In the July 5 edition of The New York Times’ The Ethicist, Randy Cohen gets the following question:
I am a straight woman, and I was set up on a date with a man. We got along well initially, but I grew concerned about how evasive he was about his past. I did some sophisticated checking online – I do research professionally – and discovered that he is a female-to-male transgendered individual. I then ended our relationship. He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person? NAME WITHHELD, N.Y.
Mr. Cohen’s response begins:
There are two questions here: What must close companions reveal to each other?And what may they reveal about each other to outsiders?
Basically, then, he says that the trans man should’ve outed himself before their first kiss, and that it is fine if [name withheld] discusses this incident with her friends, but that she should not urge the rabbi to out the trans man. It is not said whether she can out the trans man to the rabbi himself.
Well, first off, being trans is compared to having an STD, which is already transphobic. Secondly, would you disclose your STD status before your first kiss? I wouldn’t. Anyone can have an STD, whether they are aware of it or not, so the safest course of action here would likely be to get tested if or when the couple becomes intimate enough for there to be a potential risk of transmission.
With regard to being trans, the issue is even less of a potential partner’s business, because it doesn’t put the partner at risk. It would be something I’d want to know about my partner if we were in a serious relationship in which we were confident enough to disclose important details of our past, but it would be a matter of establishing an emotional bond. If my partner didn’t feel comfortable sharing such a sensitive issue with me yet, and I was committed to the relationship, I would give them the room not to disclose. Of course, I’d eventually find out if we were going to be sexually active, but I am assuming here that a trans person would not be sexually active in a relationship without being comfortable that their transness were accepted. Correct me if I’m wrong here.
Cohen goes on to advise that [name withheld] is free to discuss the incident with her friends. Does he mean that she can out her former partner to her friends? I hope not. In a society that is dangerous to trans people, outing a trans person can be that person’s death sentence. No mattter how accepting you think your friends are of trans people, you can never be sure. Besides, judging from the letter, it seems [name withheld] wanted to warn her friends.
One last thing I noticed in the letter, which I want to comment on, is [name withheld]’s doing an online backgroudn check on her date. This, I would say, is pretty unethical. Of course, in my own case, my relationship started online, so my boyfriend had been able to do a background check on me before we even dated, but when you get to know each other via other venues, it is unethical to use lack of information about a person’s past as an excuse to google them. Again, there was probably a good reason they were hiding this information from you for now.