Disclosure: When, Where, Why, and How

If any of you follow my Tumblr log you’ll know that I posted a FML post about a woman who’s husband didn’t disclose his trans history until after the wedding.  If you don’t follow the Tumblr log, but have read the last post in here you’ll know that I’m having some issues with an intense crush on a guy I know.  If you somehow got here via Google or whatever else…well, you can probably imagine that telling people about being trans isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Now, this is a very contentious issue within the trans community.  Everyone has their own opinion on disclosure.  These are my methods and why I use them.  Don’t assume that everyone feels the same way.  In fact, assume that no one feels the same way.  It’s easier.

When:  This is always the trickiest part for me.  I prefer to disclose before things get sexual, but after I’m at least 80% sure that it’s likely to happen soon.  In my case this generally means even before serious make out sessions, I prefer to be safe rather than sorry.  Finding the right balance is close to impossible, most of the time I just go on gut instinct.  It becomes doubly hard because I’m not into casual sex.  Other transguys hook up in clubs, bars, or online, but I have this thing where I need to know someone before I’m comfortable showing them my bits.  So I end up having to weigh whether or not I’m willing to lose the person I disclose to as a friend as well as a potential sex partner.  It’s…frustrating, to say the least.

Where: Because I only disclose to people I already have a relatively good relationship with and always before things get heated I feel perfectly safe disclosing in a private place.  Sometimes this means my place, sometime theirs, it really depends.  I try to avoid disclosure in public areas just because I’m hyper paranoid about someone overhearing (the local gay community is rather incestuous), but in most cases public is safer.

How: Slowly and carefully.  Sometimes I pull out the scrapbooks (family of photographers), others…well, let’s just say I’m pretty well known for speaking before I think.  Often I start online with vague chats about transpeople in the news to see if I can gauge their general understanding of the subject.  A couple of times I’ve gotten lucky and they’ve known a transguy already so I’m pretty well set.  Most of the time their closest understanding of trans issues has to do with liking a particular drag queen.  Either way, if I can get the initial “this is what a transman is” conversation out of the way first things tend to go over better.  At the very least, they know what the hell I’m talking about.

I’ve yet to determine a perfect way of telling people.  For one thing, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the intense fear that builds up as I wait for the right setting.  If at some point I find that one thing works better than others, that’ll be awesome and I’ll post about it.  For now I mostly stutter my way through and hope for the best.

Why: Ah, the big one.  Why do I disclose so early?  Why do I disclose at all?  Well, I don’t have a penis.  I don’t care how much transmen try to say that a T enlarged clitoris is like a mini-penis, when it comes to expectations of what your boyfriend has below the waist that simply does not cut it.  Not disclosing is a damned good way to get myself killed.  This is something transwomen have to worry about far more than transmen, but I’m not willing to put myself at risk like that either way.

Yes, people should be accepting.  No, it probably shouldn’t matter.  Yes, it is wrong for someone to kill a sexual partner for being trans (or any other reason, to be honest).  However, this is not a perfect world.  People fuck up.  People get upset.  People do things they wouldn’t otherwise even consider.  Using the “but they’d be in the wrong” excuse as a reason to not disclose is stupid, immature, and not going to help you once your head has been bashed in.  This is not a situation where I’m interested in making a political point, it is a situation where I just want to be sure I get out with minimal damage (both physically and emotionally).

I also believe that it’s just fair.  When you enter a sexual relationship with someone there are certain expectations.  These expectations differ based on the situation, but there are expectations.  In my case one of the expectations is a penis.  Most of the time another expectation is that I’ll top.  My being trans drastically changes the realities of these expectations.  Whatever partner I have has a right to know and accept that sex/a relationship with me is going to be different from what they were expecting.  I’d expect the same respect in return, if I pull down their pants and find out that they’re trans too I’m going to be pretty annoyed.  Not necessarily because I don’t like transmen (though I have a difficult time finding any I connect with on a personal level), but because I was expecting a penis and would like to be able to consent to any changes in that plan.

