Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

The NY Times Ethicist Responds: I Didn't Suggest Self-Outing On The First Date

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 12, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-trans violence, New York Times, Randy Cohen, The Ethicist, transgender violence

I received a reply to my email to "The Ethicist," Randy Cohen of the New York Times. I also wrote a scathing review yesterday of his advice column.

It suggested that a transgender man who did not out himself to someone he was dating was "behaving badly" and in a "discreditable" manner. He compares it to sexually transmitted diseases and adultery.

I understood his words to mean that a transgender person should out themselves on a first date. Mr. Cohen wrote me to explain that he was not suggesting that it be done on the first date. Moreover, he notes that his advice was not meant to be an inflexible rule, but rather a "guideline" and a "general approach."

To give him credit where credit is due, he firmly came down on the side of not outing the transgender person to others.

Putting aside the "first date" issue then, should there be a guideline regarding transgender self-disclosure, after which one is guilty of bad behavior and discreditable conduct?

Is transgender history comparable to sexually transmitted diseases and adultery?

Mr. Cohen's full reply and my discussion of it after the jump.

Mr. Cohen gave me permission to bring his points to your attention:

Thanks for the interesting note.

We no doubt disagree but not on the point you raise so prominently and repeatedly. I did not assert that this person should "out themselves on a first date." Quite the contrary. I said he should not. I took a far more gradualist approach, writing that it is only "as partners cultivate romance, and particularly as they move toward erotic involvement, there are things each should reveal." I am surprised that you so misread me, particularly when you quote a sentence where I make the case against disclosing intimate matters too soon.

Nor did I offer any rules, only a guideline. I share your view that the particular details of each couple will affect this decision. But my job -- the point of the column -- is to suggest a general approach to such questions.

As to the title: I did not compose it or even see it until it went into print. Writing headlines is my editors prerogative.

In defense of the woman who sent the query, she did use the term "transgender" as you prescribe, but I am subject to the dictates of the copy desk, and it is they who amended this word to fit Times style.

Interestingly, Michael Triplett of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists' Association weighed in on its blog. (Notice anything missing from the name of this organization?):

I didn't read the letter the same way Weiss did and I assumed by the term "relationship," that this was more than a first date. I can see how it can be read both ways, as an ongoing relationship and as a single date. It would be nice to know whether Cohen's advice would be different depending on the "first date" versus "ongoing" question.

I don't think there needs to be a retraction because, as a columnist, he is paid for his opinions and his opinion and advice here is not necessarily wrong or in error. It would be helpful if he and the New York Times issued a clarification on how he viewed the situation and whether, after receiving feedback from transgender individuals, he would revise his ethical advice.

I think that my first take was a reasonable interpretation of Mr. Cohen's column. The letter-writer says "I was set up on a date with a man." There is no indication of a second date. Perhaps that could be implied from her words "we got along initially," but there's no indication of whether this was the beginning of the date, or the beginning of a longer relationship.

Then, when Mr. Cohen responded "I might panic on a first date," that, to me, implied that the letter-writer was, in fact, referring to a first date.

But enough of defensiveness. Mr. Cohen says that he did not intend to suggest his advice applied to a first date, and I will take that as a given in this discussion.

But he did intend, as he says, a guideline and a general approach.

Mr. Cohen suggests, however, that at some point, failure to disclose becomes "bad behavior" and "discreditable." Thus, his discussion is not about whether disclosure is desirable or wise, but when it is necessary to avoid moral censure.

When You Must Disclose

Let me start with my brief discussion from yesterday's post.

The appropriateness of revealing transgender history depends on many factors. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions.

Is medical history a factor? Sex reassignment surgery? Being at Point X on the timeline of gender transition?

How about social environment? Does it make a difference whether one is in San Francisco, California, Laramie, Wyoming, or Caracas, Venezuela?

Does it make a difference if one judges, upon meeting them for the first date, that the person would respond with scorn or violence, or seems likely to be unable to keep a confidence? Is it pertinent if the transgender person is well-respected in the community, but is at risk of losing that respect from conservative neighbors or employers?

What if the transgender person decides they don't want a second date?

Erotic Involvement

Mr. Cohen defined "erotic involvement' as the furthest line over which one should not cross.

But as partners cultivate romance, and particularly as they move toward erotic involvement, there are things each should reveal...

