No, this is not a commentary on the eight-time Emmy award winning TV series of the same name as this blog, about to head into its fourth season. Transparent, is a show in which the patriarch of a family makes a staggering admission that he is transgender. Subsequently, all manner of secrets within the family are exposed. Sounds compelling! But it’s not exactly what I’m here to talk to you about.
I’m not transgender, nor am I a parent. I am, however, despite what you may have heard, human. Also, I am in a sexual minority (gay). I exercise an unusual sexual practice (celibacy). I am single. I am of a religion that increasingly feels and functions like a minority (Christian, largely Reformed in theology). I like kale (the food, not the lifestyle), but that’s irrelevant.
Saying all of this is not to invite pity nor am I asking for your applause, because in many ways I live an ordinary, unexceptional but largely happy life with no small amount of privilege. I tell you these things about myself as a demonstration of what I intend to major on here; being vulnerable, and in responding to the circumstance of vulnerability, being transparent. My blog, Transparent, may not be about acclaimed TV series, Transparent, but both are examinations of the human need to be exposed, recognised and understood. I want to consider with you the ways in which people are vulnerable, the ways in which they respond with openness and honesty (or not), and the effects that that has on individuals and communities.
The question is, why bother exploring this phenomenon? Here are my four main motivators.
1. As a Christian, I understand the narrative of the Bible, in part, through observing the theme of vulnerability and responses to it. You can see it right at the very beginning. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were naked and vulnerable and felt no shame, because they were secure. Post-forbidden fruit they became acutely aware that they were naked and vulnerable, so they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness; they felt ashamed, no longer secure.
Then, of course, there’s the climax of the Bible, the Gospel; God becoming willingly vulnerable to human hands and laid bare to meet us in our broken vulnerability. As I think of the incarnation and death of Christ, I recognise God become transparent in the humblest of ways.
Transparency is also wrapped up with Biblical hope. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall fully know, even as I am fully known.”
2. As a gay (adjective) man (noun) I’ve had to put myself at the mercy of people’s responses to my orientation. Growing up I had a deep fear of “being found out”. After becoming a Christian in year 11 I could no longer ignore my sexuality because I had to figure out how to align my life with my faith. Speaking to family, friends, mentors was an important but fraught step for me to take. I had no idea how my parents, for example, were going to respond: would they be disgusted? Would they understand? Would they encourage me to embrace my sexuality? Would they wash over it as a phase? To their great credit, they responded seriously, lovingly and sought to understand.
Obviously, I now talk pretty candidly about my sexuality in a public setting (exhibit A). In doing so I open myself up to very strong voices speaking into how I should live my life, what it means to be a faithful Christian, and how I can be a happy and whole human being. I am vulnerable to the strong opinions of others.
3. It seems to me that sharing openly the experience of being a person has become a major force in the world. Having a relativist atmosphere (where truth is subjective) means also a great deal of oxygen for people to gain cultural and social power through transparency.
In some ways, I hate to use this as an example since Christians have tended to over talk about it. But it’s the example I’m going to use anyway because it’s such a clear one. LGBT+ rights haven’t been achieved largely through scientific research or wealth or position, not primarily. They’ve been achieved through a campaign of gaining cultural representation and cultivating emotional connection through story telling (journalism, TV shows, etc.) among other means. They’ve invited people to have empathy by revealing what it’s like to live in the world as such a person.
I think this to be a positive and negative thing that can be achieved through good or bad means. There IS a difference between persuasion and manipulation that we often miss. More on that soon, stay tuned for an upcoming post!
4. Finally, I’m super curious about the realm of psychology. It’s not hard to see that mental health is a massively prevalent issue in our modern world. As I acquaint myself with contemporary psychology it appears that a good practice of being open is integral for a healthy mind and healthy relationships. And frankly, people are pretty bad at it. Encountering such material made me serious about this topic and gave me the confidence to start writing on it.
It’s worth slipping in a disclaimer here; I’m fully aware that I can’t talk perfectly about this topic. I’m a specialist in no way, I have no tertiary education, I’m just a pleb. I have no doubt that my nomenclature, for one, needs refining, so please hassle me for clarification on the terms I use. Of course, you’re entirely free to confront my ideas and straight-up disagree if you choose. This, like most blogs, is a space in which to exercise my thinking, get feedback, and maybe be a helpful online presence.
I don’t pretend to be an authority on really anything. However, I intend to continue being uncomfortably candid with you about my own life experience (though, hopefully without falling into exhibitionism). I sincerely hope to offer some form of theological, psychological, philosophical insight into the phenomenon of transparency.