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Nikki Araguz, widowed wife of Houston area firefighter, sued over gender.
July 21, 2010 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Nikki Araguz, the widowed wife of a Houston area firefighter, is being taken to court on allegations that she is a "man" in a case that reflects the archaic conceptions that still exist regarding gender.
posted by flyinghamster (93 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fuck transphobia.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:02 AM on July 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


Disgusting.
posted by arcticwoman at 7:03 AM on July 21, 2010


What the hell is wrong with people? It's like an entire family of Snidely Whiplashes relishing the idea of evicting widows and tying orphans to train tracks. And this sickening part is that the system will probably let them do it.
posted by Alison at 7:11 AM on July 21, 2010


Sometimes it's hard to believe we're still stuck in this binary gender mindset, then I remember how much some 'feminists' would like to leave us there. Then I look for a paypal address for a trans group.
posted by shinybaum at 7:17 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


WHAT!?
This is just appalling, in every possible fucking way. I can't even imagine how this poor woman feels, trying to deal with the petty, bigoted views of these fuckers while dealing with grief over losing her husband. Just hateful, disgusting, inhumane behaviour. Fuck.

Whether she was dealing with this from his parents their whole marriage, or just since he died, and they found out... Couldn't his parents have loved him enough to respect his feelings? Fucking jerks.
posted by opsin at 7:20 AM on July 21, 2010


Did anyone else see in the third link where it seems he might have only learned about her transexuality after their marriage?

"Thomas Araguz III separated from his wife after learning her history two months prior to being trapped in the fatal July 3 fire, according to attorney Chad Ellis, who is representing Araguz's parents in the lawsuit."

Granted, that's the parents' attorney, but still, if true, and he was in the process of separating from her, it does seem that her access to the estate should be limited or denied, depending on how the separation was going. Also, if true, this is the kind of thing that you should absolutely be disclosing to someone before marriage; if she was hiding it, that would certainly count against her, at least in my book.

I did not watch any of the video links so my apologies if this was addressed in any of those
posted by Aizkolari at 7:21 AM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Born Justin Graham Purdue, Nikki married Thomas in August 2008, but in April of this year, their attorney informed Thomas of his wife's real identity and they separated. Thomas Araguz died later on July 4 battling a massive fire.

The articles make it sound like Thomas separated from her specifically because he found out she had been born male. It surprises that he could be married to her for almost two years and not know that. Commenters here , some who claim to have known the couple, seem to think that he did know.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:22 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nah, that's addressed in the video. This is just as apalling as it looks.
posted by ob at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2010


The articles are all terribly written. I can't tell if Thomas was married to Nikki at the time of his death, or if it was his first wife's attorney who informed him of this, or what.
posted by mkb at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


If they were separating based on this information, could they not be trying to block it for those reasons, rather than for bigoted and deeply offensive reasoning? Maybe there's a legal loophole that means they have to go after her on this charge, but it would still come across as a crass and backwards move, and one that can only go to harm other transgenders and transgender relationships.

And as a bonus they seem to be trying to muddy her name in what seems to me like a whole pile of totally unrelated charges. Are any of those charges even remotely relevant to this case? Or is this just the media having a go at someone who decided to become a woman?

Sigh.
posted by opsin at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aizkolari, it was addressed in the other videos and links. It seems when they met she was pre-op. If you'd like to believe (as his parents might) that they weren't having sex before marriage, ok, whatever. However, her friends claim that she had sex change operation, after their wedding night, and this should be easy enough to verify.

Accepting this, would mean for his parents, that he was OK marrying a girl with some extra bits. That's probably got them terrified.

Did you notice how his first wife has also got a dog in this race? It's like vultures to the scent of death.
posted by fontophilic at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


She's beautiful.

And the law is bullshit--she was certainly his wife....this was no "male-male union" (as if that would be grounds to invalidate the marriage anyway, but this IS Texas we're talking about). But the articles leave open the question of whether or not her husband felt the marriage was built on a lie because he wasn't told the truth about her birth gender (if in fact his family is telling the truth, that she didn't disclose this info to him until after the wedding). This isn't quite the simple test case--it seems to be an unusually ugly divorce complicated by a death, acrimony from the in-laws, and of course, transphobia:

Thomas Araguz learned during a custody dispute with his ex-wife last spring that 35-year-old Nikki Araguz, whom he married in August 2008, was allegedly born as Justin Graham Purdue.

posted by availablelight at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2010


Sadly, This has happened before in Texas in 1999:
This judgement upheld the decision of a lower court that trans woman Christie Lee Littleton was legally male, and that her marriage to her late husband had been invalid. As with the UK’s landmark Corbett v. Corbett case in 1970, this case was sparked by property issues: Littleton had sued doctors for malpractice following the death of her husband.

The doctors responded by claiming that she was legally male and as such could not be the surviving spouse of a man and the Court upheld their claim, relying upon a chromosomal test and explicitly referring back to Corbett.
Yet, it is apparently possible (though extremely difficult, even with the help of an attorney) to get your sex marker on your birth certificate changed in Texas.

It's extremely frustrating how trans people are essentially shackled to the birth certificate rules of their birth state if they ever want to enter a heterosexual marriage (gay trans/cis couples in some places can actually have a legal marriage if the trans partner legally remains their owns sex, which is deliciously subversive, if sub-optimal). Some states absolutely require genital surgery, which is an intensely personal decision and, especially in the case of FTMs, often not desired. (Phalloplasty is expensive, often high risk, and the results are typically um... cosmetically sub-par.)

