Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

NY Times: "Transgendered" People Who Don't Out Themselves Are Immoral

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 11, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-trans violence, New York Times, Randy Cohen, The Ethicist, transgender violence

Today's Sunday New York Times contains an article from "The Ethicist," Randy Cohen, entitled "When To Out A Transgendered Dater?"transphobia_kills_button-p145168335067505533td3g_210.jpg

Mr. Cohen, who has no reputable credentials in the field of ethics, suggests that transgender people have a responsibility to out themselves on a first date, and implies that their failure to do so is morally wrong. He compares transgender history to the case of sexually transmitted disease and adultery. He suggests, however, that notifying the local community via handbills or having local clergy announce it from the pulpit would be inappropriate.

This is dangerous nonsense. Hundreds of transgender people are murdered every year, and more subjected to violence, many from partners and potential partners. What is morally wrong and reprehensible is lending the credence of The New York Times to this idea.

Should a bisexual person out themselves on a first date, or a person with a history of cancer or mental illness or appendectomy, and if not, are they "bad" and "discreditable"?

I strongly suggest that Cohen is in need of criticism and education regarding transgender people, particularly from gay and straight allies of transgender people. He ought to issue a retraction. Here's the address to write to him: [email protected] Letters to the editor may be addressed to [email protected].

UPDATE: Mr. Cohen responded to my email, and can be found in my second post on this issue here.

From the title onward, this article spells nothing but trouble for transgender people.

Even casual study should have revealed to Cohen that "transgendered" is a problematic term for journalists. "Transgender" is considered an adjective, not a noun. That means that there are no "transgendered" people, only transgender people, just as there are no "gayed' people or "lesbianed" people. While there are a few dissenters from this protocol, and I don't usually attack for a well-meaning mistake, I have to make an exception in this case, because it reveals that Mr. Cohen doesn't know the first thing about transgender lives.

Cohen does not have a degree or research credentials in ethics, which is a branch of philosophy. His chief credential is that he is a humorist and was a writer for David Letterman for seven years. Mr. Letterman infamously pretended to run from the stage in distress at finding out that President Obama's appointee to the Department of whatever is transgender, as well as many other despicable jibes at transgender people over the years.

Nonetheless, Mr Cohen has set himself up as an expert in ethics. He says that a trans person who fails to disclose their transgender status on a first date is "behaving badly" and is "discreditable." He compares it to sexually transmitted diseases and adultery.

[T]here are things each should reveal, things they would not mention to a casual acquaintance -- any history of S.T.D.'s, for example, or the existence of any current spouse. Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his being transgendered. Clearly he thought you'd find it pertinent; that's why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him.

The article uses a humorous tone, and suggests that inappropriate disclosures call for panic.

I might panic if on a first date someone began talking about what to name the nine kids she's eager for us to raise in our new home under the sea.

Mr. Cohen apparently fails to appreciates that hundreds of transgender people are killed every year because of their transgender status. Their murderers often rely on the "panic" defense. The list is long, and the Transgender Day of Remembrance, held every year on November 20, commemorates those deaths.

I choose to live my life as an out transgender person, but "out" is by necessity a relative term. Some people know my history; many of my friends don't. I live every day with the fear of violence. I have experienced violence. I choose carefully if and when and how to tell people, even people I am dating.

A first date is not a time for such disclosures, if the other person does not already know. A first date is an ambiguous space that may lead on the road to good acquaintanceship, to friendship, or to intimacy. It is a time to get to know another person. It is not a time to be disclosing intimate details, as Cohen himself acknowledges. Why does he differentiate this particular intimate detail from other intimate details? Because, he says, "clearly he thought you'd find it pertinent; that's why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him."

Cohen gives no evidence for this rash and condemnatory conclusion.

I don't know what kind of a person Cohen thinks I am, but a first date is not a "move toward erotic involvement," in his words. Personally, I choose not to engage any physical contact before disclosure, but that is a personal judgment, not one that I have a right to demand of others at the peril of calling failure to do so "behaving badly" and "discreditable."

The appropriateness of revealing transgender history depends on many factors. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Is medical history a factor? Sex reassignment surgery? Being at Point X on the timeline of gender transition? How about social environment? Does it make a difference whether one is in San Francisco, California, Laramie, Wyoming, or Caracas, Venezuela? Does it make a difference if one judges, upon meeting them for the first date, that the person would respond with scorn or violence, or seems likely to be unable to keep a confidence? Is it pertinent if the transgender person is well-respected in the community, but is at risk of losing that respect from conservative neighbors or employers? What if the transgender person decides they don't want a second date? While I recognize that "The Ethicist" column uses a short-answer format, I would have expected at least a mention of the concept that other factors might influence the decision.

An "ethicist' who gives advice that purports to answer this question without discussing any of the factors that might influence the decision is not worthy of the title.

The idea that a humorist, posing as an "ethicist," has the right to tell millions of readers of the New York Times, including its transgender readers, cloaked in the moral authority of the Times, that a transgender person has an obligation to disclose their intimate history on a first date is very, very wrong. More than merely incorrect, it is dangerous. It gives the impression that this is the standard of good behavior, and that failure to live up to Cohen's rule is bad. Bad, meaning morally wrong.