In my case there’s the added problem of needing to know someone before getting naked with them.  If I’m having sex with someone there’s a decent chance I’m already pretty emotionally invested.  This is part of why I prefer to tell sooner rather than later.  Once I’ve made out with you and gotten to a point where I’m used to being physical it becomes more and more difficult for me to handle the loss if you’re not ok with the trans issue.  I’d rather disclose early and avoid the pain that comes with waiting too long.  The earlier I disclose the more likely I am to be able to handle a friendship, once I get past a certain point that option simply becomes to emotionally distressing.

Again, all of this is just my personal views on the subject.  Different people have different opinions.  I don’t agree with all of those opinions, but not everyone agrees with mine either.

Why hello there insecurity, been a while since I’ve seen you.

I have been socially transitioned since about age 12.  I didn’t formally come out until I was 20, but I have exactly one friend who considered me a “girl” as a child.  He was my only straight friend and had a crush on me that lasted…well, until I came out.

The early social transition means that I didn’t have nearly as steep of a learning curve as most other transguys (particularly gay ones).  I know gay cues, I know how to interact in male-only circles, I’m pretty comfortable in any situation that doesn’t require me undressing.

Yet, every now and then…something happens.  I’ll get shot down, one of my friends will deal with transphobia, a string of days will go by where I don’t pass…it can be anything.  Any tiny little thing and my confidence disappears.  All of a sudden I start second guessing myself, I start wanting to crawl into a cave and stay there until everyone I know has moved on and I can make a fresh start.

I don’t really want to do this.  I’ve already made about 50 different fresh starts in my life and each time I’ve been upset about losing contact with old friends.  I don’t like fresh starts, even if they make my life easier in the short term they’re still vastly depressing in the long term.

I just wish there was some way for me to be fully confident in how people perceive me.  That’s really what it comes down to, this intense fear that something I say or do is going to ‘give me away’.  It’s slowly getting better as I pass more often, but because I still don’t I spend a substantial amount of time thinking about it.

This time it’s because a friend of mine was auditioning for a part in a show his local gay choir is doing.  Nice guy, passes a hell of a lot better than I do, has an amazing voice.  He’s been a member of this choir for a little over a year and made some great friends.  Several people have commented on how great his voice is so he figured he’d get at least a small part in the show.  Goes to the first audition, all goes well…second audition and the casting director just kind of looks at him and essentially says “no way in hell”.

Now, logically I know that this has absolutely nothing to do with him being trans.  For one thing, he’s not out.  I also know that it has nothing to do with me or my local gay chorus.  I know for a fact that there are at least two guys besides me who are trans and I suspect a couple of others.  A few of the guys know, but haven’t said anything outright.  I’d guess that most of the people I care about most don’t know just because they’d have said something.

Either way, I’m now terrified that all of a sudden people are going to find out and hate me and I’m going to have to run away or something because I will not be the token tranny.  I hate being the token tranny.  I hate being seen as trans before anything else, that’s simply not who I am.

It doesn’t help that there’s this really cute new guy I am totally crushing on.  He’s gorgeous.  Bright red hair, green eyes, freckles, completely not the kind of guy I usually go for.  Normally I’d be flirting, but right now…I’m not so sure.  I want to go hide in a cave until this stupid secondary puberty phase is over and I can be 100% positive I pass.  Unfortunately, with my genetics that could take another 5-10 years.

Even with my early socialisation, I’ve managed to miss so many of the traditional gay boy experiences my friends had.  The giddy first boyfriend, stupid self portraits to show off newly developed pecs…anything that requires a male body I missed out on.  I don’t want to miss anything else.

It’s kind of ironic, really.  Growing up I didn’t realise that I wasn’t like all of my gay guy friends until I was nearly 16 (which is when they all started getting laid).  I’d talk to older gay men who didn’t come out until they were in their 30s or 40s and feel so horrible about all the things they didn’t get to do.  It never once occurred to me that one day I’d be in a similar position.

Well this could be interesting…

I may be getting a new roommate.  Friend is going through a rough patch and needs a place to stay and while I’m broke, I’m not so broke that I’m willing to let someone be homeless when I have a perfectly comfortable couch.