It's a clusterfuck, to put it kindly. So, yeah... WTF, Texas.
posted by Wossname at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think there's a little bait-and-switch as to the crux of this story. Nikki and Thomas actually separated 2 months before he died, based on the reveal of Nikki's gender history. After he died, Nikki is trying to claim part of her ex-husband's estate, while the family is saying it should go entirely to his two children from a previous marriage. There was no will, apparently (which seems remarkably dim for a firefighter) The real question is whether she still has any claim to the estate, considering they separated before his death. All the trans-drama is a salacious dressing to the meal, but the main course is just a standard estate settlement.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:29 AM on July 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


No wait, they do seem to agree that Thomas Araguz was separated from Nikki and divorced from his first wife when he died.
posted by mkb at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2010


Two points here that I think must be considered:

1) The firefighter and his wife were already into the process of separating before he died. In a case like this, where a person with a substantial estate dies without a will and their marriage was in the process of being dissolved, there is almost always a legal fight between the spouse and and dead person's family - regardless of the genders involved.

2) The family's lawyer has alleged that Mr. Araguz didn't know that his wife used to be a man, and that upon learning this he initiated divorce proceedings. The wife denies this, and says she disclosed her past before getting married. If the family's lawyer is telling the truth, I don't think it's fair to reflexively label the family as being transphobic or bigoted. If the marriage was formed under false pretenses, it is not inappropriate to try and deny the wife any benefits from that marriage.

Ultimately, none of this may matter legally. One of the articles notes that "Texas courts have held that someone who undergoes a sex change procedure remains as a matter of law, the same sex they were born as." If this is correct, the wife may be SOL, because the marriage would then be considered same-sex, which definitely isn't allowed in Texas.
posted by thewittyname at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2010


oh, THAT preview button.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:31 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


On preview:
It seems when they met she was pre-op.

Oh. (Can't get video at work.) Well that changes things a bit. But people who insist "you can always tell" underestimate how far transitioning assistance has come for MTF's, and possible naivete on the part of someone who may not have had much sexual experience to know anything was "off." (Though if they were stretching the boundaries of "no sex before marriage" and she was pre-op, the gig might have been up if she wasn't really careful.)
posted by availablelight at 7:32 AM on July 21, 2010


Wow, this sounds more complicated than what I got from an initial read. I guess I have to withdraw my initial remarks.
posted by Alison at 7:33 AM on July 21, 2010


Oh, and I'd also like to append my statement. He had kids with his first wife who absolutely should get some part of his estate.

Note to self: make a Will the second I become a parent.
posted by fontophilic at 7:36 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sometimes it's hard to believe we're still stuck in this binary gender mindset, then I remember how much some 'feminists' would like to leave us there.

Yes, feminists are clearly the biggest problem for trans folk.
posted by kmz at 7:37 AM on July 21, 2010 [16 favorites]


Texas law is pretty clear. It seems like it really hurts Ms. Araguz in this case, but it equally helps male-to-female transgenders who marry women.

All of this nonsense about "the husband didn't know" or that he should have known or whatever -- that's all just nonsense. It has nothing to do with the facts of it.

On the facts of it don't look great for Araguz.

I wish we had a national standard of "do no harm" when it comes to the treatment of transfolk. I miss living in Canada, partly because of that. =/
posted by andreaazure at 7:46 AM on July 21, 2010


So there is some precedent of dissolving a trans persons marriage, but the actual statute of marriage requires that two people cannot be of the same gender, and that gender can be established by:
(8) an original or certified copy of a court order relating to the applicant's name change or sex change;
Not being a lawyer, I don't understand the grounds for this suit. If they'd like to claim they were about to get divorced, thats one thing. Saying they were never married is another.
posted by fontophilic at 7:55 AM on July 21, 2010


possible naivete on the part of someone who may not have had much sexual experience to know anything was "off."

Except he had two kids from a prior marriage, I suspect claiming he had insufficient sexual experience would be tricky.
posted by opsin at 7:57 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aizkolari, it was addressed in the other videos and links. It seems when they met she was pre-op. If you'd like to believe (as his parents might) that they weren't having sex before marriage, ok, whatever. However, her friends claim that she had sex change operation, after their wedding night, and this should be easy enough to verify.

I'm confused (and can't watch the videos on this computer for some reason).

Morality aside, what is Texas law? Can a male (born male) legally marry a trans woman (who still has a penis)? Can you change your gender on Texas legal documents before you've had a sex change? Do you have to show ID to get a marriage certificate?
posted by 23skidoo at 8:02 AM on July 21, 2010


fontophilic, the grounds for declaring the marriage illegal is probably the 1999 Littleton case, which I linked to upthread.

Texas law wrt changing a birth certificate is very inconsistently applied. Evidently, it is possible, but prior court rulings to the contrary have made a mess of the issue.
posted by Wossname at 8:07 AM on July 21, 2010


Yes, feminists are clearly the biggest problem for trans folk.

Sadly, the feminist movement, or parts of it, has not always had the greatest track record when it comes to trans issues. I get the sense that this is changing, but unfortunately the support that one might expect or hope for has not always been there...
posted by heyforfour at 8:10 AM on July 21, 2010


Leave her the fuck alone. Christ.
posted by pyrex at 8:12 AM on July 21, 2010


shinybaum, I'm gay and I think people deserve dignity, but damn if I don't want to flag your post to hell and then fart in your general direction after reading what you wrote.

Why are we still stuck in this binary gender mindset? Because most of us - the vast majority of most of us - were born with one gender, identify as that gender rather comfortably, and have no frame of reference except being cisgender.

So maybe you could step back, stop shitting on other people who are working for their own equality, and share your perspective which might help the rest of us move along away from the binary gender mindset.

Look, I know it's hard. I can speak rationally and calmly about a ton of policy issues which I feel passionately about - but I cannot do it about gay rights. That's not passion; that's personal. And so I rely on family, friends, and allies in order to advocate for me because when I talk about gay rights I just turn into a mess. I might cry without any provocation. I might scream or shriek or make a noise like a wounded animal. And that's not helpful.

