Recently, a well-meaning friend of mine disclosed my trans status to a friend of his, someone I hadn’t known previously. I don’t know that I ever would have found out that he had done so if his friend hadn’t slipped up and referred to me as “she” in front of a group of people.
He quickly corrected himself and moved on with whatever he had been saying, but for me, the damage had been done.
That one little pronoun ripped away my confidence and left me stunned and confused. Although it still happens once in a while, being seen as female has been a rare occurrence for me over the past six months, so I asked myself why this person whom I had just met would confuse me with a woman? Was it obvious that I was trans? Was I kidding myself, walking around in the world thinking that I no longer appeared female to most people?
Unsure as to whether the guy had read me as female/trans all on his own or whether someone had told him, I took my friend aside and asked him. He seemed genuinely confused as to why I would have an issue with his disclosure of my trans status when he has been one of my most thoughtful, supportive friends and he was trying to be helpful.
This situation has me thinking that just because a person might be a relative, friend or ally of the trans community, or even a trans person themselves, that doesn’t mean that they know and understand the possible consequences that could result from disclosing someone’s trans status, so I am offering some information here that I hope will be helpful regarding this topic.
I thought I would start with a page from The Gender Booklet at thegenderbook.com(which I actually found at the transbeautiful blog) because it gives a handy summation of issues to consider when being an ally (or even friend or relative) of people in the trans community.
A number of blog posts could be written about the statements on this simple yet informative document page (and probably already have been by others), but today we’ll just focus on, “Please don’t out me as trans without my permission.”
In listing the reasons behind this statement, I am presenting them in no particular order or priority and I am writing them as though directed toward readers who might not understand why it’s problematic to out people as trans.
When I refer to trans folks in this post, I basically stay within the man/woman binary, but there are trans people who do not identify within the gender binary. I think that what I have written here would, in principal, still apply, with the exception of some of the references I make to people identifying as men or women.
I should also mention that pretty much everything you’ll read here is my opinion. Your mileage may vary.
1. Safety first
In April of 2010, Colle Carpenter, a 27-year-old trans man, was physically assaulted in a men’s room at Cal State University Long Beach, the attacker using a knife to carve the word “it” into his chest. Two months later, a man attacked trans man Lance Reyna in a Houston Community College men’s room, putting a knife to his throat, then beating and robbing him and giving him a concussion by kicking him in the head. In April of 2011,Chrissy Lee Polis, a 22-year-old transgender woman, was brutally attacked by two women in a Baltimore-suburb McDonald’s while employees stood by and watched, one of them filming a video of the assault that went viral after being posted on-line. The attackers beat Chrissy so severely, she went into an epileptic seizure on the floor of the restaurant.
I provide these examples here to highlight the threat of violence that trans people face simply for being themselves, and to illustrate that outing someone as trans compromises their safety. Granted, these are high-profile incidents, but don’t think that these are isolated cases. Aggressions against trans people occur at various levels of severity on a fairly regular basis. I know a number of trans men and women who have been harassed and/or physically assaulted by people they had come out to or by people, including complete strangers, who had somehow learned of their trans status. Trust me on this one;you cannot predict how anyone will react to this information, so it’s best not to disclose it.
2. It’s private, medical information
Steps that a trans person may take to transition are recognized by the American Medical Association, other health-care organizations, the U.S. Tax Court and by many trans people as medical treatments for the misalignment of their physical sex and gender identity. Information about a trans person’s status and/or transition should therefore be held in confidence just like any other person’s private medical issues and treatments and should not be disclosed.
3. Not all trans people are activists and those who are might not want to be all the time
Some trans people don’t mind being in the public eye. Trans people involved in activism may be fully and publicly out as trans, such as community activists and educators Matt Kailey, Jamison Green, Kate Bornstein or Donna Rose. However, not all trans folks want to be involved in activism – they just want to live their lives with a level of anonymity that’s no different from that of non-trans people – and those who are involved as activists might not wish to wear that hat all the time. Maybe in the corner of their world where you happen to be, a trans activist might want to be incognito. It’s best to leave it up to the trans person as to when and where they care to disclose their trans status, if they care to do so at all.
4. Match making or un-making
Let’s say that a non-trans person you know has met your trans friend/relative, finds them attractive and would like to get to know them better. Your first knee-jerk reaction might be to inform the individual about the trans status of your friend/relative, but please consider why you might be having that reaction.
