DEAR DR. JENN,
I'm a transgender woman, but most people don't assume so just from meeting me, and it's far from the most interesting or defining thing about me. When should I share this part of myself with the people I date? I'm not sure it's the first conversation I want to have right after shaking hands. —When to Tell
DEAR WHEN TO TELL,
While your gender identity may not be all that interesting or new to you, keep in mind that many people have never met, much less dated, someone who is transgender. We can thank brave trans celebs like Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, and Carmen Carrera, among others for sharing their stories and educating the public about what it means to be trans. It has been estimated that 1.4 million people in the United States identify as transgender. But while that hardly makes you a unicorn, this is still a unique experience that not everyone who you encounter in your dating pool may be familiar with.
There are two schools of thought about when to open up. One group believes that it is not your date’s business; this is very personal information that you don’t need to share until you want to, perhaps when you begin to feel a deeper connection. The other group believes that the sooner you share the info, the better. This allows you to weed out people who will not want to continue seeing you, potentially saving you some heartache. Whether it's their business or not, dating is about finding someone who wants what you want and makes you feel comfortable, so why not do what you can to ensure that outcome? (One trans person countered this suggestion by pointing out that if you reveal this part of your identity before meeting someone, like on a dating app profile, you run the risk of them wanting to hook up with you as a sexual experiment. But then again, who is not at risk of a date just wanting to hook up?)
I myself fall into the share-sooner-rather-than-later camp. I am a big believer, regardless of gender identity, that it is important to choose people in your life who can appreciate all of who you are. If you do not reveal the truth of your life struggles, growth, pain, triumphs, and experiences, you can’t attract someone who can appreciate you on a profound level. I was touched by the way one trans woman described her experience of dating in an op-ed for the British indie magazine Dazed: “... If you want to date someone he should be willing to accept you as you are. Dating and being trans is hard enough without trying to be somebody else."
Some people will open up before ever meeting; others want to have a conversation face-to-face, say, on a first date; yet others will wait until they determine whether they even really like the person they're sitting across the table from before going deep. But it's important to feel like you're being upfront, especially before becoming intimate, whether emotionally or physically. If the idea of talking about this part of yourself begins to occupy your thoughts, it's probably a good time to share. You've done the work of accepting yourself already; don't set yourself back by spending your time with someone who you worry might not be as accepting—and that's true when it comes to being honest about any important aspect of yourself.
If someone you start to date gets attached to you and then finds out you've kept this part of yourself hidden, they may feel betrayed. And because of that, it's important to consider two things. The first is that it can be difficult to build trust after, even if you would both like to. The second is safety. The sad truth is that there are many transphobic people out there, some who might even respond to a revelation like this with violence. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, "more than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color.” You don't want to find yourself in a vulnerable or dangerous position, which is why I would definitely recommend introducing the subject before engaging in physical contact—and, if you do wait to have the conversation in person, doing so in a public area. It may seem like a talk you'd rather have in a private setting, but your safety comes first.
There is someone for everyone, and the only way to attract that person is to be forthcoming about who you are. Doing it early on can help you skip some potentially painful experiences—and also lead to a great love story.