It has been a while! I have been going through some life stuff lately (a new job, new relationship, new hair cut, etc.) and have been busy. In my time away, I asked a friend of mine who is trans if he would be interested in guest posting.
Before I leave you with his post, a little primer on the concept of living “stealth” as a trans person. Some trans folks (like me!) choose to be very public about their transition, for varying reasons. Myself, I have always been pretty much an open book. Plus, social media, like, exists. Also, I really like being able to dialogue with folks about gender and sexuality stuff. I don’t see myself as a “Man,” I see myself as a trans person who happens to prefer to look more male than not. As such, there is no way I could ever present myself not as a trans person, at least in my more meaningful interactions with people. I don’t just announce my trans status to my barista, for example, but all my coworkers and crossfit gym friends know, and I’ll tell any new friend I meet pretty much right away.
I am lucky, though. I “pass,” which means that I have a choice in the matter. For many trans people, especially trans people of little means (usually trans women of color, hence much of the epidemic of violence against them), passing is not an option, so they are “out” as a trans person whether they wish to be or not.
On the other hand, some trans folks prefer to be what we call “stealth.” This means that you do not disclose your trans status publicly at all. And likely it means that very few people (i.e. spouse, parents, siblings, etc.) know at all. And yes, this is also a very privileged position.
I have always struggled with the idea that one can be trans and stealth. I feel very much like trans people should be open about their transness (except in circumstances where violence is likely to occur, of course) because in being open, we are visible, and in being visible, we cannot be ignored.
But I also recognize that I am coming out as trans in a very different time. Without further ado, here is a blog post from a stealth friend. I hope that in reading it, you have empathy for those of us that have to hide, for whatever reason. As always, be most excellent to each other.
Why I Choose to be Stealth
I’m not sure that I would choose to be stealth if I were coming out as trans today—in fact, in the age of the internet and social media, I am not sure how anyone transitioning now as an adult really can be stealth without vestiges of their previous life somehow catching up to them. But I transitioned before the era of social media, so by the time I created my Facebook and Instagram accounts, I had been living as a man for years. I’m thankful that there are no pre-transition pictures or videos of me floating around the internet to come back and haunt me.
I’m not sure how much easier it is to transition now, but transitioning when I did came at great personal cost—and not just monetarily. Coming up with $8,000 for surgery, therapy, and other transition-related expenses was difficult for me as a college student. I worked nearly sixty hours per week throughout college to pay for surgery, so transitioning effectively prevented me from having what I thought of as a “real” college experience… but even the fact that I could figure out how to save that kind of money and how to navigate the medical system meant that I had significantly more access than most young trans people, then or now. That I was even in college to begin with meant that I was in a privileged position. I’m aware of that.
I needed to transition and I cannot even imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t. I was lucky enough not to be suicidal, but I had no vision of myself living into even my 30s until I was well into my transition. That said, transition has still been a huge source of loss for me.
Coming out as a lesbian a few years before transitioning had already greatly eroded my relationship with my family; transitioning demolished the little that was left of those relationships. To my parents’ credit, they never cut me out of their lives entirely, but it took more than another decade for my parents to start treating me like a full member of the family again. When I had top surgery at 20, we jointly agreed that they wouldn’t fly out to be with me. They said I was making a mistake by transitioning and couldn’t bring themselves to support me having surgery, so I took care of myself.
Years later, two of my grandparents died in the same year and I was not invited to either funeral: my parents had never let me tell my extended family that I’d transitioned and my appearance at the funerals would have embarrassed them. It didn’t matter that I, too, was mourning my grandparents’ loss and wanted closure. Again, I took care of myself.
A decade after I began living as a man, they finally consistently used my correct name and pronouns. By then, I had been taking care of myself for years and whatever trust had existed between us was irreparably broken. I love my parents and I sometimes even like them, but I will never really be able to trust them again. I think the same is true from their end: they love me, sometimes like me, and will never completely trust me.
In addition to losing my place in my family, I also lost friends who couldn’t understand why I felt the need to transition. That included basically everyone who wasn’t trans. Because my parents were still living in my hometown and didn’t want anyone to know I’d transitioned, I lost contact with all of my childhood friends.
I lost a lot in transition, but I also gained two incredible things: a body that I don’t hate and the ability to simply live my life as the man I know myself to be. Unfortunately, I also know we still live in a world in which being out as trans would mean not really being considered a man.
Because cisgender people always assume that I’m also cisgender, they feel comfortable saying things in my presence that they would never feel comfortable saying in front of me if they knew I’m trans. So I know that, despite the recent visibility of trans people in the media, most cisgender people’s understanding of transgenderism hasn’t really changed much at all.
Cisgender people are still obsessed with genitalia and think that a person’s genitals tell them important things about who that person is. And cisgender people still cannot decouple sexual orientation and gender identity enough to “get” how a person could transition and become gay… or how some trans people are actually also straight.
I know that, if I were out as trans, cisgender people would question everything I do that challenges conventional notions of masculinity or manhood and ascribe those interests and activities to me having been raised as a girl, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I picked up my “feminine” interests and activities many years into manhood. For me, being out as trans would mean feeling pressured to reinforce traditional notions of masculinity in order to be taken seriously as a man. It’s ironic how even cisgender people who vocally oppose gender stereotyping are often perfectly comfortable questioning the manhood of a transman who wears nail polish or the womanhood of a transwoman who cuts her hair short.
And, in my experience, cisgender people believe they have a right to know the gender that someone was assigned at birth because they ascribe tremendous meaning to birth gender. Heck, people celebrate “knowing” a baby’s gender months before it’s born… and years before it gets any say in the matter. Many cisgender folks still believe in the technicalities of gender… that a penis technically means something and that a vagina technically means something completely different. It’s all so technical and scientific, you know?
If cisgender people ever stop ascribing meaning to my birth gender and making absurd assumptions about me because I transitioned, I might feel more comfortable telling them that my birth certificate bore an “F” and that I did, in fact, transition. I’m waiting for a world in which being trans has about as much significance as being left-handed or having red hair does, because that’s about as much significance as being trans has to my identity most days. Until then, I remain stealth because I have no interest in letting them take my ability to live as a man—an ability I have paid dearly for—away from me. They have already taken enough.