Ashamed of dating a transwoman or am I respecting her/my privacy?
October 12, 2015 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm a male in my late twenties and I consider myself straight. I'm not interested in men or dating a man, and have always had relationships with women. I dated a trans woman for two and a half years. (I'm loathe to specify the 'trans' and to feel like I have to assert that I'm straight but it's relevant to my question.) I'm now not sure about whether to disclose this to my current girlfriend.

A few years ago I met a pre-operative trans woman through online dating (not a trans-specific website). I didn't realize at first glance, but I thought she was super attractive and the site's algorithms suggested we were a great match. Scattered throughout her profile were hints that she was trans and I was OK with that. She was on hormones, was officially living as a woman (passport, government records, etc.). She and I went on to date for two and a half years, during which time she met my family and friends, she completed her sex reassignment surgery, we went travelling, discussed living together - all was great. We eventually mutually broke up as we realized we weren't meant to be together forever. We've now each moved overseas but are still great friends. I've never known her as a man and have always known and thought of her as a woman. She was always amazingly open to me about her journey and I felt honored to be a part of it. She was never involved in trans issues publicly and 95% of the people who knew her knew her only as a woman.

She remains an awesome person and a great friend.

I consider my ex-girlfriend to be a woman (because, well, she is a woman), I consider myself an LGBTI ally (despite not being politically active), I'm all for marriage equality and I don't think there's anything wrong or shameful about being queer, gay, questioning, curious, straight, whatever.

Fast forward until now where I'm in another relationship of about six months with a cis woman, and things are amazing, I think there's a real possibility of a future here.

I'm struggling to know how much to disclose with my new girlfriend, if and when previous relationships and sexual experiences come up. We're both kinky and not jealous types, we've talked about about previous sexual adventures, interests, what we'd like to try, etc. I've not mentioned my ex-girlfriend.

Is omitting to mention to my current partner the fact that my ex-girlfriend had a penis for half our relationship just respecting my ex-girlfriend's privacy and right to self-determination, or am I secretly ashamed of this? Do I think my current girlfriend will assume I'm secretly gay, and if I'm worried about her thinking that, does that mean I'm not as much of an ally as I like to think I am?

I like to think my ex-girlfriend's specific genital arrangement is as relevant and as necessary to discuss as any previous partner's genitals (that is, not relevant or necessary to discuss at all) but there's a part of me that's worried that by not acknowledging it, I'm unconsciously or otherwise hiding it, denying it and therefore lying by omission, lying to my girlfriend, and tacitly suggesting that I think that being transgender is something to be ashamed of.

Sorry if I my question isn't really clear, I guess I'm trying to figure out where the line is between respecting my ex-girlfriend's right to choose if/when/to whom to disclose, and lying by omission to my current girlfriend and that my actions imply that I'm embarrassed about that relationship.

Or if it's even remotely relevant.

I'd appreciate people's thoughts and opinions, and particularly if anyone has had similar experiences?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It is not obvious at all to me why your current girlfriend even cares about the genitalia of your previous partners. You seem to be planning for a non-existent problem, which is not worth your time.

I suggest not getting in a habit of disclosing what you do in bed with your ex-partners to current partner (beyond any specific STD-related risk behaviors). Those details are not relevant to your current partner and are disrespectful of your ex-partners' privacy.
posted by saeculorum at 7:53 AM on October 12, 2015 [39 favorites]

I don't think disclosing to current GF things about exGF disrespects exGF's privacy, unless you run in some kind of similar circles and they interact with each other (which it sounds like they don't). That said, I don't know that it's necessarily something you HAVE to disclose. I can see how it might come up in conversation and then I think you're obligated not to lie. Maybe you're talking about same-sex experiences; maybe you're talking about GLBT issues generally or trans specifically.

