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Ask Jane, Column 22

Closets

Dear Darlings,

Closets: secret places where we can safely celebrate who we are.
Closets: prisons that keep us trapped, isolated, and lonely.

Are you in one? Or out? Or are you in and want to come out? Or are you out and wish you'd never cracked the door?

No easy answers …

I receive a lot of e-mail around "To tell or not to tell - that is the question."

Occasionally I receive tales of great liberation - and a far better sex life and deeper bond - after having finally admitted you love to suck toes, worship her behind, masturbate with (or in) her lingerie, be sexually dominated, be "forced" into performing in certain ways, or any number of other sexual proclivities the rest of the world tends to associate with depravity.

And sometimes I receive letters that break my heart, stories of regret and loss.

"Nina" offers a story of the latter. I'm sharing Nina's experience because I, too, sometimes regret having shared myself. I, too, see how complex an issue it is to be the kinkster I am.

Which raises questions that can alter our lives forever depending on how we answer: Should we be true to who we are, no matter the cost, i.e., "This is who I am, world, and screw you if you don't like it"? Or should we suffer personal repression and hiding in order to maintain our relationships? If we do share, how much is safe to share? If we share, should we let it all hang out, or should we parcel the truth to make it more agreeable?

I've run an online business for 15 years that caters to men with lingerie (particularly panty) fetishes (http://pantymistress.com). While I don't announce this business to the world, I do share it, if it comes up, with people I feel good about. Ned felt good about his marriage and his wife when he told her he's a cross-dresser. Like many CDs, Ned practiced his secret life as "Nina" when away on business trips. Over time, he developed a wardrobe, some confidence, and a group of cross-dressing friends.

He wanted to tell his wife of 15 years about himself not because he harbored hope that she'd participate with him (he was certain she wouldn't) but because he felt that maintaining the secret was keeping his marriage from being all it could be. After being caught in a lie he could have covered if he wanted to, he decided instead to come clean.

Recently, I was caught up short in the same way. I didn't intend to bring up my panty business to a group of new friends; it just happened that they found out. I could have gone through some elaborate scheme to prevent them from finding out, but I didn't.

In my case, I had signed up for a class referred to me by a friend. I didn't know this friend well, but for the several years we interacted in relation to another business I have. I always enjoyed our encounters and knew he did as well.

I was excited to attend the class he recommended and indeed got loads of great information from the first session and met some great people. After that class, I was so full of ideas, so happy to be getting to know new people.

I couldn't wait for the second class. So warmly embraced by these people, I couldn't imagine the coldness and eventual ostracism that was to take place.

Neither did Ned expect the harshness of what happened after he told. How could he? He loved his wife and she, him. They had history! Surely in 15 years they'd weathered worse, he thought. Why, most men spend more time vegging in front of the tube watching sports than he'd spent cross-dressing! Yes, he knew he was a dutiful and loving husband.

Sadly, we both received swift and sure judgment-and-hanging.

Ned shared Nina. And I was discovered by my new friends to not be the nice girl they thought I was but a …(insert dramatic downbeat) pornographer.

Three weeks to the day after dropping the nuclear bomb (which is how he recalls the day), Ned's wife up and left when he was at work. Took the furniture and all the personal effects gathered through their 15 years together. She ended the marriage with two lines scrawled on the outside of a used envelope: "I can't do it. I want a divorce."

In my case, I received a notice from PayPal that my class fee had been refunded. I immediately wrote to the instructor and alerted her that she had mistakenly sent me money.

She wrote back that it was no mistake: "You appear to be associated with porn," she wrote back to me. "This is against my moral principles. Do not attend any more of my classes."

Ned couldn't find his wife to even talk things through. She was throwing away 15 years just like that? I tried as well: I wrote the teacher of the class and asked for a fair hearing. I wrote that I was an entrepreneur who developed a number of businesses, that I'd raised two fine daughters, that I was far more than a "pornographer." And to please not judge me.

My e-mail came right back to me: the instructor had blocked my incoming mail. I was hurt that I hadn't even gotten to explain myself. I wrote the friend who referred me to the class. He, too, blocked my incoming e-mails. He also uninvited himself on my Twitter account - and blocked me from his Twitter account. Ditto Facebook. I was granted no hearing; my "morality" was tried and judged without due process.

The next time Ned heard from his wife was through her lawyer. It's been a year since their holocaust. They're now divorced. As for me, I obviously won't be attending more classes and my new friends … well, good-bye to them.

Ned's loss is far greater than mine, of course. But at the core of our stories rests the same (sadly, widespread) credo by which we were condemned: judge another not as a whole, but for one sliver of who they are which you don't understand, for that one small sliver is enough to make that person wholly unacceptable.

"Nina" wrote me the other day. She said that if she had it to do over, she would have kept silent.

She wrote, "Why? Because in gaining freedom for Nina, I really hurt someone I loved. If I could do it over, I'd limit Nina and keep my wife. We were married for 15 years and Nina was out and about secretly for 10 of them. The outings were not as much as I would have liked, but all of life is a balance and I probably could have continued at that level.

"My wife always saw Nina in Ned in terms of communication and interests … She was not aware of how they were connected to me as a cross-dresser. When I made that connection for her it crushed her.

"Now I understand that some of the problem is her internal image of herself. However, when you love someone you protect them from whatever would hurt them. I failed in protecting her and she is gone. We have talked a few times but she is nowhere close to changing her mind.

"If this were the first time I failed in life, I would be crushed and probably suicidal. But I'm human and have practice in falling short. I'll forgive myself and move on."

I feel the same way. I would really like to be attending the class and making new friends. Even at the cost of not being fully "known" by them. In not telling friends, I give up very little.

In not telling the person who, ideally, is closest to us, we risk a great deal. Then again, we risk a great deal when we do tell. Ned's tale is cautionary, but not the only outcome of sharing.

I'll share happier endings next month.

Jane

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