The case of Brandon Teena demonstrates viscerally why Cohen's article is dangerous. Here is the trailer to Boys Don't Cry, the Oscar-winning true story of the killing of Mr. Teena, and below it, a documentary on the case. Mr. Teena was raped and murdered because he violated Cohen's rule.

I strongly suggest that Cohen is in need of criticism and education regarding transgender people, particularly from gay and straight allies of transgender people. He ought to issue a retraction. Here's the address to write to him: [email protected] Letters to the editor may be addressed to [email protected].

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Transsexual and transgender are not the same as gay or lesbian. For us being "out" is simply living our lives as members of the sex that allow us to feel comfortable in our own skins. (a concept from Jay Prosser).

What give Randy Cohen the authority to dictate this? What makes him an ethicist? The ability to operate and preach from some sort of heterosexist, religionist and regularly misogynists conservative position seems a pretty dubious place to set oneself up as an ethicist.

Transsexual and transgender people should never be compelled to wear a sign that subjects them to the bigotry stirred up by religious hate groups.

"He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person? NAME WITHHELD, N.Y."

The most salient points:

This person is asking for authorization to out this person to a sect with a history of anti-LGBT/T bigotry.

She wants the Rabbi to lead a lynch mob of attack against this person.

She, herself knows this behavior is questionable on her part and so she is both looking for approval to do this and is hiding her own name.

The whole damned thing is sketchy. It puts all TS/TG folks in a bind that pretty much requires them to wear an arm band in a world where virtually all the major religions treat us as abominations.

I have long wondered about this NYT ethics column. There are different ethical systems, which may lead to different ethical conclusions. Cohen never discloses just what the basis is for his decisions.

I wrote in:

I'm writing in response to Randy Cohen's July 5th column, "When to Out
a Transgendered Dater?" I'm not transgender, nor am I "transgendered,"
but Cohen's advice comes off as ignorant and irresponsible. One would
expect a self-appointed ethics scold to at least do basic research
into his subject before wagging his finger at the Times' transgender

Cohen perpetuates the old and hurtful stereotype that transgender
people are inherently deceitful and that they're not really who they
think they are. He compares not sharing transgender history on the
first date to not disclosing that one's married (because both are
signs of dishonesty and immorality) and even compares transgender
status to a contagious disease. If Cohen had managed to discuss
pedophilia and bestiality, he would have written a screed appropriate
for the Traditional Values Coalition.

A transgender man is a man and he's under no responsibility to
disclose his medical history on the first date. What is morally
reprehensible in this story is the letter writer's private
investigation into this man's past, violating his privacy, and Cohen's
suggestion that she has "every right" to share this information with
her friends. While she may and I doubt there's any legal recourse for
the man in this situation, one would hope that a column about ethics
would have pushed the letter writer to go beyond her legal obligations
to him and keep the information she discovered private.

~Alex Blaze
Managing Editor, The Bilerico Project, http://www.bilerico.com/

I've been asked this question before and discussed it on the air, and my own opinion is that unless I'm planning to have sex with you what is or is not under my skirt is entirely my business unless I decide to discuss it.

That said, once sex is a real possibility then I believe it's incumbent upon a transperson to be honest about the status of their genitalia before the clothes come off. In my opinion, it's just good form and shows respect for one's sexual partner.

Also, these days only an idiot assumes that anyone who's thinking about getting serious about them can't or won't Google them to see what they can find out. Being honest upfront can potentially save a worthwhile relationship and discovering the truth later can destroy one so there's not necessarily one clear set of rules to apply in all cases here.

I'm fine about disclosing the status of my genitalia before sex occurs, if I'm pre-op. If I'm post-op, there is no obligation, since the state of my genitals doesn't differ from my presentation, it will be assumed they are how they are.

Disclosing can be done at any time then, or not at all. I probably would still disclose, but later on, when details are discussed about the past and medical histories, on both sides. Not before.

In the field of "Agony Aunts" (the British term for advice columnists), Randy Cohen stands among the lesser in quality of both writing and wisdom. I stopped reading him long ago and believe that his shelf life in that format was short, and yet he continues to hold a prominent position. He must have some fans.

I'd be willing to grant him a pass on his use of "transgendered" only because I, in my own column, have stumbled in the area of evolving terminology. I hope he will be as thankful for the corrections that come his way as have I.

Here is where he fails:

Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his being transgendered. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him.

Really? To follow his logic, we'd have to chide all cisgender women who ever went on a first date wearing hair extensions or false eyelashes and certainly that most evil of deceptions, the slightly padded bra!

I do hope people will write to him in protest. The silver lining is that this will call attention to the issue in an aula that is largely not LGBT.

The idea that a humorist, posing as an "ethicist,"....

It doesn't take a 'humorist.' "Ethicist" is apparently the amulet of choice for transphobic hacks of varying pseudo-academic stripes. Call onesself an "ethicist" and whatever you belch can not be questioned - even if you hack up a chicken bone, call it a Double Eagle, write something about it and find a disreputable publisher to publish it.

Its worked for Janice Raymond for over three decades; its worked for Alice Dreger for the past few years.

If only Ron Gold had thought to call himself that....

Transsexual and transgender are not the same as gay or lesbian. For us being "out" is simply living our lives as members of the sex that allow us to feel comfortable in our own skins. (a concept from Jay Prosser).

