How do I come out about my roller-coaster gender?
February 5, 2012 10:24 PM   Subscribe

I was a man. Then a woman. Now a man again. So, um, how do I tell potential romantic or sexual partners this without scaring them away?

I have an interesting gender history. I was born male. I transitioned to presenting as female at 20 (in 2004), while living in city X, where I was for college; I transitioned back to male at 23 (2007), while living in city Y, which is where I'm from. I am now 28 and live in city Z, which is far from both X and Y, and famous for being accepting of This Sort Of Thing. I still identify a little bit as queer, but I don't hang out with lots of queer people. (At least, I don't think I do. Maybe I do and I don't know it.)

I never took any hormones, so my body is that of a typical man of my age, I guess. When I transitioned I changed the name I used in daily life but I never legally changed it, and I went back to the name I was born with when I transitioned back. A few friends here in city Z know. One of my housemates is someone I went to college with, but we've never talked about this. An ex of mine (who I dated, long-distance, while presenting as female) lives in my current city. (And she occasionally still calls me by the name I used in those days.) A lot of people I went to college with live in my current city. I think everyone involved has the sense to not out me; my friends tend to be pretty clueful about this sort of thing.

All my sexual experience is with women. I am not totally opposed to changing this but in practice I think if I were going to have sex with men I would have done so by now.

And I am starting to have more romantic and sexual experiences! This is exciting! But it is also scary. I feel like this is a very important part of my history. It's not that I want to talk about it all the time -- I've moved on -- but I think it's shaped who I am and if I get close to someone emotionally I think I'd want them to know. And it probably has some influence on what sort of sex I like. It's like I spent a few years in a foreign country. Except usually when you live in a foreign country for a few years you can go on and on about it and people's reaction is either interest or fake-interest. I can't do that. The last time I was dating someone (a few months ago) she did What You Do when you meet someone these days (Google!) and managed to find my old livejournal... which makes it clear that this was going on... and she asked me about it. She was fine with it (that didn't last, for other reasons) -- as she pointed out, by the time one gets to the late twenties one learns that everybody has some baggage -- but it was kind of awkward. And I would like to avoid that awkwardness in the future.

(The old livejournal is now friends-only, back to day one, so that won't happen again.)

This was easier the few times I dated while presenting as female... I knew I had to bring it up, because I didn't quite pass. (Friends told me I passed, but they were being, let's say, charitable.)

So how do I bring this up? When do I bring this up? (It's obvious to me that, say, the first date is too soon and my deathbed is too late, but there's a lot of room in between there?) Or do I just not bring it up at all: is this something that, if you were dating me, you just wouldn't want to know?

(sockpuppeted because my metafilter name is my name in enough other places that someone dating me and googling me might find a post under my real name. If you think you know who I am, you're probably right. If you want to talk about this via memail because you have your own awkward things you don't want everyone to know about, I will read those messages.)
posted by omicron to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
So, I'm going to summarize to make sure I have it right:
You were born a man.
For 3ish years you presented yourself as a woman, but no hormones or surgery was involved.
Now you again present yourself as a man and no one would ever be the wiser.
You've never had a sexual encounter with a man.

I would say that could and maybe should come up when you talk about sex with a person you're dating. I say maybe should just so they don't feel you were pulling one over on them even though I don't think you would be. Sidenote: My in-depth conversations about sex and sexuality haven't always been before we had sex... in fact, I'd say the majority were after sex when intimacy had developed.

If you feel weird about your past, I'd also suggest you should work it out in therapy. As it is, I don't really see why it'd be a big deal to any potential partner unless they were on the social conservative side of things.

You're not weird or strange, and this doesn't make you an undesirable person. I hope you know that.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:38 PM on February 5, 2012

If the person I was dating told me that they used to present as a different gender, it wouldn't be a big deal to me - I have dated and slept with trans people in the past, it's just totally not an issue at all.

For me the right time to say something would be when I became emotionally close to the person - around when we became exclusive. At that point, if you didn't tell me, I would feel like you were hiding something from me, and I wouldn't understand why - it's part of your history and who you are. You would know me well enough at that point to be fairly sure that my reaction would be good. So, I think that you should tell someone pretty much whenever you think you are feeling really close to them, and when you feel like you have a sense that their reaction will be good. This could be a second date; it could be three months in. It probably wouldn't be much later than that.

