she was a he and doesn't know I know
August 29, 2011 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Ever since that found-on-facebook date showed up on my doorstep I've had the same feeling : that person has not lived in that female body all her life. That hunch has been confirmed That person doesn't know I know - now what ?

What do I do with this relationship ? Besides that elephant in the room, the relationship is at the going-well-but-not-madly-romantically-in-love stage.

I fully understand that "Oh... by the way I used to be a man..." is not the greatest pick-up line.

My lack of experience in dating a female born in a male body make me feel lost. When/how should I bring the subject if it's a good idea to bring the subject at all ?

I think that not knowing for sure maintained the relationship alvive for me. Not that I know without a doubt I'm nearly sure this relationship has no long-term future.

Should I break up and explain that I've found out ? Should I give the gift of "you fooled me" to that person ? Should I tell the truth and seek freedom ?

Are there transgender persons on MeFi that could advise me on how they handle the dating/relationship thing in their new bodies/new identities ?

In short : I care too much about that person to hurt her but not enough to invest in a romantic relationship.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Asking the obvious question -- HOW do you "know without a doubt" that this woman used to be a man? I mean, lots of people "know without a doubt" that Jamie Lee Curtis used to be male, but there is absolutely no truth to that rumor.

It strikes me that the only way you'd know this for sure is if your object of affection told you, their doctor told you, or their parent told you. I'm wondering if your fears may be a sign that you have other problems with the relationship; if that's the case, I'd consider figuring out what they ACTUALLY are, so if and when you do choose to break things off you do so for the REAL reasons, rather than "I got paranoid you may have been born a guy".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 AM on August 29, 2011

EmpressCallipygos - It's not always THAT hard to confirm something. Not every person wants to hide every little detail about their past. And I'm sure other people besides those three will know if a person used to be a different gender. Like friends, and the internet. Just a data point.

Talk to her. I don't know the person or you, so I can't give advice. So talk to her. Obviously if you can't be with her, you can't. Nobody can force you. But you can be honest, and a caring person would talk to the person before lying or just dumping them without reason.
posted by trogdole at 7:45 AM on August 29, 2011

"So Chris, I heard the oddest thing the other day. I heard that when you a kid, you were a boy. What do you think of that?"
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:53 AM on August 29, 2011

Also, just came back in to say, don't make it about looks. You say you had a hunch, I dunno where the hunch came from, but if she doesn't 'pass' 100% or if it's something like that, I wouldn't say anything. Still end it of course, but you don't know how much your self-esteem drops when someone tells you that you look like the other gender.
posted by trogdole at 7:58 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it that you don't want to date her because she's a trans woman or that you don't want to date her because you feel she lied to you by not telling you that she's trans woman?
posted by crankylex at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's not always THAT hard to confirm something. Not every person wants to hide every little detail about their past. And I'm sure other people besides those three will know if a person used to be a different gender. Like friends, and the internet. Just a data point.

True, but the OP is saying "I don't think s/he knows that I know, which tells me that this isn't something that's been discussed -- which rules out friends, the significant other, or parents having told the OP the "truth". That leaves the Internet -- which is often wrong -- or the OP's own eyes, which may also be wrong.

Note I said "may", though, because the OP didn't explain HOW he knows this to be true. That's why I asked. If he came back in and said "because I saw the scar from where they cut off the penis", well, then, there's no arguing that. But presumably this is something the couple would have discussed before getting to that point, though, and since it sounds like there's been no such discussion....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2011

Forget the transgender thing.

This is a person you met on facebook, it's not working out for you. Just say that you aren't interested in dating them and you can both get on with your lives.
posted by empath at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2011 [60 favorites]

Why all the fretting over what to say? Of course you shouldn't mention what you "know." Just say "sorry, this isn't going to work out/I don't feel a spark/there's nor the chemistry I'm looking for" etc.
posted by jayder at 8:22 AM on August 29, 2011 [17 favorites]

Yeah, just bow out saying you're not feeling it. No need to make her feel rejected over who she is fundamentally.
posted by inturnaround at 8:26 AM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that not knowing for sure maintained the relationship alvive for me ... Should I break up and explain that I've found out ?

