By Lisa P.
The term “double life” traditionally has been used to refer to men (predominantly) who maintain two families or two wives or two distinct “full-time” jobs or work for two different governments, where one side cannot ever know about the other. Living a double life means living a life defined by secrets and, ultimately, deceit. It is an understatement to say that a double life can be a difficult and stressful life, because it is a life lived in conflict with a person’s basic integrity.
It is highly likely that more people lead a double life than most people realize. Many people keep part of their lives secret so they can hide their feelings of shame. People are ashamed of either the implications or the consequences of their actions and would rather hide than face the judgment of other people. Does that sound familiar?
Those feelings definitely fit me, because I have for decades lived a double life. For someone brought up to be truthful (and in my family, there were few sins bigger than telling a lie), living a double life can be devastating to one’s physical and mental well-being. I know that has been true for me. Being transgender can feel shameful, with implications that reach far beyond the simple wearing of clothes of the opposite gender. We risk ridicule and judgment from our peers. No wonder we lie not only to others, but to ourselves as well.
Why do we put ourselves through all that? The answer is personal to each of us, but like the tide coming in and going out, the pull on us is inexorable.
Once we tell our significant other, the “double life” label may no longer be completely correct, at least insofar as that key person is concerned. But, even telling our partner about this side of ourselves doesn’t solve the double life problem entirely, because our loved one may want us to continue to lie to them (or better yet, fail to disclose in the classic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” format), so that they don’t have to face the reality of who we are every minute of every day. Also, we still have the lies we tell others as we go about our daily business (some of which our loved one may press on us). In that sense, many of us are boxed in and must continue to live a lie.
I probably should admit at this point something that is obvious. I have lied to you about my true name. My legal name is not now nor has it ever been Lisa. Think of it as my “nom de plume” or “nom de femme”. I employ that name because it allows me to affirm my sense of self while at the same time preserving my marriage and avoiding other entanglements with my personal life. Also, it has grown on me and I call myself Lisa at least once each day, because I find it affirming. Also, I have had my own email address for Lisa for the past 25 years, and I have had a Facebook page for nearly that long. Of course, I have had to tell many other lies along the way – more lies than I can count, and I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say we often spin a web of lies to keep ourselves safe and free of shame. The comment has been made before that transgender persons would make good spies, because we know how to cover our tracks so well. Covering one’s tracks, however, means steeping oneself in lies and deception. One reason I have wanted to come out to people is so that I don’t have to lie to that particular person anymore. Yet, by doing so I have only complicated my life, because from that time forward I need to keep track of that person as someone I have come out to. I have to ask myself, who knows, how much do they know, what more do they need to know? The questions/answers complicate every relationship.
Yet, what is a person to do? How do you dress in female clothes and buy makeup if you share a joint bank account? Either you (i) borrow without asking – akin to “stealing,” even if temporary or (ii) buy without disclosing the purchase (again, akin to “stealing”), if you maintain joint coffers. We steal to steal away (in a way). What does it do to our psyche when we are continuously “stealing” in this way?
In social situations, lying tends to be an even bigger issue. The problem is that quite a bit of social conversation is related to gender. As a male, I know exactly what the guys want to talk about, and I play along, even if I have little interest in some of the topics they are discussing. Similarly, as a woman, I have no problem sharing with another woman what I like in terms of fashion. But, how do I share personal details of my life with the women in my social circle without explaining so much about my children that they can Google them and find out that they are not “Lisa’s” children? How do I answer when asked for details about my spouse? In male mode, I can answer that question easily, but as Lisa the first thought that pops into my head is whether I should obfuscate by refering to her as my “partner” (in a non-gendered way), or talk about my wife as if we are a lesbian couple. How do I talk about my job? I am in the sort of profession where networking is a must. So, if I mention my job the next mention should be to describe everything about it to try to earn business from the other person (although women thankfully don’t seem to need this information as much to establish the power dynamic in a relationship). Back in Boysville, how do I describe what I did during the weekend if, instead of going to a sporting event I got my nails and hair done? Not providing sufficient details when asked for more information can come across as suspicious to the person with whom I am speaking. So I lie – a little sometimes and a lot at other times. All so that I can present as the woman Lisa even when it may be obvious to others that I am a transwoman. I don’t know if others have the same experience as me, but people typically assume I am full-time, because the gender binary is intended to be one or the other. I don’t know what they would think if they knew that I live in both genders right now. I have a sense (even if misguided) that it would make them less comfortable with me, and why would I want to rock the boat if I am having smooth sailing in that particular relationship?
And so the lying has become endemic in my life. I seem to be lying all the time, and that can’t be healthy for me or for you if you engage in similar behavior. Lest I leave you with that “downer,” I must add that a forum like Kandi’s Land is valuable in part because we can engage with other humans as ourselves. Sure, we don’t disclose our real names or locations if we are still in the closet, because we need to stay safe. But, we share honestly our feelings, needs and hopes. I know for me the ability to do that is incredibly important. I will therefore end with a word of thanks to all of you for coming to this site, reading words like these, commenting on what you have read when you are led to do so, and otherwise pondering the imponderable questions of our complex lives.
Double lives are hard – at least most of us aren’t trying to deal with double wives too!