Dating and disclosure

I received this excellent note from a reader in August 2006.

Thank you for your "A Rock and a Hard Place" article, the only real attempt to grapple with the issues of disclosure I have found on the net. I would just like to run some thoughts past you.

For some years I have grappled with disclosure issues in relation to friends, lovers and potential dates. I have wondered about both ethics of disclosure and the practical consequences. Like you, I doubt there's any clear-cut answer. Some days I feel so frustrated with the complexities that I feel like making an "I am a transsexual" t-shirt and wearing it everywhere to make life simpler.

The ethical questions are so complicated. On a basic level, of course it is the right thing to disclose. That way you live positively. There's nothing to hide. It's all out in the open.

There's a bravado attitude out there that says "if anyone doesn't accept it then they are not worth knowing" but it's easier said than done. It's all too glib for my liking. There are many, not terribly deep, interactions we have with people that help to make life enjoyable. So if it's not absolutely essential to a relationship then why spill the beans and have some of those easy relations transformed into weirdness and suspicion? That's the easy one.

For me, the real hassles come with people who are closer to you. When it comes to friends, non-disclosure usually places limits on a relationship. Once people feel that you can't trust them with certain details of your life then the friendship soon finds its limits. I've especially found this problem with female friends. As a result, I have few female friends because you can't get away with just talking about "stuff". It's not ideal but the alternative isn't great either. As you say, we're caught between a rock and a hard place.

The thing is, if you disclose, you tend to cease being a person who is fun to be with, of good character, having fascinating ideas or interests etc. You become just a "transsexual". Full stop. "Oh? So-and-so? She's a transsexual, did you know?". Not "she's really fun". Not "she does so-and-so". No, "She's a transsexual". She used to have a dick. I changed over to reduce the drama in my life and try to become a productive human being without a host of distractions about who and what I was etc etc and disclosing tends to defeat that aim.

When you disclose you are not actually saying that you are - for all practical means and purposes - a woman (who so happened to once have a male body and lived a male life). Instead you become a "transsexual".

Since transsexualism is rarely of any consequence to most people's lives, a "transsexual" is a caricature created by the media and urban myths. To some people "transsexuals" are she-males on porn sites. To others they are sexually predatory gender benders who hang around in the gay scene, tottering on their stilettos and sporting mini skirts while they look for trade. To others, they are crossdressers who lost the plot and probably have an issue with their mothers. And so on. Being a "transsexual"means havig one quality that totallyu swamps anything else you may be.

Usually, the only people who truly "get it" are those who have or have had a good TS friend and they will probably suspect you anyway, since they intuitively learn what combinations of androgynous aspects that are giveaways.

So when you tell someone that you've had a sex change, most people will immediately superimpose this caricature over the top of you. That is, the real you ceases to exist and they get the completely wrong idea of who and what you are, and all explanations tend to be seen with suspicion since it runs contrary to what they "know".

In this context, which is more honest? To let people see you as you are today or let them get completely the wrong idea about you? You could even say that, by not disclosing, we are protecting people (and ourselves) from their misconceptions.

At the very least, it makes sense to me to hold off on disclosures as long as possible so the person gets a really good feel for who you really are. That way, you at least have a chance of overcoming "the caricature effect". You both then have a better chance of keeping what is most likely a friendship that gives each person pleasure. Everybody wins, although as I said before, the "win" is mitigated by the potential loss of greater intimacy. If you go in too early and get rejected then everyone loses.

This brings me to the next issue. I ask myself, "Will this knowledge make the person any happier?". Will it be a positive in their life? If not, why tell them? Personally, I find it hard to think long range, given life’s uncertainties, so I operate here in the short term. When I am having a conversation with a friend I would really prefer to just talk about regular things than have some drawn-out intense conversation about the intimate details of my life. Every time. Worse, in some circumstances, disclosure can come across as self-absorbed and attention-seeking. It's so important to to be done right.

If you do decide to disclose, I like your idea of setting aside a special time and place to do it feels right. Not that I have done that in the past, but if I do, I'll take your advice. I imagine my angle would be along the lines of "I really value your friendship and I feel like you should know something about me that I rarely tell people" (or something like that). I would only do this if I thought there was a VERY good chance of improving the friendship.

Many of the above issues probably hold true with relationships, except the stakes are higher. I used to have a rule that I wouldn't say anything unless things start getting physical, and then I'd tell all. More than once a man who had given me the impression that he saw me as marriage material would go totally off me. It really hurts to go froma "ten" to a "one" in a matter of seconds.

There was one fellow, where the sparks were really flying, and on our third date we started carrying on a bit I felt I had to say something before it went too far. At first I just said that I had something I needed to tell him and asked him to guess what it was, just in case he already had suspicions. When he made some really dumb guesses I disclosed.

