I was not an honest child. I was actually known for elaborate but obvious lies in my childhood. To this day my parents frequently remark about my ability to make up imaginative and unbelievable “stories” as a child, but stories are a nice word for lies. Whether it was to get out of trouble, or just to see if I could, I often concocted ridiculously complex untruths, and while lying was definitely a thing my parents discouraged, I also got the feeling that my creativity was appreciated and that was positive reinforcement.
As I came into my early teens, I was the center of attention much of the time in my little group of misfits. I continued to use my penchant for creative lies to elaborate upon stories to make them more exciting and interesting. I adapted others stories and experiences as my own frequently, or outright concocted completely fabricated tales. They were well received, although partly so because they were often believed as truth. I made myself a persona as an exciting risk-taking hilarious individual, and I was loved for it.
When I was sixteen I met Q, an individual who told me they valued honesty strongly, and I concurred. Of course honesty was of extreme importance, it was integral really. I saw myself as honest, because I was more true to myself then most of my peers in that I certainly flew my freak flag high. As a goth kid who was out about my sexuality since I was 13 and bucked gender norms, I gave few fucks about what others thought of me, and I saw that as an aspect of honesty. In a world when so many people hide who they are out of fear of judgement and rejection, I was honest in that sense. But I still told stories that were exaggerated and filled with half truths. I had begun to feel prickles of guilt when I did so, and had dispensed with the ones that were all out lies, but I was not what I would these days think of as an honest person. Back then though, I considered myself honest because my lies were usually exaggerations, bending of the truth, little white lies, lies for the comfort of others, and so on. I fell in love with Q, and made some silly teenage promises of being together forever and staying with them no matter what. I think most people expect that forever for a teenager means maybe eight months if you’re lucky, but Q took me at my word, after all I had said that I valued honesty as much as they did and they had no reason not to trust me. Looking back, I do think that it is a bit excessive to expect a sixteen year old to know what they want and to be self aware enough to be able to commit to a lifetime relationship. In fact I believe these days that while forever is a pretty word, it should be never taken as an absolute commitment, because relationships can become toxic to one or both individuals, and anyone is free to walk away at any time regardless of prior commitments and regardless of the reason. We were both young though, and I made a lot of promises I could not keep, and portrayed myself as a much more self aware and honest person then I was though. In many ways I was manipulative, and I knew it as well. I was not malicious, but I was starving for love and belonging, and I wanted Q in particular to feed my insecurities and be singularly attached to me. My issues with insecurity and co-dependence may have begun in that dynamic, and a lot of other factors played into that as well. What it boils down to is while Q was older, and I saw them as a learned authority figure, they were new to relationships and socially isolated for much of life. I was a social butterfly who’d been with quite a few people by then, I was well versed in manipulation and lying, and I had an overblown opinion of myself and my level of self awareness and honesty.
When I left them the approximate eight months later that a teenager’s forever lasts, I shattered something in them. I don’t remember those moments in the detail that they do, so much of that time in my life is a blur to me, but I remember thinking over and over in my mind that I had broken them. I didn’t know you could break a person. And I’ve learned many many things in revisiting those moments with them over the years, as they are still one of my dearest loves and friends thirteen years later, but at the time what impacted me the most was realizing they had actually believed me when I said I would be with them forever. That idea was incomprehensible to me, I had been left by many people who had said the same thing, and left a couple myself, and there was always this unspoken understanding that forever only means forever until it doesn’t. I had a lot of anger towards them for other things that transpired in the relationship, I felt wholly uncomfortable with them and also uncomfortable with losing the grip of control I had on them that meant not being alone and slipping into that dark place I went when I wasn’t drowning my depression in social validation. So I tried to maintain a closeness as we battled against each other in a messy break up, and I got an up close and personal window into how much my lack of honesty had wounded someone. It was something I was wholly unprepared to deal with. My initial response to crippling guilt and horror was to shut down and take solace in my next partner, a give-no-fucks asshole who actually probably ended up having more of a heart then I did back then. I rebelled against Q’s need for me to be a facade of a decent human and was a horrible combative combustion of fucks. While it would be years before I came out the other side of our cycles of fights and reconciliations with them, my experience worked away at the landscape of my mind like a flash flood eroding a riverbank and I was left changed. I knew I wanted to be a real honest person, not just someone who pretended to be brave and honest because they were a rebellious queer goth in a sea of “normals”.