Perhaps you think that the trans person’s body might not be what the other person expects, but unless you have seen the trans person naked, you do not know what their body looks like, and even if you have, how can you know with certainty that the potential suitor won’t find their body appealing?
Or maybe you decide that you will out your trans friend/relative so you can spare them the negative reaction that you’re sure they’ll receive once they disclose their trans status to the interested party. That’s your own opinion, however. In other words, what you might consider to be a deal breaker (i.e. someone’s trans status) might not be an issue for another person. People are rejected in the dating scene for all sorts of reasons and these two potential love birds might not ever make it past the first date for reasons that have nothing to do with the trans status of one of them.
Ultimately, whether a trans person and a non-trans person are a match for each other should be left for them to discover. Don’t be a match un-maker by disclosing someone’s trans status.
5. Admirers, chasers and other people attracted to trans folks
In point number 4 above, I talk about people who might become attracted to a trans person they have just met but are unaware of their trans status. For the issue I discuss here, I refer to certain people, non-trans men and women, who have a significant attraction to trans people in general. Sometimes these individuals can be easily spotted vying for the attention of (or maybe even harassing or groping) trans people at transgender conferences or at public community functions, and some of them post ads on Craigslist looking for sexual hook ups and/or dates with trans men and women.
These particular folks might be classified as “chasers” or “admirers.” While some of them objectify, sexualize and fetishize trans people, some do not. Personally, I sometimes find it hard to tell the difference. (Matt Kailey has written a couple of posts about people with trans attractions and the fine line between preference versus fetish, where trans people can be either sexualized or considered sexy.)
And so if someone tells you that they are attracted to trans people and/or would like to meet a trans person for dating and/or sex, the proper response would not be to tell them about any trans people whom you might know personally. Some trans people don’t want anything to do with a person who has trans attractions, whether that individual happens to be an admirer/chaser or not. If you feel that you must do anything at all, it’s best to ask the trans person(s) you know whether they would be interested in being introduced to such a person.
6. When trans people don’t look male or female “enough” (to you)
If you know a transitioning trans person, the sex they were assigned at birth might be imprinted in your mind, especially if you’ve known them since an early point in their process or before they started transitioning. Consequently, you might not have really noticed their slow physical transformation and/or you might think that despite their physical changes, they don’t really look like their true gender. And so when you introduce the trans person to others, you might think that you have to out them as trans as a way to provide an explanation for their androgynous or gender-variant appearance. You might think that outing them would be helpful, so people don’t get confused.
However, you’re making an assumption that everyone else sees the trans person the same way that you do and you might be wrong. You might actually create confusion if you out the trans person to people who already see the trans person as their true self.
And even if someone is confused about a trans person’s gender, so what? A person’s confusion should not supersede a trans person’s privacy. Personally, I can’t imagine an individual suffering harm from their confusion over the appearance of someone else, but outing a trans person can be harmful to them, so let the confused person muddle through. More than likely they’ll manage just fine.
7. Because being trans is not necessarily who we are
Many trans people simply see themselves as men and women. Being trans is not who they are – being a man or a woman is who they are. The trans piece is a medical condition and not a definition of them as a person, so they shouldn’t be identified by it.
8. Education, enlightenment, diversity training and the “poster child excuse”
Very early in my process a (former) friend of mine outed me to her college-aged children without my permission and then tried to justify it by making me the poster boy for her kids’ diversity training. Since then, I have been surprised at the number of people who have wanted to do the same after I have come out to them (but at least they asked me first).
So if you have an urge to teach someone about diversity and you want to enlighten and educate them in order to help them be a better citizen and a more accepting human being, and to do it, you are going to tell them all about the trans person you know, stifle that thought. Unless you have asked the trans person involved whether they would mind being the subject of someone’s education on humanity, it would be best to leave the trans person out of the lesson.
9. It doesn’t matter that a trans person is out to some people
A trans person you know might seem to be out to a lot of people, and that might lead you topresume that they don’t mind being out as trans, and so that might let you assume that it would be okay to disclose their trans status to someone else, but as with other assumptions, it’s best not to make this one because you might be wrong.
10. Outing a trans person to another trans person
On the surface, it might seem okay to tell one trans person about another trans person you know, but that would be another assumption that might be incorrect. Each trans person should be asked whether they wish to be a subject of discussion between you and another trans person or whether they want to be introduced to the other as trans. Believe it or not, some trans folks don’t even want other trans folks to know that they’re trans.
