Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: There’s no graceful way to say it, so I’m just going to be blunt; I am a transgendered individual. I started dating this great guy about a couple months ago. We’ve been taking it really slow, only kissing and holding hands, but things are steaming up. The only thing is that I’m pre-operation, and my boyfriend doesn’t know that I’m transgendered. I haven’t told him yet because he is from a conservative Christian background, and I’m his first girlfriend. I’m worried that he won’t accept me for who I am, and that I may scare him off from dating completely. Please help me. Should I dump him to save him from the shock or tell him the truth about me and hope he’ll want to continue our relationship?
Wes: I believe you are sincere in your desire to work this out so that no one gets hurt, and I’m certain you’re going through tremendous agony over how to proceed. However, your decision to pursue this relationship without full disclosure is unethical, and you should not have allowed it to get this far. At this point, it’s hard to imagine either scenario you propose leaving anyone’s feelings and emotional health intact.
If you’ve read this column over the years, you know that we’ve discussed ethical conduct among gay and straight clients, adults and teens, guys and girls. So this advice is not about your sexual orientation. It’s about honesty and integrity in human relationships.
Your decision to withhold this key information from someone you are becoming intimate with is a blatant failure to afford your partner what we refer to as “informed consent” — the ability to make a decision about something with all the information at hand. As a psychologist, I understand that you experience yourself as female and operate from that emotional and psychological perspective. While many readers will find that hard to accept, I’d ask that we save that discussion for another day and focus instead on how your partner sees you. He has no idea that you are not biologically female, and you have not seen fit to share that information with him. Doing so is frightening, and you are quite likely to face rejection. But to avoid making a decision is to make a decision, and in this case you are not just making that decision for yourself, you’re unfairly making it for someone else. You’ve also made it knowing that this relationship will alienate your partner from his family and his faith, even if he were to accept you as psychologically female.
You’ve really placed yourself in a serious dilemma, and I’d strongly encourage you to pursue a therapy relationship to help sort out how you got here and how to avoid it in the future. In the meantime, I would argue that every relationship goes from where it starts, and this one has started badly. Your best bet is to either break off the relationship and simply explain that you’ve had a change of heart, or break it off and tell him the truth in the process — along with the most serious of apologies. I don’t know this guy, so I’m concerned about your safety and his psychological health if you share all. However, only you can decide which is the wise choice. What you cannot do is continue as you have been — lying by omission.
Kelly: When people come to me about relationship advice, I always feel as though I give everyone the same answer. However, the more I continue to think about it, the more I realize how quickly and simply the answer brings about change. No matter what type of relationship it is, similar problems seem to revolve around the lack of honesty and communication.
The transition you’re seeking is one that does impose personal barriers, some of which could be easily avoided while others can’t. If you wish to continue the relationship with this guy, then you obviously must tell him the truth. He will either accept you for who you are, or things could go badly.
Wes is right. From the beginning of your relationship, you should have been honest with your boyfriend. You would certainly expect the same. Somewhere during this relationship, there was surely a moment when you could have confided in him. I know this is a big bombshell to drop on someone, but yet again honesty is essential. Even if you are fearful of the outcome, it’s better to be true to yourself.
I know for you this is a particularly hard decision to make. But the barriers that we face are ones that we learn and grow from. If you want to maintain a relationship with your boyfriend, then you need to tell him. He will either accept it, or not. If he doesn’t, it won’t be the end of the world. There is someone out there who will accept you for who you are. If you decide to break it off without telling him why, you will never have that closure. Yet there may or not be long term consequences, everyone’s situation is different. The ball is now in your court. But remember, during this time it’s important to be true to yourself and others. You shouldn’t have to try to hide who you are.
Next week: My boyfriend has ADD. How do I deal with him?
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.