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58 Responses

  1. convexed
    convexed June 28, 2010 at 12:34 pm |

    Thanks, queen emily. It’s too easy for cis people to interpret a person’s own commitment to themselves and their identity as permission for anyone or everyone else to take liberties with that information–to get credit for the diversity of their friendships or acquaintances, as you point out, without sharing the high stakes.
    Thanks for the reminder that an ally’s first commitment is to respect and listen to and recognize the person or group they are in alliance with, and to realize that harm done in ignorance, or with benevolent intentions, is still harm, and will most always be felt in another body, in another person, not their own.

  2. austen
    austen June 28, 2010 at 12:37 pm |

    Thank you for bringing this up. A lesson in “outing 101″ should be a requirement for anybody who learns of a person’s trans status.

  3. Partial Human
    Partial Human June 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm |

    Great post. I can’t wrap my head around why anyone feels the need to ‘out’ someone based on their gender identity or sexuality. I’d ‘out’ a known predator, but this weird cis/het idea that the ‘normals’ need to be somehow protected from us is baffling.

    I’m going through some outing drama in real life at the moment. I can’t convince this one person that outing another (as gay, not trans) is not a thing done for revenge, or to piss someone off, or to ‘protect’ people. He wants to put right something that person did to him by putting him at risk of all sorts of things, it’s never acceptable.

    Knowing that this person knows I’m gay, while he’s ranting and raving in homophobic terms about how ‘disgusting’ and hypocritical it is for someone to be closeted, is pretty much killing me. Yes I’m terribly upset and hurting because of the closeted person’s awful behaviour and his hypocrisy, but he’s like that because he’s a damaged person, not because of his sexuality, and he doesn’t deserve to be the subject of posters announcing “S IS A FAGGOT”, nobody does.

    I pretty much hate everyone involved in the whole thing right now, but the person wanting to ‘out’ the other one is a straight, cis, white, able-bodied male who just has no idea what it’s like to be any sort of minority, and has no understanding of the hurt that can be done when a person’s minority status is used against them. The sheer flippancy of his “He did this so I’m gonna out him” is reflective of the ignorance and privilege he wields.

  4. Astrid
    Astrid June 28, 2010 at 1:12 pm |

    Great post. I think, as a cis person, that cis people who out trans people may in fact mean well, thinkng transness shouldn’t be something to hide. However, it is important to realize that not everyone thinks so, and that therefore outing may be dangerous.

  5. Partial Human
    Partial Human June 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm |

    Astrid – “I think, as a cis person, that cis people who out trans people may in fact mean well, thinkng transness shouldn’t be something to hide”

    But why do people think that? A person is who they are, not who they used to be or whatever label was given to them at birth. Why does anyone think they have the right to disclose personal info about any other person, especially if the disclosure stands a big chance of causing harm?

    I cannot get my head around anybody feeling that they either have the right to gossip about very personal information, or to use someone’s status to gain crediblity.

  6. Heather
    Heather June 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm |

    I suppose as someone who has always tried to be an “ally” or whatever (sometimes I have trouble with that word, but! another story for another time!), this seems like common sense, ya know? If there is something a person wants others to know about them, I assume they will make it known themselves, and that includes small things like a birthday or the way someone was raised, all the way to gender or sexual orientation.

    Months ago, there was a pretty popular post on Oprah.com. It was Allison Cooper’s piece about falling in love with a transman (here: http://www.oprah.com/relationships/Falling-in-Love-with-a-Transgender-Man) and I remember being kind of baffled where she talks about telling her friend and her mother, just a day after she found out. Now, I don’t know if Allison and her now-partner discussed this, or if he was open to her sharing this, or if it was regular “gossip” talk that occurs when you talk to your friends about crushes and stuff. But still, I was stuck on that, the outing and having your friends/family question things that are, frankly, none of their damn business. I thought that maybe I was picking at a small, possibly insignificant in an otherwise good story featured in a mainstream venue, but it still got to me. This, I think, explains why.

    I guess it isn’t common sense to everyone, and this post is a great reminder that everyone has their own boundaries, and you need to check with someone before crossing those.

  7. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac June 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm |

    The point when I became a cis person who wants to be a trans ally was when a close friend finally came out to me about being trans: she was about to transition. She said she’d known she was trans for years, and reminded me of a conversation we’d had years earlier, a couple of years after we first met – which, she said, had been her first attempt to come out to me. Except I hadn’t been able to hear it (she admitted she’d been indirect: she’d hoped I would pick up the “clues”) and had thought she was talking about something else. She gave up when she realized she wasn’t able to say outright “I am a trans woman” and that I wasn’t able to hear her unless she said it outright.