So here's an idea: let me be your friend and ally. Share your experience with me in a coherent way that I can understand. Don't overload me with outrage. Don't allow your frustration and anger to leak out sideways and poison your message. And next time there is a thread about transphobia, you can just go directly donate to a transrights organization rather than stepping into the fray and probably making a lot of potential allies hostile to your perspective. And while you are taking it all terribly personally, I can very calmly and clearly express your position to other people just like me who don't understand gender identity, and I can invite them to stand up for transrights too, and then someday down the road, we wont still be stuck in this binary gender mindset and stories like this one wont dribble down the front page of MetaFilter.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:13 AM on July 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


Wow, this sounds more complicated than what I got from an initial read. I guess I have to withdraw my initial remarks.

No, I think your initial remarks were about right. People that die intestate (not familiar with Texas law, so this is in general) have statutory shares that get meted out to their children, their spouses, and in many cases the government (escheatment). I have read the links here but didn't see anything that suggested that Mrs. Araguz is attempting to deprive the children of their share. His family certainly does look like they are trying to deprive her of her rightful share.

And yeah, the "shocking new evidence" of "past criminal trouble" is an ugly red herring designed to make it look ok to deprive this woman of her rightful share of inheritance because she was born different. When calculating up your privilege points, I guess this is a reminder that "if you're a hetero you don't have to worry about your right to inherit being taken away for discriminatory reasons". This is an ugly story.
posted by norm at 8:16 AM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


stupid local news splicing jokey bits to punctuate the story. glad to know they're taking this seriously...
posted by Throbsicle at 8:20 AM on July 21, 2010


It was actually Jewel.
posted by special-k at 8:23 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


oops, forgot the spoiler alert.
posted by special-k at 8:23 AM on July 21, 2010


Sadly, the feminist movement, or parts of it, has not always had the greatest track record when it comes to trans issues. I get the sense that this is changing, but unfortunately the support that one might expect or hope for has not always been there...

Oh, certainly, and I'm well aware of that. The GLBT community has also often been accused of forgetting the B and T. (People like Dan Savage don't help.)

But while it's definitely very disappointing when those that you think would be allies turn out not to be, they're rarely the bigger problem compared to bigotry in the population at large.
posted by kmz at 8:27 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


stupid local news splicing jokey bits to punctuate the story. glad to know they're taking this seriously...

Whoever uploaded it to YouTube edited the local news together with odd bits. That isn't how the local news channel played it.
posted by odinsdream at 8:45 AM on July 21, 2010


Granted, that's the parents' attorney...

Given that it's the parents' attorney, I'm not inclined to take this reiteration of the "deceptive tranny" trope at face value.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:48 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Note to self: make a Will the second I become a parent.

Better idea: Make one now. Seriously, even if you own nothing beyond the clothes you're wearing and the latte you bought to get Internet access to read this, have a will. You would be amazed how petty and vicious relatives get about the stupidest little things in an estate. And make sure two people who do not know each other know where the will is and what's in it. And then update it whenever anything changes.
posted by Etrigan at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Erm *rereads what I wrote*

Yes, that was deraily and ranty based on my personal experience with feminist groups.

I was trying to work out why people mistakenly thought I was trans, then realised I wrote 'us'. I meant all of us. People generally. But the article was not about feminism failing trans people so my apologies for that derail. If anyone wants links from my POV feel free to memail but I'll leave you to it otherwise.
posted by shinybaum at 9:23 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


In one of the links Araguz claims that that they weren't actually separated and that he was fully aware of her past.

People can unfortunately be very hasty to see transpeople as furtive, deceptive, and dishonest. Regardless of what the truth in this case may be, there's plenty of gasoline already standing around in pools, just waiting for the husband's family to light up. In this case, the actual truth may as well not even exist.
posted by hermitosis at 9:32 AM on July 21, 2010


I certainly can't fucking wait for something newsworthy to happen to me so every media outlet ever can splash my "real" name and "real" sex across TV screens and monitors, basically accuse me of being a liar for stepping out of the house without wearing a sandwich board with ~~~tranny here~~~ on it, and rifling through every sexual and romantic relationship I've ever had, asking, "Did he know? Did she know? The truth?"

I wish, I fucking wish that news outlets would take real responsibility for outing trans people. When you out a trans person, you put them in real, physical danger. Your delicious, salacious bit of news is wrecking someone's life and safety.

This, uh, probably wasn't the best day for me to comment on this topic.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:43 AM on July 21, 2010 [24 favorites]


Sadly, the feminist movement, or parts of it, has not always had the greatest track record when it comes to trans issues.

To be fair, citing Janice Raymond and the lesbian separatists at the Michigan music festival is a bit of a straw woman - do you want to throw in Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers while you're at it? Mainstream feminism has largely grown out of transphobia since the 1970s.
posted by Dr. Send at 9:49 AM on July 21, 2010


The Wharton Journal Spectator has a lengthy story on-line about this.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:55 AM on July 21, 2010


"Did you notice how his first wife has also got a dog in this race?"

And two kids!
posted by cjorgensen at 11:01 AM on July 21, 2010


If the marriage truly happened under false pretenses, with no evidence of reconciliation after the deceased husband became aware of the deception, then I consider it legally and morally unobjectionable for the other parties to his estate to attempt to deprive the transwoman of any benefit of said deception. I'd say the same if there had been some other factor at issue such as a preexisting marriage, or perhaps knowledge of infertility.

If there was no false pretense involved, and the family's sole remaining complaint is that a marriage between two parties listed as male on their birth certificates is by definition invalid, even if fully informed and consensual... well, I'd suspect it would be a legally valid argument under current Texas law, but the constitutionality of those laws would need to be weighed by the state and perhaps federal courts.