However, this friend does not know I’m trans.  Very few people do these days, it’s how I prefer things.  (To those of you who don’t pass: this CAN be done, but it’s slightly stressful and requires some fast talking.  I suggest it only if you’re 100% sure being out is not an option.)  Now, this causes a few logistical problems.  For one thing, I can’t walk around naked anymore.  If I wasn’t trans I theoretically could because that’s just how my group of friends is (and the new roommate is single and pretty fucking hot).

Beyond that, there are all the issues of figuring out whether to disclose or not.  I probably should just because it’s generally a good idea to tell that sort of thing to people you live with.  This guy is in about eight different gay-men-only groups with me though, I’m not fully sure how he’d take it.  I like to think that I’ve chosen my friends because of their open minds, but as any stealth guy will tell you, it’s not always as simple as being open minded.  If he doesn’t take it well I not only have to deal with his rejection (which would about kill me, I don’t take rejection well), but also the possibility of him telling everyone else in our group.  This area has a severely incestuous gay community, if one person decides to blab then everyone else will know within days.  It’s part of why I’ve avoided dating unless I’m 100% positive the guy in question will be fine with it (often because they’ve dated a transguy in the past — and even then I get the “sorry, no flamers” line which isn’t much better than the “sorry, no vagina” line).

This friend isn’t in the “definitely safe to tell” category.  He’s a bit younger than I am and I’m not fully sure he’s ever even heard of a transman before.  Let alone a gay one.  To him “trans” means “tranny” which means “drag queen who takes it to the next level”.  It’s not that he’s purposely offensive, he just honestly doesn’t know any better.  I feel like he could be ok with it with some basic Trans 101 education, but I’m just so sick of being that person.

Instead I find myself deciding not to tell him.  Which I realise is slightly stupid just from a basic “your roommates should know pertinent health information” standpoint, but I’ve made similarly stupid decisions before.  So now I have to figure out how this is all going to work.

I really don’t need to bind so that’s not a huge issue, especially now that the weather’s cooling down.  Packing is one of the bigger problems, having a phallic object that isn’t hard would be slightly odd so I need to find a place to put it when it’s not in my pants (the dildos, on the other hand, can stay out in the open).  My stupid ovaries still haven’t shut down (getting that checked out soon) so I need a safe place to hide away the “week from hell” supplies.  Just about everyone I know knows that I have a “testosterone deficiency” (my go-to excuse) so injection equipment isn’t too big of a problem.  Mostly it’s just the stuff involving areas below the waist.

It’s frustrating.  If I wasn’t trans I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this.  Hell, if I wasn’t trans there’d be a small chance of my getting laid.  That’d be nice.  Instead I have to “visitor-proof” my flat simply because I want to help out a friend.  It’s stupid and I can’t stand it.  I know, I could just be out and then everyone would know.  I’ve done that.  At that point I didn’t have friends I could help out.  No one wants to include the tranny in the gay men’s circle, we’re meant to hang out with the lesbians.  Thank you so much transmen who insist they still belong in the lesbian community.  You’ve really made my life better here.  [/sarcasm]  That, however, is a rant for another day.

Trans Children

One issue that is both important and frustrating to me is what to do with children who show “cross gender behaviour”.  For example, little Timmy is five years old.  He wants to play with dolls, wear dresses, and keep his hair long.  That may be all or he may go even further and insist that he is a girl named Tina.  Most of his friends are likely girls, though that very much depends on location (where I grew up we weren’t split into boys vs girls).

There are two schools of thought on how to handle little Timmy.  On the far left side you have people (like Dr. Norman Spack) who believe that Timmy should transition completely to live as Tina.  Dr. Spack believes that Timmy will grow up to be a transwoman, therefore early social transition is the best treatment option.  Once Tina hits 10 or so he will likely place her on hormone blockers to prevent male puberty from taking place.