    When she started living as a woman, I’d known her for about ten years. That was about fifteen years ago. She wasn’t the first trans woman I knew, but she was the first whom I’d counted a close friend pre-transition.

    What I’ve found since is that what is a challenge for me is to remember, when talking about events of our friendship pre-transition, to use her post-transition name and to use the correct pronouns – not the name that identified her when I first met her. I hope I remember each time I forgot – each one is halo’d for me in a little ring of painful embarrassment – and if I do remember correctly, then I didn’t out her to anyone who wasn’t already aware she is a trans woman.

    Your post is a welcome reminder of how important it is to meet that challenge. Thank you.

  8. Miranda
    Miranda June 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm |

    Great post, thanks.

  9. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin June 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm |

    I hope someday it isn’t this way. Sometimes I feel like trans-folks are right now at the point that lesbians and gays were pre-Stonewall.

  10. Tired
    Tired June 28, 2010 at 3:10 pm |

    I transitioned in the 1990s. I did not try to hide it as I earned a professional degree. Everyone in my school knew about me. (Nobody raised a hand to me, probably because I was also forthright about being a military vet, that I was rather handy with weapons and that my operating philosophy was “don’t get mad, get revenge”.)

    When I graduated, I found myself completely shut out of the local professional community. Nobody would hire me. I moved a thousand miles away to a place where nobody knew me at all. I took another state licensing exam and almost immediately found a job.

    I don’t discuss my status as a postop with anyone other than a medical professional in an appropriate setting. For I’ve learned, the hard way, that if I were to out myself, I might as well confess to liking to eat roasted puppies on a stick. I won’t take that risk with anyone.

  11. Astrid
    Astrid June 28, 2010 at 3:32 pm |

    @ Partial human: I agree that it is incredibly offensive to give away someone’s personal info. Would be even if it weren’t dangerous. Besides, after I posted my previous comment, I realized that it is cissexist to presume that one’s gender identity should be mentioned if it is anything other than cis. We don’t go around outing cis people all the time, either.

  12. Lucy
    Lucy June 28, 2010 at 5:04 pm |

    We don’t go around outing cis people all the time, either.

    Actually, I will do this if I’m talking to a trans friend about someone who is cis but who my friend does not know is cis. But then the dynamic and power is different, too. Revealing someone is cis can be a form of warning and, even if I were to be malicious about it, I’m not entirely sure what damage could be done to a cis person being outed as being cis. I can, on the other hand, think of a a great many goods for tans people knowing that someone is cis, especially if that person is active in trans concerns and involved with trans people.

    Thank you, Queen Emily, for a useful post to point cis people to.

  13. Jillian Page
    Jillian Page June 28, 2010 at 5:17 pm |

    Queen Emily,
    Thanks for this excellent post. I’m sending the readers of my blog here to read it.

    Cheers
    Jillian

  14. Jill
    Jill June 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm | *

    Hey, commenter who usually uses the psuedonym “butterflywings” but who decided today, for the first and only time, to post under the name “yaaawn” and to use a fake email address: You have a comment in the mod queue right now that I am about to delete. Just as an FYI, we do not take well to sockpuppeting, especially when you use it as an opportunity to insult our guestbloggers and entire groups of people. So congratulations, you are banned.

  15. On Caring For Our Transsexual Friends – Camels With Hammers

    [...] Here’s an article with helpful reminders about the dangers of outing transsexual men and women without their consent and the misleading linguistic pitfalls by which people commonly, either wittingly or unwittingly, perpetuate misconceptions about them. For those unfamiliar with the discourse related to trans issues, by “cis” she is referring to non-trans people: So here’s the deal: if you out us, you can do more damage than you can possibly imagine. [...]

  16. kloncke
    kloncke June 28, 2010 at 6:04 pm |

    Thank you, Queen Emily — this feels like an important reminder for me as a cis person, trying to be a trans ally, living in San Francisco where public and even mainstream celebrations of trans identity (i.e. billboards at subway stations, Pride, etc.) can, I think, give a false illusion of safety, like it’s ok for me to to out people because it’s ‘no big deal.’ Not that I’ve been doing that, necessarily, but my visceral reaction to your post tells me that it hasn’t been as present in my mind as it once was, and ought to remain.

  17. Cooker
    Cooker June 28, 2010 at 6:42 pm |

    Chiming in to say thanks for this very important post.

  18. Claire
    Claire June 28, 2010 at 6:48 pm |

    Thank you for posting this. I have several friends in various phases of transition, and my mother consistently outs them to her friends, despite the objections that I’ve made. I will probably be forwarding her this article.