Erotic involvement is certainly a important line for myself, personally. But that raises an important question about the specific advice Mr. Cohen gave. The letter writer noted that she is an Orthodox Jew. "Erotic involvement" between Orthodox Jews is strictly forbidden prior to marriage. Unmarried Jews of the opposite sex are forbidden to touch, ever, not even a handshake, and not even close relatives. This prohibition is not considered a minor rule, to be broken when no one is looking. As a person who grew up as an Orthodox Jew, and spent a lot of time in the culture, I know that there is no leeway on this whatsoever.

They're not even supposed to be alone in a room together, though that rule is sometimes overlooked.

Given that, what "erotic involvement" could there be?

Personally, I construe the idea of "erotic involvement" more broadly than most people. I don't even like to kiss people I don't know well on the cheek. While this is a common habit for many women in our culture, I grew up as a very religious Jew, and while I am no longer religious, my prudish sensibilities, at least in public, have remained.

In addition, I have a concern that people -- specifically men -- whom I have kissed on the cheek, may later feel some negative emotion because of my transgender history.

I don't believe most of my male co-workers and other acquaintances care much one way or the other about a kiss on the cheek, particularly in this socially liberal area of the Northeast. But I am frankly very cautious, perhaps even overly-timid, but I don't want to have to even think about it. I don't take rejection very well, and I am particularly sensitive about my acceptance as a woman. There is no need for me to rush about kissing every male on the cheek to prove something, when I'm not feeling it.

That's my personal preference, however. As to the question of whether others must follow my guideline, I don't believe it's my place to dictate. In addition, doing it my way risks conveying the sense that such a person is stand-offish, unfriendly, lacking in confidence, or socially awkward. I am willing to encounter these risks, but not at all willing to require others to do so.

Moving on to the issue of actual erotic involvement, meaning nakedness and/or sexual touching, I myself would never go there without disclosure. There are three factors here for me.

First and foremost is that I would never want someone else to feel badly because of our sexual encounter. I have known men who start to question their sexuality in an ego-destroying way afterwards. That doesn't necessarily result, but I personally do not want to hurt another person in that way, even unintentionally. Second, I am concerned about violence on discovery.

Some people, sadly, become angry and violent at the notion, and I don't have any room for that in my life. Not any more, though I had more leeway on the subject when I was younger and unemployed and rejected by pretty much everyone. My younger self reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel's song "The Boxer":

"There were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there."

Dark days indeed.

Thirdly, I don't want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with me, as I am. I'd rather be alone. Frankly, I have grown to have a great deal of comfort with solitude in recent years. I don't want to have to hide my wrinkles, those ten pounds, or my gender history.

But again, should this be a hard and fast guideline? Mr. Cohen says it is "germane."

That begs the question of whether it should be "germane." People, in their subjective judgment, might consider a lot of things germane.

I know people who lie about their ages when dating, and consider it a polite white lie. Who cares, as long as you look great? What about disclosing a facelift or bariatric surgery?

I know people who have African-American and Native-American ancestry, but don't identify as Black or Native American. Should they be telling before they have sex? Isn't that "germane"?

Yes, to a bigot.

I know bisexuals who don't identify themselves as bisexuals and have sex with people of the opposite sex without telling them. Is that "germane"?

It would be, to a lot of people.

What about having a criminal conviction in one's past? I think most people would want to know that, but is it "discreditable" not to come out with it prior to cultivating romance? Does it matter if it's a non-violent offense or one that occurred a long time ago?

When is it "prejudice," and so not an illegitimate consideration, and when is it a "material omission," in the language of legal contracts. The law recognizes that one cannot possibly be expected to tell the other party everything, and it is not one's responsibility to do so, if not asked. That is, unless the omission is known to you to be material to the other party's decision to enter into the agreement, and which, if known, would definitely have changed their mind as to the agreement.

I'm not suggesting that social engagements are like legal engagements, but the concept of "germaneness," of materiality, is the concept on which Mr. Cohen hangs his hat.

If age and race and sexual orientation and criminal records aren't "germane," and omissions on these subjects are considered socially permissible, why is transgender status different?

Cultivating Romance

Mr. Cohen also goes a step further, suggesting that even "cultivating romance" is a line not to cross without disclosure. Obviously this doesn't cover the first date, necessarily, as Mr. Cohen has now clarified that he didn't mean a first date.

But a "date" is a social engagement with a romantic character.

At what point does romance become sufficiently "cultivated," short of "erotic involvement" that it requires disclosure, at the peril of scolds like Mr. Cohen calling it "bad behavior" and "discreditable"?

I'm not entirely sure. Does it involve the call for a second date, or physical touching, like handholding, or explicitly "romantic" gestures like a long kiss on the lips? Does it involve longing glances and expressions of love, like "gee I think you're swell," or "I'd love to lick the sweat off your lip," or "I love you?"