11. Outing a trans person sets them up for discrimination
I don’t think that I have to convince anyone reading this blog about the existence of rampant discrimination against trans people in jobs, housing, education, health care, social services, etc. It stands to reason, then, that outing a trans person can set them up for discrimination. I can think of several trans men I know who lost their jobs when their trans status was revealed to the wrong people. Once you release that information, you lose control of it and you can’t track where it goes, which might be to someone who can discriminate against the outed trans person. Keeping their personal information safe and discreet helps the trans people you know avoid becoming the victims of discrimination.
12. Outing a trans person can erase who they are in the eyes of others
If you disclose a trans person’s status, you can render them invisible. It’s like magic. One minute, the trans person is no different than any other man or woman, then they’re outed and poof, in the minds of some people, they’re immediately transformed into the gender they were assigned as birth, or they may be seen as a non-person or a fake person or someone who’s trying to fool everyone around them. The trans person’s true self disappears and they become, in the eyes of others, someone who doesn’t even really exist. Speaking from experience, that feels like crap. Please don’t put people in that position by outing them as trans.
13. Disclosing the birth names of trans people
This point is a bit different from the others because it’s about outing one thing about a trans person, but it fits into the topic of disclosure. I have decided to add it here because a number of non-trans people over the past few years have nonchalantly disclosed to me the birth names of other trans people that they know.
What they likely did not realize was that some trans people fiercely guard the name they were given at birth and would consider its disclosure to be embarrassing, hurtful and/or offensive. For some trans folks, their birth name represents a person who they are not and a period of their life they would like to leave behind them.
All that aside, what is the point of revealing a trans person’s birth name anyway? A trans person’s real name is the one they have chosen that matches their gender and true self and that’s the only name that people need to know.
Therefore, unless a trans person has specifically and directly asked you to please disperse their birth name about with wild abandon, the polite and respectful thing to do would be to keep it to yourself if you happen to know it.
14. Whose business is it anyway?
Ultimately, the bottom line is that a person’s trans status is their personal information,their history, their story, their life, and it’s not anyone else’s place to disclose it.
The only instances I can think of when it would be okay to out someone as trans would be if the trans person specifically requested it, say, for example, during their coming out process and they asked a trusted friend or relative to help inform people, or if they were involved in some sort of medical emergency and couldn’t speak for themselves, and for the latter I’d still be hesitant.
And with that, we come to the end of 14 reasons why outing a trans person is not okay. I hope that this little public service announcement has helped to shed some light on this topic for readers who previously might not have realized these issues. Some readers might disagree with some of my points or might have points of their own to add. I invite everyone to join the discussion.
(This post was written in two parts. Part one was between Biology and Lab. Part two after I got home from class.)
Sometimes it can be a gorgeous girl or guy that walks by and you think, “how lucky, he or she is just so naturally male or female. Sure she may have her own issues or problems in life. But he’ll never know what it’s like to be trans.” (Yes, I know. I am interchanging for the sake of both mtf and ftm.) Sometimes it can be a couple walking, holding hands or kissing. And you might think, in my case anyway, that “I’ll never have that. Why would any guy or girl want me when they could just be with someone who isn’t trans?” There are so many things that can trigger a sudden onset of dysphoria. For me today it is sitting in class in almost unbearable discomfort and pain. Without getting too detailed about something I don’t even like to think about much less TALK about, being pre-op mtf… I still have a certain part of me that needs to be taken care of. Surgically. And until I can get that I have to take steps to ensure that it is dealt with before I step in public, especially wearing the extremely tight jeans and shorts I tend to wear. Most days it’s just a rather inconvenient annoyance at the very least. Others. Like today… (end part one… sitting in Biology Lab.)
Other days, like today, “things” just do not want to cooperate with that “dealing with” and no matter what I do, I find myself in excruciating pain. To clarify, I suppose… most would call it “tucking.” I just hate using anything more than vague references cause when I do use those terms… it somehow seems all the more… real and somehow invalidating. I imagine this is much how an ftm person would feel when they menstruate. Other days, like today, it makes me want to cry and fight so hard not to while sitting in class. Days like today, it goes from an ever present whisper in the back of my mind to this unstoppable monster that consumes every thought I have. Everything I think about, my mind somehow links to being a consequence of my pre-op trans person. I sit in pain, cursing my existence and thinking about how lucky each and every person in that room are… not just other women, but men as well. Because whether they are men or women, they are naturally so and do not have to deal with these things. They are things I doubt a single one of them has even once thought about as something a trans person would have to deal with. As I went into my Biology Lab this afternoon, I was not prepared for what was to come. That… my already off the scale dysphoria would be intensified even more.
