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.