I've been on second dates, without disclosure, where I literally said little or nothing while he expounded on the latest fishing techniques, or whatever. The next thing I know, total non sequitur, my hand is between his and he's pursing his lips for a kiss.

Was I guilty of "bad behavior" or "discreditable" conduct?

The phrase "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" comes to mind. Is it my fault that I clean up well?

All joking aside, I don't believe that Mr. Cohen's guideline is at all clearly expressed, and it makes no sensible distinction between transgender history and other kinds of history.

Comparing transgender history to sexually transmitted diseases and adultery is not only disreputable, it is a false analogy.

Sexually transmitted diseases can damage someone's health; transgender history cannot. Adultery is considered a sin by many, or at least a pretty serious moral problem, and it involves the second party in morally questionable conduct even though they are unaware of it. Transgender history doesn't involve the second party in morally questionable conduct.

STD's and adultery aren't appropriate comparison points.

Not unless you consider being transgender morally questionable conduct.

Do you consider being transgender morally questionable conduct, Mr. Cohen?

UPDATE: Mr. Cohen looked into the issue of the language change from "transgender" in his original copy to "transgendered" in the final version.

"I learned more about how the language in the query shifted from "transgender" -- as written -- to "transgendered," as published. My editor looked into this and confirmed that the copy desk had indeed made this change, but they erred in doing so: Times style conforms to just what you prescribe. This was brought to the attention of the copy editors, who immediately corrected it in the online version of the column."

I commend Mr. Cohen for taking the time and effort to look into this situation.

As I told him, to people outside the trans community these issues may look like minor quibbles, but to us, they define our lives. He responded by saying "Not minor at all. In my line of work, the precise use of language, the implications of words, are matters of real significance. I respect your concern."


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At least he was kind enough to write you back and directly address your concerns. That's something!

Orthodox Judaism (which the original letter writer mentioned) doesn't recognize change of sex... period. That's an important point in the original discussion. So, honestly, unless she's going to screw her head on differently, she would deal with this as she would any other same-sex potential relationship (which is likely to be offensive to the trans man).

Even though I personally tend to disclose to partners from the get-go or very early on before any kind of intimacy develops, Cohen has no business giving advice on this issue nor making offensive analogies between trans people and those with some kind of communicable disease.

There is a rabbinic authority who has allowed it in some cases.

There is a rabbinic authority who has allowed it in some cases.

Cohen's an idiot. He didn't draw a brightline or have any logical reason to back his decision other than "OMG that'd be so icky to accidentally touch a tranny!!!1!"

A friend of a friend is a transsexual woman and she married a man she met well after transitioning. She let him know what was "germane" - she told him she could never bear any children. Other than that, he's in the dark and they've been married for about 7 years now.

What would Cohen say about that? I think most people would say that she should have disclosed, but it really isn't something that is all that important.

SkepticalCidada | July 12, 2010 3:59 PM

Whether it is material to him is a question for him, not for her and certainly not for you. If she didn't think it would be material to him, she should have just told him, and if she did think it would be material to him, she really should have told him.

Thanks for reminding me that it's not a question for me! I forgot! Good thing there are blog commenters like you to point that out for me!

I never told my boyfriend that when I was 5 I went to check the class thermometer in kindergarten outside, got locked out and started crying. Your standard is "if it isn't material you should tell," so I suppose I have a whole lot of confessing to be doing as I've been around for a while and done a whole lot of immaterial things.

And that's not just being glib - the point of ethics is to define those sorts of rules. Someone posing as an ethicist for a big paper should be able to do it, or admit that this is one topic he's not qualified to discuss.

jay scott | July 12, 2010 5:12 PM

I can't imagine how difficult it is to lie about who she was and where she came from to her life partner, the stress must be immense. If she hasn't told him there's probably a reason for it beyond "well he wouldn't care, so why bother."

If it were me in that situation my future with them would come into question. If they don't trust me enough to talk about a life changing event like a transition, why should I trust them to not lie about other things?

Why would you think that?

Let me tell you how I feel when I'm around people who don't know I'm trans:

I feel great. I don't have to be on guard for them making unwarranted and offensive assumptions about me, about my gender, about my body, about my life, about decisions I've made. I don't have to be on guard against them making false correlations between something I did that they don't like and my transness. I'll say it here, cis privilege is pretty heady stuff.

You're approaching this like she's lying by not talking about her transition, but for a lot of trans people, pre-transition is the lie.

