A Rock and a Hard Place

by Devon

Dating and relationships. Ah, the excitement, the romance... the dilemma. You know the dilemma I mean -- whether or not to disclose that certain very personal fact about yourself to the other person.

If the relationship is a casual one, the problem has a simple solution -- don't tell. After all, intimate details about your life are really none of a casual date's business. Exactly how you define "casual" is up to you. If you've engaged in intimacy it goes without saying that you'd better be damned sure that the other person doesn't discover your secret after the fact. Even casual dates will likely be inclined to resent this particular omission. Such resentment could conceivably take the form of violence. So be super-careful if you've been intimate with a casual date.

Serious, long-term relationships are another matter. The answer to the question "Do I tell?" is not so clear-cut. I'll state at the outset that, personally, I feel the problem is nearly insoluble, that it's a classic no-win situation -- you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. A cynical position, to be sure, so let's examine the consequences of both nondisclosure and disclosure to see if pessimism is justified.

Adopting the strategy I recommended for casual relationships, concealing your situation, gives rise to a complicated set of problems. First there's the emotional toll. A lie of omission is dishonesty, after all. If you care about someone, can you feel okay about yourself while keeping such a big secret from them? A committed relationship is supposed to be built on mutual honesty and openness. Pathological liars aside, deception will eat away at most people and eventually poison a relationship.

Furthermore, keeping a secret of this magnitude is nearly impossible. Unless you transitioned at a very young age, it involves fabricating an entire past. Your childhood, places you've lived, schools you've attended, things you've done -- everything must be carefully constructed. But where are the photographs of you as a child or adolescent? Where's your high school yearbook? Inventing a plausible explanation to answer such inquiries -- that many of your possessions were destroyed in a fire, for example -- might get you off the hook for a while. But it won't explain everything, especially the multitude of inevitable inconsistencies. Forget it, you cannot lie well enough to pull it off for long. And even if you could manage to invent a flawless past life, something outside your control might trip you up. You've no doubt heard of the "Six Degrees of Separation" theory. You do, in fact, have a very real past, a past that includes people who knew you. There's always the danger of running into someone who knows your secret, no matter how carefully you arrange a life of stealth. True "deep stealth" is frequently claimed, but it's rare in actuality. Worlds occasionally DO collide, often with disastrous consequences.

If your closely guarded secret does come out, at the very least, your mate will likely feel betrayed. Perhaps they possess an exceptional capacity for understanding which will enable them to get past it. Perhaps they are secure enough, and enlightened enough, to make the adjustment and forgive you. Perhaps you will win the state lottery. Realistically, don't count on any of these things. Odds are, you can kiss your relationship goodbye. Consider yourself lucky if this is the extent of it -- but don't be surprised if it's not. Bitter resentment at being deceived could cause your ex-honey to seek revenge. It might take the form of outing you to other people you'd just as soon did not know. That alone would be a calamity for someone who's stealth, but it's not the worst that could happen, by a long-shot. At worst, you could be a victim of physical violence. Transsexual people have been badly beaten and even killed by enraged ex-mates who could not come to terms with learning their former lover had once been a different gender. Such a discovery greatly threatens their own sexual identity, and violence toward you can be the unfortunate result. Yes, hate crime legislation seems to be gaining ground in many states, counties, and municipalities -- but such laws will be small consolation to you if you're in the ground. Again, that's the worst case scenario, but you should give it careful consideration. Bottom line: Always be aware of the potential for violence when you conceal your situation from a partner.

So what about being completely honest about yourself at the outset? Say you've sized up your potential mate as being a very secure type, someone who can understand complex issues and with whom you'd feel comfortable sharing intimate personal details. Such evolved people are rare, but they MUST exist, right? A relationship with a person to whom your history makes little or no difference -- the possibility is irresistible. If you do manage to hook up with such a prize, congratulations -- you've found the Holy Grail. If your sweetie happens to have a brother with similar qualities, please contact me without delay. I'd appreciate it. I haven't found a single candidate in over ten years of searching, and I'm getting a little discouraged.