This is not really a very helpful answer I don't think, since it's really non-definite - but I guess I'm trying to say that for someone like me, when you say it isn't really a big deal. Saying it eventually is important, because I don't keep big secrets about my past from the people I am dating.

As for how to bring it up, I would just be like, hey, I want to tell you something important about my past. Can we talk? And then tell her that you used to present as a woman, and let her ask questions.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:39 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Then again, if you never wanted to talk about it, I don't see that as a problem either. I don't question who or what my partner has banged (okay, I might ask what, *rimshot*) because their past is none of my business as long as they were safe.

You never know if someone will be utterly cool with something or fly off the handle no matter how well or soon you present it. The right person for you will obviously be cool with it and on that note I stand by mentioning it.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:40 PM on February 5, 2012

There are a lot of 'queer friendly' girls out there who would mind that history at all. Just own it and don't be ashamed of it.
posted by empath at 10:41 PM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think you meant "wouldn't", empath. :)
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:42 PM on February 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hrm. I mean, if it comes up? If I were dating a man that had for some period of time presented as or felt himself to be a woman, the only reason I'd want to know is so I could ask questions about it. I wouldn't feel "betrayed" or anything if I found out though.

I don't think that this is like some big deal that people have to be notified about, but I also think it's likely that if you're seriously With Someone for long enough, opportunities will present themselves. Don't stress about it, IMO.
posted by kavasa at 10:42 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

OnTheLastCastle: yes, you have the summary correct.

I am in therapy, for other reasons. I am not out to my therapist, and that's been bothering me too, but somehow that seems a lot less complicated.

And I think you're right that the right person would be cool with it.
posted by omicron at 10:43 PM on February 5, 2012

So, um, how do I tell potential romantic or sexual partners this without scaring them away?

Well the thing is, I think this is really just one of those situations where if someone is bothered at the idea of dating a trans or formerly trans person, there's really no way to put it that will help. And if someone isn't that bothered by the idea, then you probably have a pretty wide range of things you could say that would go well.

I would say as you start getting to know the person, just get to know their attitudes on transness and/or queerness, and how they personally would feel about dating someone trans or queer. I think that would give you a really natural segue to talk about it too.
posted by cairdeas at 10:43 PM on February 5, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm confused. Do you still feel trams or think you might be in the future? Do you like to cross dress in the bedroom? If not, I don't see why your dates need to know. If this is something you NEVER want to reveal I don't see any moral problem with it. Maybe you can tell more about how it's relevant to your life now?

If you're certain you have no intentions of presenting as female again, then I personally would not want to know.
posted by desjardins at 11:01 PM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Damn you auto correct… trans, not trams.
posted by desjardins at 11:02 PM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you should treat this as part of the history that makes you who you are, like your schooling or the place(s) you grew up. So early-dating conversation, not deep-secret territory.

Ultimately you're going to want to be with someone who accepts you for who you are, not someone to whom your past is baggage.
posted by gingerest at 11:04 PM on February 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

It wouldn't both me, personally if I knew after the first date but before sex; but if someone wasn't comfortable themselves with their own history - THAT would bother me. Between not discussing it with your roommate, your therapist and it sounds like a few other people in your life it sounds like maybe you should focus more on yourself right now so whatever reaction you get from a potential partner you can take gracefully with a bit of humour. (Humour, because that seems to be the one things that "shows" others that one is not insecure about an issue).
posted by saucysault at 11:08 PM on February 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not having your therapist know about what was probably one of the most significant periods/events in your life is not the most helpful.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:13 PM on February 5, 2012 [23 favorites]

If it were me, I'd want to know. Just like with your analogy, it would be pretty weird to have been dating someone for a few months or years and only then find out that they had lived in another country for three years, not even very long ago. Not freak-out/break up weird; but just strange and indicative of them having some emotional issues with the experience.

As to when and how: I think before sex is probably best, but within the first couple of months of the relationship at least. You can practise "telling" with your therapist. See what works there, in the fairly low-stakes environment where you know they will be supportive.
posted by lollusc at 11:57 PM on February 5, 2012

I'd stick to your guns and just be proud of your journey and open about it, as you're tentatively describing here: time spent in another country. Talk about it as conversation drifts into sexual and gender topics, don't hide it.