(To clarify, I would definitely have a moral objection to the latter argument.)
posted by The Confessor at 11:03 AM on July 21, 2010


greekphilosophy: "So here's an idea: let me be your friend and ally. Share your experience with me in a coherent way that I can understand. Don't overload me with outrage. Don't allow your frustration and anger to leak out sideways and poison your message. And next time there is a thread about transphobia, you can just go directly donate to a transrights organization rather than stepping into the fray and probably making a lot of potential allies hostile to your perspective. And while you are taking it all terribly personally, I can very calmly and clearly express your position to other people just like me who don't understand gender identity, and I can invite them to stand up for transrights too, and then someday down the road, we wont still be stuck in this binary gender mindset and stories like this one wont dribble down the front page of MetaFilter."

*tastes post* Hmm. I detect a strong body of You're being hostile, with a few notes of If You Won't Educate Me How Can I Learn, and the aftertaste comes with a heady tang of You've Lost Your Temper So I Don't Have To Listen To You Anymore.
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:23 AM on July 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


IANAL, and I'm curious about one aspect of this story: according to the article from the Houston Chronicle, in Texas (1) you cannot legally change your gender from the one you were born with and (2) you cannot legally marry an individual of the same gender as yourself.

Is this enough to void the Araguz' marriage, and remove any claim Nikki Araguz has to death benefits?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2010


Eh, just sounds like an ex-wife/new wife battle, with the ex determined to get all the money that she can for her kids. If it wasn't the transgender aspect, it would have been something else.
posted by new brand day at 12:11 PM on July 21, 2010


So, yeah... WTF, Texas.

I'd be interested to see that this wouldn't happen in most states. Given the state of gay marriage, which is comparatively more accepted than trans issues, I don't think this is at all unique to Texas, except for the LOLTEXAS people.

A few states have good or at least better laws, but most don't really recognize trans issues, and I would expect a lot of districts take the "gender at birth" line legally. Couple that with the general legal state of gay marriage, and you get stuff like this [I know this is not gay marriage, but if you take the view of gender that would be common in many states then legally to them it is].
posted by wildcrdj at 12:15 PM on July 21, 2010


(I'd love to be wrong -- but given how many people I know that are for gay marriage / gay rights but still not really OK with trans issues, I'd just be very surprised to learn that Texas is some sort of outlier in the US, although I imagine there are at least a few states that have better laws).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:17 PM on July 21, 2010


I don't think this is at all unique to Texas, except for the LOLTEXAS people.

Lawrence v. Texas
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:21 PM on July 21, 2010


Which is not to say that Texas is the only state in the Union to use the law to deny people their right to equal protection (Florida is another ugly bully in this regard), but their government does have a pernicious propensity to target minorities.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:30 PM on July 21, 2010


Another local newspaper story: Fireman's widow faces gender challenge.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:38 PM on July 21, 2010


If the marriage truly happened under false pretenses, with no evidence of reconciliation after the deceased husband became aware of the deception, then I consider it legally and morally unobjectionable for the other parties to his estate to attempt to deprive the transwoman of any benefit of said deception.

I kind of want to vomit. I mean, a) from the comments it seems like she made it clear to him that she's trans, but b) and all, being trans is not a deception, it is not a lie, and interacting with people while trans and not proclaiming it is not "false pretenses".

If I marry someone, and I don't disclose that I'm trans -- maybe I say I can't have children, which is fucking true -- I am not lying to them. Maybe if they ask me about something I did when I was five and I lie about it, maybe then I'm lying to them, but hell, I've always been me and nothing about me is a lie except for the stupid face I put on while I was growing up. I realise that cis people have a special kind of mentality where trans people are aliens and they have to inject translator microbes just to converse with us, but to someone who doesn't have that bullshit barrier between "really a man" and "reality" that argument looks a lot like stating that someone's concealed bisexuality is grounds for annulment.

This is why I don't make FPPs about this stuff; I'm waaaay too close to it. I don't mean to jump down anyone's throat and I don't want to attack anyone, but fuck, this thread is pushing my buttons with a whack-a-mole hammer.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:48 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Gender Challenge" makes it sound like a very special episode of Ninja Warrior where the contestants battle giant penises made from rolled-up wrestling mats and must dash across the Vaginal Floor of Slipperiness without falling over.
posted by adipocere at 1:06 PM on July 21, 2010


If I marry someone, and I don't disclose that I'm trans -- maybe I say I can't have children, which is fucking true -- I am not lying to them.

Wellllll..... I don't know. That's a pretty big omission, if not a lie. I could understand why a person could feel betrayed if their spouse didn't tell them something like that before they got married, and I could understand why that betrayal would lead to the end of a marriage.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:11 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can you explain why?

because I seriously can't get into that mindset -- it's totally alien to me -- but I haven't yet read an argument for mandatory disclosure that wasn't basically, "give your future husband a chance to distance himself from that icky transness." Safety issues aside, of course, which renders it an academic discussion only because safety issues are at the heart of disclosure for a trans woman: you'd be surprised at the people who will turn on you.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:17 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's a pretty big omission, if not a lie.

It can only be a lie if you believe that a person who was, e.g., born with a penis, can never say "I am a woman" and have that be true. In other words, if you reject the basic idea that a person can be born with a physical body that does not reflect their own self-concept, then it can be a lie to "claim" an identity you "cannot" possess.

If you believe that the truth of the statement "I am a woman" does not necessarily depend on a person's physical attributes, at birth or at any other time, then no, it is not a lie.
posted by prefpara at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


That said, I would be sad to learn that my life partner did not trust me with something significant or important. That would feel like a rejection of me, and I think I would feel hurt even if I understood intellectually that the secret-keeping may not even be about me but about every asshole who ever oppressed a non-conforming person.
posted by prefpara at 1:22 PM on July 21, 2010




If I marry someone, and I don't disclose that I'm trans -- maybe I say I can't have children, which is fucking true -- I am not lying to them.

