A common question that we face as a segment of society is, "whom ought I tell? When should I tell? is there a need for me to tell anyone?" This struggle arises because AB/DL behavior is, plainly put, not normal in society. This does not mean that it is "bad" or "wrong," but means that there are no social scripts and routines that people may follow when they are informed of your AB/DL orientation or attitude. Given this, there is a very high level of resistance to disclosing one's orientation or attitude on this topic. Must one disclose? If so, what terms govern this disclosure?
Disclosure of AB/DL orientations or attitudes is at best a dicey proposition and at worst may lead to the dissolution of relationships, public embarrassment, and possible continued harassment or emotional or physical discomfort. However, it is not the case that disclosure should never happen; it is instead the case that it should occur under very precise conditions, and be handled in a careful and straightforward fashion.
As this article talks about the role of disclosure as possible antecedent to relationship change (e.g. continued or further involvement, "coming clean," or termination of the relationship), it is important to outline three major relationship groups, as the terms, risks, and rewards of disclosure will differ across these groups.
I begin with a summary, and continue with a full articulation below the summary:
- Disclose only on a case-by-case basis and lean heavily toward non-disclosure.
- Rewards can include something in common (rare), or a deeper level of commitment and dedication to the friend (a shared secret held in common).
- Risks include loss of the friendship, character assassination, shunning, and destruction of other social connections.
- Recommendation: do not disclose.
- Disclose only on a case-by-case basis and lean heavily toward non-disclosure. For adults still living with parents, disclose only if the AB/DL attitudes and orientations are impacting your life across multiple domains, and only to siblings in rare cases. Never to children.
- Rewards can include getting needed help (disclosure to parents as the result of needing help), having a secret in common (with siblings).
- Risks include loss of face, shunning, embarrassment, loss of residence (for over-18s living with parents).
- Recommendation: do not disclose.
- Disclose must happen when the relationship has the potential to be "serious," but has not yet reached this point.
- Rewards can include having something in common (rare), a deeper level of commitment and dedication, communicating honestly and openly, and having no secret skeleton waiting in the closet.
- Risks include loss of the relationship, character assassination, and destruction of other social connections.
- Recommendation: disclose when the relationship has the potential to be "serious."
Now let us look at the articulation of these points:
- Friends: Friends are a tricky and occasionally fickle lot. Close friends may enjoy intimate conversations and contact with you, while looser friendships might consist of people who only vaguely know you. Friends have no right, expectation, or need to know of your AB/DL bent. If you disclose to a friend, and the disclosure goes well, they will forever be wondering if you're actively wearing in public or private whenever you are together. If the disclosure does not go well, however, you have the makings of a character assassination attempt on your hands, which can be exceedingly stressful and remove you from social functions.
- Family: Children and siblings have no need to know about your AB/DL orientation and attitude. However, parents should be told in the event that these orientations and attitues are impacting your global functioning and daily life. What do I mean by this? Let us take the easier cases first, those of children and siblings. Children and siblings need not know of everything that happens in your life that is intimate or sexual. In the case of the former, it will--at best--be exceedingly strange , and at worst may provide ammunition with which the child(ren) may disobey or otherwise control the parent-child dynamic. Siblings might provide support and comfort if you can find this nowhere else, and you have determined that your sibling(s) will be reassuring, helpful, kind, and caring rather than cruel and uncaring. In short, if you have no other support structure for this orientation and behavior, you might be able to find this support in a sibling, albeit intellectual and emotional support rather than experientially-based support. Now we move on to parents. Disclosing to parents, when you are living at home and under their rules, is both difficult and risky. Unless your AB/DL feelings and manifested behaviors are causing harm to you or others, or causing a diminished ability to globally function within your life, there is very little payoff in disclosing to parents. Once you move out of the home, the power dynamic between parent and child will shift, but this still does not mean they need to know every detail of your intimate life, and this includes what you do in the bedroom or for fun.
- Romantic relationships: Thus far, we have talked about relationships over which one need not be heavily emotionally invested. Romantic relationships, however, are different, in that there is an increasing level of investment up to--and through--marriage, wherein the level of investment should be complete, as the couple either sinks or swims together. Whenever a romantic relationship starts to look "serious," you should disclose. You should NEVER permit the relationship to enter a state of engagement or marriage without disclosure. I have just brought two points to bear: the conditions surrounding disclosure, and a warning against non-disclosure. Let us talk about the latter first: by not disclosing, you are not communicating fully. As engagements and marriages REQUIRE communication--full and open communication--failing to communicate now will lead to separation or divorce later, and is a good indicator of unhealthy trends within the relationship. Let us now examine the conditions surrounding disclosure: that of the "seriousness" of the relationship. When I say "serious," I am talking about a point within a relationship at which is ceases to become a passing infatuation and instead becomes an emotionally binding force. As every relationship is different, there is no hard-and-fast time-based metric that may be employed here. Generally, though, a relationship is serious when any of these things happen:
- Sexual contact of any sort;
- Purchasing property or real estate together;
- Multi-night sleepovers and visits;
- Changing jobs, locations, or housing to better suit the relationship;
- Living together.
Hence, the advice is to disclose in full BEFORE any of these things occur within the relationship. The cost of disclosure in a relationship may be its dissolution, but the cost of failing to communicate IS dissolution. Therefore, disclosure is a must in a genuine and open (e.g. a healthy) relationship.
Someone who would leave you just because of a non-destructive interest you have that involves wearing diapers or using childish or infantile paraphernalia is not a person you ought trust to stand ready with you to go through life with.
With these points made, the decision to disclose or not should be much easier. Remember, though, that you have no responsibility to disclose--except in the event that you are tying your life to someone else's, as in romantic relationships that are about to turn serious--and should feel no pressure to do so. Your friends do not tell you about their masturbation habits or about whom they fantasize; conversely, you owe them no description of what you do for sexual gratification or simple, personal pleasure.
I have, in this article, covered disclosure policies toward three types of relationships--friendly, familial, and romantic. In summary: disclosure to family and friends is neither necessary nor generally advised, and must be handled on a case-by-case basis. Disclosure to a romantic partner, however, must occur before the relationship becomes serious (as defined above), but as soon as it has the possibility of becoming serious.