Is it Kind to Lie to a Transgender Person?

Being in a relationship with a “trans woman,” under the currently popular ideology, means telling an extraordinary number of lies. The most obvious of these is “you are a woman.” I’ll get to some of the others in a moment.

The transgender person thinks this particular lie is true and doesn’t know that his friends are telling him a story. The transgender person’s friends think this is a polite lie for the sake of kindness or a purely semantic concession and don’t know that the transgender person genuinely believes otherwise (such a level of delusion seems unlikely to many). The fact that neither side knows what the other is thinking is one of the hazards of choosing to lie.

I think a case can be made for never lying in any arena of lie.  It’s a goal I work toward every day. Starting from a place of sound ethics and bravery can make it possible to tell the truth in a compassionate way.  Sure, you can tell your friend that you like her ugly haircut and probably never suffer any consequences. Or you can say nothing, which is my recommendation in this situation. Or you can learn to say, if directly asked, something honest: “It’s awfully short, isn’t it? I have to say I preferred it when you wore it a little longer. But if you like it, that’s all that matters. That’s a popular style now. A lot of people like it!”

But let’s put aside the question of whether one can live without lying, ever, and focus on the question of lying to a transgender person.

Is it really kind?

A detransitioned female I’ve met, who sometimes writes under the name Maria Catt, says it isn’t. I’m paraphrasing from memory, because the post has been made private, but she said there’s “no respect” in simply acquiescing to your friends’ demands instead of treating them like capable adults who can handle the truth.

Here are some of the lies we tell to transgender people. My examples are skewed toward male-to-females, as that’s where my experience lies.

Lie #1: You Pass

During the time I spent heavily involved in the transgender community I met hundreds of transgender people. Some used cosmetic enhancements or prosthetics only, some took hormones, some had undergone a few surgeries, and some had undergone every surgery you can think of.  General (but very reliable) rule: these people do not pass. By and large it’s just not a thing. And importantly, when someone comes close to passing, the event is wholly unrelated to the interventions they’ve done. Skinny young dudes with good skin sometimes come close with no interventions whatsoever. People who’ve had every surgery known to man sometimes still look like guys in drag. 

But we tell transgender people they pass and we further we imply it via “gendering” and insincere compliments about their beauty.

Lie #2: You Can Pass

As mentioned above, interventions generally do not increase the chance of passing. So why does society perpetuate the myth that they do?

Suppose there was a line representing appearance as indicated below. “Masculine” looking people are at the left end, at the value 1. “Feminine” looking people are at the right end, at 200. As it turns out, looking masculine versus looking feminine correlate quite well to sex. Numbers 1 to 100 are men and the average man sits at 50. Numbers 100 to 200 are women, and the average woman sits at 150.

Transgender males who take hormones see themselves move from 50 to 52 . It’s an actual change. There are A-cup boobs there when there weren’t before. There’s a softening of the skin. And because transgender people, like people with other forms of body dysmorphic disorder,  spend a lot of time evaluating themselves in the mirror, this difference is heightened to them. They think it’s a 130. But the rest of us see a 52. To the rest of us, a 52 comes nowhere near approaching the most masculine female we know. Strangers who aren’t attuned to the political culture are unlikely to even notice in some cases.

Transgender people think their interventions are working. Everyone else knows better. Neither side knows what the other is thinking.

Consider the hazards of perpetuating the myth “you can pass.” Not only does it encourage the transgender person down the path of hormones and surgery, and the attendant health problems with that, but it does so for literally no objective benefit. That’s just sad.

Cognitive dissonance is a fickle thing and it sometimes wanes (I’ve seen it happen). It’s a hard wake-up call when that waning accompanies a realization that one’s finances, relationships and health have been compromised in the service of a lie.

Lie #3: Sex Isn’t Real

Because of that aforementioned mirror-gazing, transgender people are legitimately under the impression that bolt-on tits and eyeliner create a reasonable facsimile of a woman.

Recently I vacationed on the coast. About a mile away from me a beach security vehicle stopped and the driver opened the door. I expected the driver to be male because, you know, unconscious bias. But the driver was female. She wasn’t especially curvy and I couldn’t see her tits or her eyeliner (if any) from that distance. In fact, she was in a shapeless uniform and had short hair. But it was clear she was female. She started a slow walk toward me and eventually crossed my path, where I could confirm, though it wasn’t necessary, that she was in fact a woman.

People can tell females from males, even at great distances. It’s more than tits and eyeliner. It’s the tilt of a pelvis, the shape of a back, the curve of an ankle, the length of a forearm. Even a female’s cough sounds different from a male’s. There aren’t enough interventions to override this incredibly pervasive cellular information.

People (including children) know what sex other people are because it’s an innate and necessary skill. It matters when evaluating threat, choosing allies, maintaining family relationships, and evaluating sexual partners.

