By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of honesty as it relates to myself. It’s sort of the central theme of a lot of the things I do and the ways I choose to lead my life. It’s also a thing I struggle with.
Honesty is something I think about a lot as an actor and a writer. Heck, it’s sort of how I got the gig writing this column in the first place. I tend to be more forthcoming and open about my life and experiences than many people you will meet. I have a reputation for having few filters.
But here’s the thing, even as habitually honest as I try to be, it still takes a lot of work. And as a trans person, who spent a large portion of my life in the closet, I have a very complex relationship towards honesty in general.
An almost compulsive honesty makes me go onstage and tell large groups of strangers weird stories about my life. It makes me share so many personal details of my thoughts and experiences in my writing and with you here. All that honesty came as a sort of self-defense technique for keeping people from looking too closely at my life and, gods-forbid, figuring out that I was carefully hiding this massive secret about my gender identity.
The idea being that if I had a reputation for being incredibly, almost weirdly honest, then no one would think to ask the questions I was desperate to avoid having to answer. They would not feel the need to delve, to look deeper and more closely. They would not think to ask what I was doing in my room with the door closed so late into the evening, night after night. There would be no question why I was bringing big bags of thrift store clothes into my room that just disappeared into a box in the back of my closet, buried under a perpetual and conveniently messy pile of laundry.
Because everybody knew Mac (my old name) doesn’t lie. You should be careful asking him for advice, because sometimes he’ll give you startlingly honest opinions. And if you’re hanging out with him, it’s entirely likely he will overshare some drug-fueled anecdote or questionably legal adventure.
The point is, I spent basically the first 30 or so years of my life hiding an incredibly large part of who I am and the things I was doing from everyone around me. I lied. A lot. And not just to the people I loved and lived with. But also, for a long time, I lied to myself. I hid the truth of myself under so many layers of lies and partial truths that it became an ingrained habit. I got good at it.
But eventually, as seems to happen, the weight of all that secrecy and unspoken words became too much. People close to me began to ask the questions I did not want them asking. They noticed the gaps in my stories, and where I could not effectively explain those gaps, they filled in their own assumptions–assumptions that were often worse than the actual truth.
More than that, I began to doubt the lies I was telling myself. Maybe there was more to my “dressing up” than just wanting to play around with gender, kink, or costumes. It wasn’t a phase and I definitely was not moving on.
Along a similar trajectory, I also began to realize how important honesty was to me in my own relationships. Officially, my marriage ended because my wife cheated on me with a gangsta-rapping clown (that’s actually not a wildly unlikely joke I made up for this column. It really happened. I have a genuinely weird life. But it’s a story for another time … ).
It was not the only time she cheated on me, however. It had happened before and both times, I found out through other people and in little dribs and drabs of revelation.
To be completely fair to her, I was not exactly the best husband. I was, as you might guess, dealing rather badly with a whole host of gender issues, many of which I was only then coming to honest terms with myself. I was in my own way lying to her just as much as she was lying to me.
As the years went on and I got some intellectual distance on the events, I thought more about how my marriage ended and I began to realize that what bothered me was not so much that my wife had slept with other people. It was the lies and the lack of trust.
What was, what is, important to me, is honesty. Heck, my ex-wife got the chance to sleep with one of her musical idols! If I had been propositioned by Björk, I might have made a similar choice!! (BTW, if any of you have any connections to that wonderfully cute and delightfully eccentric little Icelandic pixy, tell her I’m totes available!) I realized that honesty and openness were more important to me than any strict definitions of monogamous fidelity.
You might be asking at this point what all that about my marriage has to do with me being trans. Good question. And I’m getting to it right about here.
It was still a good few years before I would finally decide to start being honest with myself and those I love about my identity as a trans woman. And I had to go a lot deeper down the spiral before things got so bad and the lies so heavy that I could no longer bear the weight. This was probably a pivotal moment for me on the path to truth.
Because for me, it’s all connected. I finally had to start being honest with myself, admit and accept that I am trans. That I am and have always been a woman. It wasn’t going to be enough to simply open up that one part of me.
Living with all those lies sucked. And I want no part of it.
Once those floodgates opened, a lot of personal truth started to pour out.
I doubt it is any coincidence that after I came out as trans, I also started to develop an identity as a polyamorous person. Monogamy had never been good to me or for me. It required me to hide too much about myself from the people I love most. And it encouraged them to hide from me.
Please don’t mistake me. I’m not anti-monogamy or anti-cisgender, for that matter. Those are fine for a lot of folks—just not for me.
As a proud trans, poly and queer woman, I can finally be totally honest with the people I care about, and with myself.
I realize these are not all especially acceptable identities in this society. Some parts of my identity are more well-accepted than others. They can all still be quite marginalizing—dangerous even.
I fear that many people who see me being who I am in the world, who read my writing and listen to my words, may come away with the impression that this seems easy for me.
But being so honest takes a hell of a lot of work—constant, self-vigilant work. Not only is the culture around me not entirely encouraging of these identities. I have a lifetime of experience at lying. And I’m still very, very good at it.
But I strive constantly to be better. To tell the truth even, especially, when it’s hard. I fail a lot. Sometimes it sucks and it hurts and I get stuck in the mud of old, bad habits. But, I do the work because I think it’s worthwhile.
Being honest in who I am, living in the truth, has made me much, much happier and allowed me to live a far more fulfilling life than I ever had before. And I’m sharing all this with you because I want you to know I believe that you can be honest too. If I can overcome a lifetime of lying, then you can too.
You don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to always be successful. You just have to keep trying.
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: email@example.com.
Best post ever, Lorelei! This one really hit home for me; lots of parallels to my own journey.
Now that I have picked myself off the floor and emptied my tissue boxes – all of them – this week’s RB column was so poignant, honest, and exceptional. You are gifted and so very extraordinary as a writer, activist and visionary. While all of our journeys are our own, their intersections are so wonderfully powerful. Thank you for sharing.
I sucked as a husband, kinda sucked as a dad. REALLY sucked at being myself. Lots of lost ground to recover with awesome folks in our community.
Thank you so very, very much for being your own voice in our emerging dawn as ourselves.
Thank you, Lorelei, for shedding more light on this topic for I am always seeking to better understand my own transgender daughter. With gratitude, Catherine
Great article Lorelei, and awesome to see your willingness to go inside and find the willingness to share your inner struggles –and vulnerable places, with your readers, with honestly as a visible person. Choosing to live our truth, our authentic selves is an issue for all people, not just trans, or queer, but a challenge for everyone. SO many of us, may here the words reverberate in our minds ‘If they really knew me, they would not like me and even leave me.
As a fellow author , who writes about authenticity, I “grok” what you shared and glad that you shared it with us. Also, our truth may change in every moment….adn it is OK to acknowledge this