Don't acquire a new shame, life's too short to spend carrying that around. Wait for people who think you're awesome.
posted by ead at 12:24 AM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

i identify as queer and gender queer. i never transitioned, but i have considered it, cross dressed and carried on internet relationships as not my assigned gender. i feel most comfortable in a gray area. my husband is straight and knows and loves me all the same.

people who are a good match for you won't hold this against you. people who have some sort of trans-phobia/hangup aren't going to be a good partner for you. think of it as a litmus test. like, how soon would you discuss things like if you want children or what's that kinky think you like to do but not talk about? that's when i'd bring this up.

also, tell your therapist!! like, seriously, your next session. this isn't something to be ashamed of and even if it was, therapy isn't for keeping secrets and holding shame.

feel free to memail me if you want to chat.
posted by nadawi at 12:25 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have a really similar life history (albeit I transitioned a bit younger, took hormones for years and identify as much more gender-variant than it sounds like you do now), and honestly I don't think you're under any great obligation to have an Official Policy on disclosure. I agree that actively hiding it isn't ever going to be a healthy response (and honestly, if you were with someone long-term where you had reason to feel you needed to hide it, that's an enormous warning siren about that person), but I think it'll just naturally come up in the talking-about-yourselves stages of a new relationship, and it's best to let that happen as it will. I certainly don't think you're being deceptive or dishonest by being with a partner who's not yet aware of all the minutiae of your past. When it does come up, own it and be proud of it and I think you'll be fine.
posted by emmtee at 12:42 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should probably be dating women who have some modicum of gender awareness and who care about LGBTQ issues. Because they are important to you, regardless of your current or past gender identity. And that will likely solve the issue of your past gender identities, as it likely won't be a problem for them. In other words, tackle the problem higher up the chain – if they don't care or understand about gender issues in general, then don't go for broke with your specifics, because they won't understand and it's a lot of stress and effort you don't need to be with someone. Lead a horse to water, drinking, etc.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:19 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I certainly don't think you're being deceptive or dishonest by being with a partner who's not yet aware of all the minutiae of your past.

Yeah, you could just not tell until it comes up. There's a big difference between keeping a secret and not telling someone all of your business, even an intimate partner. Presumably you don't detail all of your sexual experiences with all of your partners. If being queer-friendly means anything, it should mean that the experiences you're describing need not be treated as extraordinary or in need of exposition.
posted by OmieWise at 5:47 AM on February 6, 2012

"as she pointed out, by the time one gets to the late twenties one learns that everybody has some baggage -- but it was kind of awkward."

Well no crap. It sounds like this is an aspect of yourself that you LIKE, that you want to get to be proud of and talk about, but for some reason you've been around a lot of people who have hang ups about it and instead of being interested or excited they tell you "Uh... well I forgive you for having baggage." awkward silence. Stare. Discomfort.


Can you meet more queer people? I recognize that now you identify as straight but really "queer" can mean whatever you want it to mean. If you're sexuality makes people pause and say "Uh... you've got baggage" then that'sort of the point of the word. You want to cellebrate who you are but others think you're a funky pants. I'm mostly straight but I've spent a lot of time in GLBT communities and having the experience of having lived as a woman for a few years when you were born a man is just no biggie.

I think you need to open up with your therapist-- I know you're scared, it sounds like you've h a lot of friends who are not sure how to embrace this- but because you're so scared about it, you also might be mispercieve some people's thoughts. Sometimes people might be quiet about it because they sense you are sensitive and not because they think it's a bad thing. This is why if you talk with your therapist about it and find a way to embrace it, you might feel more comfortable finding more people in the world who think there is no baggage whatsoever with living as a woman or man or man and then woman and then man. There just isn't any baggage unless YOU have emotions about it which is VERY understandable, there is a lot of hatred in thw world towards people just living their lives without following normal gender rules, so your feelings are ok.

I just think you need a lot more support and to find people who you can talk to about this and who really like you as you are. Having a more solid peer group of people who like you as you are will help your self confidence when you talk about it with new mates. The right person won't care and the fact that you seem to think an awkward response is the default tells me you need more weirdos in your life and hang with some really conservative peeps.

