Friday, 3 June 2011

I don't want to lie, but...

This post is about lying and fibbing when speaking with ordinary people that you encounter in daily life - people in shops and queues, people you pass when walking about - and more particularly people you keep on meeting, so that you become a familiar face to them, and a kind of casual relationship develops, leading nowhere probably, but you can’t tell.

I’m not primarily discussing what to say to a prospective romantic partner. That’s quite well-covered on the internet and is a frequent subject for posts. Whether to reveal one's trans history to a new person in your life, and if yes, when is the best moment, is a perennial subject of vital interest to most of us. I haven't been in that situation so far, so I can't offer any comment based on personal experience, but I do read those posts avidly on a ‘just in case’ basis!

But of course I am not looking for love, and my main concern in potentially romantic situations would be to keep control of events and manage the situation. I do have some concerns in that area. The comments from friends that I am ‘attractive’ are getting more frequent. Well, I’ll concede - purely on photographic evidence - that I do look prettier than I did two years ago, but then don’t we all? Hormones have a wonderfully softening and rejuvenating effect on the skin, and remodel the face quite well. And I do smile a lot in company. So there may be the odd beery old codger in a pub, who will one day lurch over to me and attempt a nice line in chat. Or even some nicer man-of-the-world type who finds my looks strangely quirky and fascinating and different, says he’s intrigued, and takes a more sophisticated approach. Both will want me to flatter their egos, and ultimately they'll want to get their end away. Well, no thanks. Thank goodness, it hasn’t happened more than twice yet, and not recently, but it could happen again at any time, and maybe I’ll reach a critical level of attractiveness that gets me noticed far too often. Let’s hope not. But meanwhile I must have a game plan. And that involves a choice between the truth or a lie.

In those situations, typically in the bar when buying drinks, I will do whatever is necessary to keep the situation in hand. I have a choice or weapons - the truth, or a lie - and I think that if a lie has to be used, then I can justify it on grounds of personal comfort, and to fend off an invasion of my personal space.

Oddly the truth might be the more effective weapon: given that it's apparently 90% certain that disclosing one’s trans origin will kill a budding relationship stone dead, it’s a no-brainer to ‘come clean’ at once, as the very best way to  prevent getting drawn into an unwanted entanglement. And you can do it gently, with a smile - how could anyone take offence? The only difficulty might be where the other person is clearly going to over-react. If there is a possibility of hysteria or anger, it’ll have to be ‘excuse-me-I-need-to-go-to-the-toilet’, and a discreet but rapid exit.

Getting back to ordinary situations, and day-to-day living, I constantly go into all sorts of places where I'm likely to speak with people. It's often with people I may never meet again. But that's not the case with local shops and other places to which I will return again and again. I find myself getting recognised, even well known. Inevitably there is conversation, and as time passes it tends to progress from the merely general to matters that involve my personal history and my attitudes.

These are just some of the difficult areas:

# Do I have a husband.
# Do I have any children.
# What exactly was my recent operation.
# My childhood and schooling.
# My upbringing, and what my parents allowed me to do when a girl.
# My boyfriends and what they were like.
# My career and other ambitions.
# My interests.
# Men generally.

Other women - interested as always in you, not your gadgets or possessions or job - will readily delve into your past, eager to learn your life history. And they expect you to ask them about theirs. It's no surprise. I often saw my Mum do this if she'd been standing in a queue for more than a minute. But my goodness, you need to be very quick-witted to field some of the questions put to you, or develop some theme, without giving away something. It wouldn't be hard if you were resolved to tell the strict truth, and nothing else. But do you really want to be totally frank? No romantic personal relationship hangs on this. I therefore take the line that I will tell no definite lies, but I won't mind giving a somewhat misleading impression to a stranger or very casual acquaintance. I know: a ‘somewhat misleading impression’ is a weasel expression that in plain honest English can be paraphrased as ‘lie’. But there are obvious difficulties and traps for a trans person, and unvarnished truth can get you into many kinds of difficulty.