If you're worried about being embarrassed about a relationship that was clearly very positive and important to you, I would tell GF and say just that - "We've talked a lot about our pasts and I have never told you this, and I think it might be because I'm embarrassed, but I really don't want to feel that way, so I'm just going to tell you." If my partner said that and followed it with that s/he dated someone trans it would be a big shrug for me. Like, okay. that's great, glad you guys had each other and are still friends.

If you're worried that it might make her think you like guys (or if you're really worried that you might think this means you like guys), then that's an issue for a few sessions with a therapist who can help you work through that and through the decision about whether to disclose this or not.

Only you know current GF and how she'd feel about these things (or maybe you don't know, and need to figure it out).
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:55 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ask your ex how she wants you to handle it.

This, this, this.

Your ex's history is hers to divulge, under her own terms; if your current girlfriend has a problem with that, it's her problem.
posted by Etrigan at 8:00 AM on October 12, 2015 [9 favorites]

I suggest not getting in a habit of disclosing what you do in bed with your ex-partners to current partner

Yes! In relationship to your present girlfriend, this is the only important rationale. Your exe's privates are private; your past interactions with them in ex-times are private. This is really important stuff to learn. In this particular slice of the entire context, the whole "trans" thing is a red herring.

Now, when it comes to your own feelings about your own feelings, that's something to sort out, well, on your own. Why does "secretly" play a role in your question? Secretly to whom--to yourself? Start there and unravel.
posted by Namlit at 8:02 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I really don't think you should tell your current girlfriend any specifics about previous girlfriends. So, you might say that "a previous girlfriend" liked x, y, or z, but you should not say that "Becky liked being tied up". Neither should you repeat gossip about specific previous girlfriends' families, or disclose their miscarriages or medical problems, or anything else personal.

Does your girlfriend know your ex? Does she know that she exists, even? I might say "I once went out with somebody who is trans" if it was relevant to the conversation, but I wouldn't go into any further details or identify who it was. The trouble is once you say even that, your girlfriend might want lots more details, and it might just be easier to keep quiet. I do understand why you want to tell your current girlfriend since this is also potentially relevant to her understanding of your sexuality, but you really really cannot out your ex. That's a really shitty thing to do.
posted by tinkletown at 8:07 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

it is not your job to out your ex. she gets to decide who she is out to. this is especially true in our social media culture and with your continued friendship with her (because it makes it that much more likely that your current girlfriend and exgirlfriend will cross paths).

without outing your ex, if dating trans people ever comes up - tv show, news story, whatever - i think it would be honoring yourself and your relationship to just causally mention that you've dated a trans woman, without disclosing anything about her transition or body (because, again, that's not your story to tell). if your girlfriend judges you for it, then i don't think it's the right relationship for you to be in. it seems you're worried that your girlfriend might think you're gay, but if it were me i'd be more worried that my girlfriend might be transphobic.
posted by nadawi at 8:07 AM on October 12, 2015 [23 favorites]

I guess I'm trying to figure out where the line is between respecting my ex-girlfriend's right to choose if/when/to whom to disclose, and lying by omission to my current girlfriend and that my actions imply that I'm embarrassed about that relationship.

I think part of the way you may want to reframe this in your mind is that it's something to not think of as a line between two connected things so much as just two totally separate things.

Thing 1: respect your ex-girlfriend's privacy and agency in disclosing information about herself and her experiences, period. End of, no complications. It's her call, not yours. Don't compromise that.

Thing 2: if you're trying to sort out your feelings about your motivations for telling-or-not your current girlfriend about your relationship history, sort that out as its own, personal matter. Keep it separate, and deal with it in a way that doesn't hinge on the idea of e.g. disclosing info about your ex to prove to yourself or others that you're cool or a good ally or whatever. It's okay to be not sure about why and how you feel about something, not okay to make a third party's privacy a fulcrum for levering yourself out of that conflicted place.
posted by cortex at 8:12 AM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't think you should disclose. It's poor form to out people unless they've specifically said that they want everyone to know that they are trans. Also, it reinforces the idea that there's some kind of essential "truth" about trans people's gender - and trans people only - that has to be shared in order for the world to be honest. You wouldn't feel obliged to say that your other exes were cis, or that one of them had [bodily quirk not visible to the naked eye] or that one of them had [done some kind of extensive therapeutic or medical process for a congenital condition].