That brings us to the next lie.

Lie #4 Straight Men and Lesbians Want to Date You

My ex once posted that straight men were “too cowardly” to date him. I don’t engage with him but I wanted to scream, for his benefit more than anyone else’s, the much simpler explanation:  Straight men like pussy!

There’s a huge amount of propaganda out there about the dating prospects of trans people, especially post-op. The LGBT world promotes the lie that lesbians are attracted not to female bodies or female people, but to invisible female-identification occurring in the other person’s brain and/or to female-impersonating bodily modifications. It doesn’t work that way. Lesbians are attracted to females, not to disembodied tits. Otherwise they could glue a bra to a robot and never leave the house.

The medical community perpetuates another set of myths: that hormones won’t interfere with erections and surgery won’t interfere with orgasm. Finally, the mainstream news is full of stories about trans people with supportive partners or vibrant dating lives. The rare reportage of breakups and divorces places the blame on the partner’s failure to adapt.

Everyone ignores the elephant in the room: people who prefer men prefer unaltered men, and people who prefer women are not satisfied by facsimiles of women.

In an illumination of the two-facedness of this lie, everyone pretends it’s someone else’s job to step up and date trans people. I wish I had a nickel for every person who criticized the way I was managing my relationship, despite telling me they would have bailed after the first confession.

Meanwhile, trans people themselves are all over social media posting, “So weird and utterly inexplicable, but I can’t find anyone to date!”

People care about the sex organs of their partner. They care what they are, whether they work, and whether they can be named and enjoyed without a meltdown on the part of their owner. People care very much. People want to enjoy sex, not ineffectually stroke non-functioning and/or simulated organs.

This may sound mean. But it’s even meaner to wait until transgender people have undergone these interventions before letting the harsh truth sink in.

Pretending that hormones, surgery and a rejection of one’s own sex has no effect on dating prospects is nothing short of cruel.

I Think of You As a Woman

No, you don’t.

You’re not trying to fix him up with your dad. You’re not asking him for advice on natural childbirth techniques. You’re not inviting him to ladies night at the wine bar.

And he has noticed. But he’s choosing to cling to the pleasant lies you tell instead of the unpleasant reality you represent.

Lying isn’t a good thing. I couldn’t keep doing it. I couldn’t keep doing it for the sake of my own soul and I couldn’t keep doing it for the sake of his.

Lying to yourself is even more pernicious than lying to others, because it makes you ill-equipped to handle life. I couldn’t enable that any longer. Enabling a person’s self-deception is harmful to their survival.

This is intuitive–we don’t tell anorexics they need lipo or Michael Jackson he needs another nose job. But it’s more than philosophical. It was my experience in direct practice, as well. The more my ex pursued the comfort of lies, the sicker he became, the more he hated himself, and the more depressed he became–until he was contemplating suicide.

There’s no easy answer. But being honest and ethical has to be a start.

“Listen to Trans People’s Stories”

“Listen to trans people’s stories!” is a common response when women hint at the possibility that being trans is not exactly the same thing as being female.

As someone who was married to a “trans woman” and tried to make it work, I can’t be accused of not listening to trans people’s stories. I heard them in the most honest, most intimate setting possible, over and over again for more than a year.

As someone who has attended trans support groups, I can’t be accused of not listening to trans people’s stories. I heard them straight from the source: trans people in trans spaces.

As someone who has attended trans spouses’ support groups, I’ve heard more intimate, honest, letting-the-guard-down “trans stories” than anyone else I know, from women who wanted to stay married to trans people–the people who are most invested in hearing and understanding trans stories.

And as it turns out, the “trans story,” or at least the “trans woman story,” is overwhelmingly a story about sexual paraphilia.

A paraphilia is an “experience of intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations, fantasies, or behaviors.”

The majority of “trans women,” especially the ones who did not consider themselves gay at a young age, are sexually attracted to feminine clothing and to themselves in it.  Most started with erotic cross-dressing. At some point later they became more interested in looking in the mirror than looking at their partner. For people born male, the line between “transgender” and “transvestic fetishist” is by no means a clear one.

Some are also turned on by acting “girly,” by the bodily functions of women such as menstruation, by the idea or reality of having breasts and constructed sex organs via hormones or surgery, or by several of these in conjunction.

Their marriages break down in large part because fetishism, by definition, is an interest that takes over and pushes out other, normal, partner-centered intimate activities.

This is hard for some to believe because we spouses of “trans women” often stay silent, lest we get mowed down by an angry mob with torches on social media. Over something we’ve experienced directly, and they’re merely guessing about!

It’s also hard to believe because “trans women,” my ex included, are out there marching on the platform that the sexual component is a dirty lie (all the while at home asking me to pull down his lace panties and call him a bitch). 

