One of the bravest things a person can do is to tell the truth. Especially when it’s a scary, shameful, hidden truth – those truths we keep hidden because we’re scared they will consume and destroy us if they slip out into the world beyond us. We are certain they will explode the world around us in ways that make the heaviness and pain of carrying our secrets seem preferable. We choose to hide because we believe exposure will slice and dice us like glass. We fear the unknown world of being known. It terrifies us.
When I look back at my own journey, I suspect that my truth-telling began not so much as an act of bravery but one of desperation. The cost of hiding had simply become too high. My truth-telling started when I acknowledged defeat that I wasn’t strong enough to keep carrying the secrets. I couldn’t win against the blackness inside. All I could do was open my mouth and let the words tumble out. Truth after truth. It didn’t feel anything like bravery in those first days and weeks. It comes, though, when you sit and stare your own truth in the face. When you realize you’ve allowed yourself to be known. In retrospect you see your own strength and courage.
The Two Fridas, Frida Kahlo, 1939
Women have been telling truths this week. The brave kind of truth-telling. And the reactions have been extreme – anger, disbelief, shock, disgust, accusatory. They’ve been asked what took them so long to tell the truth. They’ve been asked why they didn’t stop it in the moment. They’ve been accused of using it for their own advancement.
And they’ve been praised. Most importantly, they’ve opened a door to let other women tell their truths.
I honestly don’t have a clue how you build a world without Harvey Weinsteins (or Jian Ghomeshis). I don’t know what the answer is to transforming a culture so that we don’t admire and excuse and glorify men who abuse and molest and treat women as sexual slabs of meat. I don’t.
What I know is that we need to open more doors so that women and men who carry hidden secrets can tell their truths too. I think I can start with that.
Sara Bareilles carried me through more than one bout of truth-telling with this song:
You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?