Then you have the far right side.  Dr. Kenneth Zucker advocates a treatment plan that is the exact opposite of Dr. Spack’s.  Rather than having Timmy transition, Zucker would have Timmy’s parents insist that he is a healthy little boy.  His dolls would be taken, along with his dresses and pink bedsheets.  He would have his hair cut and be instructed in how to play with other little boys.  His parents would continue to find “boy” activities for him to participate in until they found one that worked.  If Timmy continues to want dolls and “girl” things into puberty then — and only then — would Dr. Zucker consider treatment.  By this point Timmy would be too old for hormone blockers, but he would be just barely old enough to start hormone replacement therapy, the standard treatment plan for adult MtF transexuals.

I dislike both of these options.  The reasons for disliking the Zucker method are rather obvious, he essentially advocates reparative therapy for small children.  However, most transpeople believe that Spack’s method is ideal.  I am one of the few exceptions.  Why?  Because upwards of 75% of children with cross-gender behaviour grow up to be cisgendered (non-trans) adults.  Most of them are gay men/lesbians, but at the end of the day they don’t feel the need to transition.

By fully transitioning children before they’ve ever hit puberty we are essentially creating transpeople.  I can’t support that.  Not because I believe transpeople shouldn’t exist (I obviously like my existence), but because it will mean life is infinitely more difficult for those children than it has to be.

Instead I take a more moderate approach.  Timmy wants to wear dresses?  Let him wear dresses.  Why shouldn’t he?  He can play with dolls, keep his hair long, even be called Tina if he really wants.  I’d prefer a more gender neutral nickname, but hey, I knew a kid who insisted on being called Skydawn Velociraptor at one point.  School isn’t likely to be a huge problem simply because I plan on homeschooling, but if I wasn’t I’d spend large amounts of time trying to find the best school for Timmy/Tina.  One where the staff is open to letting him play and dress however he likes (provided it’s school appropriate, of course) and will shut down any bullying as quickly as possible.  Essentially I’d like him to go to a school like the ones I grew up in.

I’d also be sure that Timmy was raised in a household where transpeople were made a reality through books, tv shows, anything I could find.  He would know that some girls grow up to be men and some boys grow up to be women and I don’t care which he is as long as he’s happy.  (Obviously gay-themed books would already be included simply because he’d have two daddies.)  It is important that he have the words to describe what he’s feeling in case he does grow up to be trans.

At some point puberty will begin to peek up over the horizon.  This is an incredibly important time for children who may be trans.  Why?  It’s when most children with cross-gender identification either revert to their birth gender or become adamant about transition.  It’s also when those of us who had no concept of gender in our pre-puberty years begin to realise that something is wrong.  Hormones are shifting, dating is becoming more than just an idea, and sex is everywhere.  This is the time that is most difficult if you haven’t already prescribed to either the Zucker or Spack method of raising cross-gender children.

At around 10 (closer to 8 or 9 for female children) I’d start watching Timmy/Tina very closely.  Does he still like pink and glitter and play with girls instead of boys?  Is he excited about puberty?  Afraid of it?  With any luck we’d have developed a close enough relationship by this point for me to be able to ask things like “do you want to be a man or a woman when you grow up?”  (I realise that’s an odd question for most parents, but if you have children with cross-gender behaviour it’s a question you need to get used to.)  If there is any sign that Tina/Timmy might hurt himself due to displeasure with his body that would be the time for me to load him into the car and get him to a doctor that will prescribe hormone blockers.  I do not play around with self harm, even if he later decides to be Timmy (or, I suppose, Tim by that point) at least he is alive to make the decision.

If there’s no indication that Timmy is displeased with his body then I’d let it go a little longer.  Let’s say a year (with, of course, more careful watching).  Then reevaluate.  Still mostly girl friends, but no longer wearing dresses?  Ambivalent about puberty?  Alright, repeat for another year.  At some point it will become obvious that Timmy is either Timmy or Tina.  If I’m not fully sure I’d do this amazing thing called asking.  Since he’d been raised to understand what transpeople are he would know what I’m asking about and be able to answer.

