As a blatantly, perhaps flauntingly, transgender woman, it’s easy for people to assume outing me is OK. And actually, it is. For me. Most of the time. That conditional feeling about that information makes it hard for friends to judge when I mind being outed, and that probably means it’s best not to if there’s any doubt.
Simply put, outing a transgender person is not like outing a person’s sexuality. In my part of the world al least, someone’s sexuality is largely a non issue and the question of whether it’s safe to out them moot. Some might take issue, but most won’t and even if they do it’s not acceptable in most settings to act on their homophobia. As I have friends in parts of the world where sexuality gets you shot, I’m keenly aware that what I say isn’t necessarily true elsewhere.
Transphobia is rather more acceptable than homophobia in polite society. People are more free to single out, insult, dismiss, or harm a transgender person without attracting the disapproval of their peers. In some peer groups, it’s expected and praised. In others, we can be discussed and considered as one might consider cattle. As a point of personal safety, most of us who are out by default will still take a conditional view here: out in a certain proximity. Because this stuff could get us killed.
"WITH ALL THIS GOING ON, ONE MIGHT THINK THAT PEOPLE WOULD REMAIN FAIRLY CAGEY ABOUT PEOPLE’S IDENTITIES AND STATUSES. BUT NO."
With all this going on, one might think that people would remain fairly cagey about people’s identities and statuses. But no. Transitioning people regularly out each other to each other, which is usually fine (often expected) in the context of many gatherings. If you meet someone at a gender support group, it’s hard to not out them as something if histories are exchanged. Transitioning people often have little else on their mind, and that means conversation often turns to the process if they’re at all safe - the exchange pretty much outs everyone at the table.
Just FYI from earlier. I really don’t want to be outed to anyone, even if they’re another trans person.
A text following a chance meeting with a friend in a coffee shop. We were having breakfast before she flew to Thailand for her surgery. We ran into someone and I went ahead and introduced them and told the newcomer what we were up to: having a get together before she heads off for surgery. It didn’t out her directly, but anyone with half a clue will know what that means. And association with me pretty much seals the deal.
I felt like a real idiot. It was a casual comment, a thoughtless remark that was based on my boundaries rather than hers. I didn’t have to say anything except that we were getting breakfast, but there we were. It wasn’t my information to share.
In this situation, all I could do was apologise and hope she wasn’t too upset. As it happened, she wasn’t and the person we met worked for a human rights charity in London. Cisgender, but probably the safest class of cisgender person you could be randomly outed to - but she didn’t know that. I placed her in a situation where she wasn’t sure if she was safe. I knew she was, but that didn’t matter.
As random outings go, this was probably the safest scenario. Still, it placed my friend in a perceived danger, to say nothing of making her uncomfortably self conscious. It just goes to show that we just don’t know. It’s never OK without checking, even when it’s safe.
You knew I was trans, right?
Yes, G told me.
A taste of my own medicine, and it did raise mixed feelings. On so many levels I didn’t care and I pretty much outed myself to her anyway. G, her partner, was my friend and I tend to assume whatever one person knows, their partner also knows. But it still got me to stop and think: G outed me. And like my casual outing, it was automatic: based on G’s boundaries rather than mine.
Also like my mistake, G’s mistake was reasonably harmless. Her boundaries and mine are pretty close anyway, her partner is a safe person. A trip to my public facebook wall reveals a whole bunch of things from this site - people will find out pretty quickly. Googling my name shows a before and after shot so yeah. I’m just visible for life. So why did it bother me?
"IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL. I DIDN’T WANT MY FRIEND TO JUST PASS THAT AROUND, EVEN IF I DON’T MIND A CURIOUS PERSON JUST CHECKING MY PUBLIC PROFILES AND SEEING ME THERE HAPPILY OUT."
It’s all about control. I didn’t want my friend to just pass that around, even if I don’t mind a curious person just checking my public profiles and seeing me there happily out. I can’t resolve that contradiction except that I put the evidence out there to be found, so it’s OK. I don’t know why it matters, but it does. It’s my information. So I went ahead and told my friend to sort of not do that, even though I felt foolish asking.
She, like me, was mortified at her mistake. She immediately apologised, we had a bit of a conversation. I said to her partner that I hoped I hadn’t caused any drama and she said I hadn’t. And we moved on. I still felt silly bringing it up, but it made me feel safer making the boundary clear.
These two instances ended safely. Everyone was safe even if they didn’t feel that way all the time. Nobody minded and we all just moved on. The information didn’t spread in a way that was unacceptable. As casual outings go, this was contained, but not harmless. Outing someone is never harmless, even if we’re absolutely certain that it’s safe. Just don’t do it unless you’ve asked. Better yet, don’t as at all and let them out themselves if they want to. It’s their information, not ours.