The New York Times‘ ethicist columnist Randy Cohen told a female reader she had a right to be upset a transgender man she went on a date with wasn’t forthcoming about his T status. This is gonna get dicey!
The flames are already flying at the blog Bilerico where Dr. Jillian T. Weiss is calls Cohen’s advice “dangerous nonsense.” Cohen writes in his column:
There are two questions here: What must close companions reveal to each other?And what may they reveal about each other to outsiders?
Getting to know someone is a gradual process. I might panic if on a first date someone began talking about what to name the nine kids she’s eager for us to raise in our new home under the sea. Premature disclosure can be as unnerving as protracted concealment. But as partners cultivate romance, and particularly as they move toward erotic involvement, there are things each should reveal, things they would not mention to a casual acquaintance — any history of S.T.D.’s, for example, or the existence of any current spouse. Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his being transgendered. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him.
Hmmm. He didn’t mention it because he thought it pertinent? And that makes his omission “discreditable”? That’s a pretty one-sided approach to a transgender person’s bill of dating rights.
I needn’t go into the psychological struggle many transgender folks endure as they transition, or the level of stigmatization our trans brothers and sisters face just by re-entering the dating pool as an “other.” Should a transgender person reveal to a potential mate he is trans? Sure, but it doesn’t have to happen on the first date. In fact, it probably shouldn’t, unless it’s somehow this “extra bonus” he knows about beforehand (maybe on the other person’s online dating profile, she lists trans guys as a plus?). Establish a repertoire. See if there’s chemistry. Decide if the relationship has any chance of moving forward. And then everybody show each other their no-no place.
Mike in Asheville, nee "in Brooklyn"
I read Randy Cohen’s Ethicist column every week; read this one too yesterday, and was fine with the answer.
Cohen did not tell his writer that is was okay to be anti-transgender nor vindictive toward the person in question. Additionally, Cohen clearly wrote it would be wrong to post public bills/posters or have anything said from the pulpit of the church where the writer and subject met.
Instead, Cohen wrote that it was perfectly natural to discuss the situation among one’s personal friends, because, as friends, that is what supporting friends do, they support eachother when unfamiliar and difficult situation arise.
When I have found myself in a difficult dilemma, of course I speak with friends who can give me advice and support. That’s what Cohen suggested.
of course Bilerico is going apeshit over this.
While his analogies were problematice, they do represent what many trans folks practice. That is…if someone asks them out or vice versa, they are upfront about being T to avoid problems later.
Sadly too many folks think that “by the time we fall in love my being trans won’t matter” which rarely if ever happens.
Of course it is good manners to let someone know you’re trans from the get go if you’re dating. Thats like naively slipping in the fact you are postive on the 3rd date as if it’s not likely going to be a serious concern to the other party involved.
I’m not surprised at the alarmist attitude coming form Bilerico, it’s to be expected from them.
The columnist was asked “is it appropriate to out this person as a transgendered person?” and he said “no”, quite unequivocally. That’s a good answer, you shouldn’t ask your pastor, rabbi, or best friend to out someone like that.
But it does raise a larger issue, which is “when is it appropriate to talk about X,Y, or Z?” For me, like many, HIV status and gender identity are things we would like to know about as soon as possible.
This isn’t about showing someone “you no-no place as the Queerty columnist writes; why should folks be allowed to either lie deliberately or through omission about these things in the hopes that “love will win over all”? This is a basic discussion about identity and waiting until one or both parties involved have developed some sort of feelings to come clean is not fair, someone will end up hurt.
As an aside, if my date is that dodgy about his or her past, there probably wouldn’t be a second date…
@ Lamar: I can’t really say I agree with that analogy. Being trans isn’t a communicable disease.
No trans person who can pass with relative success wants to be outed. Stealth is the goal of the overwhelming majority of transpeople. Really, even those who are lucky enough to pass 100% exactly 100% of the time-perfect body, face, voice, mannerisms-do you think they want a giant label on their forehead? If people already know it doesn’t matter how convincing you are: your very existence is an affront to them, and they won’t hire you, cut you any favors, or associate with you.