We were discussing genetics. You know, a review of the basics you cover in high school about Punnet Squares and traits passed from generation to generation. However, we of course took it a step further in discussing add information obviously on a college level. As we touched on sex chromosomes… my ears perked up and my mind keyed in on the conversation when just a moment before I had been struggling so hard to push the dysphoric thoughts aside and focus on the professor. My mind began spinning about how I have… and will always have… that stupid “Y” chromosome. I wanted to cry even more. Why? Why couldn’t I have just been born XX and gotten on with my life? Why was I made to suffer this existence? We looked at several different karyotypes. Some examples of Down’s or Turner’s Syndrome. Others with abnormalities in sex chromosomes. Disjunctions. One karyotype was a person with only one sex chromosome. A single X chromosome. The professor asks us what we think this person would look like. Phenotype. In response, one person shouts, “they’d be a hermaphrodite!” I instinctively winced at the use of a term not particularly preferred by the intersexed community then wondered if anyone had taken notice. Another person shouts, “they’d look like a man!” Many other comments followed and I sat there… feeling scrutinized. Irrationally, I felt like each and every eye was on me like in some kind of bad nightmare. Ultimately, the professor says, “They would look female but would probably have physical characteristics that made them look unnatural or abnormal.” This of course led to Klinefelter’s syndrome being brought up. She incorrectly mentions that Klinefelter’s syndrome affects women and talks for a moment about some of the things it “causes.” I wanted to speak up. I wanted to correct her, but that would draw attention to myself. Instead I began to wonder, if I perhaps had an extra chromosome. Not that it would matter. It wouldn’t change anything. All these thoughts inevitably led down the same path. “Gawd, I wish I was dead. I wish I had the courage to actually go through with it.”
About the only redeeming thing that happened in all of this, came after our lab discussion. When we began our lab exercises, I turn to my partner. A really sweet, funny, nerdy girl (she was wearing hand-made DNA earrings! Made with beads! Tiny little double helixes!) and someone whom I suspect might just be LGBT identified. Perhaps she is a lesbian or ftm but has not come out. We were randomly pairing up blue chips and green chips to simulate the distribution of gene traits in offspring. She hands me my cup of chips and takes hers and says, “here, you be the mom and I’ll be the dad. Hurry up and get your egg here cause this sperm is ready for it!” I couldn’t help but to smile and laugh. This made me feel good. Through out the lab exercises we did, I was consistently the mom and her the dad. We talked about this and that while we worked and we laughed and I noticed tiny little comments here and there about men that made me think, for a woman seem to be a little out of the ordinary, furthering my suspicions. I thought to myself with a smile, how neat would that be if we became friends. She would understand.
One thing I forgot to mention in part one, before I went into lab. I saw another trans woman on campus today while sitting and waiting for Biology to even start. She walked in from outside and through the hall right in front of my bench. This is not significant to me in itself because of course, I understand. What I did notice were her mannerisms. This was in fact the beginning of my extreme dysphoria today. As she walked past, she did something that I used to do all the time and still do occasionally. She avoided eye contact. She looked down and hide her face. Desperately trying to be invisible. A part of me wanted to scream out to her. Reassure her. Comfort her. Tell her, I understand. But I knew this would not only draw more attention to her and out her in front of every student in the hallway, but also out myself. So after we made eye contact and I noticed her instinctively break contact and hide her face. I ignored her. I knew that she would be wondering as she walked by, as I always do, “Are they staring at me? Did they know? Are they judging me?”
“Why couldn’t I just have been born a girl?”
♥ Jessi ♥
- EACH is a free actionline for young people experiencing homophobic or transphobic bullying.
Telephone: 0808 1000 143
- Childline is a free confidential helpline for young people. They offer advice and support 24 hours a day.
Telephone: 0800 1111
- TransLondon is a discussion group online and welcomes all regardless of their current status, identity or identities.
- Albert-Kennedy trust support young LGBT people who are homeless.
Telephone: -London 0207 831 6562, -Manchester 0161 228 3308
- Gendered intelligence is a community interest company aiming to support young transgender people.
- Mermaids is a support group for young transgender people and their families.
Telephone: 0208 123 4819
- The Beaumont Society is a self help body run by and for those who cross-dress or are trans.
Please reblog and add to this list; it might really help someone out there who really needs it :)