White Lies and Valentines

Every once in a while, one of my clients innocently asks, “Are you married?” This always stops me in my tracks. Even if I see it coming, it forces me to pause, to think about how to answer.

I’m a massage therapist. Basically, I go into a dark room with naked strangers for a living. There is, of course, much more to a therapeutic relationship than that. There is a great deal of trust involved. Clients trust me to care for them and respect them, as well as maintain their boundaries, both physical and emotional. It can be a delicate balance sometimes. We are two individuals. We might be as different as could be, and yet we agree to spend an hour or so together in a situation that makes both of us somewhat vulnerable.

In massage school, I took ethics classes in which I was instructed not to talk about myself to my clients. I’m to let the client guide any conversation that may or may not occur. And I learned to set my own boundaries regarding what and how much I share with my clients, if anything.

So when the questions begin — like, “How long have you been doing this?” “Are you from here?” “Do you have any kids?” — my answers are short and polite, and I quickly turn the conversation back to the client or to the massage. “I wonder if the pain you’re experiencing in your arm is due to nerve entrapment?”

But when they ask if I am married, everything changes.

Suddenly I have to decide. Do I tell the truth and risk upsetting my client if they are conservative and anti-gay? I’m compassionate enough to imagine that a homophobic person would feel very uncomfortable lying naked in a dark room and being touched by a lesbian. Not to mention the discomfort I would feel. Do I lie? Which way shall I lie? Tell them I have a husband? Or tell them no, I’m not married? Or do I say something neutral like, “I prefer not to discuss my personal relationships?” — in which case I’ve probably raised their suspicions and so I might as well have told the truth.

I hardly think a straight massage therapist would be faced with the same conundrum.

Today it was a perfectly sweet Midwestern woman who asked me if I was married. She was retired, travelling with her husband on a two-month adventure in their motor home.

I lied to her — and then my heart broke and all I could think of was my beautiful wife, whom I love and love and love.

Maybe I would have been pleasantly surprised. Maybe if I had spoken the truth my client would have said, “Oh wonderful! Tell me about your wife.” I won’t ever know. Is it even my place to test that boundary during a massage?

It’s Valentine’s Day. Carla and I are celebrating. We love each other to the ends of the earth and back again. We will keep loving each other every minute of every day until our days are done.  And someday, during our lifetimes, I hope I will be able to tell each and every person I meet how proud I am of my beautiful wife and expect nothing more than a smile in return.

I’ll just keep loving her until we get there.

4 responses to “White Lies and Valentines

  • pheryx

    Karen, there’s an easy answer here: don’t ever lie. The truth can, and will, always, set you free. If you lie, you’re giving in to fear, and that’s what conservatives do.

    Remember 10 years ago when gay marriage was barely on the table? Yet now, the number of Americans who support gay marriage has creeped past 50%, and study after study shows it’s because gay people increasingly come out of the closet, make themselves known, and show the world they’re not leaving.

    I understand the ethics concerns, but the best thing we can do to conservatives is simply tell the truth, neutrally and without emotion, and if they get angry, it just further exposes who the bigots really are. It’s a win-win. Conservatives and their bigotry are a diminishing minority in this country, and the more they expose themselves, the more people will bear witness to their hatred and prejudice. Of course hatred and prejudice doesn’t feel good when it’s directed at you, but the bigger picture is that the bigots are clearly losing the battle, and the more we whip them into a frenzy, the crazier they appear. If your client is okay with you being gay, you win. If your client isn’t okay with it, you still win.

    This is a wonderful time for gay people. Just in the past week — the unconstitutionality of Prop 8, the Ellen/JCPenny thing, legalization of gay marriage in Washington state. Yes, it’s a battle, and it’s still going on, but you will win. You’ve already won. I am so proud of you and your sweetie, and it’s amazing that we all get to witness this great victory for the civil rights of gay people in our lifetime. Be proud of yourself! Keep it up!

  • Hand-Me-Downs and Flip Flops

    This is the most honest thing I have read in a some time. How refreshing!

    • Colleen

      I know this post was from a while ago but I just happened upon it. I love what you have said here. I have been married (sort of… it is a civil partnership from Scotland) to my love for six years now. I live a very open and accepting life… I have been fortunate to have work and family who have been welcoming. My partner lives a very closeted life… she too is a massage therapist, teaches both massage and A&P at the university and travels internationally to teach oncology massage. She has very real concerns that you describe about boundaries and ethics and the potential consequences to her professional career should her clientelle/students know she is a lesbian. These concerns were recently validated where our municipality recently voted in favor of discriminating against gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals in work, finance and housing. I understand the concern.

      I appreciate you sharing your story because it makes me feel less alone in my situation. Thank you.

      • Karen Milling


        Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry to hear about the level of discrimination in your area. I hope the tides will turn and the legislation will be overturned. I stopped attending public hearings for domestic partnership laws in our state because BUSLOADS of people would arrive to oppose the bills. I have a hard time understanding how people can hate someone so much that they would organize a bus load of like minded people to stand against them. I have a hard time understanding how they feel that their hate is “right.”

        Mostly, I’m fortunate in my life and encounter very little discrimination on a day to day basis. I feel safe and loved. I go about my life like everyone else. I hope the same is true for you and your partner.

        I wish you the very best.

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