NYT Ethicist’s dangerous advice on outing “transgendered” people

Sunday’s The Ethicist, an advice column by Randy Cohen in the New York Times, addressed a question from a woman who found out the man she was dating was transgender. The questioner asks if she should out this man to her entire community.
A responsible, informed answer to this question would address how dangerous, not to mention invasive and just plain unethical, publicly outing a trans person is. It would point out that thinking a trans man has to be outed delegitimizes his identity and paints him as a deceptive sexual predator simply by virtue of his trans status. A good answer would explain why some trans folks choose not to reveal their transition status to sexual partners, addressing the “trans panic” defense for violence against trans folks and the problematic notion that being trans and not saying so publicly is “dishonest.” It would talk about the number of trans folks killed every year because of their gender identity and explain that exposing someone to this potential violence because you are uncomfortable with their gender history is completely unacceptable.
Cohen does not give this answer. His response demonstrates complete ignorance about trans folks and our experience with the notion of outing. The language he uses is irresponsible: Cohen repeatedly uses the term “transgendered.” While some trans folks do use this word, it’s a good idea for journalists to avoid it as Dr. Jillian Weiss points out at Bilerico Project:

Even casual study should have revealed to Cohen that “transgendered” is a problematic term for journalists. “Transgender” is considered an adjective, not a noun. That means that there are no “transgendered” people, only transgender people, just as there are no “gayed’ people or “lesbianed” people. While there are a few dissenters from this protocol, and I don’t usually attack for a well-meaning mistake, I have to make an exception in this case, because it reveals that Mr. Cohen doesn’t know the first thing about transgender lives.

Cohen jokes about how he might “panic” if someone revealed too much personal information on a first date, seemingly oblivious to what a loaded word this is for trans folks. The “trans panic” defense is used by people who claim they panicked when they found out someone was trans and couldn’t help killing them. It paints trans folks as deceptive and dangerous when we are the ones facing violence.

Cohen goes on to compare being trans to having an STD or being married as things someone should reveal to potential sexual partners. The comparison to an STD is disgusting – this man isn’t going to infect the questioner with trans-ness. And there’s certainly a difference between cheating on a spouse and keeping one’s gender history private. As I said in the comments of another post about trans deception:

I think the maximum possible amounts of openness and honesty are ideal in sexual relationships. But we can’t let ideals blind us to reality. Allen Ray Andrade [used the "trans panic" defense to claim he] beat Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher because she was “dishonest.” There is absolutely no argument about how trans folks should or must disclose our histories that doesn’t lead easily to victim blaming. Don’t impose morals developed from a position of greater power and privilege on an oppressed population whose experience you do not understand.

Cohen manages to recognize that a public outing is not exactly a good idea, but thinks the questioner should out this trans man to her close friends. Again, because they need to be warned? Not to put to fine a point on it, but this irresponsible advice is potentially deadly.
Cohen needs some serious educating on the topic of revealing trans status. It’s not hard to find perspectives from trans folks on this topic all over the internet, so Cohen’s either lazy for not doing this research or disrespectful for not taking informed positions into account.
You can write to Cohen at ethicist@nytimes.com and send letters to the editor to letters@nytimes.com.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • steppenalex

    This is terribly disheartening. No one has a right to divulge that information except for the trans person in question, and the threat of being outed will just increase the anxiety a trans person might feel anyway when entering a relationship. But there is another problem with this. While constructing this image of a trans person as sexually deceptive, it also constructs their identity as predominantly sexual. Not as a friend or a parent or a colleague etc but as someone whose identity and body is perceived as primarily sexual, and a sexual threat at that.
    Disclosure, a troublesome word in itself, is very complicated and can be dealt with in very different manners from individual to individual, but I’m sure most, if not all, would agree that no one else has the right to their history, and to take that from someone is a despicable violation that can only come from a position of ignorance and arrogance.

  • Emily

    wow, what a douche! I’d laugh at him if his being given a platform to disseminate his drivel didn’t make me want to cry. :(

  • supremepizza

    Wow, we’re going to demagogue a guy because he used an “ed”, following the convention of the person who wrote him? I think you’re assuming a much higher level of sophistication than commonly exists. I read Feministing daily and I honestly wouldn’t have known the importance of the “ed”. Moreover the guy agrees with your point about NOT outing the trans man. Really, we’re going to demagogue someone who agrees with us???
    Honestly this guy is giving a pretty sensitive response & its probably light years ahead of the general community, ‘Yes, you can talk this incident over with your friends, no you can’t out him.’