Interesting case with your friend's friend. "Unable to have children" is a pretty broad range. Without disclosure the husband may ask down the road about medical treatment for infertility and if it comes out at that time he could have grounds to annul the marriage for fraud. Or not - having biological children (or children at all) may be unimportant to him. If they're happy, that's what matters.

jami_bantry jami_bantry | July 13, 2010 2:08 AM

Hi Arthur,

>>Without disclosure the husband may ask down the road about medical treatment for infertility and if it comes out at that time he could have grounds to annul the marriage for fraud.

And for the man?? Infertility goes both ways, don't you think?

What if he had a vasectomy, or he has a continuing prostate problem? What if he has ED?

What if he has some other medical issue, past or present, that he was born with; or a medical history that "runs in his family?"

Should he be required to disclose any of those early?

And, Trans issues aside for the moment, what happens when those situations are in the heterosexual world?

If he does not disclose until after marriage, can she demand annulment for fraud?

I agree with Toni... cis privilege. In the subject topic, it is Trans stigma applied, but similar (not same) issues can be encountered in the "hetero world."

However, I do agree with your last sentence... "If they are happy, that's what matters."

jami

Dr. Weiss you are, by your own admission, a prude. Saturday I visited a friend and when I arrived there were several other people whom I had not previously met. One man in particular started making progressively more blatant advances as the afternoon wore on. It was totally obvious that he wanted sex. I'll keep it short. Later that day we had sex. Was it "romantic involvement"? No, he was horny pure and simple. Was it stupid on my part? Well, now we are into "risk factors" aren't we and also smack into assessment of morals.

But, let's focus on the "ethics". It was recreational sex and I'll guarantee you neither he nor I disclosed much of anything. I have no idea if I will ever see him again nor do I have any interest in developing a relationship. Let's drop the concept of "stupid" since that really has nothing to do with the ethics involved. Should I condemn him for "deceit" and acting discreditably? I mean gosh he could be bi-sexual or something.

My basic point in jumping in with Saturday's event is that what happens between 2 consenting adults is no one's business but their own. If you want freedom and equality then you have to be willing to give it to others. And as far as Cohen, well he needs to take care of judging himself and leave the judgment of others to God. That would have also been my advice to the "name withheld" busy body that wrote Cohen in the first place.

Hmmm.

I like that you touched on some of the issues here, but I feel it's important that the discussion regarding the why be held.

Part of the reason that cisLGB folks so often have an issue with this is the stigma attached to trans people.

Many folks see this as important because it affects how other people live their lives -- that stigma follows one.

Yet it is the knowledge which enables that stigma to be used and applied.

Other's hold that "knowing what you were" is important, and it's akin to looking at a gay person and asking them how many years they were straight before becoming gay.

As I finish my letter to PeopleFinder.com asking them to suppress misleading information about me that has shown up on Google, I am left with a sense of irony about this subject. What does Cohen know? As Martha Stewart would say, "it's a good thing" someone is reminding him he's writing about "trying to hide what he don't know to begin with", as Bob Dylan would say.

For what it's worth I'll try again. I don't know why my comment went blank.


As I finish my letter to PeopleFinder.com, asking them to suppress misleading information about me that has shown up on Google, I am left with a sense of irony about this subject. Anyway, Cohen seems to lack insight regarding certain privacy concerns. It is a good thing people are reminding him he should understand a subject before he offers and opinion on it.

This is one of those instances where someone decides to make a rule that does not apply to them, does not affect them or impact them in any way, shape or form. They don’t have ANY background or current information at hand to make an informed decision.

New rule: Ethicists MUST compile a minimum of 5,000 pages of data and write a white paper that reflects on the subject and the question(s) on hand that is a minimum of 300 pages and a maximum of 500 pages upon a certain subject prior to making ANY declarative statements placed in any periodical. Foot notes are welcome and required. Failure to do so means that the statements made are OPINIONS ONLY and bad ones at that.

OOOH!!!

I qualify! Woohoo!!

*pauses*

Err, um, eh, nevermind...

Obviously there's not a one size fits all answer. Are you looking for a relationship or are you looking to hook up? Sometimes the first date is all there is and even that's not much of a date.

If you are moving toward sex, setting someone up for a surprise is not likely to end well - ending poorly taking any of a variety of forms.

Reminds me of that Kenny Rogers song. You've got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away and when to run.

Tony Sporano | July 12, 2010 11:35 PM

A member of my family is a transwoman.

"men ... question their sexuality in an ego-destroying way afterwards ... I am concerned about violence on discovery"
-Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

The above quote by Dr. Weiss is precisely why my relative did not date prior to SRS. Because of the area she lived in, the idea of disclosure - or non-disclosure - was NEVER an option.