  19. Charity
    Charity June 28, 2010 at 7:02 pm |

    Great post, thank you.

  20. Jadey
    Jadey June 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm |

    Allies (of any stripe, but in this case allies of trans people) need to abandon our entitlement. Our privilege can’t be given up without first taking down the system that confers it (which is of course the end goal), but our sense of entitlement to that privilege can and must be battled. For allyhood to be of value, it’s not about meaning well or have happy fuzzy feelings for someone – it’s about working for someone else’s benefit, and understanding how one’s own privilege will always be working in the opposite direction.

    Sometimes I beg for cookies and let my own self-interest supercede what (and who) I say I hold dear. That desire for “ally cred” (i.e., “I’m so progressive; I know someone who’s trans!”) is the most pernicious of failures, because we use it to destroy what we claim to be advancing, and bolster what we claim to be against.

    This post is an excellent reminder of that.

  21. Véronique
    Véronique June 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm |

    Thank you, Queen Emily. I got here via Jillian’s blog, and now I have posted a link in my own blog. I’m thinking that it’s not only cis people but also trans people who need to be reminded of this — especially trans people who choose to be out.

  22. GinnyC
    GinnyC June 28, 2010 at 9:42 pm |

    Queen Emily: Thanks for writing this post. It is a really important reminder to everyone myself included.

    I also want to add something. At least one commenter seemed to assume that outing gay people or queer people that aren’t trans people is not that harmful. I want to caution everyone that it can be extremely harmful. I’m gay and it would not harm me appreciably if I was outed to my extended family and work environment. But, I have more than one very good friend who would face physical violence or worse if outed to certain family members. This situation is even more common for people from countries that still criminalize or stigmatize severely being gay.

    Please everyone, don’t assume the world is a safe place and always, always ask first before outing anyone.

  23. JK
    JK June 28, 2010 at 10:03 pm |

    Excellent piece. I have a friend who is dating an awesome transman- she was dating him while he was still presenting as female full time, though we weren’t friends at that point- and I mentioned it to my boyfriend. This was to insure than if we ever double dated, there would be no confusion or weirdness from him towards her boyfriend. Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it. I was trying to insure that he didn’t say something dumb, but perhaps I shouldn’t have.

    I remember being kind of baffled where she talks about telling her friend and her mother, just a day after she found out.

    I have to say, though, that I find it hard to balance the need of the transman with the need of his girlfriend to be able to discuss her life events with other people, in order to process them. And it sounds, from the article, like she needed to discuss how, if at all, dating a transman, affected her. Now, I may be wrong here, but it seems to be more like any other personality difference or lifestyle issue that might come up- I would want to talk about it with my girlfriends. I understand what you, Emily, are discussing, but I can’t quite wrap my head around keeping secrets from my friends after dating someone for such a short amount of time.

  24. Jadey
    Jadey June 28, 2010 at 10:24 pm |

    but I can’t quite wrap my head around keeping secrets from my friends after dating someone for such a short amount of time.

    That person’s life and well-being, which actually does trump the need for a person to process their relationship by sharing someone else’s seriously personal information. Seriously. I mean, from the OP: “In April this year, a trans man teaching at CSU Long Beach was attacked in the toilet on campus, and had “it” carved on his chest.”

    I mean, at the least, ask. Not that asking itself does not convey a burden onto the person who must now give, and possibly defend, an answer – but it’s their life (literally), so ask, if you must.

    I am not innocent on this count. I’m not going into detail just in case, but I want to be clear that I am not trying to be high and mighty on this – I have made this fuck-up. I understand how this fuck-up happens. It is still a fuck-up. It is still a fuck-up when it turned out okay, as it did in my case, because it only turned out okay *this time*, *so far*.

    (Also, re: the space, unless the specific person in question prefers the space left out.)

  25. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney June 28, 2010 at 10:43 pm |

    My cousin outed me to my entire social circle in 1995, which meant that pretty much everyone I knew and socialized with until 2000 knew I was trans. This had a huge impact on every part of that.

    My housemate outed me to a lot of people in 2002, which meant that everyone I knew and socialized with until 2005 knew I was trans, and yet again this had a huge impact on every part of that.

    Ooh, and butterflywings got herself banned here? She’s been trying to troll QT for … I think her first troll comment was back in 2008? She even occasionally tried it under the name “butterflywings.”

  26. Vanessa Law
    Vanessa Law June 28, 2010 at 11:46 pm |

    Thanks for the post – such an important issue, and I suspect that most cis-gendered folks would only out by accident or out of a misplaced pride in their trans friend.

