Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Now, don’t tell anyone…

“Now, don’t tell anyone that your father and I were never married.”

Such was the admonishment of my mother when I was just barely old enough to tell people about myself. You see, I am the product of an affair; my father was indeed married when my mom got pregnant with me, he was just married to someone other than my mother. And so my mom thought that the best strategy for me was to keep this detail hidden. She thought that being an illegitimate child was a weight that I shouldn’t have to carry, irrespective of whether or not it was the truth. My mother and grandparents taught me to be very private about personal details. To quote my Gram, “Why would anyone else want to know your business.” Some of my friends have also counselled me both to keep my own details more private and, at times, to mind my own business.

But I have always been a sharer, and a storyteller; I have always shared too much and been too curious. Sometimes I wonder if the term TMI (“too much information”) was coined with me in mind. I have not infrequently given friends more details than they needed or wanted, and I have certainly done my fair share of prying.

It’s always been in my nature to want more details rather than less. Even when I understand why a movie was edited in a certain way, with scenes taken out to make the movie a stronger more cohesive whole, I love deleted scenes and extended versions. I am voracious for details. And I share details freely. And I have found that by sharing details many people feel safe sharing details back with me; it has been a great way for me to forge deep connections with people.

There’s also something about the way my brain works that when there’s an elephant in the room, it causes a great deal of stress on me. The most effective way I’ve found of dealing with that stress is just talking about it. That again proves too much for some folks, and I’ve found myself trying to ride the line between my own stress at hidden details and other people’s need for either sharing or hearing less.

Given all that information, when I was a child, with my mom’s clear instruction to keep my beginnings a secret, all I could think about when meeting new people was what I wasn’t supposed to say. I remember thinking I had nothing to be ashamed of, for even as my mom told me to keep it private she made it clear that it wasn’t out of shame. But the fact that I wasn’t supposed to talk about it made keeping the secret unbearable for me. I used to joke that when I met people when I was a little kid the first words out of my mouth would be, “Hi, my name’s Penny. My parents were never married.” And then it was out of the way, for good or ill.

Discretion is pretty much the conventional wisdom when it comes to my medical history as well. It’s one of those things that’s “nobody’s business” and that I’m not supposed to talk about. And, much like my status as a child born out of wedlock was something that I felt more comfortable sharing than keeping private, so too, more often than not, is my medical history. I share details about myself pretty often, and in many different contexts.

I have mixed feelings about this, I suppose. Sometimes I fantasize what it would be like to just let the details of my past fade into obscurity. But that really has never been my style. I have always shared everything, worn my heart on my sleeve, and tried to connect with others in the most nakedly open ways possible. Interestingly, the only times I’ve had trouble sharing things is when I was keeping them even from myself, perhaps that plays into all of this; it’s a lot easier for me to delude myself if I’m not sharing things and getting feedback; and maybe things aren’t really real until I’ve shared them with friends.

But I totally understand those folks who keep details of their lives more private than I have chosen to. I have friends and I read blogs and I hear stories about people who have chosen to keep all sorts of details of their stories closer to the vest than I have. And I understand, and I honestly think it’s probably wise for most folks. Openness brings a fair amount of scrutiny, after all. I have this delusion that I live partial stealth, and that I keep things fairly private, and yet I’ve had people tell me that I’m “tranny famous,” and that makes it clear exactly how “partial” my stealth really is. I’m sort of conflicted about that, and yet it’s a reflection of how I have always chosen to interact with the world.

A last thing that I think is important, is how much I like to connect the disparate parts of my life into one cohesive whole. I read a blog post earlier today about how we wear different faces in different parts of our lives. There was an example cited from Seinfeld talking about “worlds colliding.” I guess I actively promote my worlds colliding. One of my favorite things in the world is to introduce people that I know from different corners of my life to each other. I brought my ex to church and had tons of fun both showing her off to my church friends, and showing my church friends off to her. I like nothing more than having friends come to see my musical performances, both because if helps me professionally, but also because I love having friends meet the people I work with. The one exception to this is my students, because they’re my students. My relationships with them are completely about making them better drummers, and so my personal details are irrelevant. But I really strive to have one connected, consistent identity in all the different corners of my life, and a great way for that to happen is to just keep introducing all of my friends to each other.

Having said all of this, and having explained why being so open has always been important for me, and felt very natural for me, I generally advise people to exercise more circumspection when sharing personal details about themselves. I think that being so open works for me because of my personality and my upbringing and my circumstances. I have great respect for those who choose to share fewer details, especially online or in an otherwise generally public sort of way.

I think there are lots of ways to share stories, and lots of ways to protect privacy, and I’m a big supporter of each of us figuring out how best to do that for ourselves.

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1 Comment»

  Corrvin wrote @

“I generally advise people to exercise more circumspection when sharing personal details about themselves.”

I’m actually pretty open about things. I mean, I own a house. It’s in the tax records. Anyone who knows my IRL name can show up at my door, if they really feel like it. The only possible way for me to live anonymously would be to choose a different online name for every community I was part of, and never give my name to anyone in real life. If I did that, I could be as much of a jerk as I wanted! But then, I’d have to live in fear of someone slipping up, somewhere, and using my IRL name, and it would all come crashing down.

I tried that for a while, actually, but it feels much better to let people find out about me as they feel like it. It really seems to mesh better with my ideal: that being who I am is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, nothing to be blackmailed about or shamed by the revealing of.

Of course, there *are* things I’d be embarrassed to have shared with my boss, or parents, or random people– but mostly because I don’t think *they* would be comfortable hearing me talk about whatever, and I’d be uncomfortable on their behalf.


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