"stigma attached to trans people"
- Antonia D'orsay

Part of that stigma began, wrongly, as a result of the adult sex industry, adn was then perpetuated and amplified by religious zealots of little understanding. My relative did not want to be regarded that way.

Mr. Cohen should be considered little better than an 'advice columnist'. No advice fits all.

(This comment deals mostly with corrected individuals, as considerations would be necessarily somewhat different where genitalia are not consistent with presentation.)

When one makes a big point of disclosing history prior to intimacy, this almost inevitably leads to misunderstanding by the other partner. Unless handled very discreetly, it is a signal that this information is a very important factor about the person. It suggests that one certainly must focus on such information before engaging physically with this strange individual.

This is not really fair to either party. A corrected man or woman is not necessarily something icky and to be avoided, and in many cases a person's history is virtually irrelevant to what the person has to offer.

Stopping the flow of romance to tell a "big secret" necessarily exaggerates the importance of that secret with respect to who you are. This can play right into the stereotype.

Suppose someone had some other kind of apparently "icky" secret, but which was in the past and basically irrelevant to his or her current life. Say someone had Hansen's disease in early childhood but was cured years ago.

Now, if you ask someone if they would want to have that information before intimacy with a "leper," they certainly would say yes. Simply asking the question in that way biases the answer.

Insisting that such a former Hansen's sufferer declare "I am a leper" before moving in a direction of intimacy would similarly bias the listener. Moreover, it would be misleading at best, and likely would unnecessarily destroy a promising relationship.

Perhaps the Hansen's surviver would choose to tell a partner of this (actually innocuous) past at a proper time, and in a proper way. And perhaps he or she would not. Whether and when silence is ethical depends on the people involved and their relationship. How it is handled is a private matter between the two. Secrets of many kinds are kept in many relationships, and not always for the worse.

We could all think of many other former conditions where a strict disclosure requirement would be misleading and counterproductive, including prior abortions, prior abuse, reconstructive surgery, etc. We rely on individuals to use judgment in such maters rather than establish rules for disclosure based on assumptions that others would be "grossed out" if they knew.

I would give equal respect to persons of transsexual history in making these decisions.

I have placed an update at the end of this post. Mr. Cohen emailed me to explain more about the language change from "transgender" in his original copy to "transgendered" in the final version.

Barbara Curry | July 13, 2010 8:33 AM

I have two very simplistic concerns...

First and foremost I have yet in my lifetime to meet a transgender person who spent their youth saying I want to grow up to be transgender. That said there comes a point in the process to "move on", mission accomplished. The past is history. I would contend that there is a "silent majority" of post-operative transpeople who have gladly gone "Stealth".

My second concern is they way I read this original article, Mr. Cohen referred to a transgender MAN and yet a majority of the responses have re-written the gender to feminine. Don't we have enough gender issues? Do we as a transgender community have a double standard? Seriously, I find it somewhat interesting that post operative transwomen have a much better chance to be clandestine in their sexual relationships. Does this mean they have a greater moral obligation to disclose?

Being out would be a better way to live, without the fear of the past and it's implications, but it's just not viable to most trans-people today.
Why? Because outing yourself carries a number of risks.
You could get ostracized, ridiculed, assaulted, even killed, and this in "civilized" western countries.
You can reasonably expect the other person to stop viewing you as the man/woman you are, and start viewing you as less of a man/woman, even viewing you as a freak example of your birth-sex, something you've endured scrutiny, pain, debt, and even great loss, that's been ongoing for years, to break free of.

The fact the woman that asked the question was so concerned with the possibility that he had changed his body to fit who he is, that she not only completely failed to try to get to know "him" but even decided to quit seeing him altogether and consult a newspaper as to how many people she could tell about it, just goes to show why trans-people really do fear being "found out".

Because it can literally ruin our lives, because of the bigotry of others, not because of who/what we are, but because of who and what others are.

I understand there's not consensus, even within the trans community, at what point disclosure is appropriate, and I'm not surprised that the NYT copy desk got it wrong (their acronym convention, which doesn't allow for all caps, renders such absurd results as Aids and Erisa, and that's just in my world as an employment lawyer).

But I still don't think Mr. Cohen has addressed the point that I found offensive after reading Dr. Weiss' response. If Cohen believes it's not necessary to disclose trans status so soon, and the letter writer was at the very least vague about how far things had progressed romantically, then why does he tell us the man behaved badly and discreditably? We're left to assume that the letter writer found this out before things got very far along the continuum of "cultivating romance," but also told that the trans man is a bad person.

