The Transgender Secret: Was I Right Then, Or Am I Right Now?

I recently wrote here that I have been pleasantly surprised when looking back on old posts to find that I am almost always in agreement with them. Naturally, I have immmediately been confronted with an issue where I now question Past Jack’s verdict.

Ebony has a “confession’ article—it may be fake, but the issue isn’t—by a trans woman who writes in part regarding her husband,

We were months into dating and contemplating sex before it ever occurred to me that Carlos might need to know… It was wrong, but I chose to keep the secret rather than risk losing him. Now, four years later, Carlos and I are happy and madly in love! It has been a roller coaster, but we couldn’t be happier. But it’s this happiness that is causing me such pain because Carlos feels that it is time to add to our happy family. He is excited to be a father and his face lights up at the very thought. So how do I break his heart? How do I tell him that all of our trying has been in vain because, despite my best efforts to be the person I always felt I was, I’m still not who he thinks I am?

My answer: Suck it up and tell him the truth. Maybe have him watch “The Crying Game” a few times. The relationship has already been built on a material lie, and now adding to the dishonesty by concocting a reason why children are not an option just damages the relationship further.

I do think that transgendered individuals have a difficult choice regarding the timing of this revelation as they enter a relationship, but that’s a different issue (There’s a poll on that one coming up.)

In 2012, however, I did post following an Emily Yoffe advice column (“Dear Prudence”) , and came to the opposite conclusion, in contrast to Yoffe. Then I wrote,

I understand the theory that couples shouldn’t withhold personal information from one another in the interest of mutual trust. Surely each member of a committed couple has an obligation to reveal any personal information that has the potential to affect the other. Is there an obligation to reveal personal information that one knows a boyfriend or girlfriend will be shocked to learn, or that will tap into visceral fears or biases? Author William Saroyan left his wife on their honeymoon when she revealed to him that she was Jewish, which highlights the irony of the problem: if a woman knows that a secret may cause a lover to reject her, however irrational that reaction would be, then is she ethically obligated to tell him but not obligated if she is sure he wouldn’t care? In other words, is one only ethically obligated to reveal the secrets that will destroy a relationship?

That seems strange.

We all have a right to some secrets, and I reject the contention that spouses and other committed couples have an ethical obligation to reveal every aspect of their personal lives, including those that risk altering, damaging or ending the relationship. A woman who once was a man is not lying by representing herself to a lover as a woman now: she is a woman now. I completely understand why a woman who has been transgendered would not want a boyfriend to know about that fact, because the vast majority of men today would have a difficult time accepting it. Consider these possible secrets a woman might want to keep to herself based on her assessment of her significant other’s attitudes, desires, biases and beliefs:

  • She is, in whole or in part, a member of a racial or ethnic group that he has biases against..
  • She fantasizes that he is Justin Bieber when they have sex.
  • She fantasizes that he is Winston Churchill when they have sex.
  • She fantasizes that he is Lindsey Lohan when they have sex.
  • She fantasizes that he is Eva Peron when they have sex
  • She fantasizes that he is Lassie when they have sex
  • She hates having sex with him, period.
  • She killed someone when she was a teen, and was in prison.
  • She killed her mother when she was a teen, and was in prison.
  • She was unjustly accused of killing a previous boyfriend, and acquitted.
  • She was unjustly accused of killing TWO previous boyfriends.
  • She used to be a heroin addict.
  • She had a complete nervous breakdown.
  • She was kidnapped and forced to be a sex slave when she was 12.
  • She was once a call girl.
  • She was once a stripper.
  • She was once a porn star.
  • She was once a Communist.
  • She is listed, under another name, as the holder of the all time record for sex partners before the age of 30.
  • She is Wonder Woman.

I don’t think that any other human being has a right to know any of these secrets, if a woman doesn’t want to divulge them, as long as maintaining the secret doesn’t require ongoing deception, lies or deceit, or real harm to the uninformed partner.

I concluded,

I admit to having doubts about the ethics of withholding information that shouldn’t matter to a boyfriend when a woman knows that it will matter.  Biases and bigotry are real, and in matters of the heart, an individual has a right to be bigoted. Does that mean that a woman has an ethical obligation to help a man be bigoted against her? If we conclude so, then we must also conclude that there are no aspects of our identity, past life, conducts or thoughts that we can regard as ours and ours alone, once we commit to an intimate relationship. I can’t endorse that.

