Randy Cohen’s recent advice column in the NYTimes caused a substantial stir in the trans community. The boilerplate:
Orthodox Jewish woman notices that a man she was on a date with (possibly more than one? slightly unclear) notices that he’s being evasive about his past, so she does some internet checking. She finds he’s female to male trans. She wants to know if she can out him to her community.
Cohen’s response has three parts:
1.) No, you can’t out him to the public. Some things are private.
2.) You can talk about this with your friends.
3.) Trans people should mention their status early in a romantic relationship.
Quite a large (or at least vocal) group of people think 2 and 3 are unfair, some specifically citing features of an Orthodox Jewish community (rumors will spread quickly, unlikely to be accepting), some in general.
I do not spend a lot of time thinking about trans issues (or the dynamics of Orthodox Jewish communities), so I’m a bit torn and was wondering what people here thought.
I agree up and down the line, including #2. If I am the kind of person that talks to my friends about everything else then why wouldn’t I say it? And contrariwise, if I am not the type, then I won’t talk about it automatically.
You don’t get to dictate other people’s lives just because you are trans. You deserve civility just like everyone else, but I won’t change my habits just because of you!
#2 is generally the same as #1. Telling people he is transsexual is telling people - it gets around quickly. If it is wrong to share his medical history with the community at large, it is wrong to do so with your social circle.
I don’t think anyone should be required to keep their mouth shut about something like this, but at the same time I think that, unless you notice a friend being fooled in a romantic situation by the transgender person, you’re a dick if you do. In all other situations, it’s nunyas.
I agree with #3, though. But only in romantic or potentially romantic situations. All other situations, it is, again, nunyas.
Personally, I would keep it confidential, if the person didn’t tell me, and I only found out through internet snooping. Meaning that if I found this out about person X, I wouldn’t tell people who also knew person X, or moved in the same social circles as person X. I might mention it to friends of mine who don’t know and will never meet person X. So I would qualify number 2.
Number 3, you have to tell people only if you are intending to have a romantic relationship with them. Otherwise you don’t have to tell them.
Public outing would be wrong. In the absence of some special circumstance, seems to me that people do have some right to privacy, even in this age of lives lived entirely in the public eye.
However, even if it seems somewhat contradictory, discussing the discovery that one’s new romantic interest is a TS with one’s friends seems acceptable. *Everyone *discusses their new romantic interest with friends. It’s sort of built in to the situation. I don’t see why being a transsexual (and/or an Orthodox Jew) gives one a special exemption from this pretty basic rule of human nature. Of course, as elbows points out, the transsexual may request discretion, and under those circumstances, may be entitled to it, assuming, of course, that he or she has disclosed that fact early and in an up-front manner. Which leads us to. . .
A transsexual should disclose this at some very early stage in the budding relationship. It’s a pretty fundamental fact. I can’t think of any exceptions to this rule. Some will say that it’s pandering to outdated gender ideas and phobias, but I disagree.
Apparently the transsexual in the case under discussion did *not *disclose the fact to her new romantic interest, which, to my mind, means all bets are off. If it were me discovering that a woman I’d been dating was a transsexual but had not disclosed this to me, I don’t think I’d go for a public disclosure, but I’d feel like I was entirely within my rights to do so. I would feel like I’d been tricked and misled (even though I don’t think a disclosure that a woman in whom I was interested was a transsexual would necessarily be a deal-breaker for me).
#1 You shouldn’t share intimate confidences with the general public. #2 You shouldn’t even do it with your friends.
It’s private information that the other person is sharing with you. If you’re not certain who they’re okay with you telling it to … ASK THEM!
#3 They should absolutely mention it before reaching the point of romantic intimacy. It’s a significant bit of personal history that has the capacity to completely alter the relationship. It’s no different than “I’m divorced”, “I have kids.”, “I’m impotent.”, etc. If someone is going to be squicked by it, better to find out sooner rather than later.
I notice that in the above post, I said “Apparently the transsexual in the case under discussion did not disclose the fact to her new romantic interest. . .”, and of course I should have said “his new romantic interest.” I was trying to put myself in the situation to see how I’d feel, and so I was thinking of a transsexual woman, which is how it would play out with me.
I don’t think that telling your friends is wrong. Let’s say it’s a deal breaker, it would be for me, after we break up am I supposed to lie to my friends? How is it any different from discovering any other deal breaker. If the relationship keeps going and it’s not a big deal to you I’m not sure why you would think to share it but I still have no problems telling your friends what is going on in your life. If your friends are gossips that’s a different problem but it’s solution involves different friends not withholding information.
The difference, unlike other dealbreakers, is that people who are divorced, or have kids, or whatever else you can come up with, are not routinely the victims of violent hate crimes for being who they are. For many trans people, going stealth is how they survive.
FTR, I do agree that trans people ought to disclose their status early in relationships before there is sexual intimacy, but I don’t believe it’s something that’s owed before then. Again, it’s a matter of survival.
It doesn’t benefit the woman to tell anyone except for the little bit of schaudefreude she might get from telling people something that they don’t have any right to know. Her friends derive no benefit from this information. The date derives no benefit from this situation, obviously. If she feels “deceived” because her date hadn’t found her trustworthy enough to be given this information yet, she’s only going to prove it if she goes nattering about it to all of her girlfriends.
More importantly: revealing people’s transgender status can get them killed. You just don’t fucking do it.
It means that if a transgender person is dating someone more than casually but not yet sexually, and not letting the other person know, then the transgender person is deceiving the other person and if the other person is a friend of mine, I’m going to tell her if I know about the transgender situation.
I don’t agree. They are living their life much more honestly than before transition. Is it withholding important information? Absolutely, but it is not “deception”. To label it that way is to imply that a transman is “really a woman pretending to be a man”
Agreed. This woman sounds like a petty, vindictive bitch (outing him to her entire community? For the love of god, why??). I’d say that “telling her friends” would be less a personal discussion than it would be vindictive gossip with the intent to harm, in other words the “stealth” version of outing to the entire community. I can’t imagine how else she was planning to out him anyway – marching up to the pulpit in the middle of temple?
As far as disclosing to your date, only when enough feelings are involved that both of you expect that penis will eventually ensue.
She asks specifically about telling her rabbi, rather than broadcasting the information at random. Her thought here isn’t necessarily vindictive. An Orthodox Jewish community has substantially different views of dating and marriage than most in modern America. There’s some variation on this, of course, but i wouldn’t be surprised if dating in this community is largely aimed towards quick marriage and childbearing, the latter of which tends to preclude transsexuals. If that is the case in this woman’s community, I’d almost think that this is a rare case where the woman should ask the rabbi’s advice.
In general, I find myself largely in agreement with Cohen though, apart from the peculiarities of this case, I would have more strongly cautioned discretion when talking with friends. Yes we have a right to talk about our lives with our friends, but we should try to respect that which others would like kept secret unless we have good reason not to.