real life. As I reflected on the dark secrets I knew about in that village, I realized there was a plethora of them, so many, I have to be careful not to get too close to the factual events.
The Problem with Secrets
I will state again, most secrets are benign and are none of the public’s business. However, some are toxic because they hurt other people or the perpetrator. I want to discuss these toxic secrets for a moment.
Speaking in philosophical terms, rather than religious, I believe that there are problems with toxic secrets from the two extremes of society. On the socially-conservative side, there is an imagined paradigm where they see morals in a hierarchical layering, and each person can move up that hierarchy at will. The expectation is that everyone should live at the high moral marks, which they have determined (falsely) that they live at. If someone is unwilling to abide by this ideal moral standard, then that morality should be legislated on them by the government. However, the “arrived” people, those who feel they are morally superior, have a false appraisal of their own morality and the ease of reaching their concept of an ideal behavior. In this climate of intense moral scrutiny of society, it creates a pressure to hide moral failures, both with the people who don’t subscribe to this moral hierarchy, and more often, among those who do. There is an amazing level of moral pathology that resides quietly in the closets of the houses of the “righteous.”
There is an amazing level of moral pathology that resides quietly in the closets of the houses of the “righteous.”J. Michael Jones
On the socially liberal side of society, there is a movement away from morality, for the sake of harmony. While seeking harmony or social peace is a noble cause, this particular approach bears some dangerous consequences. It starts with the loss of absolute truth and it goes like this, “All religions or philosophical presuppositions are the same as there is no truth.” While that works for a while, it eventually ends up in the area of ethics or morals. “Whom am I to judge?” While that may be a welcome attitude in a conservative society where moral judgements and condemnations are the rule, when unchecked, it leads to a dead end. Eventually you have no footing to say that racism is wrong, or that rape is wrong, then eventually whom am I to judge if pedophilia is wrong. The loss of absolute truth is the “gateway drug” that leads to moral relativism, which can take a generation to be fully realized.
The loss of absolute truth is the “gateway drug” that leads to moral relativism, which can take a generation to be fully realized.J. Michael Jones
There is a balance, where the concept of absolute truth is not abandoned, but where tolerance and compassion, as well as a realistic view of morality can produce social peace and mutual respect.
I will close with one of those boyhood stories that has inspired Judy Springs. The number two man at our Baptist church, choir director, adult Sunday school teacher and leader, was a habitual sexual molester and rapist of young boys. Everyone in the church knew about this but never spoke about it beyond whispers in their kitchens. Because this same man was seen as an “idealized Christian man.” He never “cussed [see my previous posts about profanities],” he had perfect church attendance, he didn’t drink alcohol, and he wore suits to church. I know that this sounds bizarre, but the parents looked the other way, because of his goodness. I have no idea how many boys were victims over his 40 years reign at our church. He never got his hands on me, thanks to my mother running interference, but he did my brother. But it was a Christian community taboo to make an issue of his abuse to help maintain the illusion that Christians are better people. I’m not so sure he could have gotten by with his behavior today.
Now imagine that society in the 1960s-70s had less of a social stigma and without its illusion of perfect moral subcultures, then this man Jack, may have been comfortable enough to say to his parents or a friend, “There is something wrong with me. I feel sexual desires toward little boys. I’m afraid I might hurt someone.” Then that parent or friend would help them get the mental health they needed, and the damage to countless little boys would have been averted. Or at least, the first person who knew of this man’s behavior, would have called him out … or called the police. Acting, rather than maintaining the façade of a higher moral society, where bad things don’t happen.
There are people who come to this blog who know whom I am talking about. I will name him, Jack. He is now deceased. But those people who know who I am talking about are probably more angry at me for bringing this up, than they were ever at Jack. You know, it makes Christianity look bad to bring things like this up. That is why the Southern Baptist could be put out of business by lawsuits in the coming years, as the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church, because they were enablers in order to maintain their façade.
My point here is that while many secrets are benign and should be kept personal, some are toxic and damaging and the more people circle their wagons to protect and enable the perpetrators, the more toxic the secrets become.
I read a lot of novels these days, to help my own writing. Many novels center around dark secrets that people carry. One, which was made into a movie, was Pat Conroy‘s The Prince of Tides. In the book, to illustrate my point, a girl’s rape was something the whole family knew about and explained her traumatized psyche. However, it wasn’t until the end that the reader finds out about the protagonist’s (a man) rape as a boy. But it was a great book and a good movie.
A more recent illustration of dark family secrets is the TV series, Greenleaf. It is an extremely well-written and acted story about a family, deeply involved with the business and life of a black, Memphis megachurch, and their dark family secrets.
The Hermit at Loch Eyre