I'm sorry, but I feel like in a trusting, marriage-worthy relationship, I would have the right to know if my spouse 1) had major surgery at some point (along with medical history necessary to help support and make health care decisions...."in sickness and in health) and 2) was forced to live their life as someone else for a huge chunk of their childhood. Neither of those things has anything to do with not viewing transgendered men/women as equal to cis-gendered individuals.
posted by availablelight at 1:22 PM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I haven't yet read an argument for mandatory disclosure that wasn't basically, "give your future husband a chance to distance himself from that icky transness."

Isn't that a best-case scenario, though? If you're marrying somebody you have to hide it from, why are you marrying them? I suppose that's the part I can't imagine, and I'm not sure it's anything more than a hypothetical- it's looking like, in this case, that Araguz knew.

On preview: That said, I would be sad to learn that my life partner did not trust me with something significant or important. That would feel like a rejection of me, and I think I would feel hurt even if I understood intellectually that the secret-keeping may not even be about me but about every asshole who ever oppressed a non-conforming person. Yes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:26 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


I haven't yet read an argument for mandatory disclosure that wasn't basically, "give your future husband a chance to distance himself from that icky transness."

For some people, lots of people even, marriage is about trust more than about anything else. So if there's something that's really, for lack of a better word, surprising about your past, some people think that you should tell to your future-spouse that before you get married, so that they don't feel like they don't know you when the truth comes out. And it doesn't even have to be a "trans = ick" mentality, because there's lots of other things that I'd want to know about before I got married to someone. Like if you have kids that I don't know about, or if you've been married before. I don't think "kids = ick" or "divorced/widowed = ick", but I'd still want to know those things about someone I was going to be spending the rest of my life with.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:29 PM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Whether or not you choose to flag that particular aspect of your identity in your everyday life, by societal terms gender is a fundamental aspect of identity. Marriage requires a level of honesty (synonym: disclosure) beyond any other social relationship. If you secretly have a billion dollars, if you committed murder 10 years ago, if you are one of quintuplets...the vast majority of people would consider these to be pertinent facts, and your potential spouse should know. It's not about good or bad or "ickyness," simply a person's right to know who they are marrying.
posted by cribcage at 1:36 PM on July 21, 2010


I am sort of in the same boat as TPS on this one, I think, and though I can't explain TPS's reasons, I can explain mine.

First, I don't believe in mandatory disclosure, so maybe we're talking about different things. A person's business is their own. But I also believe that disclosure, sooner or later, is a really good idea in the context of a long-term relationship.

(I don't personally think it's a particularly important in cases like one-night stands, but that's a whole other thing.)

My take on it is that if you've been with someone a long time and things are getting to the point where maybe you might marry them, then if everything's going the way these sorts of things ideally do, you care a lot about them, you trust them, and you respect them. And if you're gearing up to spend the rest of your life with them, you've probably got at least a vague idea of how they feel about trans issues. I think that part's important, incidentally, because I am not ignorant of the terror of outing oneself - like you said, you really don't know. But if you know this person, maybe you've got an inkling. So, okay.

Maybe the person you're going to marry wouldn't be comfortable with the idea if they knew their partner's medical history. Maybe they'd freak out and want to call the whole thing off. Speaking personally, I'd think that kind of makes them a huge asshole, but that's just me, and how things work inside my head. It'd be a shitty thing for them to do...but I think that if I respected someone, and loved them, I would recognize it as their decision to make, and not mine, for better or for worse. Even though it really shouldn't matter, I believe it's up to them to decide whether it matters to them or not.

I don't think it's a deception; I think it's something that might matter a lot to this person if they knew, and if I were very close to them I'd want to give them the chance to have their reaction, one way or the other.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do see your points -- and I sympathise; if I were ever to find myself in a relationship with a cis guy I would want to disclose -- but marriages do go bad, and violence against trans women by straight men is kind of an epidemic right now. My instinctive reaction whenever I see disclosure argued for is to think of those women (a friend of mine among them) who have died at the hands of men who knew.

Ultimately, every disclosure is a personal choice, and a weighing of risk against love, and believe me the guilt of being "secretly" trans can build up inside like a horrible, um, wart: every day you wait makes it harder, but every day can make it safer, too.

There's no "you should tell," but perhaps there can be, "if you feel safe, you can tell."
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:43 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can you explain why?

Because it feels like the person would be lying.

It feels like the person has been through an incredibly long and grueling ordeal and the complete lack of omission about it before marrying smacks of them hiding themselves, which is the last thing I basically want in a marriage partner. It would very much feel like I don't even know who they are, not really.
posted by new brand day at 1:44 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that's one of those Big Disclosure Items, because, when you get hitched, your business is, to a large extent, their business, and vice versa. Other things I would like to know fairly early on:

Ever been in prison?
Were you in seminary school or a convent at one point?
Have you been married before?
Have you had any children? Including dead ones.

"Used to have different plumbing" is on that list for me. It might not be on there for everyone. I can dig that. However, if you're marrying me, you'll probably want to become acquainted with my list and I will, in turn, learn yours.

I can say this: while finding out may or may not change my mind, the probability of me being disappointed in not knowing and factoring that in on the "what other surprises are there?" question rises as time increases after, say, the tenth date.
posted by adipocere at 1:47 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


On not-preview, I like your answer, FAMOUS MONSTER. Plus your username is awesome because it is in allcaps. The only thing I would mention is that, "Maybe they'd freak out and want to call the whole thing off," is the point at which a lot of trans women end up dead. I can certainly understand someone never disclosing, or always disclosing "tomorrow", on the thought that their wonderful, kind man might just turn them into a statistic.*

*except not a real statistic because no-one really collects stats about us except us, which is inherently inaccurate.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:47 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you! Some folks forget the caps and it makes me sad - branding is important.

