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!
Lisa, that was an amazing piece of writing and it sums up the dilemma which many of us have. I struggle with the secrecy every single day and it’s debilitating. Like you, honesty is one of my core values and, as you so well point out, our ‘dishonesty’ isn’t only restricted to keeping activities secret from our nearest & dearest – even just talking about trans issues with friends (one of my former teachers and a close friend’s brother have transitioned) leads to pangs of frustration and guilt due to not only non-disclosure of my personal interest but also of diversionary tactics to make sure that others don’t suspect anything.
And whether inadvertently or by design, your theme of living a double life is much closer to the truth than many of us would give it credit for – living a life trying to keep the two women in it separate? Guilty as charged!
No judgment yet. The jury is still out and I am praying they take into account my good behaviour….
Of course, the line between wrongdoer and victim can be thin. I am thinking of the Jean Valjean protagonist from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. He steals silver from a priest, but only to feed his family. I do think the reason for the lie is important and I do not want anyone for one minute to heap guilt upon shame. We may feel that way sometimes, but I think we survive because we are kind to ourselves and hope that other will take the time to get to know us and be kind too.
Thank you for commenting!
At some point in our lives we all have to lie , I’m afraid it’s a fact of life . Beating ourselves up over lying isn’t good as you comment , perhaps at time we must accept it as self preservation , or as a protection for others .
As for the transgender communtiy living a double life means we will live with suppression depending on our level of GD and the acceptance and understanding of the ones close to us . I have to admit living full time doesn’t mean the lies will end , perhaps we should consider it not so much lying but not revealing all the truth , obviously there is a difference .
I consider myself lucky that I don’t lie about my name , I just use a femme version on my male name , it has worked very well for me as many have accepted the changes simply because I’ve kept my initials the same .
The point about how much you divulge in conversation with women is complicated , I had to learn very quickly to drop any mention of a wife and divorce , it’s OK to talk about children and grandchildren , it’s an interesting point but after four years no one has pressed the question of marriage or a partner .
While I agree to live a totally honest life free of lies would be wonderful but we are lied to everyday from politicians , advertisers the list is shamefully long . We should consider we are lucky that we have the freedom to question in the UK and US some people don’t have that choice .
At times it is hard , we can hurt people with lies but we can also hurt people with the truth all we can do is consider which is more harmful long term . Personally I hate hurting people because I have been hurt so much in the past , withholding the truth isn’t the same as lying .
You always provide thoughtful commentary. Thank you for taking the time to write. You wisely add that we can hurt people with the truth. Perhaps we should deem our lies to be “good” so long as their primary purpose is to protect ourselves or others — the bad lies are the ones told to undermine or hurt others.
Same rule can apply to withholding the truth, I suppose.
Lisa, I can relate so well to this missive. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so well. I hate that I have to lie and yet it seems each day to be the least bad option or maybe the easiest to get thru the day. My wife knows about Tiffany and hates it, has for years so I lead that double life of some time online and the occasional opportunity to dress fully with makeup and wigs and heels and savor those moments.
I do slightly disagree with the money part of it, I have separate funds as does my wife. I have covered the living and daily expenses of the household for decades and she keeps the money she earns for clothes for her and now our grandkids. Me setting aside some for Tiffany does not bother me at all.
All the other day to day deceptions are ones I wish someday to leave behind me but I am afraid not anytime soon.
Separate accounts definitely simplify things. We were married so young we had to combine assets or we never could have survived, especially with just enough coins at the end of the week to buy pasta for dinner!
I told my wife about my femme side after 10 years of marriage. That was 40 years ago. She was shocked to say the least. We had 3 children at the time. We have 5 children now and 9 grandchildren. As far as I know they don’t know about Terri. I sometimes feel like I am a CIA agent. My life is all about balance. My wife wants nothing to do with Terri. I have accepted that. If my children found out I would tell them that I will always be their father and I will always be there for them.
I’ll bet you would make a terrific secret agent (wo)man for the CIA. I had to come out to my daughter after she walked into the house unannounced (it was her house too for 18 years, so I could not be miffed with her). She has been great about it ever since. But, I clearly was not sufficiently careful for a career as a secret agent!
It is possible for your children to accept and possibly embrace the hidden side of you , I have a very good relationship with my daughter , we go out shopping and take in shows , as I do with her daughter . My son has met me several times but I don’t see me grandsons unless I’m grandpa , the ball is very much in their court . OK my ex wife isn’t happy but she must accept they are adults and should be allowed to make their own decisions and she does make the point I’m still their father but at least I can say an honest one now .
The one point not made is once we’ve made the decision to take our wives /partners on board , we may longer be misleading them but they may have to start to lie to others .
My ex had a counselling session through my trans issues after we separated and was told it was like a bereavement so she started telling people I’d died . I had to stop that lie very quickly because it was totally irresponsible and thoughtless , my fear being what if my grandsons overheard the comment , my daughter was furious and made her feelings very clear to her mother .
Lisa, you are one of my favorite authors on this site. I always look forward to your articles as they are very thought provoking. The lying is hard. We do live double lives. Thankfully for me I am out to my wife and she is on board. I am still in the closet though. So I am lying to the world. But at least not to my wife which is most important and I am grateful for. I know I am lucky in that respect.
No one wants to live a lie. But the gender euphoria can be so strong we do it anyway.
It does help a lot being out to my wife. I still hide from her the extent of my involvement with the world as Lisa, but these days I couldn’t have a social life if I didn’t get some acceptance from her that this is a permanent part of me (hard one, and over a long time, I can assure you). Thanks for commenting.
The sad fact is for most married couples their social life gradually diminishes , we find so many reasons and at times to shift the guilt we blame the other partner . At my first trans social group as Teresa I found a new lease of life , it was a dinner dance and I danced the night away . My wife questioned me the next morning and yes I did tell the truth , not to hurt her but to show that part of me had needs she had ignored or refused to accept .
That was an incredible piece of writing. So well thought out and most importantly, it made me think about my own life and how closely it fits in with yours.
I call it DUAL SPIRIT. Yes it does urk me to have to lie to most everyone. I’d prefer to tell everyone and get it over with but the lie continues to pacify family harmony.
Nothing wrong with prioritizing family harmony — I am at peace with that!
I just read this. Lisa, I swear I could have written this myself. For the last 50 years I’ve been living this out. Thank you for wiring this so well. I continue to live this life I’ve chosen. All my best to you.
Always fun to hear from another Lisa! Th so you for commenting. I am glad that it resonated for you. The essay remains as true today as when when I wrote it.