Interestingly, then and current commenter Zoe Brain authored a Comment of the Day adding some nuances to the issue.

So was I right in 2012, or am I right now?

Now for that poll:

 

34 thoughts on “The Transgender Secret: Was I Right Then, Or Am I Right Now?

  1. I chose “When the relationship becomes serious” as well as “before having sex”, although I do have a problem with the word “obliged” in the question. I don’t think that anyone is obliged to tell their lover/potential lover etc… almost anything (although I do think your STD status is probably along the lines of something you should have legal jeopardy for withholding). On the other hand, you have zero ground to stand on, and no right to be offended if when finding out about your deceit your partner dumps you quicker than a sack of rotten potatoes.

  2. A prospective partner has a right to know anything that may affect their future relationship, whether it is their criminal history, their spendthrift ways, not wanting to or inability to have children, their alcohol addiction, their drug habits or their likelihood of having a romantic relationship with a another person.
    Covering up the truth is a lie and a good relationship cannot be built on a lie.

  3. Jack your position in that post always bothered me, regardless of how you may now rule on it now the fact that you question your conclusion makes me feel much better.

  4. Re the cartoon. I thought The old man in the picture was saying the line to his son/heir. Didn’t realize the naked chick was talking. Funny.

  5. I voted “before having sex” and/or “when the relationship becomes serious”; as these were the earliest stages on the list. I also included “when marriage becomes a possibility” as the latest possible time to reveal. (I did not include “first kiss”, as this is too vague a time period)

    My take would be as soon as practical (including at soon as the overt risk of a violent reaction is ruled out). The current consensus is that gender and orientation are spectrums, not binary absolutes. Within this logic, we have a duty to understand and respect our romantic partner’s place on the spectrum. One (of ant orientation) might be exclusively attracted to the extreme end of the female gender spectrum, for instance. This might preclude attraction someone with a surgically transitioned body. Since gender and orientation are considered persistent traits, it is not necessarily bias alone that dictates this exclusive attraction.

    One must also consider cultural values of a partner. Any relationship I’ve been in, I’ve made known early on that kids (naturally concieved) are a long term goal of mine. On this basis alone, I might decline to pursue any women with known infertility. Were such detail withheld, I would feel extremely hurt and betrayed.

    Of course, I have a duty to communicate such deal breakers. My feeling of betrayal would stem from being lied to repeatedly when these conversations happened early on.

    I am acutely aware of such values and issues, and know to discuss them. The vast majority of the nation may not. A surgically transitioned woman (or the reverse), is in a unique position of power, having gone through significant counseling prior to surgery to understand her situation. She has a Golden Rule obligation to help her partner understand and clarify his or her values and orientation, to have the best chance at a successful relationship.

    Once there is a sufficiently safe rapport, a person of transitioned gender has a duty to inform the other. This duty, however, is not truly distinct from the duty any couple has to learn and respect each other.

    Ignorance and lies are a house of cards…..

  6. I picked only marriage becomes a possibility as I thought there was a single. When it’s getting serious would be a second choice as I don’t see a big difference. The marriage one is a little later, as that goes with the hopes and plans to make a baby.
    You can be serious without much interest in marriage or having children, so I consider that an earlier stage. I don’t think it should be later or never as you are taking away the supposed loved one’s chance to have a birth family with you through ongoing deceit and lies. Not telling ever cannot be anything better than deceit.

  7. Wait, what!?

    How is this even a question. The answer has to be before the first date. Anything less is highly unethical because it hurts both your date and you.

    A woman who was once a man is not being selected for a date as she is, unless she’s up front about the issue. So, that’s harming herself. It also obviously harms the man in question, at least in some small way. I would have ZERO interest in dating a transgendered woman at all, because the end game for me was wife, 3 kids, and a dog. (After having a kid, one now seems plenty). So, even if it’s just one date, and I decide I don’t like her, I’m still out the cost of a date in terms of both time and money. That harms me.

    Now, imagine I was not looking for love and marriage. Just a good time. How does it not undermine the very notion of my consent if I don’t know the chromosomal gender identity of my partner?

