Yesterday Gay Star News, a British online publication which offers "LGBT global news 24-7" posted this poll prominently on the front page of their web site.
The back story to why they should have thought to ask such a question is a complex court case in Scotland, which has all the makings of a car crash.
And, yes, that last link really is an article from Gay Star News themselves, in the same week, demonstrating that they fully understand just what a complex case it is.
The possible implications of the Scottish court's decision … that a trans person could be convicted and imprisoned for not telling a sexual partner about their gender reassignment before intimacies … is so disturbing that the Scottish Transgender Alliance have set up a petition to the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal service.
Writing on their Facebook page, the STA say,
The Scottish Transgender Alliance is very concerned about this case and the message the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is sending to trans people. It was our understanding that obtaining intimacy by fraud would not be used against trans people who chose not to disclose their gender history to prospective partners.
Obviously there are other factors involved in this case and other details which we may not know of. However we are seeking an urgent meeting to clarify the position of the Crown Office on this and are writing to the Lord Advocate to express our concerns.
The question of when to tell prospective partners sensitive things about yourself is never simple. You cannot boil it down into a simple Yes or No.
And when you open this Pandora's Box, you raise the question of just what counts as something you must disclose, and why.
Should you tell a partner that you're cheating on someone else?
Should you tell them you're a racist? Or a Roman Catholic Priest?
Should you admit to having a problem with uncontrolled anger? I'm sure many women (and prospective same sex partners) would dearly like to know that last one before getting involved with someone who would go on to abuse them.
Should you disclose before sex that you have a potentially life threatening condition that could be communicated through the exchange of bodily fluids?
Well, that's one where LGB people are probably quite used to feeling on the back foot … though it applies equally to heterosexual couples too.
This is one on which there seems to be a strong consensus. The reason is pretty evident. And it underlines that the "why" question is fundamental to where you draw any lines.
Most people would probably think there was a pretty strong moral dimension to telling people you carry the HIV virus before sex. The same would apply to warning people about other sexually transmitted diseases. People have a right to know that having sex with you could do them harm without precautions.
But there is no comparable moral dimension … no vital need to know … when it comes to a whole range of other questions.
Should the person having sex with you own up beforehand to the fact that you're about to become part of the betrayal of their relationship? Should they disclose their political beliefs? Should they tell you their whole medical history?
You might like to know. However, there are lots of things we could count that way. And, in honesty, where does it stop?
If you're that fussy about how squeaky clean a prospective partner might be then I recommend the old fashioned approach of courting with them for a couple of years before heading for the bedroom.
But if you've just picked up someone for a meaningless one night stand I would suggest you're always taking pot luck.
You can argue for the right to know that the encounter could give you a serious disease (more than a cold or flu), but don't ask for more unless you're prepared for a similar grilling.
For trans people there is a whole extra set of dimensions. And I've not met a trans person who hasn't honestly thought about it over and over, as the risk equation tilts strongly against them.
For trans people who have difficulty in passing it is a moot point. Their physicality announces their status in advance. Making an announcement about it would seem a trifle unnecessary, unless dating a blind person perhaps.
For those who pass, it is a much more complex question. It involves personal safety in a vulnerable situation. Every year the Transgender Day of Remembrance carries a reminder of just how vulnerable they are … especially in a sexual context.
So, if you agreed that the "why" question was important above … because you need to know if sex is about to harm you … it is logical to accept that trans people have a serious "why" question about when, whether and where to disclose their gender history.
Get it wrong and it could cost your life. Swiftly. Brutally.
I wrote about this in far more depth a few years ago.In 2011 I republished my thoughts on this blog.
Fear of Harm
Gay Star News' crass online poll revealed that their readers have a curious idea of where the risk equation might tilt for them...
This would suggest to me that a slim majority of lesbians and gays think they have some sort of compelling reason to need to know their partner's gender history.
Given that you can't 'catch' gender dysphoria from having sex with a trans person it is hard to understand.
What would it be that gays and lesbians fear to the extent that would override a trans person's possibly very real concerns about privacy about their past medical condition, and how disclosure might harm them?
If there is fear in the air at all, who should be feeling it?
There is a term for this … certainly as far as cis-gender lesbians are concerned. It is called the Cotton Ceiling. And it has been widely debated online in the past. I recommend you check out this and this and this. Google for 'cotton ceiling' and there's a whole lot more.
Whether theories like the Cotton Ceiling explain a feeling among LGB folk that unknowingly having sex with trans people might be scary, there is no excuse for the lack of insight in publishing such an ill-considered poll at this time though.
What messages has Gay Star News conveyed?
Well, for a start, the proposition contained in their poll reinforces the view, already widely expressed in many tabloid newspapers, that trans people, by the act of passing and not broadcasting their gender history, set out to deceive.
And this is the essence of the Scottish Court's rationale too.
There is no consideration of why trans people require the privacy to be themselves to the fullest extent possible, or the consequences they might face in forgoing that privacy. The assumption, as crassly demonstrated by Gay Star News and their readers, is that the desperate need to be sure you've not had intimacy with a trans person overrides all such considerations.
It is one stop short of demanding that trans people have some sort of sign, so that people can be sure to avoid them. Of course it would be politically unacceptable to demand a physical sign … a T-shirt or badge maybe … but demanding full disclosure is the verbal equivalent.
So, the Gay Star News poll says to the courts that voting by the masses on a complex safety issue for a minority is OK.
And the Gay Star News reader vote tells the tabloids that, "look, even the gays think trans people are out of order".
The lack of insight displayed here by an LGBT publication beggars belief … especially when you consider the parallels.
In December 2009 the BBC caused global LGBT anger when it held a poll on its news website posing the question, "Should homosexuals face execution?"
Anger centred on the fact that it was not even appropriate to ask a question framed in this way.
In California, a measure known as Proposition 8 has been widely condemned and opposed through the courts since before it was voted on in state elections in 2008.
Proposition 8 effectively asked voters in the state to choose whether the right of same sex couples to marry there should be eliminated or not. This not only applied going forwards but also invalidated the marriages of same sex couples who had already married there.
A major argument in the case, as it has ground its way upwards through the US courts, is that it is unconstitutional for a majority to vote to deny rights to their neighbours in this way.
Coalition for Marriage
Nearer to home, of course, campaigners for same sex marriage in the UK have been appalled by the antics of those who oppose them … especially the online poll begun by the group Coalition for Marriage (C4M), which forcefully opposes moves towards equality.
Lesbian and Gay people feel understandably hurt by a group which claims almost 650,000 people have voted against changing marriage law.
Questions you wouldn't like
All of this prompted me to wonder what other polls Gay Star News might consider running on their front page and how they would be received
Should gays tell all to prospective employers? You can understand why some would like to know...
Should gays and lesbians have the same human rights? Some people think that's a valid question...
Or, taking a leaf from the BBC's earlier poll...
You can see why readers of Gay Star News would be incensed if their rag legitimised questions like this on the front page.
And I rush to stress that these are merely mock ups created to make a point. I wouldn't ask these questions either.
With friends like these
You can see why, therefore, trans people might have a case for wondering whether lesbians and gays are on their side at all.
Or whether there really is something called an 'LGBT' community.