In peer groups I've been in people would transition from being gay/straight/bi and from being called a he vs her vs he.... and it just wasn't a thing. Any good group of people will only care whether you identify as bi/straight/trans/he/she if it relates to whether you are elligible to date for someone of their gender and in order to know what gender you like being reffered to as. That's the only reason it should ever be of any relevence to anyone but you.

Also-- before you talk with your therapist about it, you probably want to ask if they are queer friendly and if they have any response other than an enthusiastic yes, you might want to switch therapists to talk about this issue.
posted by xarnop at 6:14 AM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

If I were you, I'd want to know sooner rather than later if the person I'm dating is going to have a poor reaction to my trans/genderqueer history.

If I were the date, I'd also rather know sooner rather than later - not the first date, but certainly at some point before we hop in the sack, if there's going to be sack-hopping. It's a pretty significant piece of your history, and I think I'd feel like keeping it not-talked-about for too long would feel too much like keeping a secret.
posted by rtha at 6:30 AM on February 6, 2012

This is one of those things where most people will take their cues from you--at least, most people that are worthwhile. If you're confident and you present this as, "here's an interesting thing I did once, and it was cool, but I moved on," then your date is going to be all, "Wow, that's cool and interesting, tell me more!"

On the other hand, if you're all, "OMG I have to tell you this really awkward secret about myself that I am totally embarrassed about telling you," your date is going to be all, "OMG awkward."
posted by crookedneighbor at 7:17 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

crookedneighbor has it. The cool people worth your time will be chilled about it if you frame it correctly. Or at least I would be.

I am much more interested in the fact that you're concerned about how to bring this up with a potential partner while you have not yet brought it up with your therapist. That does not compute to me, because a therapist is a pretty key relationship in my world.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:38 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am in therapy, for other reasons. I am not out to my therapist, and that's been bothering me too, but somehow that seems a lot less complicated.

This is far more "disturbing" to me than your gender history, omicron. Why would you pay someone to help you sort your thinking out, but withhold this information? Wasting your time & money! Tell the therapist at the beginning of the next session, and *instantly* receive an upgrade in usefulness.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:51 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

(And, by saying it's more "disturbing", and not even addressing your actual question, I guess I'm implicitly saying it's not as big a deal as you think it is. Deal with it as a fact of your life; don't stress over it as a failure/shame/problem.)
posted by IAmBroom at 8:14 AM on February 6, 2012

Okay, let me answer a few things here.

therapy: I know it doesn't make sense that I haven't told this to my therapist. I am kind of ambivalent about being in therapy -- I basically went because my boss suggested that I should because I was having some anxiety issues at work, so I sort of feel like I was forced into it. (Also, entirely irrationally, I feel like this will somehow get back to the office. Of course I know about therapist-patient confidentiality.) And I don't know if my therapist is queer-friendly.

my friends: are, um, not the sort of people who would have a problem with this. It's just that this is not exactly the kind of thing that comes up in conversation. I have not actually had awkward responses about this. If anything, through my entire history I've been surprised by the lack of awkward responses, so for the last decade or so I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
posted by omicron at 8:28 AM on February 6, 2012

Dan Savage is always saying with respect to issues like this that the important thing is not to present this information as an awful, sad thing, like telling them you have cancer, but as a fact about your life that is somewhere between neutral and positive. I think that would be good advice to follow here. Please remember that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you; cool, fun, interesting people are going to find you more cool, fun and interesting because of this. You don't need to be apologetic about this; by doing that you signal to the other person that this is to be treated as A Problem, when in reality it's not a problem for you and it shouldn't be for them.

I actually think that "It's like I visited another country" is a great framing to use, because it acknowledges that for most people this will be a foreign experience and they'll probably have a bunch of questions, both about what it was like and how it's changed the way you see your life now, but that it shouldn't distance you from them as a person.

