I have recently encountered a claim that a certain well-known public figure/celebrity that has publicly denied being transgender is, in fact, transgender. The claim appears plausible and mentions some supposedly telltale anatomical features that are frequently seen on people publicly identifying as transgender and are commonly associated with being transgender in public discourse and gossip. I have viewed a few pictures of this celebrity that are available on the public internet and agree that the celebrity appears to have those aforementioned anatomical features. This, of course, does not prove that they are transgender but it transforms the claim from idle gossip to a plausible subject of rational inquiry.
I am currently evaluating whether or not this claim is sufficiently well-believed to meet Skeptics notability requirements and feel that our existing guidance on notability is sufficient, so I will exclude consideration of that for the moment.
Assuming that the claim (Celebrity X is transgender) I found meets notability requirements, is there a problem with asking it? I know that many (but not all) transgender people do not appreciate being "outed" in public and even take steps to hide their former identity from others, but then Skeptics and the Stack Exchange Network as a whole has historically been open to discussing potentially distressing matter and revealing (or debunking) "inconvenient truths".
I did find a previous discussion of claims that a celebrity has a certain medical diagnosis, but the diagnosis in question there was one that most likely would only be answerable by consulting privileged medical records. A question as to whether or not a person is transgender could be answered from non-medical sources, such as old public records or memories of people who knew the person in the past. For example, an answer might look like,
Yes, James Smith appears to be transgender. According to a quotation by Ann Jones reported by New York Times journalist B. McRab (cite),
James Smith and I were best friends in fifth grade, except he went by the name Margaret and always wore dresses to school. He was also a Girl Scout and I know they don't let people in to Girl Scouts who are identifying as male. My father told me in 1996 that James had been kicked out of Girl Scouts the previous fall after coming out as a transgender boy and requesting to be called James. I lost contact with him after that, but I know he is the same person I knew.
Since the celebrity in question has publicly denied being transgender, I could phrase my Skeptics question instead as "Celebrity X has denied being transgender, is it true that they are not transgender?", but that only goes to the notability of the claim, not its appropriateness.
Unlike well-known transgender celebrities such as Chelsea Manning, Elliot Page, or Amy Schneider that have been open with the public about being transgender and/or were already celebrities before transitioning (and thus unable to hide their past), the celebrity in question has, as far as I have been able to tell, always been known under their current name and gender since entering the public eye. This makes me suspect that inquiring about their gender history might be considered an invasion of privacy, even if the question could be answered by consulting only non-privileged sources such as high school yearbooks, non-sealed court documents, or interviews with childhood friends.
In response to Oddthinking, the reason I am asking this here on Meta is to gauge the community's tolerance for questions of this nature before I "ask away" and find myself in trouble for breaching a previously unwritten boundary. It might be helpful to define a clear site policy (based both on what I'm asking here as well as the linked question on medical diagnoses) on when an otherwise notable claim is not suitable on Skeptics for privacy reasons.
Also in response to Oddthinking's mention of "what they believe in their heads", It would be possible to phrase a question in terms of legal recognition of gender, public identification as a gender, or affiliation with gender-restricted organizations. For example, a question could be phrased, "According to [Notable Source], James Smith is a former Girl Scout who was expelled in 1995 after filing to legally change his gender from female to male and his name from Margaret to James. Is this true?". Having been an enrolled member of Girl Scouts and having filed for a legal gender change are both objective facts that can be investigated rather than mind-reading opinion questions about how someone feels about their gender or whether they enjoy wearing dresses and putting on makeup.
Evidence that could be used to support a claim that a person is or is not transgender could include:
- Legal petitions for changes in official gender markers, proved by citation to the applicable case or record.
- A history of public statements in which the person has inconsistently identified their gender.
- Current or prior attendance at single-gender educational institutions, such as Mount Holyoke College.
- Current or prior membership in organizations that limit membership based on gender, such as Girl Scouts, Freemasonry, or certain religious orders.