    When I was still dating, there was a question like this on the OKCupid Profile, I filled out. I selected the answer as I did here: Prior to the first date. Then, in the optional comments section, I wrote something along the lines of: “And if you don’t think that’s the ONLY correct answer, then I don’t want to date you, no matter your gender identity.” I still stick by that analysis.

    Also, I don’t really think trans women ARE women. Are they? I mean they could never have the ability to carry babies, to birth babies, or any of the other things women can do. So, don’t they just look like women? Of course, some women also cannot carry babies, but that’s because something went wrong. A healthy woman can carry and birth a child, not so a healthy trans woman. Is that me being judgmental or prejudiced? I certainly have no problem treating them like women if that is what the prefer, but I don’t know if I’d be comfortable going so far as to call them women.

    • If it isn’t before the first date, and the first date has a tremendous amount of chemistry built on a SUBSTANTIAL lie, then a ton of non-ethical considerations have built up that may cloud all judgment on the part of the liar.

      Then again, entertaining oneself as being a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body is already engaging in a massive lie anyway.

  8. I said “Before first kiss” which I would more specifically define as “A Romantic / Intimate Kiss”, not a peck on the cheek or informal bit of silliness. A first real kiss is the first sign and stage to an indication that feelings are forming and the relationship is advancing. Past that, we’re in deception territory and further escalation in the relationship is a compounding element to the deception.

    Sure there may be some situations where a quickly escalated drunken roll in the hay was not the type of relationship foundation that lent itself to pre-disclosure, but I think that’s the exception, not the rule.

    With any deception, regardless of what it is, the deceived individual gets to decide how to react. A compounded persistent deception that goes to the heart of a relationship’s trust really has no limits in terms of reaction (not physical or threatened violence though.) With that in mind, the deceiver can balance risks & rewards, as long as they accept that the deceived’s reaction when eventually they learn the truth is valid.

    It’s sort of the NTP, no?

    • I think if I were trans gendered, I’d only engage with people via a website for people looking for such a partner. I’m assuming we have the technology and passing one’s self off as a fully equipped woman without full disclosure right from the start is just not good for anyone.

  9. I voted before the first date because I know that I would rather be known and accepted for who I am which necessarily is not disconnected from who I have been and what I have done and that I would have already probably been known by some attibute or behavior. Male and female is not a culural construct( form, function, desire) and if we choose to de-re-construct them, knowing that this is a sensative issue, we are obligated to consider other’s perspectives on the gender issue.
    In this case, i find myself wondering what kind of cave does this person live in that it did not occur to them until months later. Then keeping it a secret was simply unkind and morla luck that things worked out.

    I also wonder, born as an xy man with an outie married to an xx woman with an innie and having produced 5 children, how good is the surgery of the “woman” in this scenario that the man has not noticed something different about this particular woman

    • ” how good is the surgery of the “woman” in this scenario that the man has not noticed something different about this particular woman ”

      Good enough so that in an internal pelvic examination by a gynecologist, it’s indistinguishable from a 46,XX woman who has had a hysterectomy.

      Many “women” as you put it look rather plain. Some look like supermodels though. Some are trans. Others cis (ie not trans).

      See http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TSsuccesses/TSgallery1.html

  10. My daughter is dating a lovely bloke – family and friends all approve, this time!
    The first thing she did when he suggested they date was to tell him that she is divorced and fill him in on her story. It is the ethical thing to do. It will never be the easy thing to do, but it will always be the ethical thing.

    When my girlfriend and I got serious she informed me that she had been advised she might be unable to have children. It took eleven years for our ‘miracle’, and then we ended up with two under one, for a day!

    Its also the smart thing. The truth will out, and when it ultimately hits the fan the mess will really stink.

    To do otherwise is also just plain selfish and self serving. “If I tell them about this I might loose them and then I’ll be unhappy so I’ll lie to them and stuff up their whole life”.

    On the aspect of unimportant but might be a problem; if they are going to be horrified that you are Jewish, an accused/convicted murderer, a pole dancer or a gun owner, why the hell would you want to be married to them anyway? It’s just due diligence to find out if they are going to have a hissy-fit ten years down the track because they find out your favourite colour is purple!

  11. I can’t imagine how this is even worthy of this much pondering, so maybe I’m the one taking crazy pills.

    If you know a person is seeking a non-transexual woman for a relationship, and present yourself as a biological woman, it’s a massive, deliberate lie from the outset. There is no possible way to be ethical while doing anything other than presenting oneself as transexual from the very, very beginning. As in, before wasting the other person’s time by even arranging a date.

