When people say ‘if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear’ they are talking about a very specific privacy. The privacy a person has from a government, which is a token that we can exchange for security, or conversely, something that can be taken away without our knowledge. This version of privacy stands in for the subject when most people discuss it lately. But there is something wrong with this version of privacy, something immoral, this is the privacy that protects criminals. Privacy keeps dirty things hidden, so it must itself be dirty. But privacy is not just wanting to keep people from knowing if you are doing something wrong, it is what we decide that we want people to know about us, it makes us feel safe. We go through our day thinking about what level of privacy we have without really thinking about it.
Privacy is trying to get through high school in Alaska during the 90’s as a closeted gay kid. Being evasive when talking about dating, never talking openly about boys you have crushes on, and studying hard but never raising your hand in class to speak because you are afraid your voice will betray you. Privacy is what you cling to till you can leave for college.
Privacy is when your friend comes over because his girlfriend, who is also your friend, is having an abortion right now. They decided this together. So you give him a glass of cheap whiskey, pull a chair over to where he is slumped on the couch, and wait to see if he says anything.
Privacy is sitting at a dining room table for an hour with a guy you just met at a crowded house party. You don’t know anybody there but you reach your hand out under the table to brush it against his so that no one can see.
Privacy is putting your headphones in on the bus to keep the crazies from talking to you.
Privacy is leaving your house in the middle of the night for a booty call and trying not to wake your roommates, because really it’s none of their business and you haven’t had sex in over a year which is also none of their business.
Privacy is going to the unisex bathroom at work and crying because you don’t like your job but you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing with your life, or because someone yells at you over the phone, or because you’re going through a really bad break up, or all three of those combined. Privacy is what you need because your coworkers are not equipped to handle this.
Privacy is going to a therapist when you are depressed and also telling your boss that you have a ‘doctor appointment’ and leaving it at that. Privacy is a therapists office.
Privacy is a woman outside of a coffee shop in Seattle on a spring day, sitting alone at a table writing in a notebook. Privacy is when a stranger comes and sits down next to her and tells her she looks like she needs company and she asks him to leave because she does not need company. Privacy is when she eventually goes inside and tells the barista that the man won’t leave her alone and they ask him to leave.
Privacy is how I keep the blinds shut in the bedroom most of the time because they open onto my neighbor’s front porch.
Privacy is taking a letter to the bedroom to open it because you are pretty sure it is a rejection letter from the only grad school you applied to. Because you don’t want your boyfriend to watch you open it. You read the letter all the way through even though it’s immediately clear that it is a rejection letter. You lie on the bed and stare at the beige ceiling for a minute. You think about having to tell everyone that you didn't get in, how you will try to hide the disappointment, and how this was the only life plan you had and now it’s not going to happen. It feels like your body is losing cohesion there on your bed. Privacy is the moment you need to collect yourself before you get up, open the door, and walk back out.