  • morning-radio

    I just read this column not an hour before this post. I did think The Ethicist’s usually thoughtful response was lacking, and lumping transgender status in with “sexual peccadilloes” was pretty revolting.
    Also, the woman who wrote in violated his privacy by “researching” him, and shouldn’t go blabbing to her friends about invading this guy’s privacy.

  • Lydia

    People, why are you acting like he said that outing this guy was okay? He in fact stated very clearly several times that doing such a thing would NOT be okay. I find his advice problematic too, but let’s at least focus on things he actually said.
    My biggest problem with the advice is the idea that this man was wrong to not disclose his trans status “before the first kiss” and that he “discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him.” I don’t think trans people are under any kind of obligation to reveal their trans status to people they’ve just started dating and rejection is a very legitimate fear in a society where the trans experience is poorly understood and often represented negatively. Obviously, this kind of info will come out eventually but I think that trans people have the right to just be themselves like everyone else at the beginning of a relationship, without disclosing any of their private business. When it does come out, the person they are dating may decide that it’s a dealbreaker as far as sexual attraction goes and end it. Or they may decide that it doesn’t make one bit of difference to them. Or they may feel ambivalent but decide to try continuing the relationship anyway because they really like a person. There’s nothing wrong with any of these responses. The only thing that is not okay is deciding that you were some how wronged for not being told at the get-go, like the letter-writer did. That is not your right. Randy Cohen should have told her this. He didn’t. That’s my problem. Also, yeah, the STD/cheating comparison is definitely not cool.
    Cohen clearly betrayed some personal prejudices and ignorance but I don’t think he’s some kind of monster who believes that trans people have no right to privacy or that they deserve to be violently pursued by angry mobs with torches.

  • inallsincerity

    Dear Randy Cohen,
    As a female to male transsexual and reader of the NYT, I found your “advice” to the woman who dated a transgender person so horribly appalling.That you would have the audacity to offer on advice on a subject in which you are so clearly, atrociously ignorant, amazes me. Before you do any more serious damage to an already oppressed and marginalized minority group, it would behoove you to educate yourself on transgender issues. There are several resources available online dedicated specifically to the purpose of educating journalist in this respect. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how to use the Google box.
    A few places you went wrong:
    -“sex change” is a word used by exploitative media outlets to sensationalize transgender people and increase the freak factor. Transgender people, themselves, do not actually use this word or think about transitioning in this way. I was assigned female at birth and transitioned to male at 23. I did not get a sex change, because I have always had a male gender identity. It also implies that having gender identity disorder is a choice, which it’s not. The American Psychiatric Association will back me up on this one, as well as the European Union.
    YOUR perception of the transitioning process is not in touch with reality. It takes a minimum of 3 years of psychiatric evaluation, a DIAGNOSIS, hormone treatments and eventually (and not always) a few operations– it is not an endeavor undergone as lightly as changing a sport coat! Why on Earth you felt it necessary to insult a transgender person this way, simply for being transgender, is beyond my comprehension.
    – Transsexuality is not at all in any sense, comparable to sexually transmitted diseases or bigamy. Why would you use two negative, stigmatized things to compare with being transgender? A more useful and respectful comparison would be to compare transgender people with intersex conditions or infertility. Someone who is infertile or intersex, does need to at some point, inform their partner, but like someone who was born with gender identity disorder and then had it cured by transitioning, these are things that cannot be helped.
    -It is not ethical to not comment on her transphobia. Let’s use the infertile example again. Rewrite her letter in your mind, replacing transgender with infertile. Or how about race? What if she’d dumped him because she found out he was half black but didn’t tell her? How different would your advice have been?
    These are just a few of the places where you went wrong the most, but really, this was the tip of the iceberg (this blogger does a great job of explaining the others http://www.feministing.com/archives/021807.html) . You, Sir, are in dire need of a nice long discussion with a transgender person over a cup of coffee. Or if you prefer,you can be educated via YouTube. Here is an excellent place to start: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzyR7k3GCOw

  • daveNYC

    “Cohen manages to recognize that a public outing is not exactly a good idea, but thinks the questioner should out this trans man to her close friends. Again, because they need to be warned? Not to put to fine a point on it, but this irresponsible advice is potentially deadly.”
    He said that if the reader wanted to talk about this with her friends, then she could. That’s not ‘outing’, that’s ‘meeting your friends for brunch and talking about your life’.
    And if you want a language with consistant conjugation, there’s always Esperanto.