What give Randy Cohen the authority to dictate this? What makes him an ethicist? The ability to operate and preach from some sort of heterosexist, religionist and regularly misogynists conservative position seems a pretty dubious place to set oneself up as an ethicist.

Transsexual and transgender people should never be compelled to wear a sign that subjects them to the bigotry stirred up by religious hate groups.

"He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person? NAME WITHHELD, N.Y."

The most salient points:

This person is asking for authorization to out this person to a sect with a history of anti-LGBT/T bigotry.

She wants the Rabbi to lead a lynch mob of attack against this person.

She, herself knows this behavior is questionable on her part and so she is both looking for approval to do this and is hiding her own name.

The whole damned thing is sketchy. It puts all TS/TG folks in a bind that pretty much requires them to wear an arm band in a world where virtually all the major religions treat us as abominations.

I would have thought that the era of Jewish people having to out themselves by wearing yellow star of david patches would deter Jewish people from making similiar demands of others.

Mr Cohen, you are just WRONG!

John R. Selig | July 11, 2010 2:45 PM

I can certainly see why many people were upset by Randy Cohen's comments. I heard him read his comments on the podcast version of his NYT column and was aghast at his advicce.

Comparing being transgender to having a disease, adultery or a disorder is ludicrous and harmful.

Let me propose a question to those of you who are transgender. I am sure this comes up often and I honestly don't know the answer and am turning to you to be educated. When is it best to share your identity with a potential love interest?

Many of us have to come to terms with sharing personal information so this isn't just a gender identity issue. Parents must decide when to reveal that they have kids. If religion is important to an interest we must reveal our differences or atheism if things are getting serious. Obviously the potential rejection facing a transgender person is much stronger. But I often ask people when is the correct time to reveal more intimate details about ourselves.

In my efforts to be a proponent of my transgender brothers and sisters this is a question I sometimes am asked so some guidance is appreciated on how best to handle this question.

One more thing, I recommend that transgender people take advantage of Mr. Cohen's blunder to educate him. Flood his in-box with email pointing out his errors with a better suggested answer to the writer's question. Keep in mind one thing. Randy Cohen is extremely sarcastic in all of his comments (which has nothing to do with this particular answer). Therefore, I would take more umbrage with his content not his tone.

Patricia Harlow Patricia Harlow | July 11, 2010 4:47 PM

I let my now wife know pretty much immediately and it worked out pretty well. But she was there right in the beginning so it was definitely a very special time to share.

If I had to do it again for whatever reason I would say it would definitely depend on the person, but Im all for an approach of 'the sooner the better'. It avoids trouble down the line and/or just gets it over with ASAP so I can concentrate on other pursuits.

And I'm sure it's different for many people and depends on circumstance. It really comes down to how comfortable am I with this person knowing this knowledge about me. In the NY Times article the man clearly wasn't comfortable with this once blind-date yet, and apparently for good reason, she's a bigoted bitch.

I wrote an article on all the details that go into that issue, but the short answer is that there is no common answer. Just like "How long after a date should you wait before calling them back?" it depends on the context. In any case, though, it's not an obligation.

It’s true that trans status can be very important in some trans people’s lives, but to others, it’s just an anomalous fact in their medical history. If someone doesn’t notice that their partner is trans, then chances are, their trans status is not impacting their life— in which case, I’d argue there is no more obligation to disclose that than there is the obligation to disclose things like religion, political affiliation, ethnic heritage, survivor status, occupation and work history, past abortions, hobbies, and food allergies. All of those are fine things to discuss, but normally, you don’t claim someone is lying or deceptive if they haven’t discussed mentioned them by a specific point in the relationship. There is no reason trans status should be treated differently.

I might be aghast if I discovered a lover was a major fan of G. W. Bush, but if I’d never asked about politics, then it would be as much my fault as theirs that I never knew that piece of who they were. Similarly, if someone deeply cares about their partner’s trans status, but never asks about it, they cannot claim that their rights were violated because their partner never brought it up.
--Disclosing Trans Status

Maybe Mr Cohen might understand things better if you sent him this:

I am a white woman, and I was set up on a date with a man. We got along well initially, but I grew concerned about how evasive he was about his past. I did some sophisticated checking online — I do research professionally — and discovered that he has a Jewish mother. I then ended our relationship. He and I live in white communities. (I believe his mother converted shortly after he was born.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our pastor to out this person? NAME WITHHELD, N.Y.

Changed religion? I feel emotionally exhausted if I get a new sport coat. But although this person behaved badly by not being more forthcoming with you, he is still entitled to some privacy. You should not prompt a public announcement about his being a Jew.

There are two questions here: What must close companions reveal to each other?And what may they reveal about each other to outsiders?

Getting to know someone is a gradual process. I might panic if on a first date someone began talking about what to name the nine kids she’s eager for us to raise in our new home under the sea. Premature disclosure can be as unnerving as protracted concealment. But as partners cultivate romance, and particularly as they move toward erotic involvement, there are things each should reveal, things they would not mention to a casual acquaintance — any history of S.T.D.’s, for example, or the existence of any current spouse. Even before a first kiss, this person should have told you those things that you would regard as germane to this phase of your evolving relationship, including his not being white. Clearly he thought you’d find it pertinent; that’s why he discreditably withheld it, lest you reject him.