Yes, one should inform their date about their status before any sex begins, maybe feel around before then with a few questions about LGBT issues, but no one has an obligation to have “I’m a tranny!Are you still interested?” be the first thing you blurt out when hit on at a bar.
You guys are all only looking at one side of the argument just as the poster of this retort is, and just like the original article is. I also do not even need to read the original article to explain this, because I have first hand experience in that I am a transwoman.
You are ALL looking at this issue from your own perspective as cis-sexual individuals, none of you have even attempted to discuss it from the point of view of the transsexual individual.
As a transsexual woman I would NEVER reveal my past or status as trans on the first date, and I will explain why. Firstly, once I have undergone the genital reconstruction, I am a woman. The classification of me as a “transwoman” at that point serves only to distance me from the idea of womanhood and label me as “other.” At this point I would be no more responsible to tell my date of my medical history than I would if I were sterile or if I was unable to orgasm due to physical defect, that early in the relationship it would simply not be their business, if they decided they liked me enough to be interested in sexual contact, then I will tell them if it is pertinent or if they need to know, after all my vagina is the same as any other. Thus in this situation it would really only be pertinent if your partner was a man and wished to have children naturally.
The second and most important reason I would not disclose. As you have all portrayed here, the disclosure of one’s status as trans, particularly pre-op, often comes as a shock to peopole. There are many, many cases of a transperson outting themselves early to a person they do not know well and then finding out this person has a violent disposition and murders them for their honesty. This is particularly true of transwomen and of pre-ops. Considering I am still pre-operative, there are places in my home city I will NOT go because I do not feel safe. I will NOT disclose to anyone that I do not know well enough to know that I am safe in that disclosure.
As a reference please look up the names Angie Zapata and Gwen Arajuo. These are two trans women that were brutally murdered by men that they were involved with. They chose not to disclose too early, in Gwen’s case the only sexual contact had been oral sex she had performed, and I believe in Angie’s there was none. The men found out via outside sources and it resulted in the women’s deaths. Gwen’s killers received only 5-15 years for her murder.
My life is more important to me than ANYONE’s personal comfort or feelings. I do not particularly care if someone is hurt or upset that I didn’t tell them when I first started dating them. They will find out when they need to, and before they ever lay a hand on me sexually. You would not ask a genetic girl to tell you she was sterile, or had no clitoris on the first date. Some women are born with a genetic malformation called Vaginal Agenesis where they don’t even have a vagina. The vulva and internal organs are all correctly formed but the vaginal passage is nonexistent. You would not expect her to reveal that on the first date. In all actuality you probably wouldn’t even think that any of these were likely since they are rare so wouldn’t blink an eyelash if it was left out. So don’t treat me or girls like me, or the transmen, any differently than you would someone who was not trans. It just shows that you care more for my genitals than you do for me.
Although if you do really feel slighted and lied to if I were not to disclosure as early as you like, you do me the favor of telling me I don’t need to bother investing anymore energy or time into you. I don’t need a relationship where my genitals are more interesting than my brain or my personality.
As a footnote. Please do not think the use of the word you is personal. I use it as a generality and it in no way reflects my opinions of any of the posters but of a hypothetical individual that is mad at me for failing to disclose. I wrote in that fashion to try and illustrate the trans-centric perspective that is missing from the discussion.
I think there are a lot of differing attitudes about this issue in the trans community. I’m a straight post-op trans woman and in any personal ad I’ve ever had, I ID myself as trans from the get-go. Personally, I don’t want to have to deal with disclosing to people in person nor do I feel like having any contact with someone who’s going to have issues with my history. Other friends or potential “persons of interest” I’ve met first in person I’ve told relatively early on, perhaps because I don’t want to have to filter my speech, history or thoughts, and I’ve got a big mouth and am not especially good at being discrete.