    It’s insulting to even insinuate that to want marriage to an actual, biological woman is “biased” in any negative way. Comparisons to racial bigotry are too far afield to be sensible (are we to designate the biological urge to mate with the opposite sex as bigotry?), and even if one were to go there, preferences for physical traits in the context of a sexual attraction aren’t bigotry anyway. Being non-racist means treating all humans you meet equally. We don’t and can’t marry all humans we meet.

    If we accept that there is any basis for keeping one’s transition a secret while in a relationship, then we are inescapably enshrining the following proposition: “If a male is interested in a female, than anything closely enough resembling a female to deceive said male may freely do so.”

    The reason the transgendered woman in the above example was able to deceive his/her husband into marriage is because he was able to alter his body sufficiently to trick him into romantic attraction. How is that ethically different from, say, a 14-year old deceiving a blind man into marriage by claiming to be 33? Or a 300 pound man using pictures of a model to catfish himself a boyfriend online? Or a cyborg replicant remotely-controlled by Russians seducing the president? If the deception works, it’s ethical?

  12. I have no problem with any woman fantasizing about anything as long as it gets her off. This probably falls in the category of mild fetish which are generally harmless. A stripper or call girl would be ok too if she’s given up the profession but I would definitely want to know if she hates having sex with me. As far as past criminal acts including white collar felonies, that would definitely be a deal breaker.

  13. First off: I answered “when the relationship becomes serious.” Secondly: I disagree with my own answer.

    The problem is that the question is somewhat simplistic due to the fact that the word “obligated” carries several different operational meanings. Is the question about when an ethical obligation exists? Is it about when the obligation overrides the countervailing concerns, most of which are non-ethical in nature? Is it about when the obligation does so clearly and distinctly? Is it about when you’d consider someone who doesn’t fulfil the obligation to be utter scum?

    The fact of the matter is that only the first variant of the question has an unambiguous answer — and that is from the beginning of the relationship. A trans individual who enters into a relationship with someone who thinks they’re an ordinary person of their apparent sex is, at best, practicing deception by omission… and doing so in a way that risks harm to their romantic partner. The right and fair thing to do, from a strictly ethical and moral standpoint, is to inform from the beginning.

    Is this fair to transgender people? Of course not. Life, in general, isn’t fair… and being strictly ethical and moral in your actions is a very good way to make it even less fair to you. The problem is that all of the countervailing considerations I mentioned above are non-ethical in nature… regardless of how powerful they are.

    And, as Zoe Brain noted in her Comment of the Day post in 2012, the considerations in question are powerful: being open and up-front with your trans status is a good way to get yourself killed. While strict ethics would have a trans person tell from the beginning, it’s neither reasonable nor fair to expect that from someone.

    As a relationship progresses, however, the potential for harm increases… as does the partner’s investment in the relationship. The ethical obligation increases in strength and the rationales for holding back the information increasingly turn into excuses (“You don’t know if you can trust him with that? Then why are you talking about marriage? Haven’t you even sounded him out on it?”). Sooner or later it reaches a tipping point.

    I mentioned earlier that expecting people to make decisions based strictly on ethics without regard for non-ethical considerations was neither reasonable nor fair. There’s a term for the quality of doing so, however, and doing the right thing despite personal risks. That term is “courage.” Similarly, there’s a term for doing the opposite, for allowing fear and risk to keep you from doing the right thing: “cowardice.”

    The degree of moral courage we expect from people is, of course, clearly a personal thing. We can talk about how much of it we should require before condemning someone as a coward… but there’s no clear answer.

    That said, Reagan (the transwoman in the Ebony piece) is so clearly and unambiguously past that point that I feel safe in proclaiming her a moral coward without reservation or qualification. She should have told him four years before the piece… back when she admitted she knew it was wrong to keep it from him.

    Anything that follows is entirely on her head. I have exactly zero sympathy for her at this point.

  14. As for the should you tell I think the answer is an obvious yes if the secret would affect your relationship down the line (not being able to have kids very well would).

    The question is “when does it become necessary”. I would put that line on whenever you define things “getting serious”.

    • There’s more detail I want to add to this but phon posting is a nightmare on iOS. Forgive me I hope the general point got across.

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