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Keeping secrets is keeping me up nights.
December 25, 2007 10:43 PM   Subscribe

How do you make everything good again after someone finds out you've kept a secret from them? Thing is, it's not your own secret you are keeping.

My nephew came out to us several years ago and is keeping this from his grandpa(my dad). Some day it will come out that we, the entire rest of the family knows, and has known for years. I feel that will be the bigger issue, I think my dad is cool enough to handle a gay grandson, but the betrayal(?) if that's the right word, of the rest of us is going to crush him.

I was a huge proponent of letting dad know, and my nephew was at first too. My sister/his mom was having a big shocked reaction and didn't want to handle the possible reaction of our dad on top of her own drama and asked him to not tell yet. She accepted it pretty quickly, but I think the status quo took over and everyone is just comfortable now.

I've not had to lie so far, the most I've actively had to do is say that "He's probably not ready to settle down yet" when I'm asked if Nephew is "dating someone special". But I think if it finally comes down to being asked directly, I would have to answer truthfully, and I don't know if that's the right thing to do. So how do I handle a direct question and how do I handle it when the cat's finally out?
posted by Jazz Hands to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Why doesn't your nephew want to tell your father, now that things have settled down?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:49 PM on December 25, 2007


I would say simply that I do not know. If exposed later, I would say simply that I was asked to keep it a secret, and as its revelation did not seem to be crucial for extending the life or well-being of anyone else, I honored my pledge to keep it a secret, as it was no one's business but the nephew's. Keeping a promise is an honorable thing, not a betrayal. Anyone who'd argue with that is manipulative and / or creepy. Put that way, how upset could Grandpa be?
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:52 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Beyond telling the truth and lying there's a third option, which is not answering. "Ask him yourself" seems like a valid and reasonable response to prying questions about other people's personal life, regardless of whether there are secrets or not.
posted by aubilenon at 10:52 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


When it finally comes out, and your dad learns that you knew, and if he asks why you didn't say so, then the answer is "It wasn't my secret to reveal."

And then refuse to feel ashamed, for indeed you have done nothing to be ashamed of.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:55 PM on December 25, 2007 [13 favorites]


Re: direct questions: I'm with aubilenon on this. I'm in the same situation as your nephew and that's how I would want my relatives to respond to those questions. (Of course, this assumes that the questioning party is reasonable; i.e., not likely to react violently.)

Re: when the cat's out of the bag: Apologize. Explain that you were forced to choose between a lie of omission and betraying a confidence. Tell him that if he ever trusted you with a secret you would do the same for him.
posted by hjo3 at 11:06 PM on December 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm not really sure why he won't tell Dad himself, at this point he has brought his boyfriend to a few family occasions. I have offered to tell them if he was too nervous to do so himself. But he doesn't want to tell him yet.

When I said betrayal I mean more of the "How could you not trust that I'd fine with knowing?" Not "How could you keep this from me?", betrayal not quite the word that fits, I know. But I hope you get what I meant.

What I'm nervous about is that I'm a terrible liar, and while I would say something like "Ask him yourself." My eyes and wigglyness give the answers that I'm not willing to say out loud. When I think about it, as I am doing tonight, I imagine the scenario when they learn I've known, it makes my stomach hurt. I don't see my dad in person but a couple of times a year, and I think about this fairly constantly when I do visit him.

I do like what you've said Dee Xtrovert, I think that is a good answer if it comes to that.
posted by Jazz Hands at 11:14 PM on December 25, 2007


Seconding "It wasn't my secret to reveal" when/if he finds out, and "That's a question you should be asking him, isn't it?" if he asks.
posted by davejay at 11:15 PM on December 25, 2007


I do like what you've said Dee Xtrovert, I think that is a good answer if it comes to that.

Careful; that answer requires that you lie, while "That's the kind of question you should be asking him directly, isn't it?" isn't a lie at all (and so easier to deliver if you're the nervous-when-telling-a-lie type.)