My issue with Cohen’s article has more to do with a cisgender person (who doesn’t seem to have any noticeable history of connecting with trans people) telling trans people they have to disclose or “owe” it to the other person to disclose. Would some of you want some straight guy telling gay men they HAVE to tell people they’re gay within the first hour of meeting them?
No, I don’t think being trans is equivalent to being HIV positive… bad analogy. (although both are capable of making one severely marginalized and, especially, discriminated against in regards to health care and employment.
Btw, I know from personal experience that Orthodox Judaism (unlike Conservative or Reform Judaism) doesn’t acknowledge of change of sex… period. So this woman better get her head screwed on differently if she’s going to get in a relationship with the trans man.
@Syl: I know that being trans isn’t a communicable disease but the analogy was intended to represent something one party is withholding that could impact a romantic relationship in the long term.
If you can’t handle telling someone you want to have a RELATIONSHIP with that you’re trans…maybe you should transition.
shouldn’t* 🙁 typo
Sexual orientation and gender identification are fluid by nature. So if it were the case with me, why would I need to tell a potential partner that I am MTF transperson considering re-transitioning back to male? That’s simply none of their business!
Why would an “ex gay” man want to inform his female date that of the 23 people he’s ever “been with” all 23 were male?
i learned all this in my Queer Studies class.
I got an A— and a free “GenderQueer
& Proud of It” teeshirt.
Best class ever ! They don’t hand out free shirts in physics class. Or neuro-anatomy seminars. Even if you ask nicely.
I wouldn’t say that trans folks have an obligation to make that announcement on the very first date. BUT…They definitely should say something about it before they get to the bedroom. That’s just not the kind of thing you spring on a partner at the last minute.
To the gay guys: We tend to operate under a faster schedule of disclosure than straight folks and lesbians. It’s not at all abnormal, in our experience, to hear about someone’s genitalia/gender history/serostatus/sexual roles and preferences within hours (even minutes) of meeting them. I’m a trans guy, and I will (literally) disclose in a bar before I even let a guy buy me a drink. But that’s because of the greater openness about sex in general among gay men. For us, where there’s flirting, there could be sex, and it’s only polite to inform the person flirting with you of any major potential barriers to having sex with him.
Don’t project our norms onto straight folks, especially not sexually-conservative straights like Orthodox Jews. Virtually any trans guy with any concern at all for either his safety or his partner’s feelings will disclose before they get to the bedroom – even the best surgery money can buy won’t make us passable in bed (unlike the ladies). But for a straight trans orthodox Jewish guy, there is a very, very, very long distance between the first date and the bedroom. And there will be plenty of time to disclose when/if he thinks things might be going in that direction – which, for a straight guy, may not be at all apparent on the first date.
Im not so sure how it works for you trans guys Evan but for we ladies, at least in my experience, can end up risking just as much if not more to our safety if we disclose really early rather than wait until the last minute before the panties come down. This is particularly true if one is a t-girl and straight. There are still a fair number of men out there who do not react well to us. It isn’t so much of an issue for me as I am a lesbian and in a committed relationship.
I’ve not had sex with a transgender person, but I think/ hope the conversation prior any activity would be the same: it’s a universal question “What do you need/ want so that you feel good?”
And each partner asks & answers that question.
kinda basic but easy to forget…….
@Blah: You’re supposed to know on a first date that this is someone you can trust, and that it’ll be more than just a first date? I transitioned (FTM) a dozen years ago. These days, only my closest friends know about my gendered past. I’m not out, and I prefer it that way for many reasons. First dates (and second and third…) are about getting to know someone, not about revealing all your private secrets. Why risk revealing something that huge and personal and private on a first date, when the relationship might not go any further than that?
(Not all of us are as open as Evan.)
You are only fooling yourself if you think disclosing such a past isn’t vitally important to the people you date.
