Dear Imprudence: When to Out a Transgendered Dater? How About Never?

I know we’ve had a number of Dear Imprudences in the last week or so, but, people, there has been a lot of really bad advice out there. This Sunday’s ‘The Ethicist’ column in the New York Times was a pretty glaring example, and I thank FWD reader Molly Bandit for bringing it to my attention (Dear Imprudence tips can always be emailed to meloukhia at disabledfeminists dot com).

The letter writer says:

I am a straight woman, and I was set up on a date with a man. We got along well initially, but I grew concerned about how evasive he was about his past. I did some sophisticated checking online — I do research professionally — and discovered that he is a female-to-male transgendered individual. I then ended our relationship. He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person? Name Withheld, N.Y.

Here’s how ‘The Ethicist’ responds:

Changed religion and sex? I feel emotionally exhausted if I get a new sport coat. But although this person behaved badly by not being more forthcoming with you, he is still entitled to some privacy. You should not prompt a public announcement about his being transgendered.

There are two questions here: What must close companions reveal to each other?And what may they reveal about each other to outsiders?

Getting to know someone is a gradual process. I might panic if on a first date someone began talking about what to name the nine kids she’s eager for us to raise in our new home under the sea. Premature disclosure can be as unnerving as protracted concealment. But as partners cultivate romance, and particularly as they move toward erotic involvement, there are things each should reveal, things they would not mention to a casual acquaintance — any history of S.T.D.’s, for example, or the existence of any current spouse. Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his being transgendered. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him.

As things stand, you have every right to talk this over with friends. We are entitled to discuss the most intimate aspects of our own lives — or what are friends for? But you may not distribute handbills around the neighborhood or ask your rabbi to announce this from the pulpit. Even when the clothes come off — especially when the clothes come off — we expect discretion from our partners. Few people (except perhaps the bitter foes of Tommy Lee or Paris Hilton) want sextapes, or even vivid verbal descriptions of their sexual peccadilloes, posted online. And that goes for being transgendered. We rely on our friends — and even more so partners — to respect our privacy, even if the relationship sours.

Woah woah woah woah. Hold on just a minute here, Ethicist. This column is headed ‘When to Out a Transgendered Dater,’ and the correct answer is…

Never.

Never not ever. Period. Ever. Not even if…Not even when…Never. The answer to this letter writer should have been ‘no you should not out him.’ Props to The Ethicist for using the right pronoun, absolute failing grade on absolutely everything else, from ‘you have every right to talk this over with friends’ (no you do not) to ‘that’s why he discreditably withheld it.’

Forcible outing happens all the time, especially commonly in medical settings, as commenters at The Sexist recently pointed out. It is incredibly harmful and dangerous and it is also highly unethical. It is most definitely not acceptable and I am horrified that this column ran, because it reinforced the idea that outing is up for debate and that it may be appropriate in some settings. No it is not.

Here’s Queen Emily, writing on why it is never appropriate to out transgendered people, putting it better than I could myself:

So here’s the deal: if you out us, you can do more damage than you can possibly imagine.

You can expose trans people to violence. You could get them fired. You could make it impossible for them to find work–word of mouth travels quickly in small towns or closeknit industries. They could be harassed so much they need to quit their job, or to need to move, or all kinds of things. You don’t know, because you’ve never had to live with the consequences. Just because you know and trust someone, doesn’t mean that I can. It doesn’t mean that they won’t be hateful to me, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they will be respectful of my confidentiality.

The very idea that one should even be asking if outing is ok is horrific to me. No, it is not ok, not ever. Period. End of discussion.

Related reading: Ethic Pathetic by C. L. Minou at Below the Belt.

About s.e. smith

s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

8 thoughts on “Dear Imprudence: When to Out a Transgendered Dater? How About Never?

  1. You know, I keep hearing about how transgendered people are disproportionately likely to be violently attacked, even killed. That in itself would indeed be a very serious, valid and understandable reason to withhold the information until the guy knew his date a bit better.

    But the others are valid too – I mean, how many people on first dates talk about all the big events or changes their lives have turned on? And that includes all manner of things which their date might consider germane to them and to the possibilities for a future relationship – things like ‘I have kids’, or ‘I’m separated from my spouse’, or ‘My company might send me abroad next year’.

    Someone being transgendered should not be treated as some kind of special excuse that makes it okay to treat them differently – it’s as if the woman appropriates the guy’s transgenderedness as HER issue, rather than an important aspect of his identity…

  2. This is probably precisely why he was cagey about telling her. She’s obviously untrustworthy–at best, her aim is to destroy his chances at finding a partner in their community by coloring people’s views of him before they have a chance to get to know him. Poor guy.

  3. Thanks for this post. I already covered it on my blog and someone covered it on Questioning Transphobia, but this bigotry and transphobia cannot get enough opposition.

  4. …I’m literally sick to my stomach. I can’t imagine how someone could possibly think it’s a good idea, that it’s at all ethical, to harm someone that way.

    Even if the gentleman in question was never physically harmed, he would be opened to all kinds of bullshit – people calling him by the wrong pronoun (especially ‘it’, from seeing it happen to people I know), turning their backs on him (especially somewhere as traditional as an orthodox jewish community), ostracizing him, it just…

    Why would you want to hurt someone like that? And how on earth could you possibly be oblivious to the fact that you’re going to do that kind of harm?

    …hell, even her bigoted reaction should give her an idea of how other people may act. Yes, he may find allies he didn’t know he had before, but he’ll find enemies, too.

  5. As I said on Questioning Transphobia (and I got this information from Dr. Weiss on Bilerico), this man isn’t an ethicist. He’s a comedian. He used to write for David Letterman (also known for his transphobic humor).

  6. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him

    WHAT?

    No, clearly he withheld this information because it is irrelevant. He is a man. He lives his life as a man, he identifies as a man, he IS MALE. Whether this has been his sex from birth is entirely inappropriate for a first date, and very inappropriate for someone to go snooping online about. This woman is just horrific.

  7. Thank you so much for taking “The Ethicist” down for this column; my partner and I read it last week and were horrified.

    In addition to all that you mention, we were disturbed that he seemed to harp on the sexual aspects–one of those classic cis moves of sexualizing trans people–and never mentioned the advice-seeker’s own ethical breach, of using professional research access for a personal and underhanded purpose. I work in a field that uses sophisticated research databases and the like, and there are strict professional protocols for when to use it; she clearly crossed a line.

    Thank you so much for writing this up and posting it publically.

  8. I remember reading this (or perhaps a similar story) to my partner recently and he was just horrified.

    He and I both said exactly what you said: NEVER. It is nobody’s bloody business. End of story.

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