  • Ellie

    “‘Yes, you can talk this incident over with your friends, no you can’t out him.'”
    I don’t see how he is not gonna be outed to the friends in question?

  • makomk

    Is comparing someone being trans to them having an STD one of the standard transphobic tropes? I seem to recall it was quite common in the discussions on Feministing about whether trans people had an obligation to out themselves a few months ago.

  • SociologicalMe

    Um, no. The use of “transgendered” instead of “transgender” was only one of Jos’s critiques of this guy. Cohen made several faux pas in his article which, when all added together, show a distinct lack of knowledge and sensitivity around trans issues.
    And while Cohen may have said that this woman shouldn’t go around posting fliers outing her trans ex, I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re calling him a demagogue for agreeing with us. Not outing somebody to an entire community is the smallest, most basic, least impressive way someone can show empathy and understanding. He has quite a ways to go before I’ll consider him “sensitive.” And I don’t care if he’s a smidgen better than the average population- he’s a friggin’ advice columnist. I think we can set the bar a little higher.
    (P.S. Jos, or any editor who’s listening- irony of ironies, the spell check feature is telling me that “transgendered” is spelled correctly, and “transgender” isn’t.)

  • Vexing

    You don’t see a problem with a cis male cisplaining trans outings, calling non-disclosure ‘bad behaviour’ and comparing someone’s trans status to infectious diseases and infidelity?
    Because he said that outing trans people isn’t a great idea (something which is dumbfoundingly obvious if you give it a nanosecond of thought), should we applaud him and ignore the other nasty shit he said in his article?
    I’m certainly not going to.
    This smacks of when my ex-employer said “We gave you a lot of assistance during your transition at work” – when in fact the only ‘assistance’ they gave me was not sacking me when I announced my desire to transition at work.
    It seems that giving trans people the respect and humanity we deserve is some kind of righteous, saintly act that goes above and beyond the call of duty.
    You might as well see a trans woman on the street and then pat yourself on the back for not outing her to everyone. Well done you!


    I have to agree with Supremepizza!
    The bottom line is, The Ethicist is saying that this woman should not out this man to the community or the Rabbi- all he’s saying is that it’s OK to talk about this man’s status to her friends!
    Don’t we all talk about dating and relationship problems to our friends?
    And, not to profile here, but is this man really at risk of violence from this woman’s girlfriends?
    Isn’t anti trans violence pretty much the exclusive province of young insecure cisgendered men?????
    And on the semantic question – I’m sorry, but that’s just the PC Police at work – if the guy is opposed to outing transfolk to the community, does it really matter that he doesn’t know the approved jargon?

  • konkonsn

    If friends are in the same community and might not be as tight-lipped…then it’s definitely a problem. Besides, the conversation will most likely be transphobic. It’s very unlikely the questioner’s friends will have her think about sexual orientation or gender status or what-have-you, which would be the only benefit such a conversation could yield.
    And the advice is basically, “Trans folk need to come out when the kissing starts.” Wtf? Since when are lips gendered? As Jos said, this column completely ignores the realities of trans folk. It goes beyond the violence issue when he says it needs to start with kissing; now he’s just completely ignoring the reality of our society and what a person goes through when realizing an identity.

  • April

    And, not to profile here, but is this man really at risk of violence from this woman’s girlfriends?
    Isn’t anti trans violence pretty much the exclusive province of young insecure cisgendered men?????

    These are really, really, really problematic assumptions to be perpetuating.

  • Brianna G

    I would say she could discuss it with a therapist and with anyone who does not and will never know the person in question or any of their friends. When my roommate revealed her trans status I spoke to my mother about it, because my mother lives far enough away and visits rarely enough that this roommate will never meet her, and besides my mother can’t keep my friends straight anyway and won’t remember.
    But friends talk. And tell other friends. So telling anyone who actually might know the person, and isn’t legally bound to keep the confidence, is a danger. That doesn’t mean she can never confide in her friends about it, just that she must choose very very carefully.