On a material level, it can be dangerous - perhaps not in this instance because I assume that your current girlfriend is lovely, but let's assume that you date someone else, tell her about this and then she turns out to be deeply transphobic/not who you thought she was/very vindictive or even just kind of a blabbermouth who tells her friends....and all of the sudden, your ex starts getting harassed/outed/etc. People are weird and that's not outside the realm of possibility.
posted by Frowner at 8:18 AM on October 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

There is no relevant reason to disclose this information. I am sure your current girlfriend knows you have dated women in the past - isn't that enough? FWIW, I don't find it appropriate to talk very much about past lovers, and talking about an ex-lover's genitals is definitely too intimately inappropriate. So, just say, "I used to date my friend, X" (if you current girlfriend doesn't already know this) and leave it at that. I am a bit disturbed that you couched your question with talk of "kinky" and "sexual adventures" - I don't think that is a kind way to think of your ex-girlfriend.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:18 AM on October 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

What parts your previous partners may or may not have had isn't relevant and it's rude in the least to out someone. It can also be dangerous to her. It should always be her choice to tell her story about that.

But a bigger question is why are you talking to her about exes at all? If you and your ex meet up and your current girlfriend meets her, then you can say, yes, we dated. But beyond that? Just seems way too much information to be giving her.
posted by inturnaround at 8:22 AM on October 12, 2015

Reasons not to mention it to your gf:

1. it's a (potentially dangerous) violation of your ex's privacy
2. nobody wants to hear about their partner's ex's genitals
3. it's not relevant - as far as you were concerned it was a healthy heterosexual relationship and doesn't have ramifications for you that your current gf needs to know about
4. has potential to be confusing/upsetting to current gf

Reasons to mention it to your gf:
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:24 AM on October 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think it's important to be able to proudly state that you had a serious relationship (2.5 years is serious right?) with a trans woman. You don't have to say who it is, but you absolutely CAN help de-stigmatize dating trans women in the eyes of others by how you represent the relationship.

I want every woman I have ever been with to say "I loved I trans woman". For me, it is important, because I had to be a dirty secret for several of them and that hurts. A lot.

Be proud and don't out your ex. Don't talk about her genitals or hormones or any of that. None of that matters to your current partner. I think your current partner deserves to know that you are one of those amazing and awesome people who sees trans women as real people to love. Keeping that from her is hiding something about yourself that is magnificent, and why hide how magnificent you are?
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:26 AM on October 12, 2015 [51 favorites]

(I know you are a guy, but I don't date men, so when I say "every woman I ever been with" that's where I am coming from.)
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:30 AM on October 12, 2015

If you're still good friends with your ex, it's only fair that your gf knows you two were involved. It would be weird, IMO, for you to tell your new gf years down the line, "By the way, you know my friend Becca? I never told you but we dated for 2 1/2 years."

That's all you're obligated to say. Other than generally just being a trans ally. If your ex wants to tell your current gf more, that's up to her.
posted by Pearl928 at 8:57 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

If there is one person that you do have a reason to discuss genetalia with, it's your current sexual partner. I can actually see a legitimate reason for you to discuss the fact that you have experience with being sexually intimate with someone who had a penis, in the context of discussing sexuality and preferences with your current partner. Maybe she wants to watch porn with you, and you are both discussing whether watching someone with a pensis would be a turn off, or maybe you talk about what you really liked about it. These conversations, of course, generally happen when naked.

