I am certain that close to 100% of you reading this have some idea or instinctive understanding why many or most vigilantes keep their anonymity. And I summarily confirm that they are all correct. There a couple of aspects, though, about which I have some commentary.
No… no, I think I’ll save commentary for some other time. For today’s topic, I’m more inclined to talk about the consequences of having a secret identity. Most obvious is the question of whom (if anybody) you trust with your secret. It’s a harder question than you might think; it’s not just about who you can trust to keep the secret, but who is willing to take on that onus. Every person that knows that John Citizen is also Super John Vigilante, is potentially in a situation where they may be threatened, blackmailed, or tortured to make them reveal that information. This puts them in the (potential) situation of having to decide how important keeping YOUR secret is to them, compared to the consequences they will endure if they do keep it. Since you can’t ask them their preference without telling them, you are left to try to determine their preference for yourself. Unless you simply decide to keep your secret from everybody, you’re going to make a decision, tell somebody or several somebodies, and you’ll NOT tell others.
And somebody’s going to hate you for it.
Somebody’s going to be angry that you’ve thrust that kind of responsibility on them, and somebody is going to be offended that you kept this secret from them. Don’t spend too much time worrying about which is preferable (or less terrible), you’ll eventually get both. But you have to tell someone or you’ll either go stark raving mad or plunge into a crippling depression. Sure, everybody starts out trying to strike a balance between the vigilante work and living like a normal person, and a few can even keep that up for the long haul, but for most of us the longer we do this the more time we spend in uniform and less time in street clothes. It’s virtually inevitable.
In fact the prime reason for the existence of teams like the Avengers and duos like Batman and Robin and any other configuration of two or more vigilantes under a common banner, is less about needing seven to nine super-powered freedom fighters to protect the Earth from big threats, and more about career vigilantes needing someone they can talk to. Between keeping your secret from friends and/or family and having experiences both great and tragic, you HAVE TO have someone to talk to. And though some can maintain relationships and confidences in their civilian identities, eventually you yearn for others who can relate to your activities. In my time behind the mask, I’ve belonged to a dozen or so teams (founded a couple), and worked with more partners and sidekicks that I can remember (not really, it’s 23).
That number of associates is probably a little high among career vigilantes, but I have chosen to put myself of the extreme end of this “career;” I spend about as little time as functionally possible in my civilian identity, primarily for that overarching, overwhelmingly common reason FOR the secret identity – to protect my friends and family. Though in my case, I have accomplished this through having vanishingly few personal connections out of costume to achieve the same result; putting as few innocent bystanders as possible into any kind of risk or danger because of my activities. As you might guess by the length of this missive, that’s very important to me.
I probably have more to say, but this rant has already gone on too long. Perhaps I’ll revisit this topic again at a later date.