As things stand, you have every right to talk this over with friends. We are entitled to discuss the most intimate aspects of our own lives — or what are friends for? But you may not distribute handbills around the neighborhood or ask your pastor to announce this from the pulpit. Even when the clothes come off — especially when the clothes come off — we expect discretion from our partners. Few people (except perhaps the bitter foes of Tommy Lee or Paris Hilton) want sextapes, or even vivid verbal descriptions of their sexual peccadilloes, posted online. And that goes for being Jewish. We rely on our friends — and even more so partners — to respect our privacy, even if the relationship sours.

I did some sophisticated checking online — I do research professionally — and discovered the name and address of NAME WITHHELD, N.Y. It's not hard, there aren't that many orthodox jewish women of the right age who do that kind of work. Should I out this yenta?

That was one of the things that bugged me, too -- that while they were discussing punitively outing the transman for not outing himself on the first date, NAME WITHHELD got to have her name withheld...

FashionablyEvil | July 12, 2010 1:51 PM

Actually, I think withholding the letter writer's name protects the man in question, so in this case, I'm in favor of it.

SkepticalCidada | July 11, 2010 3:46 PM

Not sure I agree. I certainly believe that gay people have an ethical obligation to avoid leading on potential love interests of the opposite sex by not coming out. Transgender people obviously have no obligation to wear some kind of scarlet letter on a first date, and the analogy to an STD is bigoted. But the information is probably material to many people in their dating decisions, and it does strike me unethical to postpone an honest disclosure too long. This isn't employment, housing, or some other commercial activity. Whether it's a preference for a particular race, religion, or whatever, dating, love, sex, and marriage are too intimate for us to presume to reject the other person's preference as illegitimate and defend a lack of disclosure on that basis.

What you are saying there SkepticalCidada is that trans women are really men and trans men are really women and so while of course those sad, addled, fools deserve employment and work protections and so on we need to protect the poor innocent cisgender singles from these decieptful predators.

SkepticalCidada | July 12, 2010 4:05 PM

No, that is not remotely what I said.

Personally, I disclose at the first serious sign of interest. However, that is how I handle the situation mostly because I hate having that conversation.

The notion that trans people have to disclose this information is, however, positioning the potential discomfort of a partner over a very real fear of violence or (at best) social ostracism. I can't support the idea that trans people are so tainted that it is of utmost importance that we declare this status in reply to "care for a drink?"

I understand that people like what they like, and for some people any trans* history will be a deal-breaker. However, I think trans people need to navigate their own individual relationships rather than have some "ethical" mandate to put us in harm's way.

Except there is an added layer of complexity to the situation.

For example, if you "disclose" that you used to be in the military to your date and they are a pacifist, you are both working in a common framework. Both of you know what all the terms mean and are speaking a common language.

If you "disclose" you are a sex-changer, you are actually reducing the amount of useful information in the exchange. This is due to all the excess baggage that as built up largely as the result of muddling the waters and the resulting confusion caused be the "educational" efforts of people who push a common identity for all "queers" through the "transgender" terminology.

The general public knows what a military member is. The general public does not have a good grasp of what it means to be born different in a trans sense. This is due to misguided, not to mention mishandled, efforts to inform the public about transsexualism through the social construction of transgender identity.

SkepticalCidada | July 12, 2010 4:10 PM

More complicated than military service maybe, but not necessarily more complicated than other things. Not everyone understands every religion or, for that matter, bisexuality either. It sounds like a rationalization to me to say the spouse should never be told because the spouse won't understand.


The combination of Ariablue's comment and your misunderstanding of it is one of the funniest things I have seen in a trans discussion in a long time.

Just mind-blowing, for me at least...


Here's the key for you, Skeptical: honest.

If a trans person's past history a lie or a truth, and is the trans person's current life a lie or a truth?

This question lies at the crux of the ethical quandary here.

If the past is a truth, then is the present a lie? And if not, why and how?

If the past is a lie, and the present a truth, why is that past relevant?

If the answer contains data based on the assertion that a person's past is the truth, is it based in genitalia or the person?

If genitalia, why are those important?

Trans folk transition in order to *live* a truth -- to be honest. Asking them to disclose is asking them to say that they really aren't what you see before you, but actually something else.

SkepticalCidada | July 12, 2010 4:18 PM

That strikes me as an elaborate way to redefine failure to disclose as honesty. It does not affect my sexual identity in the least to talk with my partner about our respective processes of coming out and even our former heterosexual relationships or experiences. I was never straight or even bisexual, but talking about the time before I recognized my came to terms with my gay identity doesn't undermine it. How can you have an honest relationship with someone while concealing such a significant struggle you've overcome in your life? For me, coming out was so monumental a struggle that another person just cannot have a real understanding of me without knowing about it.

I agree, in that for me, personal, the experience of being trans affects my life, but the coming out process for trans folk is significantly different in many ways (among them the fact that it costs us money to do so, and takes all these other people to do it).

But you mean the emotional aspects, and yeah, they had a profound influence on me. However, even with such, that doesn't change the core questions. One can't really deal with this concept without answering those questions.

And the questions I point out are purely flawed from the beginning, and I'm well aware of it -- they are all binary based, and that means that they exclude those people for whom the answer is not that they are men or women, but that they are something that is in between or outside of those roles.