I mean, I kind of wrestled with that a while myself; I don't want to get too far into the size and shape and breed of the dog I have in this fight but let it suffice to say that I am not unaware of cismale-on-transwoman violence, and I left out a lengthy bit of talking about it because I don't really know an ideal way to address it. The best I can do is that one's chances of predicting a response might be better at the point where you're so close that you're talking marriage. But, I hurry to point out, when I say "better" I mean "better than none at all," and I also underline (several times) and boldface the word "might." And so on.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:55 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


ALSO ONE FINAL ADDENDUM: Everything I just said is, can be, and should be trumped by the fact that regardless of whatever logic or what-have-you, the decision is (and should be) always, always, always up to the individual. It's not my place, or anyone else's, to try to tell another human being that living with a secret is a bigger concern than the fear, or possible fact, of getting beaten up and/or to death by someone you love.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:00 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's no "you should tell,"

Hermitosis observed above that there is a stereotype of trans-people as being deceptive. I agree that the stereotype exists, and that it's unfortunate, and I also think it does not arise out of the blue. Most people would consider "You don't have to tell" (in the context of a marriage) to be a fringe position, and fundamentally dishonest. But to go a step farther and argue that there is no "You should tell"...that's pretty radical.

As you point out, there are legitimate reasons why trans-people keep certain facts guarded. But as you also point out, there is a psychological toll to keeping any kind of guard as a routine part of daily life. Stress, guilt, shame, etc. Most people are not built to keep secrets. Having to do so can affect your demeanor, which results in certain perceptions. But it can also affect your own conceptions of honesty.
posted by cribcage at 2:01 PM on July 21, 2010


cribcage, everything you said is based on the assumption that it is dishonest to omit information about the genitals one had at birth. The stereotype you mention isn't coming from the omission of this information. It's coming from the general societal belief that no matter what you do or feel, if you say your gender is other than what your genitals reflected at birth, you're a liar.
posted by prefpara at 2:05 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


And regardless of the messy ethics about disclosure, the accusation of deception is a legal ploy that's ubiquitous whenever transsexual people interact with the law. See the Angie Zapata murder case for a classic example where the legal team argued that Zapata deceived her killer even while attending traffic court where her legal name was used.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:12 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


ArmyOfKittens: and all, being trans is not a deception, it is not a lie, and interacting with people while trans and not proclaiming it is not "false pretenses".

No it is not. You have no obligation to disclose to people around you and God knows a compelling argument can be made that you absolutely should not for reasons of safety and discrimination and the ability to just live your life without existing in a petri dish.

If I marry someone, and I don't disclose that I'm trans -- maybe I say I can't have children, which is fucking true -- I am not lying to them.

Well no you're not. But if my husband died tomorrow and I learned from the coroner or the funeral home that he had had gender surgery before I met him I would be devastated. Not because I'd married a trans man but because he'd felt all of these emotions and had these major medical events I didn't know anything about. I'd feel alienated from the partnership because large parts of the narrative had been withheld.

I'd absolutely still have married him if he'd told me; it wouldn't matter. But if we'd married and he died and I found out, I'd spend the rest of my life wondering why he didn't trust me enough to tell me. In some fundamental way, my heart would be broken.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:14 PM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm thinking this guy loved his wife, knew and didn't care. His family and first wife can't come to terms with that so they concoct a deception story. But the thing is, and I apologize for the brash question, but this might be the best place to have it answered:

Wouldn't a sexual partner, um, figure it out pretty quickly? I mean, how real do post-op females really look? Even with a "no oral, and keep the lights off" wouldn't her genitals be somewhat significantly different?

And from that, doesn't this rather undo the family's story?
posted by fontophilic at 2:42 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


If the marriage truly happened under false pretenses, with no evidence of reconciliation after the deceased husband became aware of the deception, then I consider it legally and morally unobjectionable for the other parties to his estate to attempt to deprive the transwoman of any benefit of said deception.

What if she was secretly an Arab? (Seriously how are these two right next to each other?)
posted by The Bellman at 2:47 PM on July 21, 2010


Maybe not nationality, but if she were secretly a Muslim...? In some jurisdictions, lying about one's religion (even just devoutness) can make a marriage voidable, and the aggrieved party can seek an annulment. For that matter, so can lying about sex and/or procreation, either ability or willingness.
posted by cribcage at 3:11 PM on July 21, 2010


Not a liar, prefpara, just someone with a more complex story to tell. Because if I'm interested in you as a potential partner, I want to know your story.

I want to know so that I don't spend years shadowboxing with your ghosts.

Some people very close to me spent almost 30 years married doing exactly that and they were miserable. They lived a terribly compartmentalized life because of some very big questions about his sexuality that were never discussed in the context of the relationship. Sometimes, when you talk to him, you can tell that his coping strategies of denial and compartmentalization and hiding are so thorough that he actually believes the illusions that he's created for himself. But that means that he lives in a world of one, and it is absolutely heartbreaking to watch. He is so lonely and so sad and yet so afraid. For her part, now that it is all said and done, I think she just wishes he could have let her in. She could have been a true partner for him, and she wouldn't have spent 30 years trying and failing to be what he needed. She would have had the opportunity to just be herself and that would have been enough.

I watched my parents swat helplessly at ghosts for my whole life and I wont recreate their failed marriage.

When I was about 19 and had been out for about three years, my dad said something about how he didn't understand why people felt the need to "come out." He said it with disdain in his voice, too, like those of us who came out and relied on labels were somehow to be pitied. He was himself. He never felt the need to share the gory personal details of his life with anyone. Not his family. Not his friends. Not his wife. Not his children. He couldn't see that those little details - who you are - are the things on which intimate relationships are built.
posted by greekphilosophy at 3:47 PM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


The core of the problem is that Thomas Araguz died without a will. It's his fault that he didn't find ten minutes to fill out one of those will kits bought from a newsagent, and it's even more his fault as a person who works in a profession in which there is a serious risk of death or major injury on the job, which is covered by an insurance scheme which will entitle his heirs to compensation. Whether or not the marriage was legal, Thomas could have nominated Nikki by name as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, or nominated his estate and then in his will directed his estate to be shared between Nikki, his kids, perhaps his ex-wife, perhaps his parents and/or siblings, and perhaps to anywhere else like a charity or cause he supported.

