Because my next book is Liar there has been much talk of lying on this blog lately. But for all that talk I haven’t yet touched on people who are forced to lie about who they are in order to survive. Libba Bray posted beautifully and movingly about her gay dad and the ways he was forced to lie:
My dad came of age in the 1940’s in the Deep South. Being gay was more than just not okay then; it was downright dangerous. When my father was involved with a man while stationed in Korea and it was discovered, he was given a dishonorable discharge from the Army, which in effect nullified his service to the country and haunted him the rest of his days. He was unable to buy a house using the G.I. bill and unable to explain to anyone why he couldn’t do so because it would expose his secret. Despite having a family, friends, accomplishments, my father also lived his whole life with a sense of self-loathing, of self-doubt that was painful to bear witness to. Understand—he had his faults. But one of his greatest strengths was his warmth, his fierce love. And it was a shame that he could not extend this love to himself, conditioned as he was over the years by a society that continually told him he was less than. In fact, it told him his very self was intolerable. Dangerous. He should keep himself hidden. And he did.
Throughout my life many of my friends and acquaintances have been homosexual. I have known people who were beaten up because of their sexuality, who lost custody of their kids, were sacked from jobs they were incredibly good at, who were denied access to long-term partners in hospital. All because they chose to love someone who has the same genitals as them and not to lie about it. To this day, even in Australia and the USA, there are costs to being out of the closet.
Right now the US military has a policy that forces people to lie about their sexuality or be thrown out of the armed forces. The policy is called Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It is an absurd and destructive policy which as led to the US armed forces losing some of their most qualified and dedicated people.
It’s not just gay and lesbians who sometimes have to lie about who they are. I’ll never forget my parents telling me the story of a close friend of theirs, a Sri Lankan man. He was on a train when armed men went from carriage to carriage asking people if they were Tamil and beating them up if they said yes. My parents’ friend was Sinhalese. He stood up to the men and
said he was Tamil1 refused to say what he was. They beat him badly. Many of the Tamils on the train that day said they were Sinhalese. I’m pretty sure I would have said the same.
All around the world right now there are people not being honest about who they are to protect their lives, their families, their livelihood. People who are homosexual, transsexual, atheist, Christian, Muslim, one of the many persecuted minority religions around the world. It’s a long list.
Every time I hear someone say that lying is always wrong I think of all the people around the world saving themselves and their families by lying and of the terrible consequences of having to live a lie like Libba’s father did.
I don’t blame their lack of courage in not telling the truth when to do so would mean losing their job/children/lives. I blame the world we live in for making such lies necessary.
- Turns out I misremembered the story. Thanks, Jan & John! I think the real version makes Chandra even braver. [↩]