Of course that’s the official story. The true story–the sexual one–threatens to open a real dialog on whether trans women should access women’s locker rooms and other spaces.

But the medical community is well aware of the sexual story. A phenomenon called “autogynephilia,” a “male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female,” “underlie[s] transvestism and some transsexualism.” Although activists have tried to discredit the term, a search on something like Pub Med shows it’s alive and well among medical professionals.

Here, transsexual psychologist Anne Lawrence compiles 249 first-person accounts of trans women describing sexual attraction to themselves in feminine clothing or situations.

Did you know that men with fetishes and paraphilias tend to have more than one? And that “transvestites” fit that model?

Please note that all above links are to studies or medical or legal sources, not blogs or opinion pieces.

You might ask why the medical community supports transition in light of the fetish connection. Here are some interesting facts:

1. Up until recently, they did in fact oppose transition for fetishists. That changed after pressure by transgender activists to eliminate such “gatekeeping.” It’s worth thinking about why the transgender community does not want to ferret out fetishists from their midst, nor to see them denied transgender medical services.

2. Prescribing hormones to transgender people is still an off-label use. That means hormones are not approved by the FDA for transition. Doctors who prescribe them in such a way do so in contradiction of available research.

3. Many medical professionals are sounding the alarm about the lack of “robust evidence” behind the current protocol, some calling it a “medical scandal.”

Now let me make one thing clear. I don’t necessarily think fetishists are awful people. I’m not here to make judgments on paraphilias one way or the other. I think that topic is complicated, and in any case, it’s not my area of expertise.

But I also don’t think we have to pretend that men with fetishes are women. After all, “Fetishism is seen almost exclusively in men” per the DSM.

So yes, listen to trans women’s stories. You could start with the ones where numerous “trans women” on Reddit confess getting “spontaneous boners” from wearing women’s clothes and thinking about transition. (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 +)

We can listen to trans people’s stories, be fearlessly honest, protect the rights of trans people, and protect the rights of women and girls all at the same time.

No one should be denied employment or housing over how they dress. No one should be beaten up over what they look like.

But protecting the rights of trans people doesn’t have to mean redefining “woman” as anyone who gets a hard-on while wearing a dress.

Protecting the rights of trans people doesn’t have to mean making a civil rights crisis out of a tampon fetishist’s desire to share a women’s locker room with pre-teen girls.

Listen to trans people’s real stories, not the lies that are sanctioned by the activist community.

And when you do, consider whether those stories are the stories of women.

“The Straight Ones Love Their Dicks!”

“The straight ones,” someone said to me a while ago, “are making things difficult for the ones who actually have dysphoria.”

She was referring, of course, to the two types of male-to-female transsexuals proposed by sexologist Ray Blanchard in the ’80s. He had observed among his patients a sharp distinction between what he called “homosexual transsexuals,” who were typically feminine, came out early in life, and were attracted to men; and “autogynephiles,” who were typically masculine, came out late in life, and were primarily attracted to women. The former are more likely to be lonely and poor and marginalized. The latter are more likely to have a history of career success and a loving family. The former, Blanchard suggested, were just trying to deal with the hand they were dealt and to attract the men they wanted to date. The latter had a sort of paraphilia–a sexual interest in cross-dressing and in fantasizing about themselves with female anatomy.

His topology was widely accepted and used to determine treatment for trans individuals for decades, and is still extensively utilized in medical literature despite modern activists’ insistence that it has been discredited.

It’s also very observably true. My ex-husband is a textbook autogynephile. He was masculine. He worked in IT and had an interest in geeky stuff, which for whatever reason, is part of the archetype. He came out late in life. He had a sexual interest in cross-dressing and in imagining himself female. This interest was strong enough to outcompete his sexual interest in his real-life partner.

A sweep through the forums that “trans women” create for themselves provides an endless fount of stories of males aroused by themselves in women’s clothes and by the thought of themselves with breasts and vaginas. Here, Anne Lawrence, a self-professed autogynephile and psychologist, compiles 249 such first-person accounts.

But I believe it’s important to separate fact from fiction, even if it suports a narrative we don’t expect.

Somehow, people have come to believe that homosexual transsexuals have dysphoria–basically a hatred of their sex organs–while autogynephiles do not. Since hearing that comment way back when, I’ve heard a similar sentiment many more times. But it does not reflect my experience. And for what it’s worth, I haven’t noticed Blanchard et al making this distinction, either.

In fact, one of Blanchard’s motivations for articulating this distinction was to clinically recognize autogynephiles as poor candidates for sex reassignment surgery. As masculine-looking, late-transitioning men they were unlikely to be satisfied with its physical results and as straight-leaning men their dating prospects are impacted by it. This is exactly the “gatekeeping” the modern transgender lobby so often disparages. And if it was necessary to dissuade autogynephiles from surgery that’s because they were seeking surgery. 