This isn't necessarily the end of the problems Thomas has left Nikki to deal with; any shared property, debt obligations, or benefits are now in question. Supposing they bought a house where the mortgage was entirely or primarily in his name, for tax reasons (it's reasonable to assume he had a higher average income), but she actually paid half of the payments. Or all of the payments - some couples do that, ie live off the higher-income earner's salary and put the lower-income earner's salary entirely into the mortgage.

Dying intestate creates huge problems for your heirs no matter who you are. And anything like this should be addressed in the will. Regardless of one's and one's spouse's personal beliefs about the right of a transgender to be acknowledged as their presented gender (or an intersexed to be acknowledged as such), the law in your jurisdiction is what it is and can be discovered without too great a difficulty by going to a lawyer. Had Thomas put in his will something along the lines of "to my wife Nikki Paige Purdue Araguz born 1/1/1980, birth name Justin Graham Purdue, I leave ...", that puts to rest the question of whether he knew his wife had been born physically male, which only leaves the legal questions of whether he could legally marry her (probably no) and whether he could direct shares of his estate and workers' compensation to her (probably yes).

The fire department (or their insurer) shouldn't have allowed the guy to work as a fireman without having made a will. It should be in the HR signup documents and the annual review paperwork, and hopefully after this it will be.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:58 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


ArmyOfKittens: "There's no "you should tell," but perhaps there can be, "if you feel safe, you can tell.""


Here's a relationship tip: If you don't feel safe telling someone you can see yourself marrying that you're transgender, you might want to ask yourself what you're doing in that relationship.

"I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you but I don't want you to be informed about one of the largest impacts on my life."
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 4:11 PM on July 21, 2010


Google "transgender woman killed" and note how many women were killed by someone they knew or someone who had just found out they were transgender. It's frightening.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:44 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


i would assume that if you have had some major surgery at any point in your life that this is the kind of thing your potential life partner ought to now.

i would expect my life/domestic partner to know about any major medical issues. for example, when we decided to have kids, knowing about each other's allergies & chronic illnesses prepared us at least partially for the possibility of having kids with the same. and you know what? even though you never ever are prepared emotionally for seeing your kids intubated in a hospital or your domestic partner/husband cut up after serious surgery, at least you are ahead of the curve by knowing how to care for your family members.

not telling your life partner that your trans is not about the icky factor. i can't be. it's about trust. they are the ones who are going to be battling hospitals and insurance companies; not some imaginary warrior LGBT community.
posted by liza at 4:48 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you don't feel safe telling someone you can see yourself marrying that you're transgender, you might want to ask yourself what you're doing in that relationship.

Really? I'm guessing that wouldn't have even been mentioned if at least some of those incidents (and possibly the ones causing transgender women to feel scared subsequently) were with partners who did seem perfectly safe.
posted by opsin at 5:51 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fire department (or their insurer) shouldn't have allowed the guy to work as a fireman without having made a will. It should be in the HR signup documents and the annual review paperwork, and hopefully after this it will be.

All the police/fire jobs around here require you to name a beneficiary. It really is astounding he was allowed to work without naming one.
posted by mlis at 7:38 PM on July 21, 2010


Wuggie Norple: "Google "transgender woman killed" and note how many women were killed by someone they knew or someone who had just found out they were transgender. It's frightening."

I had never done that. Thank you for suggesting it. Yes, it is frightening, and I understand more now why "don't ever tell" seems like a very good option. I am trying to balance this against a very visceral belief that never telling your life partner is a very bad strategy and not coming up with anything.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:21 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry about not posting a reply before this; the replies people (and ArmyOfKittens in particular) have made to my post have made me somewhat uncertain of my own views, and I've been working through them privately since.

I think that giving the core questions a bit more structure might help me parse them, so I'll restate them thusly:

(To be clear, he/she is used below to generalize the genders that might be involved, not to second-guess a transsexual's identified gender. Also, this is unavoidably America-centric.)

1. Assume a setting in which homosexual unions are legal, such that equivalent gender marked on both partners' birth certificates would not in itself invalidate the union.

2. A spouse willfully withholds the fact that he/she is a transsexual prior to the marriage. An actual lie by commission, rather than omission, need not have occurred.

3. Upon discovery of the transsexual's gender history, would the other spouse then have valid "fault grounds" on which to initiate an at-fault divorce where that option is available?

4. Assume (as I hope will one day happen) that sexual orientation and gender identity are considered constitutionally protected classes, similar to how race, religion, and disability are considered now. Would withholding one's transsexual status still be considered valid fault grounds?

If one believes that gender identity should not be grounds for discrimination, the nearest analogue, as The Bellman noted (and if I understand ArmyOfKittens correctly, she would agree), is to misrepresentation of race. In America I think that an at-fault divorce attempted on those grounds would be doomed to failure, because even if (to posit an example) an oral or written contract existed in which both partners denied miscegenation in their heritage, the precedent of Shelley v. Kraemer is that the mechanism of the courts cannot be used to enforce a discriminatory contract.

I hope this isn't considered too much of a derail; I am trying to find a means by which to examine, and change if necessary, my own opinions. I actually considered making this an Ask Metafilter question instead, but I'm afraid it would be too chatfilter-y in its construction.
posted by The Confessor at 8:30 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't find there to be credibility in analogizing sexuality to race, and I think the same is true when you try to do it with gender. I understand the tendency to look for analogies in conceptualizing social mechanisms, but there are a few things—Jim Crow and the Holocaust among them—that just do not lend themselves to that exercise. This thing is not that thing.

