by Sarah Rutledge Fischer
I’m a single transwoman in my 30s. I haven’t really dated since before I started transitioning, but I’m finally ready to dive back in. My best friend, who has had my back throughout my journey, was helping me set up an online dating profile, but we couldn’t agree on whether or not I should disclose my trans-status in the profile. Not sure if it’s relevant, but she’s a cis-gendered female. She thinks I need to disclose to weed out potential bigots. I understand her point, but I’ve worked hard to be able to live my life as a woman every day. My trans-status is very personal information that I only want to discuss with someone I know and trust. I think I should have the right to keep it to myself. What do you say?
Getting Out There As Me
Of course, you have the right. You do not have to discuss your gender identity with anyone unless you want to. Unfortunately, in our current society, that right may not be adequately protected. So, let’s talk about what’s really going on. Hang in there. It’s not pretty.
You probably already know that as a trans-woman, you are disproportionately at risk to be a victim of violence. In 2015, the Human Rights Campaign tracked 21 violent deaths of transgender people. In 2016, the number grew to 23. As I write this in November of 2017, the number has already risen to 25. It is hard to know whether the rising numbers are due to increased violence or better reporting. But in this case, it doesn’t really matter. Like so many of the difficult decisions we make, this is a matter of weighing risks against rewards and deciding what you are willing to live with. For your friend, this risk of violence may be new and frightening, but I imagine you’ve been facing it for years. Anyway, she does have a point—the risk of ending up on a date with a violent transphobe is out there, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.
So, is disclosing your trans-status in your online dating profile a way to mitigate that risk? Absolutely, but it isn’t the only option. There are a range of options between your friend’s suggestion of disclosure in your profile and your preference of only disclosing to someone you know and trust. I don’t have room to list them here, and I imagine you can figure them out.
Just know that each of those options comes with its own variety of risk and hurdles. Before you decide, take a minute to honestly assess your own strengths and inclinations. Are you willing to put time and effort into a date with someone who turns out to be a bigot? How likely are you to postpone disclosure with someone for whom you have developed feelings? Be honest with yourself. Even an excellent plan won’t help if you aren’t inclined to stick with it.
Another way to mitigate risk without explicit disclosure is to make it clear in your profile that bigots are not welcome. I’m sure there are ways to do this subtly, but I favor the direct approach—something along the lines of, “I am not interested in bigotry in any form. If you are transphobic, homophobic, racist, misogynist, or xenophobic, go find someone else to love.” Something like that should get the message across. It won’t mean that everyone to whom you disclose will react favorably, but hopefully it will narrow the field and rule out the particularly nasty candidates.
Now, before I wrap up, I want to say that I do not mean to put on your shoulders the responsibility for the hateful acts of violent bigots. No transphobic slur or action that ever has been or ever will be directed at you or your friends is your fault—not at all. You have no obligation to disclose your gender identity to anyone. When and how you do so is your choice. But I urge you make that choice with your eyes wide open to the realities of a world that is not yet always friendly. Until a better day comes, that should get you started.
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Thank you to OUTMemphis for their input and guidance on this answer. To learn more about what OUTMemphis is doing in and for the Transgender community of Memphis and the surrounding areas, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 901.278.6422.