That said, of course there is no reason to discuss who you dated who happened to have a penis. If your former gf is out as trans (many people are, some quietly, some loudly - I have acquaintances who have written books about being trans), and you are still friends, your current gf will know. But it's kinder for all involved to pretend that no one has put two-and-two together.
posted by jb at 9:28 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also: yes, if your current knows your former, you should definitely disclose that you dated, by saying, "Hi, this is Becky. We dated for two years and she's totally awesome, but we realised we are better friends than partners." Because otherwise it will come out later and look weird. But this should be separate from the "I once dated a trans woman and it was awesome" discussion which may occur in the context of discussing your experience with genitalia.
posted by jb at 9:33 AM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

You have to know your audience, which you do. Your current girlfriend is very open and your past relationship probably wouldn't bother her so there is no need to talk about it. If you were dating someone very conservative, who would be horrified to find out later on that you were with someone trans, then, yes, you would want to mention that up front, but, it sounds like you wouldn't really want to date someone like that anyway. I think you are good here with respecting the privacy of your ex.
posted by myselfasme at 9:44 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you asking if you should disclose to your current GF that you dated your ex in particular, or just a transwoman in general? Because if the question is the former, I'd say no no no no no all the way, don't out somebody without their permission!

But if you and your current GF are discussing trans issues in general, I'd say it's fine to be like, "Oh, yeah, I dated a transwoman for a while, wasn't sure how it'd go because I was afraid I had some internalized transphobia but it was a great relationship while it lasted!" then I think that's fine.

You're probably past this point with your current gf and pretty sure she's cool with trans folks, but it can also be strategic. Sometimes, if the topic has already come up, I say something like, "Oh, yeah, one of my exes is trans, we're still great friends," in a casual way, which is useful with people that you sort-of-but-don't-quite-know because it protects my friend's privacy (they're not going to know who she is) while also letting the new people know that I'm not going to be a friendly audience for a trans-negative conversation.

So anyway tl;dr don't out your friend but I think it's fine to mention that there's a trans woman in your romantic history.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:52 AM on October 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

In re the advice to tell your current girlfriend that you had a serious relationship with a trans woman without revealing which one -- how difficult would it be for your current girlfriend to figure out which one it was? If the answer to that is anything higher than "totally impossible" -- and, given that "She remains... a great friend", I suspect it would be possible -- then please don't accidentally-nonspecifically out her.
posted by Etrigan at 10:04 AM on October 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

The only time at which you should be discussing someone else's genitals is when you have their explicit permission to do so. Anything else is a breach of that person's privacy and also quite rude.

I think that your current girlfriend doesn't need to know that you interacted with someone's penis in the past any more than she needs to know that you interacted with someone's vagina in the past. However, if the subject of trans individuals comes up, it's completely fine to say that you were in a long term relationship with someone who is trans. There's a lot of difference between "my ex, [identifying name], is trans and she had a penis while I was in a relationship with her" and "I have dated trans individuals in the past and would do so again, pre or post op". One of those is sharing information that you don't explicitly know that your ex wants you to share. The other is a much more general statement about your acknowledgement of people being more then their genitalia.

You can say the latter right now, if you want to be open with your girlfriend. Don't be outing people, though.
posted by Solomon at 10:25 AM on October 12, 2015

Why would your current GF have any right or reason to know your ex-GFs genital configuration? You obviously like your current GF's genital configuration, and hopefully both of you have been cleared of STIs (and/or are taking appropriate precautions). I agree with nadawi - don't out your ex, but casually mention that you were in a relationship with a trans woman if you can do so without outing her.

Being kinky myself, I guess I can see how it would be relevant if there was something you wanted to do again with a penis, and you could say "yes I have already done this thing with a penis, but no, I'm not gay, it was attached to a trans woman." If you don't anticipate future activity with a penis-having person in connection with your current GF, then there is really no reason to disclose specifics.
posted by desjardins at 10:32 AM on October 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

I see a problem in your question, as well of a lot of the responses here, that I want to tease out, for what it's worth: it's impossible to read someone else's mind. You do not know how your girlfriend will react, and you are afraid that she will see you differently if you disclose. Likewise, many people here have pointed out that it is, as a rule, disrespectful to share this information without have a discussion with your former partner about where her boundaries lie.