Just recently someone said to me, “All the autogynephiles are faking it.”

Just recently someone else said to me, “The straight ones never get surgery. They love their dicks.”

I get the motivation for comments like these. It’s all too convenient when a straight man is just “trans” enough to walk into a dressing room among the sex that gives him a boner but not quite “trans” enough to get the allegedly offending body part removed. 

But I think it’s important not to invent motivations for others’ behavior.

It’s my experience that “the straight ones” hate their bodies and positively romanticize surgery. My ex. All my ex’s trans friends. All the people on the aforementioned forums, many quite young. Many who began to identify as trans only months prior.

Don’t get me wrong. I think he acquired this dysphoria. But he had it nonetheless.

In fact, the acquisition of dysphoria where it did not previously exist–among the “straight ones,” the female-to-males, the young ones, the old ones, and all the rest–is one of the things that makes this trend so alarming.

This isn’t simply a group of adults experimenting with clothing and hairstyles. This is an ever-expanding swath of the population, extending to the pre-pubescent, developing a rapid and consuming interest in extreme and irreversible body mods with no prior ideation of the kind. People daydreaming about, if not seeking, once-rare experimental surgeries that are rife with complications and that have been demonstrated time and time again to ravage individuals’ romantic options, orgasms, fertility, mental health, and physical health.

I’m currently taking a class with a young woman who months ago did not identify as trans, then for a time bragged that she was “genderqueer,” and today writes wistful poetry about her breasts being scooped from her body with a scalpel like “bruises on an apple.”

So it’s important we get the facts right about who has dysphoria and how and when they got it.

I told the woman who said “the straight ones love their dicks” that that wasn’t quite right. She got very adamant. A greater number of the homosexual transsexuals get surgery, she explained. And since the percentage of homosexuals is smaller than the percentage of straight people, that represents an even greater discrepancy than it appears to. But I’ve yet to meet a trans person who didn’t eventually dream of surgery. So what’s going on?

I think several factors are at play in why both parties might hate their bodies, but homosexual males are more likely to follow through with surgery:

    • It’s a question of definition. In the gay community, surgery almost defines who is and isn’t “trans.” There’s simply no such thing, to speak of, as a non-op trans homosexual male. That person just calls himself a gay man (and maybe a drag queen). Gay men become “trans” by way of surgery. Gender non-conformity in the gay community, unlike in the straight community, is too unremarkable to be taken as a sign of being “trans.” 
    • Related to the above, the umbrella for who is and isn’t trans is wider in the straight community than in the gay community. I’d argue that “trans” in the homosexual community is limited to people who consider the matter with a certain intensity, while “trans” in the straight community encompasses so-called non-binaries, genderqueers, agenders, neutrois, and whatever other word an Everyday Feminism author decides to coin today. Just as it’s hard to imagine calling out gender-nonconformity in the gay community, it’s now hard to imagine not calling it out in the straight community. Everyone who’s ever worn nail polish or gotten an interesting haircut has been implicated. So it’s not surprising if the number of trans people in the straight community is inflated with those who were never serious enough to contemplate surgery.
    • It’s been suggested that the homosexual males who opt for surgery are more likely to be black. It’s been suggested that they’re more likely to be poor. With poverty comes lower education levels and a greater likelihood of past abuse. With homosexuality comes a greater likelihood of childhood bullying. All this adds up to a type of individual who might be more willing to do violence to himself than a college-educated middle class white guy working in IT like my husband. One wonders if “trans” represents desperation in the homosexual community but privileged boredom in the straight community.
    • Surgery is expensive. The trans community often points out that some male-to-females pay for their surgeries with prostitution. But the customers of prostitution are men. Homosexual men are probably more likely to cross the line into prostitution, as anonymous gay sex is often already in their wheelhouse, sans only the exchange of cash. On the other hand, anonymous gay sex is a little harder for someone like my ex to swallow. It would be interesting to see how surgery rates would change if you threw a million dollars toward the straight guys. Caitlyn Jenner provides an instructive example.

As someone who has seen all this up-close and personal, I just want to say that “the straight ones” have dysphoria.

I get the feeling that those who promote this misconception feel that dysphoria should make a difference in how we view or treat trans people. But I disagree. I wish no discrimination in housing or employment, for example, on trans people, with or without dysphoria. Nor, on the other side, does dysphoria make men actually women or suddenly exempt them from statistics that show they’re more likely to commit violent or sexual crimes than women are.

Dysphoria is just dysphoria. It’s one of the things males must sort out on their own. It does not compel females to relinquish our safe spaces, our sports teams, our employment posts or our resources to them.