As for the "How could you not trust that I'd [be] fine with knowing" type of betrayal, saying "it had nothing to do with that; it simply wasn't my secret to reveal" answers that nicely as well.
posted by davejay at 11:17 PM on December 25, 2007


One last: he wouldn't ask the question if he wasn't thinking your nephew might be gay, unless he's joking around. So assume he's joking, and if it turns out he's really asking, the deflection to ask the nephew himself is appropriate (because if he suspects, then it's up to him to get off his hiney and ask directly -- and if he's not comfortable doing that, then he's not in a position to say "how could you not trust that I'd be fine with it".)
posted by davejay at 11:19 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've been in the situation where I knew someone was gay and it was a big secret from several other people. When the friend finally came out, the best friend who didn't know (even though it was kind of obvious) was pretty taken aback and was quite hurt that essentially the friend thought that she was a homophobe that wouldn't accept the friend if she knew he was gay. Other friends who also didn't know were kind of confused and felt in a way like they had never really known the friend and felt a little like they had been lied to for years, although in the end everything was fine. No one was ever mad at me for knowing and not telling though, but then again he was very much in the closet at the time, being the odd man out is different.

I think you should try to convince the nephew to come out to grandpa asap and say that he didn't want other people to tell him, because it was important for him to do it himself.

Also are you sure you're dad will be crushed? I can understand the confusion and maybe being slightly hurt that you weren't allowed in on the big family secret, but a gay grandson is not on league with say, hiding that his wife was cheating on him, or something else that I would consider a betrayal. Grandfathers generally don't know much about their grandsons love lives period, I'm guessing he'll be a little thrown at first, but will quickly get over it. Especially if he's ok with him being gay in the first place.
posted by whoaali at 11:19 PM on December 25, 2007


Oops, see there I go expressing myself poorly again, I did mean the second part about:

"If exposed later, I would say simply that I was asked to keep it a secret, and as its revelation did not seem to be crucial for extending the life or well-being of anyone else, I honored my pledge to keep it a secret, as it was no one's business but the nephew's."

So basically it's "That's a question you'll have to ask him" (while trying not to look shifty and uncomfortable) and then later when the truth comes out the above-type statement.
posted by Jazz Hands at 11:22 PM on December 25, 2007


But I think if it finally comes down to being asked directly, I would have to answer truthfully

No, no you would not. Not at all. Not ever. NO NO NO.

Why? Because it's not your secret to reveal. Which is what, as others have said above, you say when it does all come out into the open.

If you get asked, say "I dunno" and move on. Don't get sucked into a big lie, just say "I dunno, why don't you call Fred?"

What it sounds to me like is that you want to tell him (for whatever reason) and you're searching for permission. Ain't gonna get it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:24 PM on December 25, 2007


"What it sounds to me like is that you want to tell him (for whatever reason) and you're searching for permission. Ain't gonna get it."~~~dirtynumbangelboy

Crap, saw right through me, this one did. Here I thought I was being so crafty with my gay-outing agenda.
posted by Jazz Hands at 11:38 PM on December 25, 2007


Sorry I didn't read all the posts above mine. I think what you really need to do is sit down with your nephew and tell him how keeping this secret from your father is effecting everyone, not just him and that you no longer know what to say to your father and don't like to lie. This really shouldn't be your burden to bear, especially if everyone else knows and your dad would likely be ok with it.
posted by whoaali at 11:47 PM on December 25, 2007


Oh don't be silly, Jazz Hands. I wasn't ascribing malicious motives. it just seems really clear that you don't want to keep the secret anymore (which, to a point, is understandable), and you'lre looking for permission.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:54 PM on December 25, 2007


Seconding SCDB: not your failing.

Yeah, sorry, Dad. I was a huge proponent of letting you know, and my nephew was at first too. My sister was having a big shocked reaction and didn't want to handle what she thought you might say on top of her own drama and asked him to not tell yet. She actually accepted it pretty quickly, but I think the status quo took over and in any case, they weren't my beans to spill.
posted by flabdablet at 12:23 AM on December 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I will be home visiting family in the next couple of weeks, I think it is time for a sit-down with the nephew and his mom. It has been seven years of this, it is ridiculous that it has gone this long. When I have mentioned it in the past, offering to help talk to granda etc. He agrees that there is no reason he shouldn't know, but he just hasn't done it. At first it was his mom pressuring him to keep the secret, when he really wanted to get it all out there at once. I offered to "let it slip" and then I'd deal with my sister being upset at me. He was great with that idea, but thought he'd do it himself. Flash forward seven years, and he just hasn't, for no good reason.

My dad is a great person. I have never heard him say anything racist or offensive, he is very respectful of all people. I don't think I've ever been more proud of him when I heard him set down his brother when he was making horrible racist statements. My step-mom is Evengelical Christian, and she may take it harder, but she too, is a very tolerant, loving person. I don't like seeing them treated this way, and my relationship with them both is strained and uncomfortable oftentimes because of this. I realize this is largely of my own emotions.