Oh, god no. I mean, yes, definitely based on the fact that you don't feel anything for this person. But I'm not sure if "I only kept this going because I was trying to figure out which genitalia you came into this world with" is something anyone should hear, ever, under any circumstances. Yes, even if she asks.
posted by griphus at 8:33 AM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

...definitely break up based on...
posted by griphus at 8:34 AM on August 29, 2011

I'm one of those people who usually values honesty over pretty much anything else, but I think your best course of action here is to just end it for any one of a million standard reasons (you're not feeling it, you've got a lot going on in your life and you can't really be in a relationship right now, "It's not you, it's me," et cetera) and bow out gracefully.

Don't mention her trans status, don't make a fuss about it, just end it and move on.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with empath. While the transgender thing may be the reason you don't see a future in the relationship it has nothing to do with what you need to do/say. Just tell her you don't see a future in the relationship, there's no need to bring up that you know/suspect that she was born a man. If things had been going well, she might be confused but I don't see how telling her the real reason could hurt less than her just feeling like she misread how well its been going.
posted by missmagenta at 8:53 AM on August 29, 2011

Okay, I'm not trans but I have a lot of trans friends. I'm not speaking for trans people; I'm basing this on what I would do if I were to date a girl under these circumstances (except that I wouldn't actually care whether my girlfriend was trans - it would never be a deal-breaker for me).

1. IMO, this does not fall under the 'dating and honesty' policy, because 1. if someone has transitioned, she may not feel that it should be immediately important to disclose, ie, you like to date women, she's a woman, she's living as and passing as a woman, no problem. 2. disclosing can be pretty dangerous for trans folks, especially trans women. It probably feels a LOT safer to get to know you first so that she can be fairly confident that you won't go into a transphobic rage and beat her or out her to her employer, and that the relationship is going well enough to be worth the effort of disclosure.

2. Don't bring up the transness when you break it off. It's going to be rude and hurtful and it will sound - no matter how you actually feel - like you're breaking it off because she's trans.

3. Don't say anything on the "you fooled me" line - first, she didn't fool you; she's not in costume as a woman, she's a woman. Second, the only "how am I passing?" conversations I've ever been part of have been in the context of a lot of closeness and trust, and initiated by the other person, not by me.

4. "So, I heard you used to be a boy" as suggested upthread is never, ever appropriate. It's possible but not as far as I know super-likely that your date would describe her past that way, IME. (ie, IME if you're a trans woman, you are more likely to say that you were a trans girl when you were little, that you were "assigned" male gender, not that "you were a boy and now you're a girl".) Plus, it's cruel and it feels like "I'm trying to catch you out in a lie", for which, see 2.

5. Just be as nice as possible, okay? All the trans women I know have been through a lot of really shitty experiences and self-doubt and hassle from doctors and the general public at best. If there's ever a case for being extra double plus pleasant and kind, it's when you're talking about someone's gender identity. (Or not talking about it, as in this case.)
posted by Frowner at 8:58 AM on August 29, 2011 [89 favorites]

Another vote for "there's no reason to tell her what you found out."

All you need to say is "Sorry, I don't see a future in this relationship." If pressed for why, you say you don't think you're compatible. Both statements are absolutely true. If pressed further, tell that you wish her well but you need to end this conversation now.

I'm not TG but I've been rejected based on my looks. There's no point in telling me this, because I cannot change what I look like. It's not a matter of a hairstyle or even weight loss. The gentlest thing to do is make a clean break.
posted by desjardins at 8:59 AM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm nearly sure this relationship has no long-term future

Narrow the question. Based on everything you know about this person -- I mean, the things you've done with her, if she makes you laugh, if you just like her for her -- then make a decision whether or not there's a future.

If there is, I think it would be OK to ask about the RUMORS you've heard and get her to weigh in.