    The road is still ahead of me, and I’ve pondered long and hard the virtues of ‘deep stealth’ (even if I could succeed at it) vs living out as a transgender woman. I must admit the prospect of never quite fitting, of always being an ‘other’ terrifies me at times…

  27. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney June 29, 2010 at 1:23 am |

    I have to say, though, that I find it hard to balance the need of the transman with the need of his girlfriend to be able to discuss her life events with other people, in order to process them. And it sounds, from the article, like she needed to discuss how, if at all, dating a transman, affected her. Now, I may be wrong here, but it seems to be more like any other personality difference or lifestyle issue that might come up- I would want to talk about it with my girlfriends. I understand what you, Emily, are discussing, but I can’t quite wrap my head around keeping secrets from my friends after dating someone for such a short amount of time.

    There are online communities for this kind of processing, where you can be anonymous and not out your partner. I understand wanting to process this stuff, but you really should weigh your need to process with your partner’s right to privacy.

    You can’t undo outing someone, after all. Once you do it, it’s done, and as Em points out, this has real and harmful consequences. But you can find places online (blogs, LJ communities, forums, etc) where trans people and partners of trans people get together to talk this stuff over in relative safety. Why would this not be an option?

  28. anon
    anon June 29, 2010 at 4:58 am |

    This is very much part of my life, too. I’m trans but I have decided not to transition physically for serious health reasons. I’m out with my friends but not at my job. I have lots of trans friends and many of them are stealth. I’m fully aware that my risk of being outed is laughable compared to theirs, because I can always deny it when things get rough. As a non transitioning trans person, I am in some ways more dependend on being out because if I don’t tell people, I will be read as cis in the wrong gender, and that can take a toll, too. So being out was something that had a generally positive image for me, more like being out as gay. From the gay movement I have learned that being out is the way to make political progress. But it’s different for trans people, though I’m not sure if that’s because we are still “pre-stonewall”.

    “I have to say, though, that I find it hard to balance the need of the transman with the need of his girlfriend to be able to discuss her life events with other people, in order to process them. ….I understand what you, Emily, are discussing, but I can’t quite wrap my head around keeping secrets from my friends after dating someone for such a short amount of time.”

    I think what we as non transitioning people, cis or trans, have to understand is that by being with a transitioning trans person, we will be affected by the violence and discrimination, and that means that we have to start thinking in terms of secrecy and outing. For a partner, that might mean that even though she is not trans herself, she will have to feel the pain of not being able to talk about herself openly anymore, as she is used to. That’s a pain that most trans poeple feel every day. It’s not possible to be a trans ally without facing up the very real dangers and to pay the “trans price”. And that sucks, but it gives allies an idea what it means to live as trans every day. It might also be a source of intense anger and the wish to change the status quo asap.

  29. Ellie d'Yckgirl
    Ellie d'Yckgirl June 29, 2010 at 6:27 am |

    @Véronique: “I’m thinking that it’s not only cis people but also trans people who need to be reminded of this — especially trans people who choose to be out.”

    Yes, I agree with that.

    Also, I really think that the fact that someone is “out” doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right to out them “more”: e.g. I am in an LGBT group where everybody knows I am trans, but it really pisses me off when someone who just came in learns so by any other than me. I am pretty out, but I still want to decide to whom I am out.

    On another note, I think a specificity concerning trans outing (compared to, gay outing) is that it’s a bit different whether the person is pre-transition or post-transition. While I obviously respect the choice of a person, in the former case I find it much more difficult when I have to talk about someone in their wrong gender, because it’s not just about not talking about their past, it’s negating their present identity (in order to avoid them problems, obviously).

  30. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney June 29, 2010 at 6:38 am |

    Also, you talk about “keeping secrets from your friends,” but it’s not your secret.

  31. Christine
    Christine June 29, 2010 at 10:52 am |

    I’m so glad you wrote this. This is one area where I felt a bit out of control and could have done a better job educating my friends and allies when I transitioned/came-out to them.

    I had exactly the scenario that the author mentioned when a (well-meaning) next-door neighbor volunteered me to talk to a sex and culture freshman class a the local university. I like her quite a bit but I fell victim to her over eagerness to show their credentials of their progressiveness by doing things like outing their trans neighbor.

    My coming-out speech evolved very quickly to include granting permission to those who I had come out to to talk amongst themselves about me (after-all someone transitioning is not an everyday event) but I asked them to not talk with anyone who had not previously known me as a close friend or colleague.