I discovered a concept called radical honesty. Actually I discovered a perversion of the concept. The original idea was a self-improvement program created by Dr. Brad Blanton that espouses being blunt and direct even in the face of painful or taboo subjects. I don’t remember exactly who explained it to me, but in a game of philosophical telephone where psychology and philosophy were learned from a myriad of original and unoriginal sources and discussed and passed along among my rag tag group of friends until the ideas only resembled the original content, I somehow stumbled upon this one. The concept as it was explained to me was blunt unequivocal honesty, saying whatever came to mind with absolutely no filter. No lying to save someones feelings, no little white lies, no bending the truth, and no holding anything back at all. No matter how brusque or inappropriate a thought that popped up in the meat space of your brain was, you voiced it. I figured that was pretty much the opposite of my attempts at honesty that involved exaggeration and tweaking of the truth and little white lies here and there to save face, so I would do that thing! And that was how I made a few friends in college by bouncing up to them and telling them all about the fabulous first ever dildo I had bought earlier that day, because that was what was on my mind the very moment I first saw them and decided to talk to them! Some of them are still my friends even today, and probably think I’m just as much of an oddball freak as they did in that moment.
It wasn’t all hilarity and awkwardness though, radical honesty was hard. It was absolutely painful and terrifying and humiliating to be that extremely truthful and blunt. Stripping away the protection of filtering your thoughts and laying yourself bare for the world is horrifying. It was what I needed though. I have always been a person with a driving need to push to extremes, and doing so allowed me to appreciate the gifts of honesty as well. I thought people believed and trusted me before and I didn’t see how much of that was all a dishonest facade as well. I needed to push myself to a level of inappropriate and completely filter-less honesty as a way of hitting the reset button and deconditioning myself to believe that my twisting and bending of the truth would be rewarded with admiration for my creativity or when believed, admiration for my daring escapades. I also realized pretty quickly that while my thoughts were fairly strange and surprising to some, I was a much less interesting person then I expected I was, when I had to tell the truth about myself and my adventures all the time.
I kept to the radical honesty for a short time, I don’t remember exactly how long, but it was a matter of months, maybe up to a year. Once it had served its purpose in making lying seem so alien and abhorrent to me that I never wanted to go back to how I was, which wasn’t a far reach after seeing the devastation I had wreaked on Q, I transitioned to a form of honesty that was still blunt and often vulnerable and forthcoming, and definitely allowed for no deceit, but did allow for something of a filter at least. A situational awareness for what was appropriate and what wasn’t, like not telling a church group of grandmothers about the kinky sex you had that weekend (no that is not something I did, but more because I don’t know any church groups of grandmothers, had I encountered any during my radical honesty phase and been thinking about my sex life at the time I would have). There’s also something important to be said for respecting consent and what other’s are willing to hear, but consent was something I learned more in depth at a later period.
I’ve transformed my life completely on many occasions, but this was probably one of the first times I changed myself so completely. I learned to value a depth of honesty that I still don’t see often in the world, a commitment to truth when it is hard and scary, when it hurts and when it scars, when it threatens to take away the things you love, when it can ruin your reputation or charisma and leave you standing alone. I still ascribe to keeping to that level of honesty and integrity, though in a way that is also appropriate and allows for tact, though never deceit. I am someone who may now say “I do not want to share that”, but I won’t make up a lie to cover anything up. I also found that I became a radically more adventurous person, one who consumes any new life experience with a sense of abandon. When you can’t exaggerate or embellish or create stories about yourself, you have to actually live a more exciting life if you want to stay interesting. And the depth of trust people give me when I’ve proved I truly am worthy of it is one of the things I treasure most in the world, made all the more precious by the road I’ve walked to earn it.
I would not recommend radical honesty, especially the perversion of it I endeavored to try, to everyone. I would recommend a truer honesty then most every attempt. The world opens up to you in a million glorious ways when you face it with truth and vulnerability. When every part of your fucked up edgy self is authentic, all your adventures actually lived, and all your emotions self aware and from the hard, this life is an intense and wondrous thing and connections with others are profound. So don’t take the whole damn filter off and trash it, but do fold it up a bit and let yourself out into the world, and do learn to trash any deceit or bending the truth that you’ve held on to. The world really is more glorious when lived authentically and you will leave less broken people behind you and find more appreciative loving ones ahead to welcome you and your truth.