If there's not, then you break it off because "this relationship has no long-term future" and that's all there is to it. It's unnecessary to go the "you fooled me" route as long as you two have never had a direct conversation about it!
posted by motsque at 9:00 AM on August 29, 2011

I'm nearly sure this relationship has no long-term future

Now that I think about it, what's the point of asking? If someone told me "Frowner, I'd totally see a relationship with you as long as you can confirm that you're cis-gender", that right there would pretty much creep me the hell out. There's so much buried in that - "your gender performance isn't natural"; "no matter how well you pass physically I wouldn't date you if you were trans"; "I've been thinking a lot about your gender identity"; "I've been trying to figure out your assigned gender"....It's just not a good question. If you can't handle whatever degree of non-cis-ness this woman has going on right now, then you should probably just break it off.
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

It doesn't matter what this person was in the past. It matters what this person is now. She is female now, and that's all that is important. She is not fooling you. She is not lying to you. Who cares about her past? If you see this relationship as working or not working it should be based on who this person is, not who she might have been.
posted by patheral at 9:36 AM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

So if you need to break up, just do so. Be honest or don't - just be kind.

But... it sounds like you like this person? Maybe the idea of dating someone trans is confusing or upsetting to you, but perhaps if you give her a chance, you'll change your mind about that.
posted by serazin at 9:52 AM on August 29, 2011

that right there would pretty much creep me the hell out. There's so much buried in that - "your gender performance isn't natural"

Or we could be generous and assume that the reason he sees no long term future is that for him, like many people, having his own biological offspring is really important to him. We may have the technology to give her a body that looks the way she feels inside but we can't make her ovulate. (and if that is the reason, bringing it up with her would be beyond insensitive). FWIW, it doesn't sound like he's contemplating asking, he says he knows for sure so if he brings the subject up, it sounds like it would be telling not asking. But I think we're all agreed that he shouldn't ask, tell or in any way bring it up.
posted by missmagenta at 9:54 AM on August 29, 2011

I wouldn't frame this as an "honesty in relationships" issue. The putative fact that she was raised male is information about her past, not about her present.

On preview, I do disagree with patheral on whether this counts as a reason to discontinue the relationship -- you have the right to define your own sexuality, and if you're only interested in being with women-raised-women, that's what you have to work with. It may be a loss for you -- you may be grieving the very nice romance that could-have-been, and it may be tempting to find someone to blame, especially if some part of you thinks you "should have been able to get past it".

But that doesn't mean she's dishonest, and it doesn't mean that you're wrong either, just that your preferences don't match her history.

When I've had to break up with someone, I've never needed much more than "this isn't working out for me, I'm sorry." You don't need to give details, and it would be inappropriate and unkind.
posted by endless_forms at 9:59 AM on August 29, 2011

I'm actually Trans, just backing up what Frowner said up thread, don't go for the you fooled me line. It will not be seen as a compliment.

If the relationship is not what you want you should end it but in as kind of way as possible.
posted by Z303 at 10:02 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

don't go for the you fooled me line. It will not be seen as a compliment.
I think what he meant by "the gift of 'you fooled me'" is not mentioning it and letting her think that she he believed she was a 'real' woman. Obviously if he brought it up in any way that would let on that he hadn't "fooled" her... I'm not trans but I would imagine the fact that he could tell from their first meeting that she was born male would be completely devastating to her.
posted by missmagenta at 10:07 AM on August 29, 2011

I have no experience in this area, but you might want to consider that, when you do break it off for whatever reason, she might actually ask you if you're doing it because you found out.

Might want to prepare yourself for that in some way.
posted by klanawa at 10:26 AM on August 29, 2011

I care too much about that person to hurt her but not enough to invest in a romantic relationship.

In that case, just follow the excellent script Miko has provided all of us, and be on your way.
posted by ambrosia at 10:44 AM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

What Empath says. Nothing else required. And keep in mind what klanawa says.
posted by Namlit at 11:47 AM on August 29, 2011

(i'm a genderqueer but not transgender person here)

You know NOTHING about this woman. I don't care how great a detective you are, it's all b.s. unless this person has disclosed information or their story to you personally.

Want to know WHY she hasn't told you? This is imperfect, but I'll quote an FTM (person who transitioned female to male) from their perspective. The whole article is good in general but this jumped out at me to be relevant as to why the woman you're dating (if she is transgendered) has not chosen to tell you her personal story:

Disclosing to anyone is energy-consuming and it is a risk. I am lucky in many ways. Statistically, the risk I encounter is far less dangerous than the risk a transwoman encounters when disclosing. I cannot go to Transgender Day of Remembrance events anymore. Story after story, year after year, the narratives are nearly all eerily the same. The vast majority of victims are transwomen, often of color; their untimely ends are violent, bloody, and alone.