I can still see his eyes widen in horror. We were lying on his couch, our faces just a few inches apart. It was so sad. We talked for an hour but in the end, even though he said he needed time to think about it, it was clear that he couldn't deal with my past in terms of a relationship. I was totally gutted and cried on and off for two days afterwards. Since our chemistry was so good and we had so many common interests we have been platonic friends for the past few years, but I still wonder if I'd held off for longer whether it would have made a difference.

Now I simply live for the day with no expectations. Make hay while the sun shines is my credo.

A male friend has recently decided to take our friendship to another level (with little resistance from me) and I have no intention of telling him. I think we're both playing it fairly easy; more friends who are also lovers than having a relationship per se. He came out of a problematical divorce just 18 months ago and currently finds the idea of commitment as very off-putting. Light and easy suits me fine!

I have already needed to be evasive about a lot of family-type questions with him (I have a teenage son who is my "nephew"), but would disclosing make either of us any happier? Regardless of my past, those nice times happened and no disclosures since can take those times away from either of us. If I'd told him, I'm pretty sure he would have backed off and we would have missed out on those nice times.

Sure, if you wait before disclosing then some people might be angry that you for withholding that information. I have no fear of violence because I would never bother with anyone with any violent inclinations. So the issue for me is more about at least salvaging good relations, and that means trying to get the person to understand how difficult the issue is for you - especially with "the caricature effect" and being typecast as being a transsexual and nothing more - as well as the ethical dilemmas you have to wrestle with. All the stuff I've spoken about.

But it's sooo gruelling! It's not something I can easily do time and time again. Back when I was on a dating site a few years ago I got disclosure fatigue and ended up taking off my respectable ad on a respectable website and instead advertising "out" on an "adult" (ie. childish) dating website for casual play. I had so many repulsive messages it was painful! Still, I was lucky and found probably one of the few men on the site who wasn't a creep and chose me for common interests rather than my "transness" (he hated it if I mentioned anything to do with it) and we went out for a couple of years.

In the end, if you go through all of the drama and hassle of disclosure and you still lose out after all that, then I suppose all you can do is accept that, on this occasion, Jerry Springer (and others who drive our reputations through the muck on the media) have won, lick your wounds, and move on when you can gather the emotional energy to go through it all over again.

Sorry for the soliloquy but I really want to nut these issues out and it seems that my views aren’t miles from yours. What do you think? Have I missed anything?

All the best and thanks for raising some real issues!


My reply:

It's such a tough issue, and there's a tendency to think that once transition is over that it's not going to be an issue any more. Well, it almost always is, especially when disclosing to guys. It's the dilemma of having them run away before they get to know you, or getting emotionally invested yourself and then facing a potentially bigger heartbreak. It really sucks.

I hope to spend more time writing on this topic in the future, but there's so much going on right now. In the meantime, you make some great points not covered there.


Her reply:

Thanks for affirming my thoughts. It's nice not to feel like an island. I'm not sure that trans-issues are ever really over. They just seem to get smaller and take on different angles, but there always seems to be something annoying going on.
 
I have caught up with the fellow I mentioned in the email a few times since I contacted you and, while I've really enjoyed our times together, there has been this rotten little dark cloud hanging over it all ... the prospect of him being horrified if he found out about my past. It's not a giant problem and most of the time I can put it out of my mind and just have fun, but it pops up every now and then and it's definitely making me less inclined to let myself go emotionally than I otherwise would.
 
I don't know, maybe I worry too much and should take my own advice to make hay while the sun shines? Yes, definitely!
 
Still, I was running the ideas past a doctor the other day to see how a dispassionate heterosexual male observer would see the issues. His advice was pretty obvious in hindsight, but sometimes the obvious isn't all that obvious. He said that disclosure only becomes important if the relationship gets serious. I guess that means sometime not too long after the "L" word comes into play.
 
But ... if he tells me that he loves me or I feel myself going past the emotional point of no return and think that he feels the same way I'll be damned if I'm going to spoil a moment like that with a ^&*%! disclosure!  This, of course, means that if the relationship reaches that stage, then I can see myself stewing like crazy afterwards about what to do, when to do it, etc. As you said, "It really sucks".
 
I do know one woman who waits for months before telling. She says it's rare that they reject her at that stage, but the fact that there have been a number of them might (or might not) suggest that the men cool off a bit and stop trying so hard until she has to drop them. (Then they can venture into less complicated pastures).
 
It's all very well to enjoy light and easy relationships, or even more substantial relationships that last a few years, but in the end most of us want to share our lives with someone. What scares me is reading about people like April Ashley who is as un-T as a T can be, but who lives alone in her 70s.
 
Enough whingeing! Life is just fine, except for this stuff (and too much work!). By all means feel free to the publish, if you like. I wish there were more comments from people about these situations on the web so I could find out what others are doing. Maybe you could invite comments from people about their experiences, strategies and how they see the ethics of it all?

If you have comments on this topic you'd like to share, please send them along.