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The Transgender Secret: Was I Right Then, Or Am I Right Now?
Jack Marshall -- ProEthics, Ltd. Jack Marshall -- ProEthics, Ltd.
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Alexandria , VA
Thursday, December 20, 2018


I recently wrote here that I have been pleasantly surprised when looking back on old posts to find that I am almost always in agreement with them. Naturally, I have immmediately been confronted with an issue where I now question Past Jack’s verdict.

Ebony has a “confession’ article—it may be fake, but the issue isn’t—by a trans woman who writes in part regarding her husband,

We were months into dating and contemplating sex before it ever occurred to me that Carlos might need to know… It was wrong, but I chose to keep the secret rather than risk losing him. Now, four years later, Carlos and I are happy and madly in love! It has been a roller coaster, but we couldn’t be happier. But it’s this happiness that is causing me such pain because Carlos feels that it is time to add to our happy family. He is excited to be a father and his face lights up at the very thought. So how do I break his heart? How do I tell him that all of our trying has been in vain because, despite my best efforts to be the person I always felt I was, I’m still not who he thinks I am?

My answer: Suck it up and tell him the truth. Maybe have him watch “The Crying Game” a few times. The relationship has already been built on a material lie, and now adding to the dishonesty by concocting a reason why children are not an option just damages the relationship further.

I do think that transgendered individuals have a difficult choice regarding the timing of this revelation as they enter a relationship, but that’s a different issue (There’s a poll on that one coming up.)

In 2012, however, I did post following an Emily Yoffe advice column (“Dear Prudence”) , and came to the opposite conclusion, in contrast to Yoffe. Then I wrote,

I understand the theory that couples shouldn’t withhold personal information from one another in the interest of mutual trust. Surely each member of a committed couple has an obligation to reveal any personal information that has the potential to affect the other. Is there an obligation to reveal personal information that one knows a boyfriend or girlfriend will be shocked to learn, or that will tap into visceral fears or biases? Author William Saroyan left his wife on their honeymoon when she revealed to him that she was Jewish, which highlights the irony of the problem: if a woman knows that a secret may cause a lover to reject her, however irrational that reaction would be, then is she ethically obligated to tell him but not obligated if she is sure he wouldn’t care? In other words, is one only ethically obligated to reveal the secrets that will destroy a relationship?

That seems strange.

We all have a right to some secrets, and I reject the contention that spouses and other committed couples have an ethical obligation to reveal every aspect of their personal lives, including those that risk altering, damaging or ending the relationship. A woman who once was a man is not lying by representing herself to a lover as a woman now: she is a woman now. I completely understand why a woman who has been transgendered would not want a boyfriend to know about that fact, because the vast majority of men today would have a difficult time accepting it. Consider these possible secrets a woman might want to keep to herself based on her assessment of her significant other’s attitudes, desires, biases and beliefs:

  • She is, in whole or in part, a member of a racial or ethnic group that he has biases against..
  • She fantasizes that he is Justin Bieber when they have sex.
  • She fantasizes that he is Winston Churchill when they have sex.
  • She fantasizes that he is Lindsey Lohan when they have sex.
  • She fantasizes that he is Eva Peron when they have sex
  • She fantasizes that he is Lassie when they have sex
  • She hates having sex with him, period.
  • She killed someone when she was a teen, and was in prison.
  • She killed her mother when she was a teen, and was in prison.
  • She was unjustly accused of killing a previous boyfriend, and acquitted.
  • She was unjustly accused of killing TWO previous boyfriends.
  • She used to be a heroin addict.
  • She had a complete nervous breakdown.
  • She was kidnapped and forced to be a sex slave when she was 12.
  • She was once a call girl.
  • She was once a stripper.
  • She was once a porn star.
  • She was once a Communist.
  • She is listed, under another name, as the holder of the all time record for sex partners before the age of 30.
  • She is Wonder Woman.

I don’t think that any other human being has a right to know any of these secrets, if a woman doesn’t want to divulge them, as long as maintaining the secret doesn’t require ongoing deception, lies or deceit, or real harm to the uninformed partner.

I concluded,

I admit to having doubts about the ethics of withholding information that shouldn’t matter to a boyfriend when a woman knows that it will matter.  Biases and bigotry are real, and in matters of the heart, an individual has a right to be bigoted. Does that mean that a woman has an ethical obligation to help a man be bigoted against her? If we conclude so, then we must also conclude that there are no aspects of our identity, past life, conducts or thoughts that we can regard as ours and ours alone, once we commit to an intimate relationship. I can’t endorse that.

Interestingly, then and current commenter Zoe Brain authored a Comment of the Day adding some nuances to the issue.

So was I right in 2012, or am I right now?

Now for that poll:

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