To describe that as a rationalization to redefine something ignores the very real *ethical* aspects of everything surrounding it, and maintains the high level of stigma against trans folk that creates such a standard.

So rather than dismiss it, try answering the questions, so that we can then begin to have a dialog and reach an understanding.

I don't have a responsibility to out myself to ANYONE save for the few guys worthy enough to do the mattress dance with me. If it were my prerogative to go stealth, that's my right.

i agree.

But it's been my experience here that asserting the right to stealth makes you the 'worst form of coward' (actual quote).

Unless of course, it seems, when it's related to potentially sexual relationships.

That makes sense.

Jillian - thank you for excellent article. This is indeed a very individual consideration and one with which I still battle. The considerations of whether there will even be a second date, or how to balance giving an individual time to know me as the person I am versus going too long as to appear deceitful has been a constant internal debate. I also avoid anything that might be considered intimate unless I've disclosed, including a kiss, but I cannot control another's impulse to kiss me without warning. Being in the medical field, the concept of HIPPA is also paramount in my mind; my medical history is no one's business until and unless it becomes relevant.

As for Mr. Cohen, as I read the article, the thought of pinning a yellow Star of David to his lapel also occurred to me. Go for it Randy!

This is the same newsish paper which ran an article a few years ago saying the bisexual men were gay and lying. Don't expect much in the way of reason from these people. Even when in NYC I don't read the rag.
Last year when we were doing a bi media event at the Center they wanted to help pay for it as long as they could have an exclusive access to the bisexuals. Of the three organizers my answer was the least politic.
I would not expect them to have anything good to contribute to any discussion but especially the discussion of transgendered people. They do, after all, need to move papers and reason ands thoughtful discourse doesn't seem to many papers.
Wouldn't wrap it around a fish.

Actually he has no training in ethics and was educated in music. My dregree is a specialized philosophy degree and so I once picked up his book about The Good The Bad and The Difference which was a tragedy from an ethical standpoint.

Deborah Lee Deborah Lee | July 11, 2010 6:55 PM

Frankly, I find the entire article questionable. I am somewhat familiar with the Orthodox Jewish community and I strongly doubt that any member of the orthodox community would be presenting a question of an ethical nature a none-rabbinic, outsider. It would furthermore be a serious breach of Jewish law; an act of “lashon hara”, for the writer “Name Withheld, N.Y.”, to disseminate such information.* It may be that Mr. Cohen was taken in by the writer and that the letter was not concocted by a script writer either way, the highly ethical New York Times, the paper which only publishes news which is fit to print now has chosen to pass off a comedy writer as an ethicist does not speak well of The Times or the state of the news industry. By giving Mr. Cohen an aura of erudition and the imprimatur of a respected news outlet, The Times is doing not only a disserves to its readers but is reinforcing uninformed concepts and promoting dangerous stereotypes.
*Leviticus 19:16 ~ Do not go about as a talebearer among your people.

Why in the world would I ever want to disclose anything important to a man until we have had sex? I mean dear heavens, my mother taught me about men and their blood flow long ago.

Am I missing something re his disconnect with what he says he believes, and what he says? This from Wiki on Mr. Cohen:

"In Cohen's view of ethics, individuals are all more or less the same with respect to ethics, but society is often to blame for the very existence of an ethical dilemma, which aligns him (by his own admission) with many of the beliefs of the Society for Ethical Culture; a fundamental premise of this ethical framework is that humans are morally obligated to promote changes in society so all people can lead more ethical lives."

And then this from the above mentioned Society:

"It is a chief belief of Ethical religion that if we relate to others in a way that brings out their best, we will at the same time elicit the best in ourselves. By the "best" in each person, we refer to his or her unique talents and abilities that affirm and nurture life. We use the term "spirit" to refer to a person's unique personality and to the love, hope, and empathy that exists in human beings. When we act to elicit the best in others, we encourage the growing edge of their ethical development, their perhaps as-yet untapped but inexhaustible worth."

What am I not getting? Doesn't appear to me he walks the talk of promoting understanding and acceptance.

And this from another "opinion" of his-

"To lead an ethical life requires us to empathize with other people and ask: What circumstances would induce a person to behave this way?"

What indeed?

Laney Kahlowska | July 11, 2010 11:27 PM

Dr. J. W. we hope is a force for good to the survival of transgender persons. This critique of the Cohen article is alarmist and needless. Saying some things that are true and need to be said does not require attacking Cohen's advice, which is to NOT ask a rabbi to out the trans man.

To twist the dating discussion by using "first date", which Cohen does not, is furthermore irresponsible. Finally, the semantic discussion of noun forms is desperate and juvenile.

I'd say Mr. Cohen's article is itself alarmist; Dr. Weiss' response is necessary and I don't find the tone of it unwarranted at all.

As for people taking exception to the word "transgendered" vs. "transgender", people have the right to choose how they are identified. It's not juvenile, it's called self-determination.

And yeah, Cohen didn't say "out yourself on the first date", but Dr. Weiss acknowledges this mistake in her other post on the subject.

