Trans disclosure? We can get into that

In one of my recent videos, I proposed something that is perhaps the most controversial thing I have ever said. Briefly, I suggested that post-op trans women are not always obligated to disclose the fact that they’re trans to a prospective partner, including prior to sex. Judging from the responses to this idea, it’s clear that this is quite a divisive issue, and I think it’s something that we should discuss further.

Many people insisted that not disclosing this fact would constitute a kind of deception. But how is anyone being deceived here, and what would they be deceived about? My suggestion was that men for whom this is a concern should first ask if their partner is trans. I did not recommend lying in response. But these people have flatly refused to ask, and claim that simply not telling someone that you’re trans means lying to them. These people feel they should be able to assume that women aren’t trans – but if that were a valid assumption, this wouldn’t be an issue to begin with. Some women are trans, including the women these men might take an interest in, which is why this is a concern for them. Their assumption does not hold true, and wishing to act as though it does is like saying that the mere existence of trans women is an inconvenience to them, and that they should not have to account for that reality. But if you make a knowingly inaccurate assumption, and make no effort to verify it, and you end up being wrong, it doesn’t mean that anyone else has deceived you. If this is a concern for you, it’s nobody else’s responsibility to divine your expectations when you intentionally refuse to make them clear.

These people then claim that trans women should already know that something like 99% of men would not want to be with a trans woman. In other words, 99% of people would apparently drop them like a hot potato, not even because there’s anything wrong with them, but simply because of who they are – and trans women are expected to inflict this upon themselves with no hesitation. But when men say that they don’t prefer trans women, this stands in blatant contradiction to their actions. After all, what most distresses them here is the possibility that they might sleep with a trans woman and enjoy the experience, without knowing that she’s trans. So, they don’t prefer trans women, yet they have no problem sleeping with them. What does that say about their true preferences here?

Some people have compared this to other information that one could be aware of which might alter their decision to sleep with someone: things like being married, or having HIV, or being a convicted sex offender. (Those are their examples, not mine.) And this seems like an obviously different situation. Nobody is being exposed to contagious and deadly diseases. No one is being dragged into the middle of someone else’s pre-existing relationship. And they haven’t committed some horrible act that would reflect strongly upon their character. So why should the fact that they’re trans change anything?

The principal objection here seems to be to trans women’s bodies: what their body once was, and what their body now is. Yet this objection rings hollow given the reality that they would have had no problem with enjoying the company of trans women and their bodies, even intimately. They claim they don’t like what trans women are, and yet it’s a very real possibility that this is something they would like. But for some reason, they wish to avoid that experience. Why? Many of them depict this as an unquestionable preference: something that just is, beyond the realm of criticism and beyond their ability to change. Much like how some people prefer the same sex or the opposite sex, these people would prefer not to be with trans women – although, for the aforementioned reasons, this is hardly an accurate comparison. And I suspect this stated preference is more informed by common attitudes toward trans people than by a person’s own innate desires.

The world we live in tends to see trans women as something less than women, as if they fall short of being so-called “real” women. As a result, a straight man who sleeps with a trans woman might consider this a threat to his sexuality. Even though she’s a woman, people refuse to accept her as one. And from there comes the idea that trans women are obligated to identify themselves – like they should have to attach an asterisk to their womanhood.

This is a social problem, not just an innocent preference. If a racist was very distraught to find out that his partner was of fractionally African ancestry after they’ve slept together, would we have any sympathy for him? If he didn’t even ask about this first, would we have expected her to know that she should have told him? Well, what if 99% of the population were incorrigible racists? Should she then be expected to disclose this from the outset, even though it doesn’t make any difference? Would we be at all surprised if she doesn’t volunteer this information? Has she “deceived” anyone by not mentioning her ancestry, even when they haven’t asked? And can her partners be said to have been harmed in any way by this? People are certainly entitled to their preferences, and they’re entitled to have those preferences respected. Likewise, the rest of us are free to believe that their preferences are stupid – and their refusal to articulate them, doubly so.

Many people again insisted that they absolutely cannot ask a possible partner if she’s trans, because it would be taken as an insult and hinder their romantic ambitions. It really says a lot about people’s attitudes that being trans is itself considered an insult, and it’s quite ironic that this mindset could end up frustrating the desires of two people who aren’t even trans. If that’s how you feel, then you probably should make your preferences heard, just so any trans women will know that you see them as literally unspeakable.I t’s hard to see how this is supposed to be an insult – after all, you’ve already shown an interest in her, and if you’re asking whether she’s trans, that means you can’t tell. Not all trans people are visibly trans, anyway. And if both parties would stop acting like there’s something insulting about being trans, this wouldn’t even be a problem.

What’s really disconcerting is that I’ve seen these people explain, at length, how utterly crucial it is that their partner not be trans. I’ve seen them compare it to exposing someone to HIV in its seriousness. And yet they can’t bring themselves to say this to someone’s face. If people are going to compare this to STDs, then just think about what their attitude toward safe sex must be like. Can you imagine never wearing a condom, never asking anyone if they’re clean or getting tested together, and just assuming that nobody has any sexually transmitted diseases, while doing nothing whatsoever to protect yourself? That would be insane, and there’s a reason we discourage this reckless behavior: it can have serious consequences.

But what are the consequences of sleeping with someone who’s trans? Certainly nothing comparable to catching a disease – and this is reflected in these people’s actions, or lack thereof. They’re definitely not acting the way that they would if they were trying to avoid contracting HIV. They’re taking no precautions here at all. If this is supposed to be such a terrible fate, then either they’re being flagrantly irresponsible, or this isn’t really as bad as they’ve made it out to be. If they’re prioritizing sex before avoiding this, which they appear to be doing, that’s their choice. Otherwise, there’s no excuse for not being proactive. If this is something they feel the need to protect themselves from, why aren’t they protecting themselves?

Finally, some people pointed out that being trans is a major part of trans people’s lives, and honesty about such significant things is important in a relationship. And that’s absolutely a valid concern in some cases. Depending on whether it’s a committed relationship, or a one-time thing, it may be important to mention, or it might not. In the long term, of course it’s something to be disclosed as part of the trust that should exist between committed partners, but in the context of something more casual, it might not even be relevant. Someone compared it to sterility, and while it’s hardly an exact parallel, if it’s serious enough that you and your partner are considering children, it’s probably serious enough that you should share this with them.

All of this depends on the individual circumstances, and it comes down to individual judgment. It’s hard to say what everyone ought to do, but as a general guideline, I don’t see why being trans should be regarded as something especially different here. It can be treated the same as other such things that you would share with a committed partner, like corrective surgeries or developmental conditions. Honesty is important here, and I see no problem with expecting people to disclose this at the appropriate time. But depending on the nature of the relationship, it may not need to be disclosed prior to sex, or even after. It seems rather unbelievable that this is as serious an ethical violation as people have claimed. And I think most of them already know that.