Don't EVER suggest transgender people are "fooling" or "hiding" information from you. It's a disgusting stereotype and shows an utter lack of compassion for the intense struggle each and every transgender person goes through on their path in life.

I'm sad and angry that you feel the way you do and that you may be missing out on having an important person in your life. Yeah, you don't have to date her if you're not feeling it, that's absolutely OK, but at least show her respect and dignity as you gracefully exit dating her.

Digging around trying to "find" things you think are "hidden" is not respectful by any stretch of the imagination, and when you begin to understand how each transgendered person's life and emotional experiences are different will you comprehend why she is taking her time in revealing this aspect of herself to you.
posted by kuppajava at 12:57 PM on August 29, 2011 [17 favorites]

I care too much about that person to hurt her but not enough to invest in a romantic relationship.

"I care about you, but not enough to invest in a romantic relationship; I'm sorry if I'm hurting you by telling you this, but I feel the truth is best" sounds about right.
posted by davejay at 1:17 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think that not knowing for sure maintained the relationship alvive for me. Not that I know without a doubt I'm nearly sure this relationship has no long-term future.

Yes, just let her go without saying why- it'll hurt her feelings and imo make you look a little too retrograde.

Aslo, there are other people who will find this aspect of her sexy as hell. (I would.)
posted by small_ruminant at 1:38 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't seem very clear in your question. Are you no longer interested because you think she's trans or are there other issues? Why does the trans thing bother you anyway?

She didn't lie to you anymore than the average guy "lies" about whether or not he's circumcised by not mentioning it, or someone who has a heart condition has lied by not mentioning it. Considering that disclosure for trans women leads to death in a disconcerting amount of cases, can you really blame her for not doing so to a guy who's not that invested in her?

And you don't even know she's trans anyway! All you have are rumours and conjecture unless it has come from her own mouth. So this is like... freaking out because the person you're dating MAY have a heart condition because Joe Smith mentioned it on Facebook.

Obviously you don't like this woman enough to pursue a relationship with her. Just let her go and don't mention the trans thing, it will accomplish nothing. (I mean, what's she supposed to say if you go up to her all "I'm breaking up with you because you're trans!"? "Sorry you're a narrow-minded person who went snooping about my past but didn't have the courage to ask me about it personally"?)

Disclaimer: I am a trans guy, this topic is really touchy for me and I honestly don't understand why it's such a big deal for people. OMG DISHONESTY, my ass.
posted by buteo at 3:53 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

OP, the pile-on here is quite unfair. You have every right to prefer not to date transsexual women, just as you have every right to prefer not to date gay men or geriatrics or Catholic bulimics or people with hair longer than yours or whatever. That preference is neither unusual nor anything to be ashamed of.

Your partner, for her part, certainly has every right not to disclose her past to random strangers -- but once your relationship commenced, and as it became more serious, she came under an increasing obligation to tell you this information that you were fairly likely to view as relevant. No different from "I have kids" or "I'm dying" or "I'm only in this hemisphere for another week". It is completely understandable that you would feel deceived by the omission.

All of which said, I'm not sure what's to be gained by some big dramatic confrontation in which you unveil your knowledge. You indicate that the relationship wasn't working so well anyway. To the extent that you explain the break-up to your partner, emphasize the choices she can change -- rather than the characteristic that she cannot change but, at best, can reveal earlier. If and only if she brings it up, you might throw in a gentle "Look, it's true that I would have preferred to hear that from you, but the bigger issue was {XYZ unrelated dealbreaker}; I just don't think this was working out anyway."