But let's consider the less optimistic circumstance wherein you've misjudged a potential mate's qualities, and they're not the paragon of understanding you thought they were. After all, it's easy to make this kind of mistake early on, when you don't know someone well. Be prepared for the situation to blow up in your face -- and all the foregoing warnings apply. Certainly, you cannot count on this person to have the decency to not betray your trust. Don't assume they'll refrain from relaying the juicy tidbit of gossip to a few close friends, who in turn could inform others, etc., eventually unravelling your stealth life like a sweater caught in a fan belt.

And here's a disturbing thought: What if the revelation that you're transsexual is a sexual turn-on for your intended mate? (Excuse me a moment until the involuntary shudder passes.) Unfortunately for you, your man (they're always male) belongs to a licentious pack of losers known as "trans-fans" or "tranny-chasers." I have another name for them -- scumbags. Regrettably, they seem to be abundant; countless Internet porn sites exist to cater to them. I have no clue what drives these people psychologically -- whether they're closeted gay men who can't come to terms with their homosexuality or what -- but frankly, they give me the creeps. Back when I first transitioned, I had an encounter with one of these wack-jobs who learned of my situation from "friends" who knew me before. "An exotic creature," he called me. I quickly recognized the motivation behind his attentions and got the hell out of there. I found it enormously invalidating that someone should be attracted to me because I am transsexual. I feel all these creeps should be herded into rockets and shot into space.

Entrusting someone with intimate knowledge about yourself is always fraught with risks. Disclosure injects a chaotic element into the situation and the relationship is usually affected in an unpredictable way. At the very least, a paradigm shift usually results -- the other person's concept of you changes, and not for the better. In my own relationships such an occurrence must be prevented at all costs. It is imperative that my partner think of me as a woman, always. Not as anything else, exotic or otherwise. That's the paradigm that is essential for me, and it must remain unshifted.

So if disclosure and concealment both lead to unfortunate consequences, what can be done? Is there an answer? I certainly don't have one, as my own relationships clearly demonstrate. My strategy is (1) do not tell, and (2) do not let the relationship progress beyond the casual, even if sex is involved. No one is allowed to get too close to me. As a result, I've been described as an "Ice Princess" by one boyfriend and "like a fucking razor blade" by another, by-products of keeping my partners at arm's-length. I am cautious, to the point of paranoia. I'm extremely selective about the people I date. I avoid overtly aggressive men, those with a need to over-compensate -- a sign of a basic insecurity and sometimes an indicator of violent tendencies. I keep my fingers tightly crossed that worlds will not collide.

Not that there haven't been guys in whom I considered confiding. A couple of them seemed to possess the requisite sensitivity and intelligence. In the end, I decided against telling them, worried that I would constantly be wondering what was churning around in their heads. So thus far I've told no one I've dated, and I don't see this strategy changing any time soon. Ultimately, casual relationships become a sort of limbo, empty and unfulfilling, but I prefer to think of them as practice. Mine is a flawed solution, I admit.

The obstacles to a successful long-term relationship are formidable under the best of circumstances. Add to the equation a partner who's transsexual and they become nearly overwhelming. Surely there can be no doubt that pessimism is not only justified, but reasonable. Nevertheless, apparent cynicism to the contrary, I have not given up hope completely. A kernel of optimism persists in my thinking. I can conceive of a man in my future who is intelligent, understanding, and rugged, yet gentle. He is secure in who he is, and his concept of my femaleness has been established so firmly and completely as to be unshakable. All secrets known, he views my transsexuality as a condition which has been corrected. I am his woman. This dream guy is a tall order, I realize, but I need to believe such a person exists somewhere for me -- and for you.

In the meantime, we're faced with a dilemma. We're in a no-win situation. We're between a rock and a hard place. And it's unfair. Utterly, grossly, inordinately unfair, no doubt about it. But then, we knew the mission was dangerous when we accepted it.

See also Dating and disclosure.