As far as your friends go, you say that it doesn't come up naturally in conversation, but as someone who has been semi-closeted in past situations, I'm guessing that there are a bunch of times when it's kinda-sorta come up, in that you could have participated in the conversation more fully if you'd been able to acknowledge it, but it seems like a bigger revelation than the conversation itself requires. Maybe all you need to do is dive in, treat this like the positive, interesting life experience that it is, and share it with people.
posted by Acheman at 9:32 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am your age, I date men, I live in a city known for being cool with This Sort Of Thing, as you say, and am currently single and dating. Here is how I would want this revealed to me: No fanfare. It should be revealed EXACTLY as if you'd spent a few years living in a different country. As if it's an experience of yours I might find interesting. I would want to hear how it affected you, and I'd want to see pictures, I'd think it was fascinating and awesome, and it would make you all the more interesting to me. I LOVE things like this in people I'm dating. It's such a rare life experience, and so unique. That's awesome! Women who'd genuinely be uncomfortable with this are probably not great matches for you in other ways.

You know what would give me pause, though? This stuff about your therapist not knowing..and your friends...why is this something you're hiding? That would freak me out a bit. I would assume you had emotional issues with your experience you hadn't yet dealt with. And I might worry about that.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 12:46 PM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's not that I hide it from my friends! It's more like it never comes up. Seriously, you guys are making me sound a lot more ashamed of this than I am.

(Or maybe I'm more ashamed of this than I realized.)
posted by omicron at 3:44 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would wonder in this situation how sure you are of the gender you are right now. Mostly because the only folks I've heard of who have gone back and forth and back again are either on Metafilter, or are Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. I would be worried if you are going to have a similar situation to the latter, and would be worried about how your mental health is going. Are you going back into the gender closet to make everyone else feel better, is this going to back up on you and therefore me later on, stuff like that. Mostly I'd just want to know how you are doing and if you're feeling stable enough to be in a relationship.

That's probably not what you want to hear, but it's what I'd want to know from you if you told me.

I would probably lean towards not telling, but being called by a woman's name by one of your exes that you're still in contact with makes me think that a lady dating you will find out one way or another, and you'd rather tell her than have it be an "oops" moment. So do as everyone else says: put it matter-of-factly and reassure her there's no problem.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:20 PM on February 6, 2012

Can I guarantee it'll never happen again? No. Although I'm more confident of that than I was, say, a year ago - which is part of what has led me to start dating again. There was a period where I wasn't sure who I should be dating, and I'm naturally pretty introverted, so that led to Not Even Trying.

And I'm glad to hear that people aren't terribly freaked out by my history, only by my reaction to it. Because I can change my reaction to it, but I can't change the fact that it happened.
posted by omicron at 10:31 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm also surprised you haven't come out to your therapist and indicates you have issues with being honest with your past. I certainly understand and assure you that it gets easier with every time you tell the story. I urge you to tell your therapist and pay attention to how that telling makes you feel.

You might have sufficient anxiety that you have difficulty teling your therapist so you may have to trick yourself into it. Perhaps tell your therapist before the session that you have something very important to tell her and you need her help to spit it out. Or write it down and hand it over. Or write it down while you're in session so you cannot "forget" to hand over the note. Essentially, try changing the physical act of communicating in an effort to sidestep the anxiety.

Telling a partner won't be easier than telling your therapist. In this case she's there for practice so use your time wisely.
posted by chairface at 9:50 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alright, at the urging of various commenters I told my therapist. It was scary! But I feel better now.
posted by omicron at 1:15 PM on February 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

i am so proud of you!

as a person of fluid gender, i would be totally on board with your own fluidity and i'd only take pause when it seemed like you were compartmentalizing the time periods of your life. for the people who suggest you don't tell partners - i just don't get that mind set. sure, it'll widen your dating pool - but don't you want your dating pool to be limited to people who can understand you?

you took a great step. sometimes people are going to react negatively, but that's ok - that's about them, not you. there are lots more fluid gender people out there than you know. speaking up about it will help you find allies.
posted by nadawi at 1:46 PM on February 8, 2012

Also, part of the reason I asked this question is because I was about to have a first date with somebody. I ended up telling her before the first date. Things kept getting rescheduled, so I had time to think, and we ended up chatting online the night before the first date. She asked if I had an okcupid profile, and I wasn't going to lie and say "no", and I mention this there. So I told her. It only gave us more to talk about on the first date. Things are going well.

But she tells me she never would have expected it. I suppose we are invisible.
posted by omicron at 10:50 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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