Editors' note: Monica F. Helms is the president of the Transgender Americans Veterans Association.
One of the most controversial subject matters in the transgender community has to do with when to tell a new or potential love interest about your trans status. Logic dictates that this question should be a "no-brainer," in a world where trans violence has become as common as rain. However, when talking about trans people in love, specifically trans women, one can flush logic down the toilet.
In a previous article, "Stuck in Loneliness", I pointed out the many things that make trans people lonely. From personal experience, I can tell you that the feeling of loneliness can be debilitating at times. For many trans women, anyone who comes along to take away that loneliness would be considered a golden find. For a post-op, to keep this person in their lives, they will spend hours of time and a great deal of energy justifying why they should not tell them about being trans. The fear of loneliness does that to them.
One of the biggest building blocks for any relationship, no matter what kind, would have to be "Trust." If you do not start off with trust, then the entire relationship will fail. Trust is the primary foundation for ALL relationships, but especially in the trans community. Why do some trans people feel immune from having to tell the truth to their new love? This does not make us look good overall.
I have a friend who had her surgery last year and dates men now. The ones she has told about her trans history have all walked away. However, as of last week, she hadn't told her new boyfriend out of fear of loneliness. I got very upset with her about this and because of that, she decided to tell him over the long weekend. In her case, the results turned out fantastic. This friend works in a highly technical field and is one of the smartest women I know. But, when it came to love and making sure she didn't remain lonely by not telling potential boyfriends, she acted like a love-struck teenager. Once everything became out in the open with the new man, their relationship can now be built on trust. I'm very happy for her.
Is it dangerous not to tell? There are two names on the Remembering Our Dead list that always come to mind when post-op trans women tell me they won't tell their new boyfriend. Terri Lynn Moore was shot to death in 1976 by her new husband when she told him on their honeymoon. Her husband was convicted of first-degree murder. The other was Jean Shelley Boushard Fox, shot by her husband in 1980 when he discovered her past while reading love letters she had from a former lover.
I can see that the one thing that people who advocate not telling will pick up on. They will say, "These happened so long ago that they are no longer good examples. So much has changed since then." So much has indeed changed. People know more about us. However, the fragile male psyche that can be crushed if they think they just "had sex with a man" hasn't changed. Men who act drastically, like Fox and Moore, are luckily few in numbers. The question one needs to ask themselves would be, "Do I want to risk my life that this man I'm dating is not like them?" Sadly, too many straight trans women would say, "Yes," just so they won't be stuck in loneliness.
Another fallacy I have heard from a post-op was, "If I tell up front, then the only men I'll attract will be those who have a fantasy about having sex with a transsexual or a man who is a crossdresser and figures I would understand." The statement has a bit of truth to it, but these won't be the only men transsexuals will attract, and some may not care if they attract men like that. I had a roommate in Phoenix who met this nice man before her GRS, they stayed together after her surgery and then they got married. That was 10 years ago and they still live together.
Trans women seem to forget that non-trans women don't have it any easier. When a middle-aged woman says, "All the good men are either married or gay," they are not far from the truth. And, you also should remember about having to kiss a thousand frogs to find the one prince. Life does not make the process of finding the perfect match the easiest in the world. Luck and timing has a lot to do with it. If a man does not want to be with you because at your birth, the doctor slapped you on the ass and pronounced, "It's a boy!" then you shouldn't care if that man leaves you. He's just another frog in the journey.
I have also heard others justify not telling by labeling it something different, thinking that will make it go away. It doesn't matter how much psychobabble one wants to use to justify in their own head that they don't need to tell a potential lover, but they place themselves in danger by not starting off with a level of trust. Regardless how you label it, you cannot control how the other person will react. One should base their action on the worse-case scenario and then you will be pleasantly surprised when it turns out not to be so, like my friend.
The most sensible thing to do for a pre-op would be to tell the person in the early stages of your first conversation, before dancing, before holding hands, before kissing and especially before you find yourself in his bedroom. For a post-op, you could go further down the process, but I have heard of some men who have gone bonkers finding out they just kissed a transsexual, even one who had surgery. I would think that you should tell at least before sex. That would be considered a critical demarcation moment for many men.
Most of what I have written here has to do with post-op trans women who date men. To be honest, my suggestions should apply to all transsexuals, post-op, pre-op, non-op, MtF and FtM. Gay trans men need to have all the same concerns as straight trans women, but I'm willing to bet that they run into far less confrontations. Lesbian trans women or straight trans men should not think they are totally safe, because women have been known to cause harm as well. Besides, some women could call a person to come over and "bust your kneecaps." Also, being a post-op lesbian trans woman does not mean you will be immune from rejection from other lesbians.
I hope trans people will not look at this as me trying to tell them how to run their love life. My only concern is for the safety of my brothers and sisters. NASCAR drivers wear a helmet, a fire suit and a neck brace to protect themselves. Soldiers wear body armor and carry an M-16 for protection. Construction zones require a helmet and safe sex requires a condom. And, protecting yourself from a man going medieval on you after sex requires a bit of common sense. It took many of you a long time to look completely like a woman. Live a long time to enjoy it.