While it’s certainly nothing like a disease, it’s big. It’s bigger than telling someone you are divorced, have children, or are sterile, or impotent. And those things? They’re something you expect to hear *soon* when you are dating someone.
I’m not saying you have to blurt it out on the first date. But if you wait too long and are pursuing a relationship, that person is going to feel *lied* to, no matter how they feel about people with a trans past.
Safety issues? The phone is a safe alternative to doing so in person. Holding off on this is just sabotaging your future with that person.
To some people this issue is vitally important and would want to know. Others would not really care. My current girlfriend is the first person I ever came out to and that was four years ago. She has been there for me through everything and doesn’t plan to leave me. For her it wasn’t quite this issue, she started dating and having sex with a man, and three months into her relationship found out her boyfriend wanted to be her girlfriend.
Personally, I feel like what you have articulated represents cultural phenomena that are not necessarily the best way to go about things. Let me explain.
People want to know if their date/new partner has a history of divorce because they think that implies something about that person’s ability to maintain an adult relationship. Which is only partly true, the divorce may not have been that person’s fault or desire.
People want to know if you have children because you may be less likely to have more with them or they do not wish to take care of “someone else’s” kids with you. They are equally interested in sterility for the purposes of reproduction. Impotence has a hand in reproduction but also in maintaining a satisfactory sex life.
People want to hear these things *soon* because they do not want to invest time or energy into a person that does not fit what they want out of life. Ideally I feel one should not be looking for qualities like these so much as you should be looking for the person you want to make your life with.
An example: In my own relationship my girlfriend’s philosophy is that she did not leave me because she fell in love with the person and not the body. Just because I wish to be a female doesn’t mean I am a different person. It does mean we will have sex differently, and that we may not be able to have children that are mine genetically. She was able to accept that because she loves me for me, not because Im tolerable and fun and can father children.
The issue of feeling “lied to” is cultural. Currently a history as trans has negative connotations to most mainstream culture, and for a lot of people they do not accept that we can maintain a relationship as well as a member of the natal sex. Mostly for the cultural reasons and qualitative desires I listed above. In my opinion, most men are probably equally likely to turn down a post op trans-girl as they are a natal girl who is sterile. But those who are prone to violence are less likely to harm the sterile girl because they do not perceive her as “a man trying to seduce him.” Those men do not view trans women as “real” females, only facsimiles thereof.
On the issue of safety. If I met someone online, and was contemplating setting up a date, I would disclose before the first date because I am still anonymous and am in no danger. If I met them in public at a bar or something, I will wait until I know more about them. Ideally the disclosure would come before they know where I live and after I have a decent opinion of their character, to protect myself.
Overall though, my opinion is that I *Should not* ever be obligated to disclose. Because if I am post op, and my vagina functions well, there is no need whatsoever for you to know I was born a boy unless I wish you to know. I am no different than any other sterile woman and they are not culturally or morally obligated to tell you exactly what is wrong with them that they are sterile, some probably can’t because they are not educated enough in medical terms and procedures.
I will agree with you that if I want to have a lifelong relationship with someone, I am going to tell them eventually. But if it has no bearing on our relationship I am not obligated to tell you. Just like natal women are not obligated to tell how many times they have miscarried children or been raped. Once one is post op it is just a medical history, no different than a broken bone that was fixed.
Admittedly this is all from the perspective of an MTF. For the Boys out there its a different situation. They are not as lucky as we are when it comes to the genital surgeries. For an MTF unless you end up with poor vaginal depth, even the majority of gynecologists cannot tell you are not natal.
I obviously can’t speak from a trans background, but as a person who could date one, I can say that if I wasn’t informed of this in a timely fashion, I would feel deceived.
Saying it’s just cultural doesn’t change that for me. I’d still feel deceived, and the more time that had passed between the initial meeting and the discovery of that information, the more unhappy I would be.
