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Transmissions: Disclosure and deception

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith  

Caitlyn Jenner's new memoir was released this week, and she sat down with Diane Sawyer to do an interview about her life as part of the promotional tour. I must admit that I did not watch the interview, because – to be frank – I'm neither that keen nor curious when it comes to Jenner.

One thing I have noted, however, is how salacious the details have been in the promotions for the book, titled, "The Secrets of My Life." Every article seems to heavily push the details of Jenner's "final surgery," as well as her sex life and what gender she may consider dating.

Now I know that this sort of gossipy talk is what will be needed to sell the story of a celebrity whose star has dimmed in the two years since her public coming out, her reality show, her failed motivational speaker gigs, and her estrangement from the Kardashian family. But it all points to a deeper issue that transgender people face.

As I hear all the tawdry details of Jenner's story, I am also re-reading "How Sex Changed" by Joanne Meyerowitz. It's a great book, detailing the history of transsexuality in the United States. It's likely worth more of your book-buying dollar than the Jenner memoir.

In it, Meyerowitz discusses the reactions to Christine Jorgensen's coming out in the 1950s, and how both her tale and many others who came out shortly thereafter, were steeped in the same sort of salaciousness as the promotions for Jenner's autobiography.

Upon reflection, I realize, too, that every transgender person – and not just the Jorgensens and Jenners – face this same sort of thing. When you are trans, the standards of privacy are thrown out the window. We are expected to share our most intimate details to anyone we come across.

Without exception, any time I was interviewed in any depth, I found myself asked about my name prior to my transition, or for photos of myself from my youth, or for details of any surgeries I may have undertaken. It really didn't matter if any of that would be relevant to the story: my disclosure was simply expected.

The same standard is not expected of non-transgender people. Maiden names and other such things are considered private enough to be used as security features with banks and other institutions. Non-transgender strangers don't expect details of another's hysterectomies or vasectomies unless they happen to be medical professionals. So many things are naturally considered one's own private business.

The minute one divulges one is transgender, however, all bets are off. What's more, to make an issue about such questions is to risk being panned as deceptive.

On a recent episode of "Survivor," one contestant, Jeff Varner, outed fellow player Zeke Smith as transgender, under the guise of revealing a deception.

"There is deception here. Deception on levels these guys don't understand," said Varner. After a gentle goading by the show's host, Jeff Probst, Varner turned to Smith, saying point blank, "Why haven't you told anyone here you're transgender?"

 

The inference was clear, in spite of any last-ditch attempts by Varner to try and backtrack on or justify his statement: by not opting to disclose his trans status, Smith was not to be trusted to be honest on any other issue.

This notion of transgender deception pervades our culture. Many assume that trans women are attempting to "trap" unwitting men into "gay" relationships, or are otherwise opting to be deceptive by presenting in their chosen gender.

As an extension, this is at the heart of the so-called trans panic defense used to defend the murderers of transgender people. Our supposed deception is considered strong enough to excuse our very deaths.

This same thing is at the heart of the transgender bathroom arguments, with people conflating transgender people with sexual predators using trans public accommodation rights as a cover for violent illegal activities.

The big irony of it all is that, by living our authentic lives in the genders we have spent so long coming to an understanding of, we are by extension being far more open and honest to the world about who we are. We are shedding an identity that was the true deception, crafted to conceal our deepest secrets. We are literally showing you who we really are, while being brushed off as being deceptive for not remaining in a gender identity that was false.

On top of that, by choosing to show you who we truly are, any further expectation of privacy is considered moot. As I said above, we're expected to give you every intimate detail of our lives, far above and beyond that of any non-transgender person.

Now I'm sure that Jenner and her publicists know that such details will sell books. I am cynical enough to see that they're opting to play this game. Heck, even annoying me enough to get me to write about her book is considered a "win" when it comes to publicity.

Yet I am also saddened and frustrated to consider how, in doing so, they are making life that much harder for other transgender people who cannot and do not wish to share the private details of their genitals with the known universe.

We should be allowed an expectation of privacy, no matter if we're a former Olympian, an ex-GI, a contestant on "Survivor," or just trying to make it through the day in this crazy world. It's not that we want to be treated any differently than anyone else. Indeed, we simply with to be treated with the same respect as anyone else.

 

Gwen Smith thinks some things are only for her lover. You'll find her at http://www.gwensmith.com.

 

 

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