Camille Phoenix | July 12, 2010 1:28 AM

Okay, here's the basic perspective from someone that has perspective. The concept wouldn't have legitimately come from someone in the orthodox Jewish community. 1) As stated above, someone from "g-d's chosen people" isn't going to ask some schmuck comedian for deep life lessons on morality. 2) While I'm not orthodox, I'm of Jewish descent myself. The prospect of forcing trans-persons to out themselves is the exact equivalent of the historical act of requiring Jews to wear the Star of David on their chests when a certain dictator was initiating racial cleansing throughout Europe. A Jew would see this proposal of tagged outing for what it is, a biggoted plot to find a way to identify those you want to discriminate against or bring harm to. The medical community has already established that the trans and intersex lines are blurred by over three hundred identified medical circumstances or conditions. Neurological gender is the person, the person is who you love and have the relationship with. Physical pleasure comes from the physical act, and holds no requisite or recognition of whether or not the 16th chromosome pair has seven or eight branches. I wouldn't expect someone with Turner Syndrome or Klinefelter Syndrome to disclose that fact on a first date, and like being transgender these are simply medical classifications based on anomalies of the 16th chromosome pair. A genetic state that does not change the value of the person, the quality of the soul, or the worthiness to be loved.

My letter:

NAME WITHHELD's query and your reply are wrong in so many ways.

The two of you are discussing taking an action that can lead to physical violence and death for the transman, and you're enabling NAME WITHHELD by allowing her anonymity while telling her she has 'every right' to tell her friends that her date was born without a penis.

Overall, transgender people are 8 times as likely to be murdered than heterosexual, cisgender persons -- and the disparity soars to 17 times more likely for transgender persons of color.

Cisgender people feel entitled to out transgender persons, to decide what gender they really are based on the birth configuration of the transgender person's genitalia, and to deny the transgender person's sense of gender by referring to the transgender person by their as-identified-at-birth gender.

Indeed, the knowledge that someone is transgender is too juicy to keep to oneself. NAME WITHHELDs 'sharing' of this intimate detail with only one other close friend can lead to the entire community quickly learning about it by word-of-mouth.

I'm a transwoman. I'd love to live in a world where being transgender is accepted as an anomaly of human development, much as cleft palate or club foot are not thought of as a sign of moral failing on the part of the person born with a harelip or club foot. Reality is that I don't out myself every time I buy groceries or gas. And I don't out myself on a first date because there may not be a second date, and if I did out myself on that first date, there would be one more person who potentially could send that very personal information viral.

No, the time to out oneself is when you've had a chance to get to know and assess the other person, and you feel they're ready for the information, and will respect you by not sharing it with others, even if the relation doesn't move on to physical intimacy.

Sir, I recommend you attend a Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony. Last year, the names of 119 transgender people murdered during the year solely for being transgender were read, a reminder of the dangers of merely being transgender. You should participate in the ceremony, read some names from the pulpit or podium, and light candles for the dead whose names you read. You should talk with the folks at the reception. I hope and pray you come to see them as people first, who must constantly navigate a mine field created by our society's attitudes towards gender.

If you provide a mailing address, I'll send you a DVD of our Transgender Day of Remembrance.


"Hazumu Osaragi"

Jane Laplain | July 12, 2010 9:49 AM

Why is it always the Transperson's job to tell? Don't Cis people already know whether or not they'd be grossed out by dating a transperson? Why isn't it THEIR responsibility to ASK? Right along with the many other dealbreaker type questions people ask before going out with someone: "Are you married? Are you a smoker? Are you transgender? Are you looking for something serious or just a fling?" etc...

But Nooooooo... it's OUR responsibility to walk around with a neon sign, Warning! Trans! DO NOT WANT!" Cis Privilege, folks, gotta love it.

"Moron Morality"

I suppose he'll need to know if we've ever been divorced, had an abortrion, are separated, were baptised, circumsized, or pasteurized next. Much ado about nothing...

Of the comments I've read so far, the general consensus seems to be that the journalist in question hasn't got a clue, but that's part of the problem. He's answered someone who's asked an important question, as she doens't know what to do for the best, and instead of doing his homework, he's put what he thinks is best.

I am trans, and I've only had one real long term relationship up until now. I didn't tell him I was trans, but since we both met at a trans-support group, I didn't really feel the need.

I wish I could say whem the time to "tell all" was, but the only answer I can come up with is "how long is a piece of string". I do believe that we should tell some partners of our trans status, but other needn't know, it all depends on the people involved and the status of the relationship. If I have a one night thing with someone, do I really need to tell them if I'm never likely to see them again? That being said, a good few years ago, I was in a gay club and was getting close with a girl there, and before we even kissed, she told me she was hiv+. I stopped for a second to think, but I know enough to know that I'll be fine, as long I'm not stupid, and things went on a bit (not sex, as things didn't get that far, but don't ask me what as it was a long time ago and I can barely remember yesterday, never mind 13 years ago). Did she need to tell me, I don't know, but I appreciated the fact that she did. Had I rejected her after knowing this, what kind of person would that make me?

Another girl that I was getting closer too, told me about her little girl, but did it in a way that she expected me to be put off by that, and that kinda upset me that she'd think that. I wasn't upset with her, but upset that she must have been treated badly before, simply because she has a kid. She didn't need to tell me about her kid, but it was information about herself that was important about her.

There really isn't a good time or way to tell someone at the end of the day. If you don't tell someone, you're "deceitfull" according to some, if you tell people, you can attract the crazies, who only want to be with you because you're trans.