  • Brianna G

    What else are we expected to disclose to a sexual partner before sex?
    Personally, I’m of the mind that while it’s pretty dumb for anyone who doesn’t 100% pass down there not to explain the situation before intercourse– MTF usually looks fine, but I’ve seen FTM post-op situations, and none convinced me– the only time you MUST tell your partner is before you marry. One, because marriage often means an expectation of children and it’s unfair not to reveal known infertility; two, because they need to know that in case of a situation where they make medical decisions for you (so, anyone with power-of-atty should know); three, because it’s a bad idea to start a relationship by completely lying about or omitting your entire childhood experience and struggles; and four, well, I don’t know about you but I would pretty much consider that lack of trust a dealbreaker.
    That said– I know many transpersons, and even those who don’t normally reveal their past to dates agree with the above. So it’s not an actual threat.

  • Mike Crichton

    So it’s taboo to google prospective romantic partners now?

  • Ellie

    “Don’t we all talk about dating and relationship problems to our friends?”
    Personally, even I don’t pretend to be a big reference of ethics, I quite avoid talking to my friends about things that my girlfriend seems to want to keep a bit private, whether it’s her genital configuration, her health condition, her belonging to the freemasonry or whatever she doesn’t want my friends to know.
    “And, not to profile here, but is this man really at risk of violence from this woman’s girlfriends?”
    So you think it’s ok to out someone if you (and may I ask who are you to be a reference on that ? Do you have any idea of the kind of violence you can be subjected to when you are trans?) estimate that the person won’t be at direct “risk of violence”?
    And what is a _real_ “risk of violence”? Given your rhetorics and the degree of privilege you seem to deploy, I have the impression that it would only designate the case when a group of armed men want to kill you.
    Plus, given that it’s apparently okay to out someone to your friend, can you also profile this woman’s girlfriends’ boyfriends? And this woman’s girlfriends’ boyfriends’ friends?
    “Isn’t anti trans violence pretty much the exclusive province of young insecure cisgendered men?????”
    No. Definitely not.
    Unless maybe you consider violence to be restricted to physical violence by unknown people in the street, but in this case I wonder what you are doing on a feminist site.

  • Mike Crichton

    So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: You’re saying that a hypothetical trans-person’s desire to be physically intimate with someone who might chose not to do so if they were aware of HTP’s history, is more important than that other hypothetical person’s right to make an informed decision about who they would chose to be intimate with, were they in possession of all the facts?

  • Mike Crichton

    There’s always the possibility that her friends will gossip, and some of those insecure young men will hear about it.

  • Mike Crichton

    Lips may not be gendered, but a significant number of the owners of those lips would not chose to kiss the trans-person’s lips if they knew their history. Why is their right to chose who not to kiss less important?

  • steppenalex

    If you tell someone else about a person’s trans status or trans history, then that is outing them. It doesn’t matter if they are friends or strangers. Friends can often be worse because it’s treated like gossip and is more prone to spreading further and further.

  • kandela

    Out of curiosity what is the etymology of “trans folks?”

  • joji

    I don’t know about you all, but to me, kissing–let alone going out on ONE date in which no kissing seems to have occurred!–does not imply that someone is then necessarily going to see my genitals and requires information about their appearance and history. On a first date, both parties are trying to size each other up and decide whether the other person is trustworthy, and I imagine that would hold doubly true for trans people. Jeez, why risk a particularly humiliating kind of rejection by someone you’re still trying to decide if you’re really interested in? This woman seems to take for granted that only her Googling saved her from being further wooed without full disclosure. Actually, the little signals she unconsciously dropped about potential close-mindedness on the first date might well have ruled out a second date (and eventual coming out) in the man’s mind.

  • kandela

    “I did not get a sex change, because I have always had a male gender identity.”
    I find this sentence confusing. Sex and gender are two different things. If you have always had a male gender but were assigned female at birth, then if you had an operation to transition, I would call that a sex change operation. I mean it’s not a gender change operation because you’ve always had a male gender?

