This is not about Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, although it could be ... it’s about, well, you’ll find out if you read on.
(But just in case you want to know whether you have the time or not – this is about keeping secrets. There, the cat’s out of the bag.)
Right, where was I?
Ah yes, the undercover sister.
I guess many families have secrets. And we may never know about them because ... they’re secrets. I think that’s self explanatory really, however, I will plough on.
I have spoken to several gay people who, when they share the secret of their sexuality with people, are greeted with the words, “I knew you were gay ages ago ...”. Thus revealing that the secret was not such a secret after all. It was really a case of people actively avoiding the obvious to retain a facade for as long as possible. Somehow this facade helps to keep them safe ... from the truth.
Being undercover is about pretending to be someone else.
Being in a family is sometimes about pretending that everything is the way you want it to be. Holding up the curtain of social respectability so that internal and external relationships can continue in a seemingly smooth (and always false) manner. Each family has their own personal way of handling their specific secrets, be they alcoholism, child abuse, drug addiction, incest, sexuality, or ... anything.
At different times and in different places people who carry secrets have their own particular burden to hold. It is specific to that person in that family. No one else will know the weight of the shame or perceived loss of respectability that that secret carries with it. The only common factor is that everyone involved is an undercover agent and must retain their character at all times.
The initiation into secrecy often comes without formal training, just looks, sighs and head shaking. The importance of this secrecy is heightened by the fact that no one ever acknowledges it ... ever.
So, when this undercover sister broke ranks and spoke about the family secrets there was a change in the choreography, new secrets were made and the exclusion zones moved: I was now outside and removed from the bonds of the heavy family secrets. I was branded a traitor who could not be trusted anymore because I spoke openly about how my family worked and how they viewed me – as the enemy within, but I felt lighter and freer.
As I am now a free agent - no longer in deep (family) cover, I can present myself as I like, not as the family dictates: my life is not a secret.
Sadly, they’ve gone into deeper cover than ever now I’m out, they’ve taken the other secrets undercover with them.
“You have family secrets because you want to present your family as respectable.”
Laurie Taylor, Thinking Allowed, BBC Radio 4, 26th September 2011.