There is not one family member who has any problem whatsoever with his orientation. I have gone out with him and his friends on several occasions, he and his boyfriend are joyful additions to any family gathering. I'm not mentioning that like "aren't we so tolerant!", I say that wondering why he thinks Dad would be any different. Even his cousins have known, since they were nearly toddlers, that their cousin has boyfriends instead of girlfriends. I kind of thought their's would be the loose lips.
posted by Jazz Hands at 12:52 AM on December 26, 2007


Jazz Hands, your nephews sexuality is his business, not yours. It's not your business nor your place to discuss it with anyone but him. Not to mention the bad feeling it's probably going to cause when your nephew realises just who it was that did the outing.
posted by Solomon at 4:18 AM on December 26, 2007


Jazz Hands, why don't you explain to your nephew how you feel this issue is affecting your own relationship with your dad?

I would bet that your nephew hasn't realized that his decision not to tell is actually hurting those he loves (who have dutifully kept his secret for 7+ years). When he realizes that it's actually hurting your relationship with your father, the need to tell the secret is going to seem more pressing for him.

I'm afraid you won't really feel comfortable with your relationship with your dad and step-mom (and will continue to feel the relationship is strained) until you've resolved this betrayal question, i.e. until your dad has forgiven you. That just can't happen until your nephew opens up to your dad. And at that point, you can say what the others (Steven C. et al.) have suggested: it wasn't my secret, and it was my nephew's decision. If your dad is a reasonable guy (and it sounds like he is), he's going to be hurt by your nephew's decision not to tell, not by your decision not to tell.

You don't have to put it in these terms, but your nephew's finally telling your dad could be a way for your nephew to provide you with some emotional support/help just like you've been doing for him: it will let you release the strain in your relationship with your dad. You won't have to worry about lying anymore, but you will have to confront the fact that your nephew has been procrastinating telling your dad. I suspect the strain is going to be between your nephew and your dad, rather than between you and your dad (i.e.: why didn't you tell me for 7 years?).

General question: are there any good movies that deal with this issue of why people only tell certain members of their families, or wait a long time to do so? Maybe if you could all watch a movie together as a family, that could help prepare your dad to understand why his nephew didn't tell him for 7 years.
posted by monkey85 at 4:57 AM on December 26, 2007


whoops, nephew=grandson in that last line.
posted by monkey85 at 4:59 AM on December 26, 2007


I don't think you have the right to discuss your nephew's sexuality with anyone, not anyone at all other than him. It's not your business. And to start an uncomfortable conversation with him and his mother where it is not your place to do so, is just rude and it puts him on the spot. Leave the outing to your nephew. He will tell, or he won't, in his own time. It's his business. Not yours. No matter what kind of imagined drama you think will ensue when your father finds out. You are not so important in this drama as you may think: This is between your nephew, his mother (maybe) and his grandfather. No one else.

You have a secret. It's a biggie, and telling anyone that secret would betray the confidence between you and your nephew. Conversely, bringing up that secret in the context of "you should tell grandpa, it's not right that you're keeping this from him" may threaten his trust in you - he may think you're going to tell even if he tells you to keep it a secret. You will destroy his trust in you.

If asked direct questions, refer the asker to your nephew, no matter who or what the questions are. It's not your place to answer them. If, after your nephew comes out, you are asked about why you didn't tell on him, state firmly that you wouldn't betray his trust. Anything else you do, is dishonorable.

You may not think this secret is a big deal and you may think your father's reaction will be saintly. But it may very well be a big deal to your nephew, and you may threaten your relationship with him by wanting the secret told. Just drop it.
posted by disclaimer at 5:29 AM on December 26, 2007


I would bet that your nephew hasn't realized that his decision not to tell is actually hurting those he loves (who have dutifully kept his secret for 7+ years). When he realizes that it's actually hurting your relationship with your father, the need to tell the secret is going to seem more pressing for him.

Seconded. If your nephew is genuinely OK with telling your dad (and isn't just saying that because he thinks it's the right thing to say), and is genuinely just being lazy about it, then either he's ignorant about the effect his laziness has on you and others or he's being a jerk. Give him the chance to prove he's not a jerk.
posted by languagehat at 5:58 AM on December 26, 2007


This is not your secret to tell. If your nephew doesn't want to tell, for whatever reason, that is his business.

My family is always prying about my personal life and I hate it, even though I have nothing as potentially sensitive as a disclosure of sexual orientation to conceal. Weird and secretive it may be (at least in my case) but if you have agreed to keep that secret for them you may not break it.