Lastly, round about 1997, a close friend of mine, told me that he came from Iraq. He was worried that I would reject him as a friend, after all, we had been at was with country not too long ago. That revelation knocked me for six, but in the five minutes we we're in the car together, I realised he was the same person that was my friend before he told me that he was now, and he'd be the same person in another 5 minutes, so it didn't bother me, and I thought nothing more of it. However, a few months later when I came out to him, he rejected me as a friend after his father told him to.

Ethics aren't hard and simple rules, they're complicated and difficult and never the same in two situations, and while the commentator may not have given the best advice, at least he tried.

If any of you do write to him, keep this in mind, and gently point him in the right direction, rather than shoving information down his throat.

Ignored here is the basic question.....disclose what? If you are a TG with contrary genitals to how you present yourself to the world...maybe this is a valid issue. However, if you are a woman who was born with a neurological intersexed birth condition that placed your neurological sex at odds with your somatic sex and had that corrected then exactly what are you suppose to disclose? A private medical matter that was resolved? Screw that. Unless those taking the disclosed position are in turn willing and prepared to present a full and complete medical history of their own each and every time they go out on a date, notarized of course then this is beyond bigoted.
Female mind, female body, female life, what's to disclose?

Yet another demonstration of the problems involved in the deliberate confusion of transgenders with those born with a transsexed birth condition who correct it. There is no common ground and it comes at continued cost to those defined against their will into a third gender or sex category. That too is bigotry, pure and simple.

Marja Erwin | July 12, 2010 12:29 PM

"There is no common ground and it comes at continued cost to those defined against their will into a third gender or sex category. That too is bigotry, pure and simple."

You seem awfully willing to third-gender those born with a transsexed birth condition who, for financial or medical reasons, are unable to obtain surgery, or unable to risk it, or choose not to. That too is bigotry, pure and simple.

It's really simple despite the transgender nonsense that tries to confuse the issue.
You have a dick, you want to keep said dick, you are neither a woman nor a transsexual, which is a clearly defined medical condition that finally is being properly defined medically once again.

It's not being able to get surgical correction that defines this, it is the drive to do so.....You cannot be a non-op by choice and be transsexual, only by circumstances. Never have I disputed that transsexuality is anything other than a medical condition not defined by surgical correction or the inability to get that correction for actual legitmate medical or monetary reasons. That is the TG BS tossed out to sow confusion of a simple issue. That people with penises who wish to keep their penis are NOT women is a no brainer to all but the clinically insane. Someone born with a transsexed medical condition will always correct their bodies eventually to the fullest extent possible and that is not denying sometimes possible doesn't extend to SRS for medical or other reasons. But TGs always try to cloud this issue.

Your calling me bigoted has been reported.

Marja Erwin | July 12, 2010 4:08 PM

I AM a womon. I want surgery and can't afford it; even if I could afford it, I have the right to consider the risks of surgery... Just because I don't have the money doesn't mean I don't have the condition.

You define others as bigots when they try to third-gender you. And then you try to third-gender me. It looks like you are doing the same thing to me that they are doing to you.

What exactly is your reading comprehension level?
There is a world of difference between you calling me a bigot and my explaining a position (shared by a hellva lot of women btw) without referencing you at all. You put on the shoe and declared it a fit, I did not put it on your foot.

As for Dyss........you are not supposed to report anything you disagree with, just violations of the TOS. Your opinions have yet to be enshrined as the divine truth not to be questioned.....duh.

Wendy, get a freakin' clue.....the discussion began with the FtM and quickly expanded to include MtFs in comments long before I tossed in my two cents. It is one of those asshat "hot-button" garbage issues that returns over and over like a bad penny or a dog to vomit. I swear I don't even check this hotbed of gay male mysogyny blog directly anymore but you and others seem to be lying in wait hoping to catch me make a comment, any comment you can make an inane response to. Get a life, I have one.

I would certainly hope that my opinions are not given the status of divine truth. That would create a situational comparative that other deities would be sure to lose.

ow. Pardon me, tongue got stuck in my cheek there a sec.

I did report violations of the TOS, however. Because while my opinions might bit be truth, the assertion that there is no connection between the various trans groups is abusive and somewhat transphobic and has no merit in terms of science or logic.

As I noted before, have a nice day :D

Well, in that case, your bigotry and falsehood in stating there is no commonality is going to be reported as well.

That assertion does not have scientific basis, since the studies involved do not distinguish between the those two, and, in fact, are developed on an understanding that they are related.

Have a pleasant day.

You need to actually read the article before hitting that reply button. I know you love to spout off nonsense but it would help your case if you at least had the basic facts right. The transsexual person involved in this story was actually a man so stuff your talk about "a woman who was born with a neurological intersexed... blah, blah, blah". If you knew anything about FTM surgeries and issues you would know that the bottom surgeries available to them are far less satisfactory than that available to women. Most of the men I have talked to are not considering any bottom surgery at all because their options are so unsatisfactory. And as far as bigotry is concerned; "hello pot? This is kettle..."

Believe it or not, RB, to many who would react negatively, a female-appearing person who once had a penis is just as threatening as female-appearing who currently has a penis. Ignore that truth if you wish, but it is reality... and I say that as a post-op woman who has a trans history.