The issue isn't necessarily discrimination—the state prohibiting two people from marrying, as opposed to one spouse's ability to escape or void the marriage because of the other spouse's misrepresentation. As I mentioned above, deceiving a prospective spouse about your intent or ability to have children can be considered grounds for an annulment, as can lying about sexuality (e.g., how often you have sex, unusual fetishes, sexual orientation, etc.). I think either of these is a much closer analogy to withholding gender status.

You mentioned religion. Religion isn't technically a suspect class, but it's close enough: You're right, the state cannot generally discriminate based on religion. But a spouse can void a marriage based on a misrepresentation of religion, which illustrates the difference between the two contexts. The legal theory is that basically, you're looking for fraud—an intentional misrepresentation of a material fact, that another person relies upon to his/her detriment. ("Detriment" being a term of art: Marriage would be a legal detriment. Cue laughter.) The only element in question would be whether a court would find that gender constitutes a "material" fact in the context of a marriage. I think it's difficult to argue that it isn't.
posted by cribcage at 9:38 PM on July 21, 2010


Part of the problem with discussions around trans marriage is that you can basically make whatever arguments you like against a trans person if you want to annul their marriage. Whatever the union -- cis man and trans woman, cis man and trans man, two trans people, etc. -- and whether or not the trans person in question has changed their birth certificate (if they can in their state/country), someone will find some way of calling it gay; there's only two legal sexes, and if you're a git doubtless you can make an argument that a trans person is "really" one or the other, regardless of how they present right now, and BOOM gay marriage! End run around the sanctity of marriage! Evil evil evil someone call the sign-maker!

On disclosure, I absolutely understand that telling your partner everything is hugely important, and for myself I would like to think that I would never enter a relationship in which I couldn't be completely honest; being trans, after all, is part of who I am, my history, my sense of humour. But I've been trying to make clear that, even weighed against that, the safety of the trans person is more important. No-one within the community really has accurate figures for violence against trans people, because as a community we don't trust the police, but conservative estimates for the murder rate against trans women in America use ten times the US national and grow from there; I've seen plausible estimates that it is more likely for a black American trans woman to die by violence than natural causes over her lifetime. So safety is, and for the moment always will be, the paramount concern of trans people. It overrides everything.

Now, for someone like me -- white, British, middle-class, passes for cis -- well, I'm pretty damn safe compared to most trans women. I don't need to go to a second hand when counting the murders of people like me in this country in the last year (although since the intentional murder rate in this country is around 2 per 100,000 that shows I'm still at a much higher risk relative to my neighbours). But I still think of my own safety first, all the damn time. Add black or American or working-class or doesn't-pass-for-cis to my little list and the risk factors go up accordingly.

And violence can come out of nowhere. It can come from someone you've loved for years, it can come from someone you've just started dating, or it can come from the person on the street corner. Most trans people knew at least one murder victim; it makes us cautious, and with good reason. We know that even someone apparently gentle could have horrifying violence in him.

I hope this shows why there can be no, "you should tell." Saying that to a trans woman is telling her that her safety matters less than her partner's comfort. And she probably believes it does, if she loves him enough. So don't say it. Please.

It's dangerous out there.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:13 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wouldn't a sexual partner, um, figure it out pretty quickly? I mean, how real do post-op females really look? Even with a "no oral, and keep the lights off" wouldn't her genitals be somewhat significantly different?

I missed this earlier. Short answer: no. Longer answer: you know those "perfect" vjjs you see in porn? The ones people complain about because they establish an "ideal" standard for privates that, in real life, only a small percentage of women actually have? For the most part, trans women's vjjs look like that.

This post has reminded me and mine to make living wills.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:37 AM on July 22, 2010


I don't find there to be credibility in analogizing sexuality to race, and I think the same is true when you try to do it with gender. I understand the tendency to look for analogies in conceptualizing social mechanisms, but there are a few things—Jim Crow and the Holocaust among them—that just do not lend themselves to that exercise. This thing is not that thing.

You know who would disagree with you? The Nazis running the Holocaust.
posted by prefpara at 3:23 AM on July 22, 2010


Thanks AoK. I found a pretty good resource explaining procedures and results (with clinical type photos, not porn but still NSFW). And yeah, if I didn't know what I was looking at was different in any way, I would have been convinced. With that knowledge, I'd say they're a bit too "perfect" as you said.

I was pretty certain there would have to be some scars, but nope.
posted by fontophilic at 7:36 AM on July 22, 2010


I'm sorry, but I feel like in a trusting, marriage-worthy relationship, I would have the right to know[specifics redacted]

Yeah, we all have a list of thing we think should be on there. Not all the same but probably a lot of overlap.

And who gives a shit?

If I needed to feel better about how no-fault divorce has become the norm well DAMN if this thread ain't the place to go for it. So this would be a Huge Deal for most of us. So what? Not our marriage. If he wanted to split because of it, fine. If he wanted to split because she never remembered to put the lid back on the peanut butter jar, fine.

But they didn't get to it and now he's dead. That's a real shame for all involved - particularly him - but this parsing of what is and is not a deal-breaker instant get-out-of-matrimony-free card? That's a giant heaping load of horseshit whether it's the fact that his wife has certain chromosomal combinations or had been hiding gray hair under a color wash.

This kind of thing has no business in the courtroom.
posted by phearlez at 8:00 AM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


This kind of thing has no business in the courtroom.

I agree, and want to add that love-marriages based on total openness and trust are not universal to all cultures. Even within cultures that prefer love-marriages to arranged marriages or other forms of commitment, some people do not think it is necessary or desirable to allow their partner into every corner of their remote past.
posted by prefpara at 8:04 AM on July 22, 2010


Post at Questioning Transphobia on this topic.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:15 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


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