  • Nicole

    I 100% agree. This advice was nowhere near fantastic – I take major issue with the comparison of trans status to an STD. And with the idea that you’d have to say something before the first kiss. It’s wrong that this columnist is painting the trans man as deceitful, when really, there’s nothing unreasonable about non-disclosure early on in a relationship.
    But that’s what irks me about this post. There was so much wrong with this man’s advice, but the OP chose to focus on offensive terminology (the vast majority of the population would have no idea that “transgendered” is offensive; and this man isn’t eveh a trans-issues or human rights journalist, he’s an advice columnist) and picked a misleading headline. This guy’s advice for the girl to discuss the situation with her friends is hardly “dangerous.” After all, regardless of whether she’s right or wrong to feel this way (and it would be rather judgmental of us to suggest any feeling of hers is “wrong”), she’s clearly hurt about the incident and she should have a support system in place to work out her feelings. Ideally he would have told her that her feelings need not be hurt because this man has a right to disclose when he’s ready, and he didn’t do that, and ok, that is bad advice. But it’s not like he’s telling her to run around blabbing to her community – and, even more, he’s expressly telling her NOT to do so, explaining why that would be seriously wrong. He’s just telling her to talk to the people who care about her so that she can work out her feelings. Why is that bad?

  • Ellie

    What is funny is that you put the charge on “disclosing” on the trans person.
    Personally, I’d felt dirty if I had kissed someone and then realized later he/she was transphobic. Why wouldn’t it be his/her fault for not disclosing that? Why would it necessarily be mine because I was trans?
    And why not generalize to other characteristics ? Your political party, your country of origin, your religion?

  • dzuunmod

    “it is not an endeavor undergone as lightly as changing a sport coat!”
    He clearly wasn’t making that comparison. He was making an offhand joke to lighten the tone of the column. He absolutely was not equating the two things, and to suggest he was belies either ignorance or a willful misreading of the column.

  • Mike Crichton

    And why not generalize to other characteristics ? Your political party, your country of origin, your religion?
    It does generalize. If you have _reason_to_believe_ that your political party, country of origin, religion, or whatever else would cause a potential romantic partner to chose not to become involved with you, and you conceal that information from them anyways, that’s just as bad. This is not to say that every little tiny detail should be revealed immediately, only those that you have reasonable cause to believe might be relevant to the other person.

  • i-revolt

    So should I tell prospective kissing partners about other aspects of my medical and personal history as well? Before we lip-lock, do they need to know that I was born with an appendix but no longer have one? How about the fact that, before I discovered my true identity as a bleeding heart liberal agnostic, I used to be a card-carrying Republican and a member of a really conservative evangelical church?

  • Vexing

    Let’s re-jig that phrase of yours to shed some light on how problematic it is:
    “Lips may not be ethnically defined, but a significant number of the owners of those lips would not choose to kiss Asian or Maori lips if they knew their history. Why is their right to choose who not to kiss less important?”
    Following your sentiment, it’s fine to reject a person’s romantic attentions based on their ethnic background, even though you were initially attracted to them before you found out that they were part Asian/African/Pacific Islander/Indian.

  • Mike Crichton

    If you have reason to believe that those would affect their decision to kiss you, then yes, you should. If you know there’s a strong possibility that your potential kissee would consider a former evangelical republican with no appendix unkissable, and you conceal that knowledge from them, that’s wrong. IMO, of course.
    Like it or not, the default assumption in our society is for people to not want to kiss other persons of the “wrong” biological sex. Maybe this makes people horrible bigots, but don’t bigots have the right to be choosy in their romantic partners too?

  • Vexing

    I’m sorry, but as soon as this woman discusses the situation with her friends, she has OUTED HIM TO OTHER PEOPLE.
    Now, this trans guy hasn’t vetted the woman’s friends as trustworthy and reliable, so what right does the woman have to spill extremely confidential and extremely damaging information about him?
    He has no guarantee that the friends of the woman won’t tell THEIR friends, their family, boyfriends, husbands, kids, parents, etc, etc.
    The advice of “don’t out him to everyone, just your friends”, is well, fucking stupid; because in telling your friends, you’ve potentially told the entire community ANYWAY! It only takes one friend to spread the information for it to go viral in a community.
    And trust me, as a trans person I know all about when one person shares my secret with a friend (whom I haven’t vetted as trustworthy) – suddenly everyone knows and I’m a fucking pariah all over again, even though people were treating me perfectly normally before they found out.
    So do you now understand why blabbing to her friends is bad? If she needs support and needs to talk about it, how about she talks to a professional who is bound by confidentiality (and isn’t a member of her community)?