I think the response of most ppl (at least internally), is, "So you are really a man?" or at best, "So you used to be a man?"...no matter how you see yourself (mentally intersexed or otherwise) or what you have been through or done (bottom surgery or otherwise).

I doubt that Randy Cohen is qualified in speaking to the issue of coming forward or not for someone who is Transgender, it does however beg speaking another point. Should we who are Transgender attempt to live a "stealth life" or come forward in an attempt to dispel the all too common charge made by those in the Religious Right that we are morally bankrupt, sex crazed, or sex workers. Or the political right who may say that protecting our Rights as people is either not required or not cost effective to do. That there are just too few of us to warrant any consideration.

Frankly I have found it necessary to tell people even after several hours of being around them that I was Transgender. Some of these people had the opinion that Transgender people were social freaks which they thought generally existed only in cities in areas where other sex workers would be found. Certainly not being just "normal people", doing the things they do, having the same interests they do. It is the story of how many of us had no other choice but to make the journey from one sex presentation to the other which will give us the support and respect. If we all drop into a stealth life, we will be waiting a long time for the same rights as others enjoy.

As long as Bigots like the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and other conservative or Religious organizations are providing the facts to many people, we will have an uphill fight in gaining the acceptance we need in order to get rights we have been denied for far too long. In the light of truth, lies disappear. As long as we as Transgender people surrender the high moral ground to the Bigots who claim to speak for God who created us all, including the Transgenders, we will remain less than others in law and peoples minds.

It is hard once you know someone personally to think of that person as "those people" somehow different, strange, defective or less human in some way. We will not gain rights by hiding from everyone. It may take another forty or fifty years to gain those rights if we intend to wait until every family has a Transgender person within it. Only by engaging people when we can do so will we hope to gain the "grass roots" support for the cause of equal rights for Transgender from a whisper to a roar that will not be ignored.

So while I disagree with the reasons it appears Mr. Cohen sights for the reason of a Transgender person in coming forward, I do think far more of us must grow a backbone and spread the word of truth about us. To fight the lies long used to keep us in the shadows so that we can proudly stand before someone without reservation and state we are Transgender.

Here's what I submitted:

Mr. Cohen --

I've followed your column with interest over the years, and I was very entertained by your speech at the DC Employment Justice Center a couple of years ago. But I have to say, while you got the outcome essentially right (she has no right to disclose his transgender status more broadly), in doing so, you used language that many would consider offensive, as I did.

I was disappointed to see language like "this person behaved badly," "he discreditably withheld [information about his transgender status]," and a comparison of gender identity to STD status and adultery. As you acknowledge, there can be too much disclosure on a first date, especially until the two individuals establish whether or not they care to ever date again or even have ongoing contact. Transgender people face a great deal of discrimination in this society, in employment, housing, and yes, especially in certain religious communities, and they are not under any obligation to disclose such highly personal information to the world at large, or to any individual, until it can be established that doing so does not jeopardize their safety and security, and whether the person to whom they are disclosing such information is worthy of their trust. Obviously the woman who wrote to you might not be that person, considering that she had to ask you whether it was appropriate to disclose this information far and wide.

It was up to the man in question whether he wanted to share this information with the woman who wrote to you, but not doing so was not behaving badly or discreditable conduct. It was up to the woman who wrote to you whether to continue dating him, based upon his conduct on the first date and what she knows about him (these days, Internet research is probably fair game, considering most of us do it when we meet someone who isn't known to us already). If knowing that he was not born male makes her uninterested in dating him, that is her issue -- not his.

It might be relevant information were they to become sexually intimate, but there was no indication from your letter that the two did so or were planning to do so after a single date. And if they were, it would be no different than choosing whether to disclose if one had gastric bypass surgery and excess skin or plastic surgery scars that would be revealed when the clothes came off, or a scar not otherwise visible, as we all choose our sexual partners knowing that they may not look the same with their clothes off as we perceive their attractiveness with their clothes on.

UPDATE: Mr. Cohen responded to my email, and that can be found in my second post here.

I believe that it is a personal decision that should be made based on a case to case basis. We should not mandate when to out or not as this is still a free country.

I decide who I disclose to, what and when I disclose whatever information I choose. I implore everyone to do the same. Safety is #1, honesty follows next... I am out because I choose to be... Outing a trans person is never a good thing.. Thx Jill for the article and perspective...

Lady on the Lake | January 9, 2011 9:59 AM

I have just been in a one year monogamous sexual relationship with a non Op Transgendered person M2F, who presented himself to me as a very Macho motorcycle riding, gun toting from the beginning.........and I stumbled across a photo 6 months into our relationship of a 'woman' that looked like him ......asked him about it ( thinking it was a relative) and he confessed his Transgender life ...and that he had (before he met me ) started transition procedures with hormones.......but then discontinued due to finances. He still dresses as a woman, which I have never seen, and says he feels like a woman, wants to be a woman, etc. We talked extensively, he answered all my questions, and he professed his undying anf forever love for me. I stayed in the relationship for 6 more months, hoping and trying to deal with all of it.....until I realised that the feeling I had of being deceived was causing me to NOT be able to fully trust him........so I broke it off. The anger now is growing, and I feel with NO DOUBT that he should have been fully truthful before being intimate witm me and feel as if my feelings and my emotions were not important to him..........I am devastated and feel so sad.