A while ago I floated the idea of writing an advice column and put out the word that I was looking for letters from people seeking advice. I have so many projects going on that I ended up letting this one slide. But I recently got one letter that I simply had to post a response to.
I have a cousin, who let's call Shane. Shane is young, attractive, and generally pleasant to be around, except that Shane holds some prejudices around transgender people. You wouldn't be able to tell it just by looking, and it isn't a topic that comes up very often. It's nothing major, and I would never expect it to come to violence or even open hostility, but it's been made clear to me that Shane does not want to ever be in a relationship with someone who is trans.
I understand that is not actually too uncommon, and many people live their lives that way without ever having it become an issue. Now Shane's had several partners over the years, but none of them have been very serious. However, over the past several months, Shane's started dating a co-worker of mine, River. I had assumed that because things were getting serious, Shane would have told River about this desire not to be in a relationship with anyone who is trans. However, Shane said that River wasn't trans so there was no need to bring it up. But how could Shane know if they never talked about it? Perhaps River is trans, or will later come out as trans, or has a trans family member or close friend. I think Shane is hiding a serious issue that could potentially create a big problem for them. Because River is my co-worker, I feel responsible. I know that only a handful of people know about Shane's preferences, but what if this were to blow up and River were to get hurt? Should I insist on telling River, or just stay out of it?
Thanks for writing me, my nameless friend. To begin with, I must state that there is an amazing parallel between your scenario and a problem another person recently wrote to Dear Prudence about. But we'll have to chalk that up to coincidence I suppose.
Now, in general, individuals are entitled to some degree of privacy, especially towards the beginning of a relationship. Additionally, with so many potentially important issues to discuss, it's just not possible or reasonable to have a specific timeline of when one should be obligated to disclose. Political affiliation, religious history, survivor status, food allergies, voting record, and of course, prejudices, are all things that might be important to share in a relationship. But a first date shouldn't become a laundry list of check-ins, warnings, and disclaimers. So I always err on the side of letting people set their own timeline for such things.
It's true it becomes more difficult when you are dealing with things that might reasonably come out before you get a chance to deal with them. What if Shane lets something slip while watching Dancing with the Stars? River will eventually meet more and more of Shane's friends and family, will it be possible (or reasonable) to get them all in line to help keep this secret?
Perhaps this is something that River won't have a problem with. But whether you call it a "preference" or a "prejudice," it's entirely possible it could be a deal breaker. Ultimately, though, the same could be said about any number of issues, and you simply can't police them all.
So I would recommend that you don't jump into the middle of this or out Shane on this issue. If you do want to do something, you have a couple of options. You can check in with Shane about the process, mentioning that disclosure is often for the best - if it creates a problem, it's more fair to address it now than five years into things, and if it doesn't create a problem, then no more having to hide things.
Or you could discretely try to ascertain River's thoughts on the matter through general questions about trans politics. But whatever you do, remember that they are both grown-ups and you are not responsible for them. Dating always involves risk of heartbreak and that is their risk to take.
So there's my first advice column. Let me know your thoughts and if I should try to do this more often. If you have questions for me, you can use the Bilerico contact form to get in touch. And while it's unrelated, I simply can't publish anything this month without mentioning my Kickstarter campaign for my next film, which is about halfway to the extended goal with less than a week to go. Please take a moment to check it out if you can.