    I tried to explain to my friends that to be thought of as anything other than a woman, say as “really a man” or as a “trans person”, denies me my identity. My transition was about claiming my identity as a woman. Not being able to control my identity by being outed by others furthers my suffering.

  32. JK
    JK June 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm |

    Jadey, I am sorry, I did not realize that I should have put a space in.

    Lisa Harney, I understand what you are saying. I realize that there are online communities. Of course, I could use online communities to discuss any and all issues or problems or confusions in my life, but I turn to loved ones because I love them and value their opinions. It is like when a relative was raped; I had all sorts of feelings and guilt relating to that, and I had to balance out her desire for secrecy and my need to talk to people about the problems I went through. I did discuss this with my partner. When my partner is the issue, who should I turn to? In the future, I will try to remember that the desire to talk in person about secrets about others is selfish- but I will admit I have difficulty wrapping my mind around this.

    I would also like to point out that while I have fantastic internet access, not everyone does. There is a segment of the population that does not have internet access, and by making them go online for their processing, you are putting up barriers and showing off privilege. Just a thought.

    anon- I feel like what you are talking about it creating more closets for more and more people, while creating anger and the desire to change things. I know people are more likely to support gay issues when they know someone who is gay (http://www.gallup.com/poll/118931/knowing-someone-gay-lesbian-affects-views-gay-issues.aspx) so I am not sure how to be productive with that anger while being in that closet. I will have to think about this idea some and reflect a bit.

  33. Lisa Harney
    Lisa Harney June 29, 2010 at 1:42 pm |

    I would also like to point out that while I have fantastic internet access, not everyone does. There is a segment of the population that does not have internet access, and by making them go online for their processing, you are putting up barriers and showing off privilege. Just a thought.

    I mentioned online resources as an example. There are offline resources as well. My point being that your only recourse isn’t outing someone against their will.

    I also think this is a bit derailing, because you’re still trying to defend your right to out trans people if you’re dating them, and you’re generalizing my comments to you, who clearly has internet access, to people who are not in this conversation.

  34. Dae
    Dae June 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm |

    What kind of bothers me in regards to outing someone you’re dating is that it can come across as treating their trans status as particularly relevant when maybe it shouldn’t be. Sometimes it can be an appropriate thing to mention, but even if they’re not closeted, I think making a point to tell people that the great man or woman you’re dating is trans can come close to presenting them as though they’re not a “real” man or woman. I suppose I can understand why, for some people, dating a trans person can be an adjustment and they want support, but I don’t think discussing it with people who will then interact with your loved one and perhaps treat them differently is the safest way to go about that.

    And while safety is a huge concern, even without it, people have a right to decide how they want to present themselves. Unless someone makes it clear that they like being openly trans, I don’t want to make that assumption. And I don’t know how comparable being out as trans is to being out in regards to sexual orientation. If a trans person wants to be treated and perceived the same as cisgendered members of their gender, then I don’t see that as choosing to be closeted. I see that as being true to themselves in the way that’s right for them.

  35. Lisa A.
    Lisa A. June 29, 2010 at 6:31 pm |

    @JK – You say:

    In the future, I will try to remember that the desire to talk in person about secrets about others is selfish- but I will admit I have difficulty wrapping my mind around this .

    OK, since you say that you “have difficulty wrapping my mind around this’, let’s turn it around. Have you ever had a confidence violated? Have you ever had a very personal issue that you did not want the world to know about, but told someone you trusted to keep your secret because you needed to talk about it, only to find out later that they told other people? If not, you’re very lucky. If you have, you know what a horrible feeling it is. I know when that happened to me, I was very angry and hurt. I never trusted those people again because it was clear that they unwilling to keep their promises not to talk about my business . The thing is, though, as painful as those betrayals were, since I’m a cis woman, I did not have to deal with additional worries about my safety, losing a job, losing housing, or any of the other problems that can come from outing someone.

    So, when you talk about a cis person’s need to “process” feelings about dating a trans person vs. a trans person’s right to privacy and safety, do you really believe the scales are balanced, or even tilted in the cis person’s favor?

  36. ginasf
    ginasf June 29, 2010 at 8:38 pm |

    Here’s a subject highly related to the OP:

    http://skipthemakeup.blogspot.com/2010/05/trans-children-in-spotlight-how-public.html

    Hope it’s not a derail, but as there are more and more trans-identified children, their safety becomes even more imperative.

