And they couldn't even talk about it
August 5, 2022 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in experiences (historical, fictional, your own) where someone was in crisis but couldn't talk about it. I don't mean things like abuse, diagnosis, or non-disclosure agreements. More along the lines of, say, people who were in witness protection and couldn't talk about their "real" lives. People who were passing as white and hearing a lot of racist comments.
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:54 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]

The story "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx (which the movie was based on) is quite heart wrenching. It sticks with me many years after reading it. It's third person, so the characters don't narrate their crisis. But I think it gets at what you are asking for.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:13 AM on August 5 [2 favorites]

The film "A Single Man" is heart-wrenching for me in its depiction of two men in love and in a relationship who can't talk about it. From the advertised plot summary:

George (Colin Firth) is a college professor who recently lost his lover, Jim, in a car accident. Terribly grief-stricken, George plans to commit suicide. As he goes about his daily routine and puts his affairs in order, his encounters with colleagues, students and an old friend (Julianne Moore) lead him to make a final decision as to whether life is worth living without Jim.

This scene, where the main character receives the news that his partner has died but has to mask his anguish lest it reveal the true extent of his crisis (and thus their relationship) is truly masterful.

The film is based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood.
posted by desert exile at 11:23 AM on August 5 [4 favorites]

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is historical fiction about Belle da Costa Greene, the woman who was JP Morgan's librarian and built the Morgan library in NYC. She was from a Black family, but she passed as white during her entire career. It's written in first person so it does illustrate her internal thoughts and feelings about passing.
posted by CiaoMela at 11:31 AM on August 5 [6 favorites]

I think you'd like Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe; the way this sort of issue affected I.R.A. members (and others in Northern Ireland) is a central topic.
posted by the primroses were over at 12:14 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II.
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:51 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ditto in parallel on the other side of the pond: Bomb Girls The Unsung Heroines of the Second World War [2013]. compiled by Jacky Hyams. Thousands of women, who worked in munitions factories in the UK during WWII, were not allowed to tell anyone what they did. It was obvious that something was up because they were known as canary girls. It took 50 years for their contribution to the war effort to be formally recognised.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:02 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

There are multiple instances of Jewish people pretending to be Gentiles in Nazi territory during World War 2. Edith Hahn Beer is one example, she obtained forged papers, and ended up marrying a member of the Nazi party. She eventually confessed her identity to him (he insisted they still get married and helped keep her identity secret) but had to hide it from everyone else, and refused painkillers during childbirth because she was afraid she'd say something incriminating while drugged.

There's also a German documentary called The Invisibles that goes into the stories of several people who hid their Jewish identity in Nazi Germany.
posted by castlebravo at 2:19 PM on August 5

Best answer: Nella Larsen's Passing (excellent novel, so-so Netflix adaptation) deals with Black women who pass for white and often have to not react to racist screeds (including by one woman's own white husband).
posted by TwoStride at 5:16 PM on August 5

"Welcome to the world, Baby Girl" by Fannie Flagg
posted by elizabot at 9:25 AM on August 6

I came back to add that you might be interested in checking out the range of writings and other cultural material about (and some by) FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, the man who went by the pseudonym Deep Throat in his role as secret informant to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, reporters for The Washington Post. As Deep Throat, Felt provided key details about the involvement of President Nixon's administration in what came to be known as Watergate. When Felt's identity was confirmed over 30 years later by family attorneys, the US Government, and and Woodward and Bernstein, Felt was suffering from dementia, had previously denied being Deep Throat, and had lost control of his memories about the national crisis as well as his own personal crises - before, during, and after assuming his role as secret informant.

An incredibly complex and fascinating whirlwind around the issue you are interested in, and there are lots of resources about the event and Felt's role that examine the issue from a range of perspectives.
posted by desert exile at 11:14 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you; these are great answers and a good range.

Can anyone think of more everyday examples? A funny example I remembered was my ex working with a woman who was concerned about whether her son would be circumcised. Already inappropriate workplace convo, of course, but she enumerated some of the reasons she wanted her grandson to be circumcised. My ex wasn't uncircumcised and could've corrected her misinformation but, obviously, wasn't going to do that at work.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:46 AM on August 6

Response by poster: Or, on a very facepalm one (also about male genitals, wtf): My then-roommate was explaining to my then-boyfriend (different one) that Hitler's main issue was that he only had one testicle and felt like half a man and that drove everything he did. You guessed it: then-boyfriend only had one testicle. Neither of us said anything.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:50 AM on August 6

Oops, one more! The secret Navajo Code Talkers.

Official CIA site. Official National Archives site. Official U.S. Navy site.

A documentary film about the code talkers. And a book.
posted by desert exile at 11:53 AM on August 6

Gender Change Fiction has the very famous Natl Lampoon story by John Hughes (that I actually encountered when it was published in 1979) and definitely involves some hiding.

Black Like Me
posted by Calibandage at 4:32 PM on August 6

Can anyone think of more everyday examples?

Many people who are heavily involved in their local kink community pretend to be oblivious when conversations about kink and fetishes come up with people outside of that community.
posted by _Mona_ at 7:44 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Can anyone think of more everyday examples?

As a masculine presenting person without a penis or testicles I do this sometimes. For example in Target a stranger approached me and explained that they were shopping for a bathing suit for their son, and “did I prefer trunks with or without liners?”

Casual acquaintances (and their day care provider :) assume I’m the sperm donor for my best friend’s kids.

Occasional sexist/homophobic comments that I do not believe the person saying would say if they knew me.
posted by rip at 12:00 AM on August 8

Whoops, upon re-reading your post I realize you were looking for examples of people being in a crisis. My bad. I guess the only times that has been the case the crisis was potentially my identity. As in, if my randomly assigned roommate during this retreat sees me mid getting dressed I might be in a heap of trouble.

And related to a previous post when my (first ever) high school relationship ended abruptly I couldn’t talk about it, and things for me quickly escalated into crisis territory.
posted by rip at 12:11 AM on August 8

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