It’s not as clear cut an approach as either Zucker or Spack’s methods.  It requires more observation, more intensive care, and more ambivalence about where your child is going to end up than either of those.  It requires the belief that little boys can wear dresses and little girls can be cowboys.  If you are at all afraid of your child growing up to be a drag queen it’s not likely to be an approach that works for you.  However, it’s also the most child driven approach I’ve been able to find.  It’s the only one that allows the child to make decisions based solely on how they feel rather than how society thinks boys and girls should act.  It’s not perfect, there are always going to be influences from other people, but in my opinion it’s better than forcing a child into a mold at an early age.

Parents: Why we’re way too hard on them

So I’ve found my biggest issue with transpeople is how we react to our parents.  There are a million other things that also drive me nuts (particularly when it comes to transmen), but the parents issue is one that always grinds on me more than the others.

It’s this horrible thing where we seem to assume that our parents should automatically accept us, that they should be able to look past their own personal experiences and welcome our transitions with open arms.  In reality our parents are human beings just like everyone else and they’re going to need some time to adjust to the idea that their daughter is really their son or vice-versa.

It’s worst with transpeople whose parents are honestly trying.  You’ll get the transpeople whose parents love and accept them and always will, but when they first come out they say things like “That’s my bo–girl…um…son.  You’ll always be my son.”  Now, they obviously mean “you are my child and this isn’t going to change that,” but because we’re so overly sensitive we hear it as the world’s biggest insult.  We act like these parents are as cruel as the ones who throw their teenage children out of the house when they try to come out to them.  In reality they’re just being human and taking some time to adjust.  We have to respect their need for time because it’s the only way they’ll be able to respect our need for immediate change.

What gets me even more are the parents of idiotic genderqueer kids who you can tell are just trying to be assholes.  When your mother comes up to you after reading a book on gender and asks “so…you’re a boy…in a girl’s body?” the correct response is not to go on about how on Monday you’re a boy and on Tuesday you’re a girl, on Wednesday you’re both, Thursday neither, and Friday through Sunday you prefer to identify as a Cherry Coke.  Your mother is trying to understand you and you are purposely being a dick simply because she didn’t use the right word.  It’s not her fault she didn’t use the right word, she doesn’t know what it is becuase you haven’t taken the time to explain things to her.  Instead you tell her you identify as a high-fructose corn syrup infused beverage.

It’s also not fair to expect your poor parents to understand that you see yourself as a transman in a biological male’s body.  I don’t understand that and I am trans, your parents are going to be even more confused.

I just think we need to give our parents a break.  They’re transitioning right along with us, but they don’t have the 15+ years of experiencing what it’s like to feel like your body is against you to help them understand.  They can’t read our minds, they don’t know what it’s like for us.  To them we were just their quirky little kids, maybe a bit different from the other boys/girls, but not enough to cause concern.  Sure, we were moody and depressed when puberty hit, but aren’t all teenagers?  They’ve tried so hard to protect us for so long that to hear that they’ve failed in such a hugely fundamental way is heart breaking.  It’s not their fault, there’s nothing they could have done to make us feel any better, but they’re our parents so they still feel guilty.

Then you add in the fact that we tend not to tell our parents until we’re ready to physically transition and that adds another level of shock to things.  It’s hard enough for them to get used to the idea of calling us by the opposite pronouns and a different name, but now we’re also saying we’re going to change how we look.  Different clothes might be ok, at least we still have the same face (complete with Daddy’s eyes and Mama’s nose), but now we’re taking that away from them too?  It’s too much for them to take in at once, they just can’t handle it.  Some will manage with more grace than others, but in reality it’s a huge leap for our parents to make.  We’re asking them to jump across the Grand Canyon when they can’t even walk yet.

So often we forget that we’re not transitioning nearly as much as the people around us.  We forget that our transition affects them just as much as it affects us — sometimes more than it affects us.  We’re so focused on finally making ourselves happy that we lose sight of everyone else’s happiness.  I’m not saying we should give up what we want to please others, we’ve all tried that and it doesn’t work.  I am saying that we need to give them a little more room to mess up because even though they love us, it’s still going to take them more time than we’d like.