Saturday, 8 February 2014

Secrets

We all have secrets, don't we? Little things, mostly. Some of them will be nice secrets, such as what one has bought as a delightful gift for somebody else, and wanting to keep quiet about it until the gift is produced with suitable theatre. But I'm speaking here about personal secrets that one would not want generally known.

Transition has made me refocus on which secrets matter, and which don't.

I used to sit on a very large bundle of secrets, going way back into my childhood. For example, how much I hated going to school, or which aunts or uncles I didn't really like. My teenage years were especially full of secrets. The odd thing was that from time to time I wrote some of these secrets down in diaries and notebooks, and not always in cypher. Considering that I was paranoid about Mum or Dad reading any of this stuff, you have got to ask why I took the risk. I can only suggest now that I did in fact want them to discover what I had written, and to appreciate that all was not well - and that I needed to talk.

Mum mentioned once that she had come across some 'gibberish' in a cupboard in my bedroom. That tested the water somewhat. Caught off-guard, I froze and said nothing, and there was no outpouring of what by then must have been desperate doubts about myself. I just couldn't face it. I destroyed the evidence, kept silent, and turned away from self-examination as one might turn away from some unbearably distressing scene. By degrees the introspection crept back, but it was never so deep for decades to come. Mum's curiosity had nipped it in the bud. We had not been especially close: now there was a barrier of secrecy between us. I made sure that it was carefully maintained. It became habitual, so that I was wary of self-disclosure with everyone I met. My lips were sealed. To learn any personal secret from me became a sign that I truly loved and trusted, and wanted to let the recipient of that secret into my life.

This wasn't very grown-up. I have long since understood that personal secrets, like money and knowledge and truth, need to be managed sensibly and rationally, and not emotionally. Like money, and knowledge, and the truth, a personal secret is a gun that you can fire, or a bomb that can have a devastating effect. You have to be discriminating and very careful where your secrets are concerned. You have to act responsibly. You must become a good judge of what will happen if you let a secret out. Whether it will help, or just hurt. I don't see the virtue of confessing secrets on principle, any more than telling the literal truth on principle is always wise. If it is imperative that a person knows a secret that I possess, then that might override any other consideration. But I'd never want to destroy anyone's happiness or peace of mind by casually telling them something they did not need to know.

Some reading this will purse their lips, and feel like telling me that my lack of adherence to any conventional belief system has warped my values. That truth is paramount, and that all secrets are truths waiting to be shared, no matter what the consequences. I do not agree. I stick to my guns. I think that human beings are frail, and need to be treated with loving care. I will not perplex or devastate anyone with a secret they may not be able to cope with.

While writing this, I was pondering whether there was, nowadays, any personal secret that I wouldn't divulge. But strangely I couldn't think of anything that I had done, or had said, or had been, that was so awful that it must be forever hidden. I could only think of things that I would normally not mention unless I had to reply to a direct question about them. And there aren't many of those. It's back to transition again: it gives you a sense of perspective. Lots of things do not now matter. Lots of things were done as a result of living the Old Life, the Wrong Life, and I can be unembarrassed about them. They are washed out.

About the only thing I now tend to conceal from the Old Life is the fact that I used to work for the dreaded Inland Revenue. But then, if asked what I did when working, I will make a clean breast of it, always using positive words like 'I had a thirty-five year career' and 'it was a responsible and important job' and 'it was technically difficult, involving an encyclopaedic knowledge of tax law, and a raft of people skills' and 'I wasn't a high flier, but I got two good promotions, and had many leadership roles' and 'it was interesting and well-paid'. But I temper this with 'there were lots of alpha males, and I had to conform to that style' and 'it was naturally very confrontational' and 'occasionally I had to authorise or personally use forcing measures' and 'yes, it did involve delving deeply into people's financial secrets'. Secrets again. I had to wrest many secrets from unwilling and uncooperative sole traders or partnerships, the pillars of local communities; or from company directors.

I never doubted that I was acting on behalf of the general public - that an ordinary tax-paying man or woman looking over my shoulder would be shocked and outraged if I backed away from a difficult case, or was put off by rudeness, or crossness, or bluster. But I felt like a policeman. One came across so many sensitive personal secrets, and I often reflected on the consequences for the person under investigation. Their acute sense of exposure and embarrassment. For instance, if my enquiries had revealed that the trader or director had kept a love-nest, paid for through the business, that his wife did not know about. The domestic arguments that must have occurred when such things came to light. As when the family's holiday villa, or boat, also paid for on the business, was discovered. Or the little empire of let properties, built up with retirement in mind. Or when the trader or director was forced to disclose a secret and wasteful gambling habit, or that he had dabbled in illegal transactions in foreign currency. Secrets.

These people's affairs were confidential. And despite retirement I am bound till death never to discuss the precise details of any case, nor to say exactly who it was. I will be convicted and imprisoned if I ever do. I can speak generally about office life, and methods, and what kind of targets we chose, and what sorts of thing we discovered, but not the details. It's ongoing secret-management on a very, very serious level.

Compared to this, the personal details of who I used to be, what I looked like, and so on, seem unimportant and uncontroversial. My age, too. As a matter of personal policy, I do regard these things as secrets, but secrets I can discuss with anybody who seems reasonable. They are not things that can drag me down if exposed.

It's like when reclined in a dentist's chair, mouth open, about to get a tooth drilled. There may be pain - probably psychologically induced - despite the injection. You wish you were elsewhere. I say to myself, yes, this isn't exactly pleasant, but I can think of much worse things. Such as presenting a tax case before stone-faced Commissioners, in a magistrates' court perhaps. It was like that at my time in Bromley in the 1980s. Such alarming memories get you through many experiences that may seem tough, but are really nothing in comparison. And a public exposure of my personal secrets would be nothing too. That's why, if you search, you'll find many of them in these posts.

2 comments:

  1. Ah but some secrets you have about yourself will remain that way. We never any of us reveal everything about ourselves, things we may feel ashamed about will never be revealed, not to our fellow beings at least.

    Shirley Anne x

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh yes of course. If, as I said, I believed disclosure would do harm, then I would not tell. You have to apply good judgement.

    Lucy

    ReplyDelete

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