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    10 minutes read
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    Oct 10, 2022
    personal essay
    Coming out (again, and again): disclosing transgender status to intimate partners
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    By Summer Tao

    Content warnings: violence, transgender pejoratives

    It’s always World Coming Out Day for me

    When I began my gender transition, I expected a twisty path that started at man and ended at woman. This plan mostly held true, but in some contexts, I clearly transitioned from a man to a political issue. My transition gave me a body that I find remarkably comforting, but it’s different to the normative woman’s body. I’m a woman with a penis. Strangers I make out with in nightclubs, dates, and potential friends might not be amenable to that, so I’m always coming out. Coming out is temporary for many trans people. Every new encounter could be World Coming Out Day - for our safety and for others’ information.

    There’s a sliding scale of information that we control for our safety, from the smallest hints that we’re queer to divulging our entire life’s socio-medical history. It’s subtler than just telling someone that we’re trans, although that’s part of it. It’s about who hears my masculine voice; who do I make certain jokes around; how tightly I manage my body language; how careful I am when using a public restroom. Should the information be divulged once-off, or should I stagger it to gauge their response? Queer people aren’t always safe to come out to - the LGB-drop-the-T collective is testament to that. Even someone who holds trans-positive views might not be open to certain kinds of trans-ness. A date professes his love for trans women, only to reveal that it’s solely out of sexual attraction and he doesn’t care about the existence of trans men. A fellow trans woman turns out to be viciously opposed to non-binary people; she loves trans people insofar as they start with one gender and end at the other. **Our lives are replete with stories of people we thought were safe, but were prejudiced. **

    Want to go out for lunch?

    The often-temporary nature of coming out as trans is bound up in being transgender. We are often queer in both body and sexuality, and different aspects are visible at a time. My best friend is on estrogen for life, had a vagina installed, and all the documentation down to her birth certificate reflects a woman. She comes out to her intimate partners because, “it's part of who I am and I'd rather be open about all that at the start of a relationship. It saves time and sanity and how they react is a good litmus test for the kind of person they are.” Elsewhere, I’m also coming out as trans, whether I’m about to make out with someone in a nightclub or arrange a lunch date. I’m effortlessly read as a woman when clothed, but things change under the skirt.

    Cruelly, transphobic rhetoric would have people believe that we conceal this information to deceive others. The repertoire of transphobia is filled with this. The pejorative ‘trap’ implies that trans women actively deceive others by existing in romantic or sexual contexts. This continues with recent allegations that trans women are men in disguise trying to sneak into women’s spaces for nefarious purposes. The latter argument was once leveled against gay men and African Americans when denying them access to public life was part of the agenda. The targets may have changed, but the weapon remains the same. I vehemently disagree with the notion that keeping a low profile constitutes deception in a world laden with violence and hate. Rather, it’s a safety measure. It keeps us housed, employed, and secure.

    Some thoughts on disclosing

    For the trans readers among us, here are my thoughts on exercising the everyday World Coming Out Day with intimate partners.

    Three big caveats. Firstly, every trans person’s context and journey is different, and there is no universal advice. Secondly, it is always your right to disclose or conceal personal information when your bodily safety is a major priority. If something does go wrong, it is never your fault for not being adequately prepared. The moral responsibility of violence is borne by the perpetrator, not the victim.

    Why?
    • The main reason we choose to stay closeted, or go ‘stealth’ and vanish entirely into society is safety. The world is a hateful place toward trans people. It manifests as employment and housing discrimination, ostracism, violence.
    • Alternatively, why not? Some of us are ardently and visibly transgender. We advocate for those who can’t exist openly. We resist forces that seek to erase us. Most of the time, we’re living and that’s good enough.
    Where?
    • There’s the old recommendation to arrange a first date in public to suss someone out. That’s an option.
    • Online messaging puts additional distance between you and a partner, which can be a ‘safer’, if slightly impersonal option.
    • Mainstream dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Her all feature diverse gender categories. Disclosing on a dating profile can be an option. Of course, this isn’t always available to small and hateful communities, or places where queerness is criminalized. -Many trans people date in queer communities, whether online or in person. They offer more room to be ourselves and date others with shared experiences.
    When?
    • Many trans people disclose early, and make it part of the vetting process of early dates. My bestie does it so that she has, “the heavy shit out of the way early so I know if I don't want to date them.” My dating profile lists me as a trans woman so that my disclosure happens before contact.
    • Some trans people take a while before disclosing. They may use the time to vet out a potential partner and decide how to proceed. There’s time to get to know someone and form a connection before the discussion.
    • Trans people who are fully read as their gender sometimes never disclose. This is their right - we aren’t entitled to know every part of our partner’s personal and medical history. I keep secrets and so do my partners.

    These suggestions are broad, and every trans person walks their own road. Our decisions and motives all look different, but we have the same right to basic safety as everyone else. The most important thing for our allies and communities to do is to keep working to realize those basic rights. In the interim, we have to trust our instincts and come out (or not), for as long as it takes to lead a happy and fulfilled life.

    More about the author: Summer Tao (she/her) is a South African transgender healthcare researcher and writer. Her work aligns with mental well-being and healthcare access, particularly for LGBTQ+ populations. When not at work, she can be found playing all kinds of games, building scale models, or comfortably asleep.

    Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

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