Arguments in favour of non disclosure should neither start or end with safety concerns. Yes, safety is a totally valid reason in and of itself. But there are other equally valid, stand alone, reasons not to disclose even when someone’s safety isn’t a factor.
Because of my whiteness, along with where I live and my acquired fluency and traded accent when I speak in English: disclosure often erases my culture. There’s nothing empowering about that. People often presume my understanding of gender, and relationship to social transition in particular, falls within a white anglophone understanding of these things. Asking me for my correct pronouns presumes I have a particular relationship to grammatical gender, which I don’t have.
[Picture by Pexels. Description: Mind the gap warning at the edge of a metro platform.]
I have 3 strategies to speak without referencing someone or people’s gender in French:
– language épicène (epicenity)
– gender combined pronouns and agreements (e.g. iel, toustes, celleux)
– person (the noun) or action centred language
(par ex la personne que nous recherchons aura les qualités suivantes….
la coordination requière… rather than lae coodinateuriste doit faire…)
Only two of those can be done in English because of how grammatical gender plays out in it. Originally in French, there were only 2 options. But the gender combined strategy emerged from trans and non-binary communities (as it has in Spanish and no doubt other languages. This is not without precedence or parallel. Madelle emerged from Québécoise feminist communities as a French equivalent to Ms. It’s not widely used, and is more likely to result in eye rolls and horror but that’s another story for another time and place.) There’s nothing community based about they/them/their, and alternative gender neutral pronouns are not wide spread across anglophone communities. I’m not knocking English. it’s got its strong points, but other languages have their own ongoing stories that should be similarly valued. Also, not everyone who is fluent in English will necessarily frame gender and and by extension the grammatical aspect of social transition according to an anglophone framework./
[Picture by Jean Louis Sibomana from Unsplash. Description: underground station with the warning at the edge of the platform to “mind the gap”.]
Which gender a possessive pronoun has in reference to me in English has never bothered me. As far as I’m concerned, my gender should be of no consequence when referencing the relationship I have to something or someone. But this cultural perspective is lost among anglophones who quickly, and happily forget English isn’t my mother tongue, especially when discussing anything to do with gender and transition. My linguistic culture is much more often remembered among anglophones who don’t know my medical history.
Another way disclosure can bring on a negative experience for a trans person is if acute focus on gender/body is a dysphoria trigger. The practice of imposing everyone state their correct pronouns publicly has caused me dysphoria, and it doesn’t require I disclose. But disclosure invokes a reflection on my gender and/or body. Yuck.
[Picture by Austin Neil from Unsplash. Description: man standing facing a microphone.]
“Telling my story” is somewhere between boring and exhausting. It was so long ago; it has less and less relevance to everything that’s happened since. Pre-phallo it made me dysphoric because people’s figurative trip into my underwear made me hyper aware of their literal content. It was unnerving when they interpreted the disturbed look on my face in response to their query as shame. It wasn’t because one more person knew my medical history that I wanted to crawl out of my skin. It’s because I’d been reminded of the shape of said skin.
I dread the same 20 questions that follow.
Have you had the surgery?
What was your name before?
When did you know?
What’s it like to grow facial hair/have your voice drop?
HR should frown about you asking the contents of my underwear. You have every idea what puberty is like, you probably have a working understanding of menopause. You’re thinking about this from a cis perspective/don’t think of it as transitioning away from the gender/body that makes you comfortable.
They say more about the person asking than me.
[Picture by Tim Gouw on Unsplash. Description: People on a beach gathered together to read as RESIST !! from an arial view.]
Some claim that advocacy can only be done by those who disclose. That’s fallacious. Take XY v Ontario, the trans person who took Manitoba to court and won the removal of surgery as a pre-requesite to sex marker change, etc. There are no names attached to those and numerous other court challenges and public policy changed, because it’s not necessary. The claim of “only those who come out/disclose can advocate” places the entirety of the onus of education squarely on the marginalised. People should lead their education in the areas of their privilege. I’m not discouraging anyone from disclosing to do advocacy, and certainly disclosure can enable empowering experiences of advocacy. but it isn’t necessary.
It’s commonly claimed that disclosure in medical settings is in a trans person’s best interest to ensure an accurate diagnosis and thus proper treatment. I cannot have a pathology in body parts I don’t have. I will never get lower back pain or incontinence as a result of an enlarged prostate. I’ll never be ill as a result of something wrong with a testicle. Any health professional who would diagnose a problem with either, and prescribe treatment accordingly has made a mistake. The amount of antibiotics I need to treat a UTI is determined by the length of my urethra, not whether its length was achieved via genetics alone or with some surgical intervention. My ovaries and uterus can’t become cancerous because they aren’t in my body anymore.
Health professionals have to treat people who are unconscious or unable to communicate all the time. Patients omit key information all the time because they don’t realise it’s pertinent information, or they’re embarrassed, or or or. Care providers have ways to deal with that, if and when it becomes an issue.
Meanwhile, the trans broken arm syndrome is a prevalent reality. I stopped disclosing to most health professionals to ensure better care.
[Picture by Aaron Ang from Unsplash. Description: man sitting while holding a book, looking at a lake.]
Disclosure has potentially positive outcomes for some of us in particular situations.
Disclosure, to people who know there’s more to queerness than sexual attraction, contextualises my relationship to queer cultures. Disclosure to people who understand that it’s not the same as coming out, can expand their understanding especially around my past (rather than negatively impact their take on who I am today.)
If people know my family’s stigma around intersex variations and transphobia, my strained relationship to my parents of origin is more likely to results in empathy. Otherwise, I get a lot of misplaced judgement from people who project a universal unconditional love that all parents supposedly have for their children. My relationships to singlehood and solo polyamory are also better understood in the context of my medical history and subsequent resilience strategies.
[Picture by Dylan McLeod from Unsplash. Description: man contemplating in a sofa chair.]
I’ve experienced both disclosing in all aspects of my life all the time, and relocating, and subsequently not disclosing to anyone. Neither felt right for me. Subsequently I began disclosing some times, and not in other parts of my life. This was difficult until I shifted my understanding and thus relationship to self-awareness. Since then, I do best when there’s a balance between facets of my life where people know my medical history, and those where people do not, as well as occasions where there are people who know and those who do not interacting together in my day to day life. In the absence of being able to have everyone sometimes know and sometimes not know, I strive in the next best scenario. When I navigate between people who know my medical history, and those who don’t, and thus go back and forth with the different ways both groups of people relate to me is when I feel most authentic. It’s not simple, and it can’t be established over night.
If you don’t want to ever disclose, don’t. I happily defend your right to do so. But don’t equate disclosure as qualifying the validity of someone’s transition/sense of self especially as if it’s in competition to yours.
If you want to disclose as often as possible, go for it. My figurative pom-poms are ready to cheer you on. But don’t blur the lines between disclosure and coming out, they’re not the same thing. And don’t claim that disclosure is required to live a “more authentic” life; that’s predicated on a shared agreement of what feels authentic.
If you disclose some times but not always, pull up a chair, kindred spirit.