Coming Out as Transgender to Romantic Partners

A few days ago there was a post about a Seventeen Magazine article regarding a woman who dated an abusive trans man who was outed when she called the police. He later explained that he was scared that she would break up with him if she knew. In the article she says “The thing is, I would have stayed with him if he’d been honest. I loved him that much… But it was Derek’s lies that really broke my heart.”

The title of the article was “My Boyfriend Turned Out to be a Girl.” The poster was arguing that while the title was transphobic, the content of the article was not.

The fact that he was abusive was not the point of the article or the poster’s argument.

This sparked a long discussion which I believe merits its own post, so I am creating a new one here.

It’s not just the title of the article that was transphobic, it was the entire premise. It assumes that transgender people are obligated to come out to their romantic partners, and that if they don’t they’re liars. This is a highly transphobic position to take.

Trans men are real men, as are cisgender men. The only difference is that trans men are born with bodies that are incongruent with their internal sense of self, and as a result are socialized by society into the female role. In other words, who they are on the inside doesn’t match how they appear on the outside, and so they are raised as girls.

A trans man’s perception of himself as male, and identity as male, is just as real and valid as a cisgender mans identity and sense of self. When a trans man transitions he isn’t being deceptive – just the opposite. He is being himself, despite everything he was socialized to believe about who he is.

If he uses medical interventions, it’s not to deceive people, or even to “become” a man. He’s always been a man. The purpose is to bring his body into congruence with who he really is. It’s his unmodified body that had been the deception.

A trans man might allow people to assume that he is cisgender, and might even lie about it if asked, but this is because our society forces him to do so. We force him to choose between having one of the most basic and fundamental parts of his identity respected, or disclosing private information about his body.

Imagine if you were placed in that position. For those of you who are cisgender women: what if society decided that anyone who’s had a hysterectomy or mastectomy is no longer a real woman? Maybe society decided that such people are men. Suppose you had cancer and required one of these procedures, thus making you a man in the eyes of society. Suppose that society now expects you to take on male gender roles and live as a man, because after the procedure you’re no longer considered a woman.

Would you cooperate? Would you feel like societies expectations of you are fair?

Suppose you don’t cooperate and instead decide “fuck society, I’m still a woman!” You continue to live the way you’ve always lived and be the person you’ve always been, knowing that your identity as a woman would be rejected if people found out. You also know that there are a lot of people who would hate you and even hurt you if they knew, because your body no longer conforms to their standards of womanhood.

How inclined would you feel to disclose the fact that you’ve had surgery?

Imagine society accused people in your position of being liars. Imagine having to hear people describe women like you as frauds. Imagine being told that not disclosing your surgery to your sexual partners makes you an exploitative rapist – that they have the right to know so that they can decide whether or not you’re the type of person they want to consent to sex with, and thinking “I’m just me! Having surgery doesn’t make me any type of person!”

Imagine that you enter a romantic relationship with someone. It doesn’t work out and you break up with them. Later you get outed and you explain to them that you didn’t tell them because you were scared they would leave you. Their response is: “I would have stayed with you if you’d been honest. I loved you that much, but your lies broke my heart.”

To top it off, imagine hearing people comment about what a nice person your partner is, since they would have stayed with you, had you just been honest.

That’s the world that transgender people are forced to navigate.

Think about that if you’re ever tempted to say that transgender people are obligated to come out to their partners.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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