Trying to Protect My Family

Dear Prudie,

Several years ago I dated a woman named “Rhonda” for three months. I broke up with her after her sister “Amy” revealed to me that Rhonda was born “Ron” and showed me ample evidence. When I confronted Rhonda about her being a transsexual woman, she broke down and confessed that she was going to tell me, but only after we had been intimate! (Luckily we hadn’t been yet.) It wasn’t her transsexuality that ended the relationship, but her deception; I am not a transphobic person. Rhonda took the breakup badly and stopped speaking to Amy, and on top of that their parents took Rhonda’s side and accused Amy of trying to ruin Rhonda’s life out of jealousy. Later, Amy and I began dating and eventually married. Her parents refused to attend the wedding as a show of solidarity with Rhonda, despite Amy’s attempts to reconcile with all of them. Now we are expecting our first child and Amy’s parents have expressed tentative interest in being a part of their grandchild’s life. I, however, want these people to have nothing to do with my child or my wife. They are a toxic influence and their enabling of Rhonda’s deceptive behavior is appalling to me. My wife disagrees. How can I help her cut ties with these horrid people?


Dear Trying,
So much for sisterly solidarity. Yes this is a tale of bad judgment, but if Rhonda erred by omission, Amy’s sin was one of commission. She collected a dossier on Rhonda and presented it to you, meddling in her adult sister’s private life. You are stuck on the fact that you feel misled by Rhonda, so let’s examine that. There are no hard and fast rules about what one is obligated to tell a potential sexual partner, beyond the necessity of alerting them to one’s communicable disease status. You were slowly getting to know Rhonda, and I think two people looking for a serious, intimate relationship are obligated to divulge facts about themselves in a timely way that a reasonable person would feel deceived not knowing. For example, revealing that one had been married previously, or has children, or can’t have biological children, or has a significant medical condition. I think being transgender falls in this obligation-to-disclose category. I know that what to tell and when is an issue of debate in the LGBT community, so for perspective I spoke to Jennifer Finney Boylan, author ofStuck in the Middle with You, a memoir of her transition from being a father to a mother. She agrees that where intimate relationships are concerned honesty in general is best, but when to reveal that one is transgender is a choice made by that individual. A generation ago, she says, transgender people were told by their doctors to erase their pasts and live a stealth life, which caused a lot of anguish and meant people traded one secret for another. Today, she says, some trans people who have had reassignment surgery assert they simply had a birth defect that was corrected, and therefore their past is nobody’s business. Boylan does point out, however, that in the age of the Internet trying to keep the fact of a gender change hidden can become a terrible, and hopeless, burden.

But above all, Boylan noted the violation committed when Amy decided to out Rhonda, a revelation that was not hers to make. I hope you can understand how Amy’s act cleaved her family and shattered her relationship with her sister. Now that you and Amy are about to have your in-laws’ first grandchild, you’re asking for my help to undermine any chance this family might find some way forward. It’s you, however, who has to examine whether the presence of Rhonda makes you so uncomfortable that you would prefer to demonize your in-laws and sever them from your child’s life. It is you who has become the toxic influence. And as Boylan points out, now that you and Amy are about to become parents, think about how you would react if your own child turned out to be transgender, which might help you better understand all your in-laws.


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