  • Vexing

    Unless you’re wearing a badge that has “Transphobe” stamped on it in manly, bold lettering, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you’re not a transphobe and that you’re probably okay with trans people.
    If I live my life fearing that everyone is a transphobe and/or outing myself is the ‘right’ thing to do, in case it is ‘relevant’ to another person, then I’m going to very quickly see a massive elevation in my stress levels and probably a large impact on my mental health.
    Not to mention the fact that people knowing that I’m trans can and will make my life very difficult; from gaining employment to being allowed to use the changing rooms when buying clothes.
    But thank you once again, cis person, for cisplaining how we trans people should live our lives and how we should opperate when engaging in dating activities.
    I’m sure I could never have coped with your sage advice, nor would I ever have considered these things myself!
    Just an FYI, my policy is to NOT TELL THE POTENTIAL PARTNER AT ALL until I knew that they don’t have a problem with trans people! Once I have figured out that this person is safe, then I’ll tell them and then the relationship can move up a level.
    Because, cis person, it is dangerous for me to OUT MYSELF TO STRANGERS. And let me make this perfectly clear: I don’t want to date transphobes, so if I get a bad vibe from them, I’m going to tell them I’m trans and I’m not going to go on another date with them!
    Where does this fucked up misconception that we WANT to date transphobic people come from? From the idea that we are so fugly and unlovely that we need to ‘trick’ people into fucking us?

  • SamLL

    (not an expert, warnings in advance)
    I think these days most people consider the phrase “sex reassignment surgery” more accurate for a variety of reasons, and that is the phrasing that experts in the field like to use.

  • Vexing

    That should be “I’m NOT going to tell them I’m trans and I’m not going to go on another date with them!”

  • Vexing

    Right, so society’s default is that kissing trans people is yucky, therefore trans people shouldn’t kiss anyone, because they might hurt the feelings of a bigot.
    Nice one.

  • Lydia

    I disagree to some extent with both Vexing and Mike.
    Vexing–I’m sorry, I really don’t think not wanting to be physically intimate with a trans person is comparable to not wanting to be physically intimate with an Asian or Maori. I am a straight, cis woman and I am not attracted to straight, trans men. ( I mean, never say never, but it’s never happened and I don’t really see it happening.) There are particular kinds of bodies and genital configurations that I require to feel sexual attraction to a person (and to have the kind of sex I like to have) and trans men do not possess them. It’s not that what they have is worse or less than what cis men have, it’s just not for me. I’ve known people that tend to be very attracted to trans people and not so attracted to cis people. This is fine too. It’s not at all the same thing as just not liking the color of a person’s skin or the shape of their nose. And since I don’t generally kiss people unless I’m interested in going further with them sexually, I don’t have an interest in kissing trans people. I don’t think that makes me a transphobe anymore than the fact that I have no desire to kiss cis women (which is what I am) makes me a misogynist.
    Mike-On the other hand, if I DID kiss a man on a date, and then found out that he was trans after, I wouldn’t really care. I wouldn’t be able to continue the relationship in a romantic/sexual way but I wouldn’t feel like I’d been “deceived” or like he’d acted badly. It would be the same thing as finding anything else out that compromised my ability to be sexually attracted to him. If you kiss anyone that you don’t know that well (like a person you’ve been on a couple dates with), you are running the risk of finding something out after the fact that makes you not want to pursue the relationship further and that, if you’d known beforehand, might have made you not interested in kissing them to begin with. So what? If you can’t handle that reality then don’t date.
    Furthermore, I’d add that I’ve dated several people that have revealed to me things that might have made me turn right around if I’d just met them but that I was more willing to reconsider after already getting to know them a bit. In some cases, getting to know and like them has made me reconsider some of the things that I had previously thought of as dealbreakers altogether. For some people, trans status might be one of those things. Plus, trans people understandably want to avoid the stereotypes associated with them. Let’s say a person, who’s grown up her whole life never knowing any trans people and only hearing that they are “freaks” goes out on a few dates with a guy and really likes him. Then she finds out he’s trans. If she’d known this from the start, she might have never dated him because she would have assumed he was “freak” like she’d always heard. But now that she’s gotten to know him a little and sees what a great guy he is, she can see that that’s not true. Maybe she’ll discover that his body does not interfere with her attraction to him after all and she’ll pursue the relationship and they’ll fall in love and live happily ever after. Or maybe she won’t be interested in him sexually any more, but she’ll maybe have learned that trans people are just regular people who want the same things as everyone else. Either way a good thing has happened. So no, I don’t think a trans person is under any obligation to reveal his or her trans status immediately and it is very understandable if they don’t want to.

