Comment of the Day: “Is a Transgendered Woman Ethically Obligated To Tell Her Boyfriend That She Used To be Male?”

You never know. My post about the ethics of withholding the fact of one’s past and altered gender from a potential spouse sparked the most passionate, erudite and instructive debate among readers that Ethics Alarms has seen in a long time, involving an all-star squad of some of this blog’s best minds. The prize goes to Zoebrain, though, who scores the Comment of the Day with this three part contribution. It’s long; don’t let that discourage you. It, and the whole thread, which you can find here, is well worth your time, because you will learn something. I did.

“May I give an extended set of replies here please? You see, this isn’t a hypothetical for me, it’s an actual.

“This ethical question is one that is often raised in Trans fora. What is the right thing to do? The general consensus is that if there’s a long-term relationship brewing, you should tell in most cases. For less permanent or certain arrangements, telling is not recommended due to the high risk of being murdered, and the killer allowed to go free. Not telling and being found out can lead to the same thing, but the best evaluation of the statistics we have shows that not telling decreases risk of homicide quite dramatically. Operative status appears to have no statistical difference. The data’s poor, but it’s the best we have, and we have a (literal) life-or-death interest in its accuracy:

“Chambers was charged with shooting White three times in her cousin’s studio apartment in the early morning hours, infuriated after suspecting she had been a man, prosecutors said. White, whom Chambers had met at an Irvington nightclub earlier that evening, was a lingerie model who had sex reassignment surgery a decade earlier in Thailand and had legally changed her name from James White.”

—— Friday, May 25, 2012

“I’m not Trans – by a mere technicality. Any Intersex diagnosis precludes that, under both the current DSM-IV-TR Psych diagnostic manual, and the WHO’s ICD-10 diagnostic manual. I looked normally male at birth, didn’t have a usual male puberty, only a partial and ambiguous one (maybe 5% female, 30% male), then a later partial female puberty (65% female) rather late in life. Age 47 in fact. Biologically, I’m considered female by the medics. The formal diagnosis is “severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman”, thought to be caused by the 3-beta-hydroxystroid-dehydrogenase deficient form of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. No one’s interested in that except for me and my endocrinologist of course.

“The most obvious fact is that I was born looking male, for most of my life I pretended to be male (regardless of my instincts, feelings etc) because when a girl has the body of a linebacker not a cheerleader, what alternative is there? I transitioned when my body started changing. The psychological effects from the pubertal hormonal wash causing changes to neuro-anatomy precede the physical changes, and pretending became impossible instead of just nearly impossible. There didn’t seem any point any more, anyway. I did try though. I had a marriage, a career, a child, a life, and all that I held dear was jeopardised. I subscribed to an FtoM magazine to learn techniques to hide the changes, but I just couldn’t do it. Some things are beyond human endurance.

“It was a release from Hell. No one who’s not experienced Gender Dysphoria can really understand. It wasn’t too bad for me, for most it’s far worse, but maybe if I tell you that I didn’t understand the meaning of the word “happiness” before, that I’d never experienced that feeling, you might get an idea. Joy, contentment, those I knew. Happiness? Only as a theoretical word.

“Anyway, that’s the background. After a few surgical tweaks to the genitalia (which were, frankly, a mess), some therapy for the scar tissue in my abdomen (vestigial ovarian tissue had been removed without my knowledge or consent when I was 20, as was the custom of the time), for the first time in my life I can “pass” for normal even in the nude. Now to clear up a few misconceptions here about biology and sex.

First misconception: Chromosomes, DNA, and sex

“When people change their sex it does NOT change their DNA.” True – but having a bone marrow transplant does. So what? “Bone marrow-derived cells from male donors can compose endometrial glands in female transplant recipients.”[ Ikoma et al Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):608.e1-8] These show that a bone-marrow transplant recipient’s entire body gradually becomes genetically identical to that of the donor due to cell turnover. Even the reproductive glands.

“As for “XY means male” : “A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.” [J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9. One in 300 men aren’t 46,XY, and some women are. Fully 1 in 450 men are 47,XXY, halfway between so to speak. See “Sex Chromosome Abnormalities Found Among 34,910 Newborn Children: Results From a 13-Year Incidence” [ Study in Århus, Denmark J.Nielsen and M.Wohlert in Birth Defects: Original Article Series, Volume 26, Number 4, pages 209-223]

“DNA cannot define sex, in the way it’s normally meant. You can, if you wish, define by fiat that chromosomes equal sex, and several US state lower court decisions have done just that. But that leads to around a half million Americans being of neither sex, obvious men who have given birth, obvious women who have fathered children, and other absurdities. Some legal decisions have been bizarre. Deciding that someone is male because they’re assumed to be 46,XY, and not checking that out, for example (Littleton vs Prange, in re Araguz etc).