And, in terms of disclosure before the first kiss, I'm unaware that sex reassignment surgery affects the lips, so the argument that it's important to make a disclosure before the clothes come off shouldn't affect kissing (which as some commenters have pointed out, often is not part of a mutually negotiated decision, but spontaneously initiated by one party).

When you open yourself up to getting to know someone romantically, you always run the risk that you or the other person will learn something that will affect your attraction or willingness to be in a relationship. In that sense, gender identity is no different than relationship history, excess pounds or skin, trustworthiness, emotional stability, personality, medical status -- really, anything that is not visible with the naked eye upon first meeting someone fully clothed.

Why, then, is the trans man more deceptive that the women who wears Spanx or a padded bra, or who has had "a little work done?" Or the guy who's been divorced three times or filed for bankruptcy twice? There are all kinds of things that people keep to themselves until they assess they're in a safe space with a receptive partner -- with no intent to actively deceive them -- why is gender identity not in that category?

I understand there's not consensus, even within the trans community, at what point disclosure is appropriate, and I'm not surprised that the NYT copy desk got it wrong (their acronym convention, which doesn't allow for all caps, renders such absurd results as Aids and Erisa, and that's just in my world as an employment lawyer).

But I still don't think Mr. Cohen has addressed the point that I found offensive after reading Dr. Weiss' response. If Cohen believes it's not necessary to disclose trans status so soon, and the letter writer was at the very least vague about how far things had progressed romantically, then why does he tell us the man behaved badly and discreditably? We're left to assume that the letter writer found this out before things got very far along the continuum of "cultivating romance," but also told that the trans man is a bad person.

And, in terms of disclosure before the first kiss, I'm unaware that sex reassignment surgery affects the lips, so the argument that it's important to make a disclosure before the clothes come off shouldn't affect kissing (which as some commenters have pointed out, often is not part of a mutually negotiated decision, but spontaneously initiated by one party).

When you open yourself up to getting to know someone romantically, you always run the risk that you or the other person will learn something that will affect your attraction or willingness to be in a relationship. In that sense, gender identity is no different than relationship history, excess pounds or skin, trustworthiness, emotional stability, personality, medical status -- really, anything that is not visible with the naked eye upon first meeting someone fully clothed.

Why, then, is the trans man more deceptive that the women who wears Spanx or a padded bra, or who has had "a little work done?" Or the guy who's been divorced three times or filed for bankruptcy twice? There are all kinds of things that people keep to themselves until they assess they're in a safe space with a receptive partner with whom they want to be in a romantic relationship -- with no intent to actively deceive them -- why does Cohen not put gender identity not in that category?

I understand there's not consensus, even within the trans community, at what point disclosure is appropriate, and I'm not surprised that the NYT copy desk got it wrong (their acronym convention, which doesn't allow for all caps, renders such absurd results as Aids and Erisa, and that's just in my world as an employment lawyer).

But I still don't think Mr. Cohen has addressed the point that I found offensive after reading Dr. Weiss' response. If Cohen believes it's not necessary to disclose trans status so soon, and the letter writer was at the very least vague about how far things had progressed romantically, then why does he tell us the man behaved badly and discreditably? We're left to assume that the letter writer found this out before things got very far along the continuum of "cultivating romance," but also told that the trans man is a bad person.

And, in terms of disclosure before the first kiss, I'm unaware that sex reassignment surgery affects the lips, so the argument that it's important to make a disclosure before the clothes come off shouldn't affect kissing (which as some commenters have pointed out, often is not part of a mutually negotiated decision, but spontaneously initiated by one party).

When you open yourself up to getting to know someone romantically, you always run the risk that you or the other person will learn something that will affect your attraction or willingness to be in a relationship. In that sense, gender identity is no different than relationship history, excess pounds or skin, trustworthiness, emotional stability, personality, medical status -- really, anything that is not visible with the naked eye upon first meeting someone fully clothed.

Why, then, is the trans man more deceptive that the women who wears Spanx or a padded bra, or who has had "a little work done?" Or the guy who's been divorced three times or filed for bankruptcy twice? There are all kinds of things that people keep to themselves until they assess they're in a safe space with a receptive partner -- with no intent to actively deceive them -- why is gender identity not in that category?

I'm a gay man. Not wanting to become sexually involved with biological females doesn't make me a bigot; rather, it
is what *makes* me a gay man. A biological woman who has transitioned may well have most of the external indicia of being male, but isn't, and never will be, biologically male. Trying to be politically correct won't change that. Transpeople of both genders should self-disclose if there is *any* chance that physical involvement will occur. Not doing so is tantamount to fraud -- just as if I led on a woman who thought I was straight. Knowing makes all the difference.