  • kandela

    So, we can’t tell our friends about things affecting our lives? You are only allowed to confide in your therapist, your lawyer or your priest, is that it? That seems a rather sad and lonely life.
    I don’t know about you but the discussions I have with my friends on life issues are very important for my mental well being. And my friends are people I trust to be discreet when it is important.

  • the reckless tongue

    As a person of color, I don’t want to kiss someone who would reject me for my ethnicity. I wouldn’t want their lips on ME. The comparison between trans identity and ethnicity doesn’t quite work. It’s more complicated than that.
    I think a trans person has the right whether to or not to out themselves. But I also think every person has a right to be romantically involved with individuals that fit their gender and sex preference. I don’t yet know how to fit those two different rights together. Trans people face possible violence or rejection for simply being who they are, so I think their physical safety trumps a lot of different factors.
    My point is, that it’s a complicated discussion that requires nuance and real consideration for the rights and safety of both parties. I don’t think anything’s cut and dry yet.
    Hopefully, in the years and decades to come, our society will be less obsessed with strictly regulating gender, sex and sexuality, and more open to people simply being themselves.

  • Suzann

    So if you found out a prospective date – in fact a past date – was not where you met them as a clinic escort but rather was a member of Operation Rescue who had just ditched the sign and bullhorn in order to make some time – you would be fine with that? After all, they had no reason to inform you of their ‘status’.
    Personally I wouldn’t expect to know much on the first date – because I don’t get emotionally serious on a first date. I would expect to know all sorts of things – including religion, politics,job, and – yes – all the details of gender – by whatever time the relationship was moving into “serious” territory.
    [[What exactly makes the dating "serious" varies from person to person - for me it would be physical intimacy and the assumption of continued romantic association in a fairly exclusive context leading towards other sharings - but that is just me. Still, as you date a person this should be one of the things you are learning about them.]]
    If, in the development of a relationship, I honestly learned something that made the relationship unworkable for me (say – addiction or financial misjudgment) I would bow out gracefully like an adult. No harm. No foul. If, however, I made my choices clear and the other person chose to give me FALSE information in order to continue when they had reason to suspect I would not? Well, I personally would feel very betrayed and ill used.
    Honesty has nothing to do with ‘trans status’ in particular, but with CONSENT in general.
    And no. Being a bigot might lose you my company – but it doesn’t lose you your right to your own power of CONSENT. If you don’t want to date trapeze artists? If you make that clear?Then the guy or gal who hides the circus poster is violating your consent.
    Just my opinion, of course. Your attitudes towards free will may vary.

  • Mike Crichton

    My point was that I think NO ONE should kiss anyone else unless they’ve communicated any personal history that they have _reasonable_cause_ to believe the other person might find relevant. In hindsight, some of my earlier comments were more inflammatory than they should have been, and I apologize for that. I’m going to sign off now to think about what you’ve posted, and consider if my idealism might be impractical after all.

  • Lily A

    Vexing, do you think it’s possible that somebody could be ok with trans people, totally supportive of trans people’s rights, and totally ok to find out that the person that they’ve been dating is trans — but that this same person might also just not be interested in dating a trans person? For example, for you, does it make a straight, cis woman automatically transphobic if she would prefer not to date or have sex with a trans man, even if she’s otherwise an awesome ally to trans people?
    I’m not being sarcastic here, I’m honestly curious about what your opinion is on this.
    To me, it seems like it should be reasonable for a cis person (or a trans person, for that matter) to say, “I’m supportive of who you are, I accept the gender you identify with, but I’m not interested in a romantic or sexual relationship with you.”


    So, this man isn’t even in a relationship with this woman, and he gets to dictate to her who she is and isn’t allowed to talk about her problems with – including her problems with his gender status and history?
    That’s offensive and intrusive, not to mention sexist.


    But Randy Cohen is not an expert in the field – he’s a feature writer for the New York Times who writes popular articles in the popular vernacular.
    And to the average person who doesn’t have a masters degree in gender theory, it’s still called a Sex Change operation.

  • Vexing

    You’re right; I’m never allowed to have a relationship, because I might make someone feel uncomfortable.
    Thinking about the loneliness stretching out in front of me for the rest of my life, I’m off to kill myself now; have a nice one.