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The Secrets We Keep
Wednesdays, April 24 - May 15

The Secrets We Keep is a five-part podcast from NEPM about the stories we don’t tell, what they say about our world, and what they do to our minds. NEPM reporter Karen Brown explores societal taboos and stigmas around sexual orientation, abortion, genetic origins, family scandals, and money — through the voices of secret-keepers, those kept in the dark, and history and social science experts (starting with the host’s family secret.)

What's your secret, and why do you keep it? Reach out at (413) 258-8633 or secrets@nepm.org.

  • Even people who are willing to divulge the most intimate details about their lives are hesitant to talk about how much money they earn. This episode looks at the origins of that pressure to keep your pay a secret, including who benefits and who gets harmed. Karen Brown talks to experts and activists about the role of pay secrecy in gender and race wage gaps — and recounts one recent case study in the publishing industry. And she considers why even the loudest advocates for pay transparency find the topic of money so awkward.We meet:Carl Lavigne, a library worker in Michigan who puts his salary in his email signature as a social experiment.Hannah Williams, a 20-something woman who, after discovering she was underpaid as a data analyst, started a TikTok channel interviewing people on the street about their salaries. Her company, Salary Transparent Street, now pays her more than she got as an analyst.Andrea Johnson, a policy advocate at the National Women’s Law Center, about campaigns to increase pay transparency as a way to reduce the gender wage gap.Tochi Onyebuchi, a Black science fiction author who started a Twitter campaign in which white and Black writers publicly announced how much they got for book advances in order to call out the publishing industry for its race-based pay discrepancies.Then, Karen wraps up the series with what she learned about secrets, ending with a defiant anti-secret song by Amherst musician Mary Lambert.The Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro. Find out more at nepm.org/secrets.
  • The explosion in mail-in genetic testing has busted so many secrets out of the proverbial closet, as people discover that the biggest secret in their life is their own origin story. This episode looks at the personal and societal costs of these biological secrets over generations — and the fallout, after those secrets are unraveled. It also considers why so many families of the past kept fertility treatment a secret. We meet: Lisa, an Amherst, Massachusetts, grant writer, who discovers through 23 & Me that her parents used a sperm donor to conceive her 50-some years ago. She decides that, despite her parents’ pledge to never discuss it, she wants to talk about it all the time. Dee Gish, one of Lisa’s newly discovered half sisters, who revels in the large extended family she now gets to claim. Dani Shapiro, a well-known memoir writer who has become a social commentator on genetic revelations, after learning that her beloved father was not biologically related to her. It’s one in a long list of secrets that destabilized her life, which now inform the insights she brings to her own podcast on family secrets. Michael Slepian, the social scientist from Columbia University whom we met back in the first episode. As one of the country’s premier researchers on secret-keeping, he found out that his own genetic origins were not what he thought. But he says it’s not the secret, so much as the secret keeping, that shook him the most. Karen’s own father Rex (again), who, in addition to having a secret daughter, never knew his own biological dad. But he told Karen (in the year before he died) he was at peace with that. The Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro. Find out more at nepm.org/secrets.
  • The changing political winds around abortion have led so many women to keep their abortions secret, including both those who got illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade, and those who legal abortions afterwards, for reasons to do with shame and social expectations. But since the right to abortion is now in question in many places, those same women are now choosing to speak out — equating secrecy with silence, and openness with defiance. This episode tells intimate stories of women who spent years keeping this chapter in their lives secret — the toll of that secrecy on relationships and self-esteem — and what changed their minds. We meet: Wendy Sibbison, a retired human rights lawyer in Greenfield, Massachusetts, who had an illegal abortion in the 1960s and only spoke about it after joining the women’s movement of the '70s. She had a second abortion years later, and approached it much differently. A 50-something woman named Rachel, who had abortions in the 1980s but, despite their legality, felt so ashamed she couldn’t talk about it. Until the Dobbs decision turned her into an activist (though she still prefers to keep her last name out of it). And Smith College professor Carrie Baker, who is an expert on feminist and abortion history, including how secrecy has been weaponized by opponents of abortion and women’s rights in general. The Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro. Find out more at nepm.org/secrets.
  • It’s no secret that many people in the LGBTQ community have felt they had to keep their sexual orientation and gender identity hidden for years, partly because of discrimination, and partly because of internalized shame. Dive deep into three stories to understand the true cost of those secrets, psychologically, personally, societally — and the relief when they are revealed. We meet: Margo Anderson, a transgender woman and science writer in western Massachusetts who transitioned in her early 50s, after keeping her identity a secret even from herself. Bill Hudson, a gay man who grew up Catholic and later led a religious school in Minnesota, while hiding his same-sex relationship and children for years — until it all exploded in public. Dr. Abbie Goldberg, a psychology professor at Clark University who grew up in the 1980s with a single mom who was gay but never talked about it. She now researches secrets among LGBTQ and adoptive families. Tanisha Arena and Nicole Young Martin, two queer Black women and community leaders who talk about confronting society’s prejudices and refusing to live in secrecy — albeit at a cost. The Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro. Find out more at nepm.org/secrets.
  • In this pilot episode, host Karen Brown explores a personal family secret: a sister she didn’t know was her father’s daughter until they were all in their 20s. By talking to her family members — including her mother, her three sisters (including her half sister), and her late father (before he died in 2017), she tries to understand the shame and stigma involved in keeping a family scandal under wraps, and how that can affect your world view and relationships. She also comes clean about her own long-held feelings about the secret and its implications. We meet Michael Slepian, a professor at Columbia University, who studies the psychology of secret keeping. And, Karen explains her original interest in the potential harms of secrecy, and why, as a journalist, she has always been a fan of radical openness. But, what's the difference between privacy and secrecy? The Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro. Find out more at nepm.org/secrets.
  • The stories we don’t tell, what they say about our world, and what they do to our minds — a new podcast from NEPM. Over five episodes, this limited series uses the lens of secrets to explore societal taboos and stigmas around sexual orientation, abortion, genetic origins, family scandals, and money — through the voices of secret-keepers, those kept in the dark, and history and social science experts (starting with the host’s family secret.) The Secrets We Keep is written/produced/hosted by Karen Brown, edited by Sam Hudzik, with music by Katie Semro. nepm.org/secrets