“But I digress. On to the next misconception. [Ethics Alarms commenter] Michael wrote:

“Through surgery and hormones, she now has the appearance of a woman and she is legally considered a woman, but she is still a man.

Why? On what criteria do you base that assertion? Here’s some actual, not theoretical, examples:

1) Classic Transsexual Female. Apart from an anatomically partly feminised brain, body at birth conforms well to a male stereotype – 46,XY chromosomes, external genitalia etc. Many examples. (Probably Lana Wachowsky)

2) Classic Transsexual Male. Apart from an anatomically partly masculinised brain, body at birth conforms well to a female stereotype – 46,XX chromosomes, internal genitalia etc. Many examples. (Probably Chaz Bono)

3) PMDS – There are internal female reproductive systems. Usually dysfunctional, but may be able to donate eggs. Otherwise as for Classic Transsexual Female. Example – Stevie Crecilius

4) 47,XXY – Chromosomes 47,XXY, usually atrophied or dysfunctional male genitalia, otherwise as for Classic Transsexual Female but with likely cognitive anomalies, poor at some things, gifted at others. Example – Dana X (surname withheld, she’s a prominent lawyer who doesn’t publicise her past, as serious attempts have been made on her life in the past)
Note that most 47,XXY are men, a few women, but both can be Trans, effectively.

5) 45X/46XY – Born looking male, at puberty may feminise – which can be quite confusing if the person is a gay male. Example Josef Kirchner

6) 5ARD – Born looking female, masculinises at puberty. Neuro-Anatomy may be male or female. Example – “Sally” in RE: SALLY (SPECIAL MEDICAL PROCEDURE) [2010] FamCA 237

7) 3BHSD – May be born looking like either sex, neuro-anatomy may be of either sex, body may change at puberty or late in life. Example – Me.

“Michael – please look at Sally’s case. Then tell me what sex she is, and why. Should surgery be prevented because she’s “really a boy”? Or allowed, so a girl doesn’t have something nightmarish happen to her body from a rare medical condition. And should she acquire a boyfriend or girlfriend – should she “fess up” to her medical history?”


Graphic: TG Comics

9 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Is a Transgendered Woman Ethically Obligated To Tell Her Boyfriend That She Used To be Male?”

  1. Ethically, she need not reveal her male past UNLESS the relationship grows to the point where he wants to found a family, if medics have told her she’ll never conceive. And even then, she need not reveal male past — she only need tell him that, for medical reasons, she can never have children. As to the WISDOM of concealing it, that’s another question.

    One of the most brainless Bible-thumping arguments I’ve heard against transgendering is that “God doesn’t make mistakes”. Like, e.g., we houldn’t surgically give sight to a child born blind because “God doesn’t make mistakes”.

  2. That is typical of Zoe Allen Brain. He likes to fake being intersex, all while denying his transsexuality. Zoe is one of the most prolific fake intersex person on the internet. He will drop link everything to justify his transsexuality. As an Intersex person, I am pissed and offended that Zoe Allen Brain uses the intersex name to justify his transsexuality at the expense of Intersex people.

  3. I know zilch about human embryology, so somebody more knowledgeable tell me. I’ve heard that every human being, yes, even us hairy-chested males, starts life as a “girl”. As the embryo and fetus develop, what was a clitoris becomes a penis and in 9 months a “boy” is born. Is this true?

    • It’s a little more complex than that, but basically yes. A neuter female is the default value. If things don’t develop usually, the resultant baby will look mostly female.

      We start developing with both mullerian (female) and wolffian (male) structures. Usually one atrophies – PMDS, persistent mullerian duct syndrome – happens when this goes wrong, leaving some atrophied, vestigial female parts in an otherwise male body.

      At 6 weeks after conception, we’re bi-potential. At 10 weeks, the difference can be seen. The neuro-anatomy though only differentiates later, that’s visible by age 26 weeks. Hormonal glitches can cause genitals to develop one way, other parts of the body the other.

      This picture shows the course of development well.

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