But your inability to read minds isn't your problem. Your problem, as it is phrased in the question, is that you do not want to disclose this information, and you are wondering what it says about you. So, here is a very short answer for you: yes, it is OK not to disclose this information. No, it does not mean that you are "lying by omission," "secretly ashamed," or that your actions will place you anywhere on a scale that registers your degree of transphobia.

The long answer is that it's best to think about this as an issue of "boundaries." These are limits that we place on ourselves, and limits that we respect when they are established by others. You have a legitimate fear that your girlfriend will view you in a way that makes her question your desire for her. There is nothing you can do to make her react on the calm, accepting way that you would prefer. So I don't see anything wrong with you keeping this information to yourself. If, at some later time, you feel comfortable relaxing your boundaries, you are free to do so. You indicate that you do want to relax that particular boundary right now, and you are worried about what it says about you. All it says about you is that you have a clearly-defined boundary. You get to set your boundaries, and you get to enforce them. Please stop being so hard on yourself.
posted by Mr. Fig at 10:59 AM on October 12, 2015 [7 favorites]

To be clear, I think there is a big difference between saying "one of my ex-GFs is transgendered" and having an ensuing discussion. It's another one to say "this friend of mine, Jane Doe, she was my ex GF and she is transgendered." One is an invasion of ex-GF privacy. The other is a discussion related to a prior relationship that may have an impact on your current relationship.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:33 AM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

You've dated women in the past. They didn't all have identical genitals. Not explicitly mentioning this to others is not lying by omission. If you want to be an ally to trans women, support trans women's rights in ways that improve their lives. I would not put detailed discussions of genitals in that category at all.
posted by quince at 11:53 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

OP, to me it sounded like your question was actually that you don't really want to or see a need to disclose that you dated a trans woman, and does that mean you're subconsciously ashamed or not really an LGBTI ally?

My answer to that would be no, you don't sound ashamed or close-minded, and your wish not to disclose is fine, so carry on! All the best for your new relationship.
posted by reshet at 12:25 PM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

You were in a relationship with a woman. Period. End of story.

You don't need to disclose anything else to your current girlfriend unless you want to. If that is the case or becomes the case in the future, PLEASE ask your ex how she would want that kind of disclosure handled.
posted by tckma at 2:14 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a trans woman, I would stress that your ex-girlfriend's trans status is hers to share and hers only. You have her trust, as her ex, and I think you should discuss any matters that concern her with her first. Her permission to share that you dated a trans woman is hers and only hers to give.
posted by these are science wands at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Zero reason to disclose this, not only because your ex-girlfriend is a woman, but because it's none of your current girlfriend's business who you've ever had sex with.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:16 PM on October 12, 2015

I definitely don't think that disclosing that you were in a relationship with a transwoman is the same as outting someone. You said you both live in separate countries now. Potentially your current girlfriend doesn't even know the identity of this person.

It sounds to me like it's something that could potentially bring you and your current girlfriend closer together and build trust between you. It's an opportunity to tell her something risky and to give her an opportunity to accept your past for what it is. To feel known and accepted and potentially give her another reason to respect you.

You're not obligated to disclose anything. It doesn't say anything about your heterosexuality. If it did, you wouldn't be obligated to say anything in that case either. It just sounds like something you're insecure about and something that might build your relationship with your current girlfriend to share.

No one's saying you need to talk about anyone's genitals. I think it's probably a significant part of your life, and if you are very close to this woman, it makes sense to talk it if it was an important part of your past.
posted by mermily at 5:19 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't get why you would need or want to disclose this information. It's not an STI. Why should she care?
posted by J. Wilson at 8:52 PM on October 12, 2015

Why would you not talk to your current girlfriend about something in your intimate past that is important to you? Are you planning to keep her at a distance forever from this obviously important aspect of your sexual growth?
posted by pantufla_milagrosa at 2:25 AM on October 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

I guess I'm saying: if your relationship with your ex was a fling or an adventure, then who cares. But I get the impression that this was a relationship with depth and which may have changed you in an important way. Those are the kinds of things in my past that I cannot *not* share, at least eventually, with someone that I hope to get closer and closer to.
posted by pantufla_milagrosa at 2:28 AM on October 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

I agree with everyone else saying that you should not out your ex-girlfriend as being trans.