Tell your father that if he has any questions about your nephew's life he should ask those questions himself, in the light way davejay suggests.

You are doing the honorable thing in not breaking a confidence.
posted by winna at 9:47 AM on December 26, 2007


Perhaps Jazz Hands has no right to divulge nephew's secret, but nephew has no right to ask JH to keep a secret from her father for 7 years. That's ridiculous. People who divulge their secrets to others need to accept that the recipients of their secrets are human and may slip up or find themselves unable to lie. If that risk is unacceptable, then don't divulge the secret.

Tell nephew that time's up, and that you would never have agreed to keep the secret if you'd known it would be this long. Tell him that you won't actively out him, but that you won't actively lie to keep his secret either.
posted by happyturtle at 9:58 AM on December 26, 2007


I was in a very similar situation, and I finally told the family member that I was not comfortable having to lie to my grandmother when she asked about this person. He understood immediately and let the cat out of the bag. It just hadn't occurred to him that keeping the secret affected other family members. If your nephew genuinely isn't worried about your father's reaction, he should tell. (I would feel differently if dad was a homophobe and lying to him was important to the nephew, but it doesn't sound like that's the situation here.)
posted by Mavri at 10:07 AM on December 26, 2007


Anecdotally:
When I was coming out, there were two women in the circle of parents surrounding the swim team that I was on who knew that I was gay, through their own sources, before I told my parents or coaches.

One kept it to herself, and I still think fondly of her for that.

The other told my coach, when it was absolutely none of her business, and I've never looked at her the same way.

Moral: don't out anyone, ever, for any reason.
posted by awesomebrad at 10:47 AM on December 26, 2007


Moral: don't out anyone, ever, for any reason

Don't X ever, for any reason, because there's a kid on the internet who is still pissed off at some lady who once X?

I'm really surprised at the number of people who've dealt with being in the closet who don't seem to appreciate the difficulty of hiding someone else's secret. Coming out partially is a little bit like just expanding the size of your closet, and inviting other people into it, rather than really leaving it altogether, and that can be hard for some of the people invited in. But then it either is or it isn't hard to deal with holding secrets from people - if it's hard for you to have to hide the fact that you have a boyfriend, why is it hard to empathize with the poster, that it would be hard for her to hide the fact that she spent an evening with nephew & his boyfriend? It's the same basic sense of having to watch what you say, wall off certain details of your life, from people you care about.

In this case, it seems like the nephew is probably not that close to his grandfather so it just isn't that big an issue to him - a lot of us don't feel that close to grandparents. I sometimes feel awkward making small talk with family members a couple generations removed, and having to tell them about my personal life might not be a high priority to me. But the aunt is stuck in the middle - close to both the grandfather & the nephew. To her, her dad is not some old guy who is nice, but could never understand, but a real figure in her life who deserves to be involved.

I agree with those who've said you should talk to the nephew. He probably doesn't realize how much this is affecting you.
posted by mdn at 12:31 PM on December 26, 2007


I'm having trouble believing that this is the awful burden you claim it is. It is 100% possible for you to interact with both of your family members normally without inserting yourself into their relationship to one another. This situation really doesn't have anything to do with you, at least not to the extent that you have to choose between one betrayal or another.

If it comes up, encourage them to speak with one another. Anything beyond that is butting in, and will probably hurt someone and make you seem less trustworthy.
posted by almostmanda at 5:10 PM on December 26, 2007


almostmanda: I think the problem with your approach is that by saying "I really think this is something you should be talking to him about" in response to what is really a very benign question that family members routinely ask about each other is that the grandfather will either think there is some huge issue with the person that the grandson is dating or he is gay. In this situation just about every response that isn't an out and out lie, heavily implies there is something going on. The grandfather may not automatically assume that this means the grandson is gay, but he is going to know some secret is being kept from him. The only true way to keep this a secret, especially when grandson is bringing his bf to family gatherings, is to blatantly lie, anything else raises suspicion.

Either that or the OP is going to have to get really clever and learn how avoid using any pronouns when talking about the grandson's significant other.
posted by whoaali at 11:58 PM on December 26, 2007


Tell nephew that time's up, and that you would never have agreed to keep the secret if you'd known it would be this long. Tell him that you won't actively out him, but that you won't actively lie to keep his secret either.


Yeah... no.

You agree to keep someone's secret, that means it's in the vault for good, unless it is something that is actively going to harm them or others.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:25 AM on December 27, 2007


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