After a certain level of unhappiness, they’d get dumped. I wouldn’t want to be with someone who didn’t trust me and kept secrets from me.
I think people who delay important truths about themselves when trying to date someone are leaving themselves open to heartbreak.
– El Brucio
Why would you feel deceived? Why is it important to you to know?
I think you are kind of missing my point.
For a lot of trans people, being trans is not something to be enjoyed or happy about. There are more than a few who would rather not remember or think about their life prior to transition. They may not wish their partner to know about their past because it is too painful or maybe it was full of abuse, from another partner or their parents. They may not even have much of a past to share, I personally don’t. Most of my family disowned me and will not speak to me, I was 20 when I told them. For my partner the only part of my past she has is my parents and to some extent my high school experiences, the rest is quite painful for me and I do not speak of my life prior to meeting her and beginning my transition very much.
Just because they do not tell you does not mean they do not trust you. On one hand they may not tell you for fear of violence or rejection, it is also entirely possible that they may not tell you out of fear that you will not view them the same afterward. It would be very painful for me to go from being a woman in the eyes of my lover to being a trans woman. This may not make much sense considering by definition I am a trans woman. Here is how it works from my point of view. I am and always have been a woman, there is nothing wrong with me mentally or emotionally. The problem is entirely physical. To me, the distinction of “trans” after genital surgery only serves to separate me and label me as “Not A Real Woman.”
I understand you may be the sort that would never, ever treat your lover like this, but they still may be afraid of it. Being trans is not easy. I do not want you to think I am advocating that trans people never tell their partners. It is probably a good idea to tell them. But timing is everything, too early and it is insanely hard for us, too late and it is just as hard on you. Ideally, it should not matter. If one is not functional sexually that is one reason to make sure to be a bit more upfront. If you are MTF and post-op, there should not be a big issue with it. What a girl like that fears most is that she will tell you about her past, and you will go from loving her and thinking of her as a woman, to thinking of her as a man. That would literally be the worst thing she can ever think of to happen to her.
You probably mean that you would feel deceived in the sense that they didn’t tell you something important. At least I hope so. But to us, MTFs in particular, when we worry about or think about you saying you feel deceived it generally comes across meaning we deceived you about being female. Society in general is very bad about making us feel that way.
I wonder why you feel that being trans is so important in a persons life. Do you think it makes us less of the sex we know we are? Is it that you think that sort of medical decision is weighty and important? Personally I think the decision to transition is the easiest choice I have ever made, but the path is a hard one. Many of us don’t even consider the parts prior to transition to be part of our lives.
I was both amused and horrified by the recent Randy Cohen column. I saw two things wrong with Cohen’s advice.
1) The questioner claimes to have discovered that a man who dated her is ‘transgendered’ but doesn’t tell us what she means by that, and it is unlikely she could have found out the details by internet searches. Cohen of course does not know either. Possibly the so-called ‘transgendered’ subject was an intersexed person who was identified as female when young, and later lived as a male. It could well be a genetic male we are talking about. Or perhaps he is a transsexual, a onetime physical female who is now a physical male. There are other possibilities, of course. We just don’t know.
2) Whatever this person’s situation, it is not customary to present your detailed medical history to people you scarcely know. Do you compulsively reveal your psychiatric history or gastrointestinal illnesses to near-strangers? I should hope not. If the couple were getting married, some disclosure would be expected. But not here.
It seems other transgendered blogs are up in arms about the comparison to HIV status and whatnot. They seem to miss the point that no, being transgendered is not a disease, it’s just that before you have sex is generally recognized as a good time to tell the person about both things, and that’s simply how it is.
As an ethicist, seminarian, and hetero/cis-man, I must say– yup, I agree fully. There’s an ethical problem when no members of the trans-community are asked to weigh in on such issues before “rules” are proffered. It’s not really that different than Congress making rules on birth control without soliciting input from cis-women– sure, it can be done, but the rules are, literally, arbitrary.
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