  37. piny
    piny June 29, 2010 at 11:58 pm |

    anon- I feel like what you are talking about it creating more closets for more and more people, while creating anger and the desire to change things. I know people are more likely to support gay issues when they know someone who is gay (http://www.gallup.com/poll/118931/knowing-someone-gay-lesbian-affects-views-gay-issues.aspx) so I am not sure how to be productive with that anger while being in that closet. I will have to think about this idea some and reflect a bit.

    I think that, as someone who is neither trans nor the trans person in question, you need to let those other people make that decision. If you are a social-justice activist, you have a moral obligation to honor the judgements of those people you are supposedly acting to help.

    Someone who is partnering with a trans person cannot consider a relationship with that trans person without also considering that trans person’s life and circumstances. That includes their relationship with their history and the public cis-dominant glosses thereon. Outing them to family members or friends can create a lot of tension, mistrust, and humiliation. In other words, it can really fuck up a burgeoning romantic relationship, and cause at least as many problems as it airs out.

  38. maevele
    maevele June 30, 2010 at 1:08 am |

    I wish you had posted this earlier. A couple of weeks ago I was arguing with someone who claimed she outted trans people in order to be a good ally. Like, She would decide that it was better to out a trans person to people *she* felt sure were allies, so they could help have the trans person’s back. I got through to her eventually, but it took a lot of raging, and I didn’t present my points half as well as you did, so I wish I had had this to link.

  39. CombatQueer
    CombatQueer June 30, 2010 at 4:36 am |

    Thanks for talking about this. A few months before I left for Iraq I noticed a wave of people becoming aware that I was trans. Some of these folks were my friends, others weren’t. It was a frightening experience. It turns out that one of ultra liberal, super ally, “I’m going to be a Buddhist Sufi Christian Mystic” friends was going around outing me at every mention of trans people.

    When I confronted him his rational was “well, I know you’ve been transitioning, and I know other people know, and since it’s not something you’re ashamed of, I figured that you wouldn’t care.”

    I then reminded him that I was weeks away from a year and a half long deployment and the folks like me get murdered in the Army, and that as a member of a National Guard unit very few people in our community were more than two or three steps from other members of my unit.

    White straight liberals can be pretty stupid where they are trying to prove their liberal cred. Not always, but they can be.

  40. trans
    trans June 30, 2010 at 6:14 am |

    As a trans person, I am “in the closet” to everyone but my partner and my immediate family. (And my family only because I was living with them when I began transitioning and it was really unavoidable.) I do this partially for professional reasons – I am an artist and I don’t want my life’s work recontextualized or devalued if people found out I was “really” my originally assigned sex – but it’s largely not because I’m afraid for my life and well-being. At the beginning of my transition and in the time before deciding to transition, I discussed my condition openly, with more or less everyone I knew. I found that for many people, even other queer people and allies, the minute I came out to them I was immediately recategorized. In ways both subtle and obvious I was now “really” my sex or some kind of third option – I was not my gender but some gender called trans. Some transpeople are fine with that, but I’m not comfortable with “only” being able to be trans, and for many or most people that’s as far as I can get with them. Some people eventually came over to treating me the same as they had before, but it took a long time, and many other people never did. We live in such a heavily cisgendered culture that thinking of a transperson as truly and completely their gender can be very difficult at times even for trans allies. I hated knowing that people have to be “enlightened” in order to accept my gender and that it wasn’t something natural and simple like that of cispeople, but something that people have to reach for and struggle with intellectually. I have never felt like anything less than or more complicated than a natural and simple member of my gender, on a primal and instinctual level. That is the only way I want to be thought of and treated as, ever, but I don’t think that everyone is capable of this.

    Essentially, I am in the closet because for many people – even the vast majority of people – to know my identity is to invalidate it.

  41. Bonn
    Bonn June 30, 2010 at 10:04 am |

    Maybe trans people don’t “out” cis people, but cis people out cis people all the time. Just, not for being cis.

    My mom is just the sort of person who would out anyone about anything. Nothing is sacred. I’m from a relatively small town (less than 20k) and everyone is six degrees from everyone else. I have an illness that allows me to work, but which could be a problem. It’s the sort of thing you don’t mention til AFTER you get hired. Naturally, my mom tells everyone she knows that I have it, and when I asked her to stop, she got angry.

    There are just some kinds of people who think that your business is their business. I’m the type of person who keeps secrets, so if I had a trans friend, I wouldn’t tell anyone that they were trans. Some people are the well-meaning types and could let it slip. And then there are types like my mom. I guess basically … you need to be careful of who you trust that kind of info to. And if they are people who knew you before and after … well … you kind of can’t do anything about it. And I realize that the consequences can range from annoying to deadly, but when you have morons who think everything is their business and they should get to dispense whatever information they have? Nothing is going to stop them. Maybe that’s a little cynical, but I figure if my own mom couldn’t stop herself from divulging my private medical information and making me unemployable in my hometown even when I asked her to stop … if you’re dealing with “juicier” gossip or strangers or acquaintances, you’re s.o.l.