And Alex, as to your friend -- her husband should divorce her in a heart beat.

Nick, your transphobic comments might be a violation of our terms of service, but I decided to approve it because I want people to see the self-righteousness of your prejudice right out in the open. While there are many, many gay men who are supportive of transgender people, there are, sadly still too many who think as you do. Your contention that someone born female cannot be "biologically" male is incorrect. Scientists recognize that biological sex is made up of many factors, not just chromosomes and not just anatomy. Clearly, you are no scientist. Clearly also, you are someone who is not open to listening to any reasoning. Your mind is made up. There is no more room in the teacup for any new knowledge. And if that's how you like it, then no amount of reasoning, logic, thinking or science can change it. That is called prejudice.

i agree with your concept of disclosure if sexual contact is possible. But i've never seen it framed in such a strangely anger-laced, compassionless way before.

It's my understanding that transsexual men can suffer even harder than transsexual women like myself (thanks to surgery limitations). And as a result of that, i would think that gay trans men suffer the most.

At any rate (or more specifically, any statistical rate involving transsexuals), don't worry. The chances of running into one of us is extraordinarily small.

So there's no real need to rail against any icky, icky boogeyman vaginas that might be lying in wait for you.

Toungue, cheek, etc...

I have no idea what you're trying to say by talking about "biological females" or "biological women." Referring to humans of any kind as biological is a tautology - all humans are biological.

Hormones are also biological, and produce certain changes in biological bodies. You're setting a false and nonsensical dichotomy by trying to claim that trans men are biologically female, since trans men are not female and they are biological.

Also, I don't understand how a gender role like "man" or "woman" can possibly be biological. Isn't that like saying that "biological police officer" or "biological CEO?"

I do have a solution for your apparently traumatic dilemma, however! Just make sure to inform your dates that you don't date trans men, so none will be deceived into trying to date you and your baggage. Problem solved for everyone, right?

Ah, but that would challenge their personal privilege, Lisa, and we all know how well that goes over.

It's so sad that he thinks he gets to define what honestly in a relationship is, while conveniently excluding himself from any onus to participate in that honesty. I wonder if he'll ever have a happy relationship or if they've all been (and will all be) sabotaged by his unwillingness to disclose vital information about himself.

Ah, but that would challenge their personal privilege, Lisa, and we all know how well that goes over.

Nick, the argument that trans men aren't "real" men is an old and tired one. I agree with Dr. Weiss and the others -- you are being a bigot and a silly person in general.

When should someone disclose that they are uncomfortable dating a transgender person?

I bet the alleged 'ethicist' hasn't considered that question at all, but as an Ethicist they should. (Come on, Rawl's Veil Of Ignorance people! It's not hard to understand, if your gonna call yourself an Ethicist you should darn well actually know what it is and either use it or explain why you are not using it!)

Reciprocal Ethics: Means you gotta ask when someone would disclose that they'd be uncomfortable with a transgender partner as much and no less than when one should disclose that they are in fact Transgender. As this is essentially Do Unto Others it's worth remembering that all Christians (Yes even all Catholics!) should follow this above all other biblical rules!

Utilitarian Ethics: Transgender people face serious risk of violence from people uncomfortable with Transgender people but that's NOT Vice Versa. As seen in societies with minimal transphobia Transgender people can be productive members of society with no comparable harm to transphobic people which is lessened in more transphobic society. Therefore the person uncomfortable with Transgender people has a GREATER duty to disclose that fact and of course EARLIER in the dating process.

In fact the risk of them doing violence is so great a Utilitarian argument could go even further. Transphobes are an imminant danger to Transgender people in every social situation including walking in public, because of the harm this does to society an argument could be made that they have an obligation for perpetual public disclosure so long as they remain transphobic.

Utilitarian arguments could go way further as the value of ending transphobia is of greater evidence-based utility to society to that of not doing so (sorry to certain Catholic pseudo-ethicists who can't tell the difference between actual natural-law arguments {all the ones against GLBTIQQ etc fall apart because of the existence in nature of gay penguins and bisexual mountain goats and Intersex anyway} and utilitarian ones and who think ideology counter to evidence is more pertinent to a Utilitarian and/or other bioethics argument than one based on evidence *cough* Nick Tonti-Filippini *cough* {I guess thats why the Catholic Church has been growing allergic to the idea of Intersex, the Gallileo's Telescope of their pseudo-natural law cosmology and body-theology).

