A Note on Disclosure

This post began as a response to a comment from Genderkid. I decided that the issue of disclosure for trans people deserves it’s own post. Disclosure is usually considered narrowly in terms of trans status – do I disclose my trans status or choose to go stealth (or to continue passing as my assigned gender), and if I do disclose, when, how, and to whom? For trans people, however, trans status is just the tip of the iceberg of things we have to decide whether or not to disclose. Do we tell our mothers, our lovers, our friends, or our colleagues what gender we were (or felt ourselves to be) as children, our precise gender identification now, what medical alterations (if any) our bodies have undergone, and what alterations (if any) they might undergo in the future? I consider such information extremely private, and cis people who, because they know I’m trans and are “getting to know” me, presume the right to any of the information above are the bane of my existence. I think that the media’s attitude of fascination toward trans people, and the fact that any time one sees a trans person in the media, they are busy telling their entire life story in a plea for understanding, feeds cis people’s belief that trans people exist only to tell them our strange and exotic trans stories.

The fact of the matter is that as trans people, we are lightyears ahead of most cis people in our understandings of gender. In many cases, disclosing the full truth of our gender histories and identifications would only serve to confuse cis people and lead to inappropriate interactions with us (in which their impulse to see FTMs as girls in disguise would be given full reign, for instance). Sometimes we have to acknowledge cis people’s limited gender experience (and our own limited energy for teaching them about gender) by circumscribing what we disclose. We are not being dishonest; we are just being realistic about people’s capacities.

Also, cis people need to be checked on their desire to know everything about trans people. They often try to make it sound as if understanding our stories is going to help them come to terms with our transness, help them understand us better, and help them learn to treat us properly. But actually, the only things they need to know in order to interact properly with me is that I am male and I identify as male. Learning how I got to this point is not going to help them treat me any better, but it might lead to them treating me worse. Cis people need to understand that any time a trans person tells their (trans) story, we are at once trying to establish legitimacy for our existence as our gender and seeking acceptance, whether we want it to be this way or not. Under such high-stakes and asymmetrical circumstances, sometimes it is best for trans people not to tell our stories and for cis people to learn to bite their tongues instead of asking inappropriate questions.

For trans people, this means coming to terms with not being fully understood by many people in our lives.

The right to privacy is a trans right just as fundamental and just as endangered as our right to be treated as our genders of choice, our right to change our IDs, and our right to access caring and sensitive medical care.

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3 Responses to A Note on Disclosure

  1. Kyle says:

    I fully agree with your statement that we shouldn’t have to explain how we got here, where ever here is, in order to expect respect and acceptance from others. I am mostly comfortable with, and in fact, pushy about wanting to explain how I got to genderqueer as an identity and how the whole bi-gender thing works. I think that’s partly because I’m the kind of person who wants to share, and thereby expose other people to different realities in a way they can relate to (hopefully). On the other hand, I don’t have an identity that is easy for anyone to recognize and see at a glance. Or ever, maybe even with my explanations. Over time I might mellow out about it, but for right now, I’m actively looking for ways to come out to people about my gender identity and that leads to explanations since genderqueer is not nearly as recognizable as male or female to those, as you put it, without as much understanding about gender. On the other hand, it’s not the first thing I tell people and I don’t consistently come out to the people I work with or interact with in the community. That may change, but if it does, it will be my choice and I certainly respect and will support the choice by others to not explain and educate and endlessly expose their gender journey to the scrutiny of the less gender savvy masses.

  2. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Kyle, it makes sense to me that you would want to come out about your gender identity, because your gender identity is not going to be adequately communicated by your body alone. There’s a decent chance that, after you explain something about your gender identity to people, they will actually understand you better and treat you in a way that feels more right. So maybe I should note that my post applies mainly to people whose bodies adequately communicate a major part of their gender identity.

  3. Kyle says:

    Oh I got that point in your post, was just offering a counterpoint from this perspective. It is wonderful to find people who do accept my gender identity, and not just accept it, but feel and believe and really see it. The first person to do that is Roxy. My wife has a bit less full understanding, she can be a bit obstinate sometimes. I’m working on others and have a good small — but growing — group of friends who are a bit more gender aware than the average resident.

    I completely agree that disclosure and explanations should be at the discretion of the individual.

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