  42. Cheryl's Mewsings » Blog Archive » Some Trans Links

    [...] Feministing Queen Emily explains why outing trans people can be so dangerous. What she fails to mention is that it is not only [...]

  43. piny
    piny June 30, 2010 at 8:21 pm |

    What Bonn said. Most of the time, we call this sort of thing harmful gossip. And really, most people don’t have to deal with trans status, and most people are therefore not mindful of the potential consequences of said gossip.

    Physical violence and discrimination are very real. But exposing someone isn’t just a problem because the information can’t be contained in safe circles. A violation of privacy is harm in and of itself. When you say that a trans person’s history and private life are a matter of public interest, you’re saying that they’re not people so much as public institutions.

    That willful damage has to be balanced against any possible benefit, and it should also serve as a check on any good intention.

  44. Jeremy León
    Jeremy León July 1, 2010 at 4:27 am |

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m normally the first to preach about the importance of GLBT people living openly; it’s the fastest way to address ignorance and bigotry. But this reminded me just how fortunate I am, and that fastest isn’t always best—especially if you’re a GLB person in a small town or a trans person in many communities. Some might challenge this post as a bit anti-pride during Pride month, but I think it underscores this importance of why those of us that can live openly must, and why everyone—allies included—must share the stories—yet protect the identities—of those who cannot.

  45. momo
    momo July 1, 2010 at 5:59 am |

    This subject has me thinking. Reconsidering my cis privilege, if you will. Thinking back, I don’t believe I’ve ever consciously or unconsciously outed anyone, mainly because I don’t have any out transpersons amongst my trusted friends. I *have* however participated in conversations about the trans status of people I knew vaguely or by proxy – usually in the context of the effect the transition had on the (cis)person telling me about it. I have no idea if they had permission to out them to me.

    At the same time, I, like JK, understand the need to talk about/process a characteristic of your date’s that may have come unexpectedly and that you want to handle in a sensitive way. (No worries, I’ve duly noted the answers to JK on this thread and do understand the problems with prioritizing that need over someone’s safety. Just saying that I’d need to acknowledge that reflex and keep it in check if I ever found myself in such a situation.)

    Finally, this:

    A violation of privacy is harm in and of itself. When you say that a trans person’s history and private life are a matter of public interest, you’re saying that they’re not people so much as public institutions.

    has me thinking (and hoping the tags work, btw)
    It reminds me of a situation in an awful relationship I was in, in which I sought advice on how to “fix” his mental problems with friends, thus “outing” him as mentally ill. When he found out, he blew up at me.
    At the time, I dismissed that as another example of his abusive arseholeyness (which he was), but I suppose he could have taken the above view that that violation of privacy was in itself harmful and made him into an archetype rather than a person.
    Sorry, this was a convoluted way of saying that I’ve definitely fallen foul of well-meaning betrayal of confidence. I can only hope that my awareness of the difference between repercussions in outing someone as mentally ill and outing someone as trans would keep me from making that same mistake.

  46. second_banana
    second_banana July 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm |

    This is a huge issue for me right now. I’m dating a great trans guy who began his physical transition recently. We’ve talked about how and when to use what pronouns, but it’s a little tricky as he currently only passes from a distance if you squint a little. (His words.)

    So handling folks who have heard be talk about my boyfriend and then meet him or see us on the street is kinda a big problem. They either assume I’m a lying lesbian (cheating? making up boyfriends to begin with?) or that he is a relative or something. My family knows, he comes to family get togethers, but it’s really really tricky finding the balance of keeping myself honest and keeping us (but mostly him) safe.

  47. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan July 3, 2010 at 4:26 am |

    Re. the boyfriend thing from a ways upthread, I’m glad to get people’s opinions on that. Yeah, my very first reaction was that I hate the idea of a guy telling his girlfriend what she’s “allowed” to discuss with her friends and family — totally got my cis feminist back up. But my second reaction is that, no, it’s not being a jerk or a control freak to want potentially very sensitive information kept under wraps. Safety first.