Nick's failure as an Ethicist I discuss here: http://caveofrationality.blogspot.com/2009/05/unethicist-nick-tonti-filippini-and-age.html

There we go, the two most commonly held schools of Ethics and both are pretty darn obvious and simple.

Now for goodness sake can all these alleged 'ethicists' go back to Uni and re-do your degrees (maybe in better institutions this time?). I didn't even finish High School and i understand the subject more than these suppossed experts.

Thank you for speaking up against this guy's nonsense.

Having sex with a trans person doesn't inflict harm, but spreading rumors, fostering ill-will, and violently beating someone up does. So why then are trans people expected to disclose their status, while violent ticking-timebomb transphobes are not?

A lot of people claim they are interested in men or women, but what they really mean is they want to have sex with someone who was born with a penis or a vagina. Why aren't they obligated to disclose that? I don't want to date someone who can't tell the difference between the two.

How dare these deceitful, hurtful people hide their cissexist histories! If they were more honest and up-front I wouldn't have to go through all this trouble just to find a decent human being.

I tell people I'm trans at the beginning of relationships, and I put it in my online dating profile. It's not because I want to, or because it's "the right thing to do", or because I'm obligated to. It's a compromise. To me it's as relevant as what I had for dinner last week. But after so many instances of butting up against cissexual assumption, I'm tired of having to educate, explain, and guard myself against potential danger. Trans people have to protect themselves from cisgenders, not the other way around.

Heretofore Anonymous | August 4, 2010 3:54 AM

Nick wrote:

>Transpeople of both genders should
>self-disclose if there is *any* chance
>that physical involvement will occur.


OK. I have been secretly lusting after a co-worker recently. And there isn't anything physically preventing us from having sex. So, there is a, "chance that physical involvement will occur."

Therefore, I am morally obligated to approach this co-worker and start talking about my genitalia, and about whether or not I am good enough to have sex with.

I'll submit a copy your post as part of my defence in the sexual harassment lawsuit.


>Not doing so is tantamount to fraud -- just
>as if I led on a woman who thought I
>was straight. Knowing makes all the
>difference.


My co-worker might have a sexual orientation that precludes ever accepting a TS partner.

Also, this co-worker might have some characteristics that I cannot see, which would cancel my willingness to have sex.

Failing to approach me and disclose all the details, constitutes leading me on, and is, "tantamount to fraud."

In fact, I am the one being sexually harassed by this co-worker's deception. And I am entitled to defend myself by demanding a full disclosure of whatever information I think would effect my willingness to potentially have sex. I think this Friday in the staff lunch room would be a good time and place for this confrontation.

Heretofore Anonymous | August 16, 2010 8:55 AM

Also, this from the original post, as a reason not to disclose:

>What if the transgender person decides
>they don't want a second date?


One of the most fundamental assumptions in this sort of discourse, is cis people perceiving a strictly one-way judgment. Their egos simply cannot grasp the concept of being rejected by a tranny.

Also, cis people need to maintain self-defence fantasies about how all those trannies are trying to impose upon them. Such as trying to lure them into bed under false pretenses. If we are NOT trying to con them into sex, then that takes away the moral position to demand disclosure of sexually relevant information.

This is why no cis person will ever feel obligated to disclose any information to a transsexual person. They cannot imagine that, the transsexual person is evaluating them to judge whether they are good enough.

Yet another fine example of oblivious privilege.

I like how Bilerico focused entirely on the negative bits in the article while mostly brushing aside the stuff they agreed with. Those silly cisgendered people, how dare they have the right to not be attracted to transgendered people?!

I don't think such alarmist blog posts are useful to the trans community as a whole - one of the main points was that it was an Orthodox Jew who was dating the person, so it's not surprising that they would be anti-trans, let alone anti-lgbt in general.

I'm sorry if I'm not being sensitive enough for you, but I cannot think of any way that one could be attracted to cis people of one or both genders and NOT attracted to trans people of that or both genders without being a bigot. Even without surgery, the only differences are physical, and (without being too explicit here) easy to get around. There's a fine line between "picky" and "prejudiced", and I'd say if you're not attracted to any transpeople just because they're trans, you're prejudiced.

Hmm, it does seem like Cohen weaseled his way out of discussing some of the nastier aspects of his article -- like where he compared being trans to having an STD or adultery, and where he said that transpeople who don't disclose are discreditable.

For what it's worth, I think your posts on the subject were very thorough and well-written and you deserved a more in-depth reply than what you got.