That said, to the question of whether it matters to your current girlfriend that you dated a woman with a penis -- that's something that only your girlfriend can answer. For those chiming in with: "You dated a WOMAN, period!" Well, sure, that's how you feel and that's how some others feel, but there are a great many cis-gendered women, as you know, who might feel uncomfortable with this, for all kinds of reasons.

The bottom line is, your current girlfriend may have views about trans people that aren't compatible with your trans-inclusive perspective and life experience. So my question to you is: have you discussed transphobia with your partner? Do you know how she feels about trans issues? If your relationship is as "amazing" as you say it is, couldn't you discuss this with her broadly in a way that would reveal if she's on the same page? It's totally possible that she would not care about the genitalia of your former partner(s), but it is also possible that she cares. You can't know unless you probe more deeply into her views and "come out" about your trans-inclusive perspective.

What you decide to disclose is up to you -- there are many options. You could disclose that you dated and loved a transwoman. You could disclose that she had a penis and then completed reassignment. You could disclose your politics (e.g. you are an ally of the trans community) or you could frame it as a hypothetical: (e.g. you personally have no problem dating a trans woman, pre op or post-op). The purpose in disclosing any or all of this would be to see if you two are actually compatible.

To me, a similar comparison could be made about interracial dating. I don't know your background, but let's just say, hypothetically, that you are a white guy dating a white woman. Suppose you had a long term, loving relationship with a black woman. Let's further suppose that you have not mentioned your black ex-girlfriend to your white partner. The fact that you have dated interracially would not matter to someone who shares your racial politics -- but it might matter to a racist or to someone who has not fully processed their own racial views. If you considered yourself an "ally" to black people, it would seem really weird to me if you'd never discussed race issues with your white girlfriend, or determined if you're both on the same page politically.

The fact that you refer to yourself as "politically inactive" on LGBT issues makes me think that you could take a small step forward in being more active by simply bringing up the issue in your relationship and figuring out if you two are really on the same page.

If your girlfriend finds it unacceptable that you dated (or "would date" -- depending on how you frame it) a trans woman, then that doesn't mean she's the spawn of Satan, but it does mean that you two might not have a future together. Could it be that you're afraid to find out?
posted by Gray Skies at 10:25 AM on October 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

One last thing:

I think you should want to date someone who would not just tolerate or "be okay with" the fact that you dated a trans woman. Ideally, you want to date someone who would LOVE and VALUE you that about you. Not because there's something inherently noble about dating a woman with a penis, but because YOU identify as a trans ally and therefore, you should want to date another person whose attitudes and views toward trans inclusivity are compatible with yours. Same with the issue of interracial dating.. To go back to my hypothetical: if you were a white person dating another white person and you considered yourself an ally to POC, you should want a partner who would be THRILLED that you loved a woman of colour in the past. Disclosing that fact should actually be a plus to any white woman you would want to date.
posted by Gray Skies at 10:34 AM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised by the number of people saying that you shouldn't be talking about ex-partners at all. While some people prefer those boundaries, many of us find it rewarding to talk about sex, past experiences, etc. and near-impossible to hide whom we're talking about.

I think that if you're serious about your new partner, omitting mention of a long serious relationship is problematic. She shouldn't be erased.

As others have suggested, in your shoes, I would ask my ex if it's okay to disclose her trans status to your current partner. If she says yes, do so if you find it relevant. If she says no, still talk about her as your ex without mentioning her genitals.
posted by metasarah at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

This doesn't need to be discussed beyond "that's my ex, we keep in touch from time to time, she's really swell!" Nothing else has anything to do with anything.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:54 PM on October 14, 2015

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