So when discussing my childhood, I always speak of myself as being a 'child', and not specifically a boy or a girl.

When speaking about the ongoing effects of my genital operation, I mention that I musn't lift things or be energetic in any way for months on end, knowing full well that every woman will instantly assume that I've had a hysterectomy.

When marriage comes into the conversation, I don't say I married a woman. I let them assume that I had a husband, even though I won't categorically say so at any point. Nowadays I leave my wedding ring finger bare, so there’s a sporting chance that they’ll assume I’ve stayed single. But if I want to mention my step-daughter, then I’ve got to admit I was once married.

And if we move onto parental experience, I don't claim motherhood. I do claim parenthood. But I don't explain that my role at the time was the male one.

I'm committing some falsehoods here. But it does enable me to have conversations that would simply not happen if I wore an 'I'm Transsexual' sticker on my forehead or chest. And these are life-building conversations. They give me vital glimpses into the real histories of natal women who grew up in a way that I can’t now experience or share, except by talking with them. I think that’s an important justification for being careful with the truth about yourself. Of course, I’m often uneasy about giving the wrong impression. It’s definitely not being honest. I console myself with two thoughts.

First, it’s necessary that I learn, as quickly as possible, all those things I should have learned had I been brought up as a girl; all those things that I would have experienced as a young woman; and all those things that an older woman comes to terms with: children growing up and leaving home, husbands becoming boring or unfaithful, thwarted ambitions, looks fading and femininity retreating, women’s illnesses. If a temporary masquerade will get me this knowledge, then I feel I should have no qualms.

Second, once I have sufficient ‘background’ in my head, and can hold my own in any conversation between women, then I can concentrate on recent events in which I was myself an active participant. I don’t need to lie about any of that. And eventually, after a few years, that aspect will be the one that dominates what I talk about, and lies can be left behind.

Perhaps these two justifications are still offensive to some, who hold absolute truth dear. I'm not competent to discuss theoretical morality or ethics. I do think however that being careful with the truth is a responsibility that must be taken seriously. You have to use judgement. The truth can hurt and upset, and if its disclosure can’t improve a situation, or make it damaging, then I think you should keep silent. It's as potentially dangerous as a loaded gun. For instance, supposing you discovered in some family letters or papers that a sibling was an adopted child, and not the natural child of their Mum and Dad? Or that the real father was a wartime airman from Canada or the States, and that an illicit affair was kept a secret? Would you in every circumstance tell them what you had found out? I think not, unless they’d specifically asked you to winkle out the truth for them.

And on a much less contentious level, if a harmless misrepresentation lets me chat vivaciously with someone for ten minutes, to our mutual enjoyment, how does that matter?

It might be said of course that all this fibbing is gradually undermining my sense of truth, even of reality. I disagree, because I remain acutely aware of the deception, and troubled by it.


  1. "A step child on the other side of the world and sadly unable to bear children of your own."

    Get som sympathy and divert some other questions and If you get the one about would you have liked to have had your own you can talk all day with complete honesty.

    Being economical with the whole truth is not just something we do, everyone does it to some degree or other.

    Nobody asks me these sorts of questions...

  2. When listening in to my wife in conversation with the checkout clerk (she will go to the same one even if her line is longest) about how the family is doing is quite the education. They each remember name and facts and will ask things that I would have thought were reserved for good friends!

    For me the scariest part of any lie is keeping the story straight in the future, and keeping all of the interconnections between stories consistent. You have avoided this by not really lying as much as stating the truth in a round-about way, leaving out certain details; a much safer route.

    "Being economical with the whole truth"... I like that! :)

  3. "Oh! what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive!"

    Caroline an Halle are right. Don't fib, just be economical with the truth. No one has an automatic right to know your whole life's story, unless you chose to divulge it.

    Melissa XX


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford