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Trial Balloon Question

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Anders: Yeah, and then you wake up one day and discover you're another [thing]. Still doesn't change who you really are. Still doesn't change the fact that I love you, no matter what.
Starbuck: You are a better person than I am, Sam, because if I found out that you were a Cylon...
I would put a bullet between your eyes.

Alice has been going through some rough times lately. She discovered something about herself — something about her interests, preferences, or even species — that wasn't exactly conventional. It could range from the silly, like being a fan of a bad sports team; to the serious, like being a lesbian; or the fantastic, like being something other than human. This discovery caused Alice a fair amount of personal anguish, but eventually she came to accept it.

This trope is about the fact that she's now keeping a huge secret from those around her, and she wants to let it out rather than live a lie. Complicating matters is that mainstream society (or at least her social circle) does not approve of the group to which Alice now belongs. To them, "those people" are acceptable targets for mockery, violence, or worse.


So she tests the current by floating out a metaphorical balloon to find out what happens — asking her dear friend Bob a Trial Balloon Question. She asks (hypothetically, of course) if he would still love her if she turned out to be a member of this new group. What she hopes is to hear that The Power of Friendship would overcome this social obstacle — but what she often hears is that he'd be the first in line to cut off her head.

The truth about Alice will eventually come out, forcing Bob to decide if he loves her for who rather than what she is. If enough people reject her before and after the revelation, she may switch factions entirely either due to disillusionment or for simple survival.

If the answer to Alice's question "Would you still love me?" is "Mostly", expect it to be followed with Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?


If the answer is "Of course I'd still love you," Bob's actual reaction when learning the truth could still go either way. He may have an unrealistic picture of his own prejudices.

The only safe answer is "Meh," really, as it would mean Bob couldn't care less, and this really wouldn't change anything at all.

Due to prejudice this trope can be Truth in Television for some people, notably LGBT folks who field a hypothetical question about another LGBT person to gauge the safety of coming out to someone before doing so.

Compare I Have This Friend..., Comic Role Play, Rhetorical Question Blunder. Not to be confused with the Armor-Piercing Question, where the one posing the questions is trying to force a realization in another (hence "armor piercing").


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    Anime and Manga  
  • Early on in the anime Esper Mami, Mami has developed Psychic Powers, and her teacher catches her daydreaming about being a superhero. He quickly warns Mami's parents that she's letting her imagination run away with her, and they'd better stifle it for her own good. So when Mami starts querying her parents about their thoughts on special abilities, they mention that in the old days, people with such powers were known as "witches", and if they existed today, well, we'd just have to Burn the Witch!, wouldn't we? Mami decides not to tell her parents.
  • In Genesis of Aquarion, Sirius asks Reika what she would do if it turned out that there was a Shadow Angel in their midst. She thinks he's talking about a mole, so she reacts rather aggressively to the idea. When she finally finds out the truth she decides she doesn't care, but she hesitates a half-second too long to prevent his Face–Heel Turn.

    Comic Books  
  • In an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, in a crowd scene with various different conversations running in the background, one is of a couple asking each other a series of "Would you still love me if I was..." questions, one of them being a reference to Spider-Man enemy Scorpion.
  • There's an issue of a Bronze-Age Lois Lane comic where Lois uses a transformation device to become African-American for a day, and on the cover/inside she directly asks Superman if he'd still love her if she wasn't white. Surprisingly progressive for the time, anyway, just for raising the question.
  • A variation in Power Pack: Julie's mother tells her she'd still love her "even if you sprouted wings and flew". Well, while Julie never grows wings...

  • From Calvin and Hobbes: The Series:
    Calvin: Andy, quick! If you got a chain letter mailed to you saying you were going die a horrible death if you didn't forward it, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
    Andy: Uuuuuh..
    Calvin: Hypothetically, of course!
  • In Swinging Pendulum Kaien tells Ichigo that he and the Shibas have Ichigo's back, Ichigo asks if they would stand by him if he was declared a traitor. Kaien answers seriously that he would help Ichigo because he believes that Ichigo would have a very good reason for being traitor or was framed.
  • In Evowizard 25's Crossover Recursive Fanfic between his The Shimmerverse and the The Sunsetverse, Shimmering Sunsets, Shimmerverse!Octavia asks Sunsetverse!Twilight about her AU counterpart's stallionfriend:
    "Out of curiosity, what's the social standing on same sex couples in this Equestria? Just curious since we mentioned intertribal relationships and all that." Twilight asked, sweating a bit nervously.
    “.......I”m a lesbian over there, aren’t I?” Octavia deadpanned.
  • Done in a roundabout way in A Game of Cat and Cat. Soma Cruz is Dracula's reincarnation, and when discussing reincarnation with Kazuya, he asks if Kazuya considers Aoi's reincarnation to be the same person as her. Kazuya answers in the affirmative, which Soma takes as confirmation that he shouldn't tell Kazuya about his past life.
  • In Ellie Harry unintentionally becomes pregnant.
    Harry: You're doing so well [professionally]. W-What... What if we were to accidently... you know... have a baby now?
    Draco: Well we would have to give it up of course.
  • Secrets:
    Harry: I was just wondering...what if I liked other guys? Is that ok?
    Sirius: Your last name would not be Potter and you would not be my godson. Potters are not fags, it's unnatural.
  • In She Thought She Knew Hermione asks if Harry and Ron would have sex with a woman who was raped. Harry says he would if she were willing, but Ron never answers the question.
  • Deny Thy Father And Refuse Thy Name:
    Harry: If...if you found out that..err one of your friends were gay...let's for example...what would you say?
    Ron: Harry, I wouldn't have to say anything because I know you're as far from being gay as I am. Arrows couldn't be straighter then we are eh, mate? So why even worry about what I'd say.

    Film - Live Action  
  • Eli in Let the Right One In asks Oskar, "Would you still love me if I weren't a girl?" The audience assume Eli means "I'm a vampire", but actually Eli was given an involuntary, non-surgical penectomy.
  • Inverted in But I'm a Cheerleader, where everyone except the main character knows she's a lesbian: It's her friends and family who ask her the question and she doesn't react well.
  • One version of Peter Pan, which took a lot of liberties with the source material, had Wendy telling stories and acting like a mother to both the lost boys and the pirates. When Peter Pan finds out the pirates have a mother, she nervously asks what he'd do if he found her...
  • In A Safe Place (1971), Mitch asks Noah how she'd feel if he murdered his other girl, Rita. When Noah asks him if he actually murdered her, he replies that he did. Neither Mitch nor Noah seems terribly upset about it.

    Film - Animation 
  • Happens in Megamind, which goes well for the currently-disguised Megamind, with Roxanne saying it's what's on the inside that counts. Of course, when the disguise fails, Roxanne immediately dumps him because inside, Megamind is a Supervillain through and through.
  • The Simpsons Movie: When Bart tries to tell the police that he skated nude through town because Homer dared him to.
    Homer: And what happens to me if it's my fault?
    Chief Wiggum: You'll have to attend a one-hour parenting class.
    Homer: IT WAS ALL HIS IDEA! HE'S OUT OF CONTROL, I TELL YA! I'M AT MY WIT'S END! (sobs hysterically)

  • A glurgy Urban Legend has a mother and father getting a letter from their son in the service asking them what they'd do with a friend who had had his arm and leg amputated and had nowhere else to go. The parents said they wouldn't be able to take such a friend. The next letter they get is one stating that their son is dead from suicide. When they get to the morgue, they find their son...with an arm and a leg amputated. (There's a sci-fi short story with exactly that plot, but in space, naturally.)

  • In Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars, the main characters are a mixed-race brother and sister, John and Rena, who work their way up in society by passing for white. Rena tests the loyalty of her white fiance by asking if he would still love her if she were black. Unfortunately, he misunderstands the question, and when he eventually discovers her secret he rejects her.
  • Friday by Robert A. Heinlein
    • The story features a plot twist like this, where the eponymous character asks another member of her, um, "line marriage" (it's complicated) if she would still be accepted if she were a "Living Artifact" (the story's term for a person bio/gen-engineered from scratch). The revelation ends up breaking the family apart.
    • Later on Friday puts the same question to a man she's planning to have casual sex with, only for him to do a runner — it turns out that he's also an Artificial Human, and he assumes from the question that Friday would be prejudiced against him.
  • Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess has a main character who's a lawyer, but currently working as more of a maid, and the guy she loves hates lawyers.
  • Older Than Feudalism: In The Bible, King David slept with a married woman named Bathsheba, got her pregnant, sent her husband to die on the front lines, and took her as his new wife. He is approached by a prophet named Nathan, who tells him a story about a poor man who had only one little lamb that he deeply cared for, that was taken and slaughtered by his wealthy neighbor who already owned a very large flock. David says the rich man deserves to be put to death, and Nathan tells him simply, "You are the [rich] man." Then David realizes Oh, Crap!, My God, What Have I Done?.
  • In The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Jim diGriz asks a member of the local gentry who is helping him overthrow the local Banana Republic regime how he would react if diGriz advocated redistributing estates to the peasants. He responds, "I would shoot you on the spot." Jim disclaims having any such intentions, while thinking to himself that it will ultimately happen, but at a pace that the local culture can handle.
  • "Fairest of All": Everyone needs to know their heart's desire in order to get through the portal to a different realm. Brogan asks Siofra what her desire was, and she answers "Freedom." This disappoints Brogan, whose answer would have been "You," and was hoping Siofra felt the same way about them.

    Live Action TV  
  • Battlestar Galactica:
    • Anders says he'd still love Kara if she was a Cylon, and she replies that if he were a Cylon she'd put a bullet between his eyes. Little does she know that he is a Cylon, and that wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear.
    • It happens in season 1 with Caprica Boomer (later known as Athena) and Helo, after she decides to run away with him for real. She suggests Cylons can, y'know, love? And maybe they were misguided in nuking the colonies? Helo's "No, they knew perfectly well what they were doing, they're just machines" visibly upsets her before she hides it.
    • In both of these cases Starbuck and Helo decide they love them more and accept their partners for what they are. Kara violently defends Anders and Helo bandages up Boomer after shooting her. In his case, her being pregnant by him helped turn him around.
  • In the Season 2 Smallville episode "Visitor", when a delusional Freak of the Week claims to be an alien, Clark casually asks Chloe and Lana how they feel about the possibility it's true. Chloe thinks it would be cool; Lana finds it scary. Yet Clark continues to want to admit his secret to Lana, instead of Chloe. The latter of whom later finds out in Season Four and accepts him completely.
  • In the second to last episode of the J-Dorama, Akai Ito, Yuri lies to Natsu, telling him she's not 4-months pregnant. She then asks what he would do if she actually was, and he does not respond in the way she would like (he would have her abort).
  • On Will & Grace, Leo grows bored of living in New York and wants to go back to Doctors Without Borders in Cambodia, but he has to tell Grace first.
    Leo: Grace, you'd want me to be happy, right?
    Grace: Not if it affects me in any negative way. [smiles sweetly]
  • On That '70s Show Eric says he and Donna should keep their engagement a secret. To demonstrate, he asks Donna's father what he'd do if they got engaged. The answer is "I'd kill you", prompting them to keep it a secret for a while.
  • In the season 1 finale of Breaking Bad, Skyler discovers that her sister has been shoplifting. Her husband Walt (who just robbed a chemical depository in order to make meth, while claiming he was away at a Navajo sweat lodge) asks her what she would do if it was him. She says she hopes she never has to find out.
  • Done a couple of times in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier:
    • In Episode 3, Sam immediately shoots down the idea of breaking Baron Zemo out of prison so he can help them track down the Flag-Smashers. Bucky, unfazed, proceeds to lay out a "hypothetical" plan that would allow Zemo to escape. His explanation is intercut with a series of flashbacks of the plan being put into action, and just as Sam realises that it's too well-thought-out for a hypothetical, Zemo walks in.
    • The following episode, John Walker asks Lemar whether he would take the Super Soldier serum if it were offered to him, and whether he would be scared about the serum "changing" him. Lemar enthusiastically states that he would take it, and that the serum only makes a person "more of themselves". Unbeknownst to Lemar, Walker has the last remaining vial of serum, and Lemar's words convince him to take it.
  • On The West Wing, when President Bartlet was considering announcing that he had multiple sclerosis, the staff decided that it would be a good idea to have Joey Lucas do a poll asking voters how they would react if a governor announced a comparable illness. They were briefly concerned that it might look like they were announcing the illness because of the poll, but C.J. pointed out that that was ludicrous; the lies Bartlet had (mostly by omission) told would eclipse any other political fallout. So Joey Lucas did the poll, and the results were not encouraging, but they went ahead with the announcement anyway.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: At the end of "Mistaken Identity", Carlton, refusing to believe that the cops that arrested him and Will earlier were targeting them for being black, asks his father a hypothetical question and gets an Armor-Piercing Response in return.
    Carlton: Dad!...If you were a policeman, and you saw a car driving 2 miles an hour, wouldn't you stop him?
    Phillip: I asked myself that question the first time I was stopped.

