There are some questions that are eternal: “What existed before the universe?” “What is the meaning of life?” “What is the deal, people?” These are just a handful of such pondered questions, of which many will never have an answer that satisfies most people, and that’s OK. There are certain puzzles about existence that bring an air of mystery and excitement to life, bring joy and wonder to it, that in effect give life meaning. Of course, with every exciting or joyful thing, there must be a dull or dreadful one. Yeah, I read the I Ching in college too. There are also dreadful questions: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Why does evil exist?” “Is there cilantro in this?” One of those questions that keeps coming up in my life is “Should I tell people I’m transgender before dating them?” I’m not sure why it’s such a regularly asked question, because the answer is amazingly simple.
That’s it; that’s your answer. It depends. It depends on a number of factors. How out you are, how passable you are, how you feel about gender, the person you plan on dating, whether you’ve had surgery, and probably a dozen other variables. There’s no perfect or correct answer to this question other than “Depends.” Humans love easy answers, especially in this age of sound bites and tweets. We want simple solutions to complex issues that can explain away everything in small, comfortable portions so we have more time for other things. So when a new question arises, because we live in a world that is moving and changing so rapidly it probably has a killer meth habit and rotten teeth, we especially demand that question have an easy answer since we still haven’t figured out so many other complex ones. Obviously, to ask when or if a transgender person should disclose who they are before dating or sex is one of those, but it’s not anr easy one for our society because the easy answer only exists for individuals. Me personally, I’m very up front about being trans. It’s on all my dating profiles, it’s on my Twitter handle and my Facebook page, and I tell jokes about it onstage. It works for me, but it may not work for you. So, you know, you do you and I won’t judge you for it.
There’s a thing about this question that bugs me. though — it’s a question that ends up just raising further questions. Why are transgender people so anxiety-ridden about the prospect of telling people of their identity? Why is the onus always placed on the trans person? Why aren’t we asking why the question comes with so much fear?
Last week The Breakfast Club, a hugely popular syndicated radio program, had comedian Lil Duval on, and after being asked about the topical issue of Donald Trump's transgender military ban, he was asked about dating or having sex with a transgender woman, to which his immediate reply was that he would probably kill them. The hosts tried to push back a little and even used the cover of Janet Mock's recent book that has her on the cover to argue' essentially, “Would you sleep with her?” To which Lil Duval said he wouldn’t and doubled down. There was some small pushback from the hosts, but not enough to point out how awful those comments were. Lil Duval walked it back a little but still implied he would harm any trans woman who “tricked” him into sleeping with her.
That raises such a good question; Why does everyone think we’re a horde of succubi out to seduce and trick people? There’s even a term for some trans women that specifically refers to that, “trap,” like we’re something set for rodents, coyotes, or other pests. Trans people are merely being themselves when they present the way they feel and go through transition. It’s not for you, jackasses, it’s for us. We look and act that way because it makes us feel better, not to get you to run your ship aground. If you see us and are attracted to us, we didn’t make you feel that way; you already had attraction to traits you favor that we have. Your attraction to us is on you, not us.
Another question is; What makes you so frightened and unsecure about your own sexuality and masculinity that when you discover you are attracted to a trans person, you would react with violence? A significant portion of transgender women who are murdered are murdered by their romantic or sexual partners who already knew of their transgender status. Is being seen as gay or unmasculine for sleeping with a trans woman so horrifying that you would kill her to keep your secret? Rarely are trans women the victims of violence where there is a sudden surprise reveal when he goes to touch her crotch, or underwear is pulled down, like in the movies. The violence often comes when the man is afraid what people think of him for being attracted to a trans person. What is it about our society that tells a person they are less of a man for their attractions, and why do we exact a toll on them for having them? Why would we punish someone for them with social ostracism?
Why do we even think violence against a transgender person is somehow justified? While some trans women are killed by their partners, many are killed by total strangers. Trans people have been murdered for simply walking down the street or existing openly. Many think these people are killed because they’re prostitutes, as if that somehow justifies it, but many have been teens, college students, nurses, and more. Many were victims in their homes at the hands of people who simply broke in and killed them. Traps have been laid by people for transgender people to do violence to them. I recall the tragedy of Tyra Hunter, who was injured in a car wreck. and when her identity was discovered by the EMTs was mocked and deliberately given substandard care, which resulted in her death because, as one observer noted, “They didn’t consider her life worth saving.” What in our society makes us so wedded to rigid gender roles and identities that to violate those norms warrants a death sentence?
There are a lot of tough existential questions around transgender people that bring up core questions of our society’s and even humanity's attitudes toward sex and sexuality, gender, masculinity and femininity, social stigma and taboos, respect, dignity, valuation of life, stereotypes, and propensity for violence. Yes, the existence of transgender people is an irritant around these issues that we would be far happier to smooth over and ignore, but they aren’t going away unless we revert to a time of more regressive values. Transgender people are going to raise some difficult questions that involve touchy and tricky subjects that will cause us to have to reflect deeply on the entire nature of our society, and these questions that beg for an answer almost certainly do not have easy ones. The subject demands inquiry and investigation if we expect to evolve as a society, but we need to step back and think about what questions are the really important ones. “Should I disclose I am trans?” is one, but beyond an answer of “depends,” we need to explore the questions that make that one exist in the first place.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Kerri.