    And, re. finding something new out about a date/significant other, it seems like a good thing to talk to a therapist about if you are irrationally focusing on or troubled by something inconsequential about a person you like or love. Might be more confidential than chatting with your family and more helpful, too, if you’re trying to work out your own hangups and not put them on your partner. (I haven’t been in the situation so I can’t say. But I’m a big fan of therapy as a general rule. :D)

    And in general, thanks awfully for this post. It’s simple but surprisingly… non-obvious to me (coughprivilegecough.) I’m a very much “my business is your business, I have nothing to hide!” kind of person but I’ve been trying to practice being less of an open book/less foot-in-my-mouth the last few weeks so this syncs really well with that goal. And now I’m kinda freaking out about what a shitty thing I could’ve possibly ignorantly done in the future, so I’m glad I read this post so that can be at least one thing I won’t blithely screw up.

    Queen Emily, you just educated a clueless cis girl! You can consider your day complete now. ;p

  48. Jenny
    Jenny July 6, 2010 at 6:22 am |

    Thanks for the helpful article. This week a person I have met twice through a queer group I facilitate in my small home town put my name and e-mail address down as a referee for a job with the police. There was no advance warning or request to use my name. I only knew about it because the police sent me a form to complete. I find it creepy knowing that I am now officially on record as being queer too. Visibility is one thing. Choosing who has my information, and knowing who “knows” is another.

    Each year I read about the Transgender Day of Remembrance Commemorations for people killed because others identified them as trans. When outing someone can result in their death, should those doing the outing become accessories to murder?

  49. anon
    anon July 8, 2010 at 5:44 am |

    Another thought on LGB outing versus trans outing- I always found it very exhausting to live in an environment where LGB people are ok but not trans people. People often assume that trans rights are evolutionally the same as LGB rights, but they are not. That discrepancy causes a lot of misunderstanding and conflict and should be adressed more often.

    “Essentially, I am in the closet because for many people – even the vast majority of people – to know my identity is to invalidate it.”

    I’m still trying to figure out if it’s essentially different for trans people, compared to LGB people. Because obvioulsy, some 30 or 40 years ago, to know that someone was LGB would have invalidated them as well. So people stayed in the closet until they were ready to come out in larger groups, and only under very strong pressure of violence or in connection with the AIDS crisis.

  50. Open letter to The Ethicist « Birthday Bread Horse

    [...] identity (a transphobic assumption, obviously, that other women will be as unnerved as she was). A recent post on the blog Feministe discusses an aspect of outing trans people that you did not mention: it can be extremely dangerous [...]

  51. New York Times Says Trans People are Ethically Required to Out Themselves on Dates « Questioning Transphobia

    [...] it by saying “No handbills, and don’t ask him to announce it from the pulpit,” but as many of us have experienced, once someone outs you, the word can spread like wildfire. Cis people seem to think that learning [...]

  52. Patrick
    Patrick July 12, 2010 at 1:46 am |

    I’m an out transman and this article (and its comments) reminded me of the need for discretion. I’m used to being very open (though I would be angry if someone outed me–let me do my own outing, thank you). I’m still learning that the level of openness I was used to as a woman can get me injured or killed as a man. Especially since, for the next ten weeks or so, I live in town of <15K I know people will know, because I'll be visiting family here, but I want to be MUCH further in my transition before it starts getting around.

  53. Bailey
    Bailey July 16, 2010 at 7:59 pm |

    Reading this article, as a trans male who is entering college this year, makes me sad and scared at the same time.

    Sad, because this type of behaviour in anyone is destructive, but in the younger ranks of society is simply disheartening.

    The students described follow suit with many of my own peers and their reactions after I came out. While the LGB community is taking steps forward and becoming more accepted overall, the trans community is still being ignored when it comes to basic rights and persecuted against when it comes to asking for those rights.

    This makes me scared simply because it reminds me of what I face everyday anyway: discrimination. It’s always out there, no matter where you go.

    But in the end, this article was very helpful in articulating things about outing trans people I’ve had trouble communicating to others, and this is definitely going to help me in being able to explain more accurately why outing me would hurt more than help better than my usual “Ummm… well, see… it’s very sticky… I don’t know how to describe it…” and mumblings from that point.

    Thank you for writing this, and I hope cis allies, part of the LGB community or not, will be able to benefit from this article as much as I did.

  54. A Hopefully Final Note on the Trolling/Harassment/Sockpuppeting at Questioning Transphobia

    [...] history of trolling The F Word. I have also spoken with Genderbitch and Jill from Feministe (link, link) and have been able to link the trolling comments on QT and BoP to Butterflywings’ comment [...]

  55. Linksplosion: Cleaning out the reader edition « Zero at the Bone

    [...] of good stuff in Queen Emily’s You don’t get to out me, a guest post at Feministe: When I out myself, or am outed, I never know what the reaction will be. [...]

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