The Dilemma of Disclosure
I got into an extended conversation that I (intentionally) brought on myself on Twitter this weekend by picking at the trolls that were saying hateful and unnecessary things about in reaction to a CBS News story about the sentencing of the killer who stabbed Dee Whigham, a MS trans woman over 100 times during her murder last year. Naturally the most cheap and obvious troll tactic here was the old “he shoulda told him he was a dude” nonsense which is filled with factual holes. But I focused in on a specific point.
As often happens in these moments, even purportedly supportive people contribute comments that they do not seem to realize proceed from the same false assumptions as the hateful troll comments. That’s what drew me in (you have to be aware of who’s willing to listen and who’s just trying to provoke). The “supportive” person will say, in some form, “yes she was a woman but he deserved to know that she used to be a man because some guys are not attracted to that. It’s just a matter of preference” That may sound to them like a nice “middle ground” narrative but the whole structure of it is based on false assumptions.
I’m probably mostly preaching to the choir here but let’s review. Your preference, your desire, is based directly on what you are attracted to, not what you rationally think is a good idea. Someone I interacted with attempted some analogies and she hit upon one that, while sloppy, works for the purpose of my comments here. Let’s say that there’s a guy who’s thought through the implications and decided that he prefers not to date women who have small children. This choice is NOT a reflection of sexual/romantic preference or desire. If he sees, say in a bar or on a dating site, a physically attractive female and peruses her attention – she’s attractive to him on the face of it. Moreover she’s under no obligation to volunteer the fact that she’s a mother.
Now here’s where the analogy fails my debating partner: if at some point, either before or after intercourse, she says to him “oh my son is a big fan of the Yankees” the man in question will NOT react with revulsion, shock, or disgust that he had a desire for a person who has a child. He’ll simply not ask her out anymore. It certainly won’t cross his mind to be ashamed that he found her attractive or went out with her.
Another analogy attempt went like this: “if I meet a guy online and he doesn’t like fat girls and I don’t tell him that I’m fat…” but this falls apart too. If the weight problem is obvious, then when he meets her he will not be attracted to her. Problem solved. He might (fairly) complain if he’s invested some time and money in the meeting, but he’s not going to feel ashamed and disgusted that he initially thought she was worth meeting. But let’s say that she used a corset or something and skillfully disguised her pot belly. They make it to the bad and now, in the heat of the moment he finds out she’s been deceptive – what now? At worst he gets angry about the cost of the room or the foregoing date or whatever, maybe he grabs his pants and bails out. But at no point is he ashamed to have been attracted to what he saw, at no point does he feel violated physically to have been with her. Yes, there was unfair) deception but my gosh how many first dates involve some deception?
Oh, but one might say, “penis!” Well, again, let’s be clear – it’s most ethical and most fair to not be deceptive. It’s a reasonable judgment to expect that most of the men you might be asked out by will not be attracted to someone with a penis so yes, it’s wise and fair to disclose if you are pre-op just to avoid drama. BUT…if in the event you’re doing what the girl who cinched her waist and hoped for the best did, the man who learns of this can react in the same way – be annoyed or even angry at the waste of his time and money but NOT ashamed or humiliated that he found her attractive in the first place.
One may compare the mother above with the post-op trans person. Unless the potential date specifically asks, or comments regarding his disinterest in mothers, she is under NO obligation to say “just so you know…” and all the more so the more casual the encounter in question. The past status of having been assumed male is not relevant to or an interference with his current attraction to her, any more than having a child at home makes the mother less physically desirable. If he comes to the point where they have had intercourse and then, afterwards, he finds out information that changes his view of her as a candidate for an ongoing relationship, that’s fair but has nothing to do with desire, and is not any MORE a crisis because she is trans than it would be were the bit of news something else (indeed, there are other bits of information that would in fact be a crisis worthy of reproving her).
One may compare our corset-wearing woman to a pre-op trans woman. It’s reasonable to assume the physical feature in question might be something which compromises her physical attractiveness to the person she’s with and it’s ethical, fair, and wise to proactively be genuine with them before getting into an awkward intimate moment. Even more so if you have to take an active measure designed specifically to conceal the thing in question. But this is not because she is trans, but because it goes to actual physical attraction and preference which is just as fair a consideration when it’s genital appearance as it is the size of one’s breasts or the color of his hair.
So why do “supportive” people say that, even post-op, “you really should disclose to be fair”? Because they subconsciously buy into the narrative that a trans woman is still and always will be a male, or that the man in question is within his rights to define her thus (and thereby be justified in thinking he’s been “tricked” into a “gay” encounter). That narrative must be constantly challenged. I’m just doing my part.
Photo by: sarah jcb