  • The opening verse of Poets of the Fall's Obsession Song "Carnival of Rust" asks the listener not only if the feelings the singer has are mutual, but in a twisted exercise in Wishful Projection, whether the listener has an equally warped outlook on their romantic feelings.
    D'you breathe the name of your saviour in your hour of need
    N' taste the blame if the flavor should remind you of greed,
  • "tolerate it" by Taylor Swift is a Love Martyr lament to her partner who doesn't appreciate her. At one point, the narrator asks, "But what would you do if I / Break free and leave us in ruins?"

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip:
    Calvin: Do you love me, Dad?
    Dad: Of course I do Calvin.
    Calvin: Would you still love me if I did something bad?
    Dad: Well of course... I... would...
    Calvin: I mean something really, really...

  • In the "Mr Strawberry" episode of The Alan Davies Show, Alan stars in an embarrassingly bad advert for a soft drink, which he desperately tries to keep his girlfriend from finding out about because she believes he's a serious actor. When she mentions that a lot of her actor friends have been in adverts, he offhandedly asks her if she still respects them, only to be told that no, she thinks all of them are cheap whores.

  • Used for comedy in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
  • In Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour was only keeping Audrey II (the plant) alive because he thought that if it died Audrey (the girl) wouldn't love him. He asked her if she would still love him, and she said that she definitely would. This is presumed to be an honest response but it is never confirmed because she dies.
  • In the musical Spring Awakening, Moritz tries to ask his father what would happen, "hypothetically speaking," if he failed his exams. His father immediately sees through it.
  • In Avenue Q, Rod asks Christmas Eve what he can do to help his "friend" who is struggling with his sexuality, and what might happen if this friend, hypothetically, were to come out. Christmas Eve assures him everything will be just fine. (At least until she finds out said "friend" is a Republican.)

    Video Games  
  • In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, Soma asked Mina if she'll still like him if he's Not Himself. Confused, she told him that no, she wouldn't if he changes too much. Unlike most examples, she immediately realizes that something is amiss for him to suddenly ask that, but doesn't figure out what exactly prompted the question in the first place (considering Soma tends to run off if she tries).
  • Tales of Symphonia:
    • Played withLloyd skips having the question asked by Colette — and in two cases directly tells her that no matter what happens to her or what she becomes, he will never treat her any less.
    • Colette later repays the favour by reminding Lloyd he's still him after he finds out his dad is Kratos.
    • Also played with/subverted a bit with Genis to a degree. In one of the skits, Lloyd is ranting about how much he hates Desians (Half-elves), and how much better the world would be without them. Genis, also a half-elf (though posing as a full-blooded elf; (Half-elves... aren't well-liked in Symphonia's world... it's complicated), asks him if he thinks the world would really be better that way. Then comes The Reveal that Genis and his sister are in fact half elves aaaand... Lloyd doesn't care, they're still friends and all that jazz.
  • Veronica in Fallout: New Vegas tells the player character she had a run-in with the Brotherhood of Steel and asks them to fill her in. There are a variety of possible answers, ranging from (paraphrased) "Don't they shoot lasers from their eyes?" to "I know enough to kill them when I see them." Once she's a companion, she reveals that she's a member of the Brotherhood herself; the player has another variety of reactions correspondingly.

    Web Comic 

    Western Animation  
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Maggie runs away from home whilst Marge is on vacation. When Marge calls home, Homer takes the opportunity to put up a test balloon by asking how she would feel if the dog ran away. Marge reacts with horror. Homer finds this discouraging.
  • In an episode of Transformers: Prime Smokescreen (keeping the fact that he was almost a Prime a secret from the rest of the team) asks Bumblebee if he'd ever like to be a Prime himself. When Bumblebee responds that he'd prefer the rank of warrior, Smokescreen can't help but agree.


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