And, obviously, don't make her feel abnormal or harp on it unnecessarily.
posted by foursentences at 3:59 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

You're clearly not into this person. So just break up. No explanation needed beyond "it's not working out."
posted by J. Wilson at 5:04 PM on August 29, 2011

It really does take a little time to wrap one's head around the idea that a transwoman always was a female in her own inner world and that she is not being deceitful. That cultural unlearning and growing is not going to happen for you in time to save this potential relationship. I'd say you need to back out as graciously and kindly as you possibly can. It is just a shame because it means that both of you are now going to lose a potential good relationship because you haven't yet opened your mind to the possibilities that she is risking so much to find. Better luck next time to both of you.
posted by Anitanola at 7:42 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am with foursentences. I absolutely would date a transperson. But the piece of information is not some factoid OP shouldn't think too much about! Yes, we're all progressive here, sure, but an HONEST cisgendered person who doesn't KNOW anyone trans is going to do more, in their own mind, than say just "oh, OK" when they find themselves dating one. It's something different! OP is trying to deal with it like a decent human being, and I bet he succeeds.
posted by skbw at 8:49 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also agree with foursentences. Your not wishing to date a transgendered person does not make you closed minded or culturally stunted. I also agree that you should just end it quickly and painlessly without a real explanation. This doesn't have to be a huge deal, it's just like every other failure to launch relationship where one person isn't that into the other, for whatever reason.
posted by mudlark at 9:04 PM on August 29, 2011

Also, OP, when you found out that she was transgendered you could have instantly been a real dick about it or dropped her in some mean way, but clearly you are trying to do the right thing for her and for yourself. So, bravo for that.
posted by mudlark at 9:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

All this being said, OP, a good relationship is hard to find. Maybe, just maybe, if your reaction is more "WHOA! That's weird!" than a revulsion freakout thing, you might want to give it a little time to see if you surprise yourself by being basically OK with it. I am no expert on casual dating, believe me, but if you feel you can keep doing for a bit what you're doing now WITHOUT leading her on, maybe try that.

Not a perfect analogy, but worth considering: I have a prosthetic leg. The majority of all-American dudes are not sitting around thinking "YES, this is my life goal, to locate a woman with a hollow leg." But in practice, shall we say, it's less of a problem than one might think. YMMV.
posted by skbw at 8:00 AM on August 30, 2011

I'm a trans woman. I agree wholeheartedly with Frowner and kuppajava. I endorse avoiding any mention of her "fooling" you, and I hope you will not go away thinking you've been lied to: even in serious relationships, disclosure of trans status can be risky.

I hope you also realise that, if she is trans, her not disclosing that to you is probably no judgment on you: there are a hundred factors behind disclosure for someone who lives in "stealth", of which the frankly unanswerable* question, "is this person likely, however nice they seem, to beat me to death?" is only one.

* I have met resistance and hatred in the most unexpected people, but also acceptable and love in people I was sure would reject me.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:19 AM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just to offer a bit of counter-data: aeons ago when I was still "looking" on OkCupid, I received a few messages from people who described themselves as "pre-op transsexuals". So it does happen that people can be up-front about it at first. However, there are plenty of things about myself that I didn't volunteer right away when I was dating.

Here's the delicate bit, though: gender as an identity and gender as a physical manifestation are two conflicting entities. Consider the pregnant man a year or two back. There is really nothing remarkable about a human with a womb having a baby. What was remarkable was the conflict between gender identity (on both the personal and legal front) and physiology. In the other direction, as far as I know, transwomen can't become pregnant. And not all transwomen opt for surgery right away or ever (the OP doesn't make it clear whether or not this is the case for this woman). In that case, they are putting a large set of expectations on the other partner: that the partner will ignore the physical markers of gender that exist, and instead focus on the professed gender identity of the other person. In that case, I think there is more of a burden of disclosure than there would be if the transwoman's physiology mirrors their identity.

All that said:

The real reason you should come up with another reason to break up with this person, OP, is because the most hurtful way to be rejected is to be told the problem isn't that you're not a match ("it's not you, it's us"), or even that they just don't like you ("it's not me, it's you"), it's that you're fundamentally broken ("I don't like you because of what you are"). Imagine you were dating someone who suddenly gained a lot of weight. Do you think telling them, "Sorry, I'm dumping you because you're so fat now" would ever possibly be a good way to break it off? Follow Miko's advice linked to above.

You definitely, definitely shouldn't bring up the "you fooled me" aspect particularly since if she presses for details you'll basically have to admit that you wondered about this all along, which really says that she didn't. And, as has been noted above, "fooling" is a kind-of offensive way to describe someone outwardly expressing their internal gender identity.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:51 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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