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What I Think ‘Going Stealth’ Really Means

Face-off illegal personIf you are an ardent aficionado of crafty military technology, I promise you can keep on walking. Seriously, you are going to hate this. OK, now that he’s gone, I’ll clarify and say I’m talking about the whole concept of trans stealth. This is hardly original because over on Transadvocate they had a whole big Stealth Week. I found it as gripping as Shark Week, even though no seals were eaten. Though I was not specifically invited to participate, I decided to horn in on their gig and regale my disenchanted readers with my own thoughts on the matter.

For those of you who might not be familiar, going stealth commonly refers to trans people who have successfully transitioned and who have chosen to integrate fully into the right gender without being super up front about their past in another life. Attractive idea, yes? Over on TA, a lot of great thoughts on this were floated, most of which concluded this concept being a terrible idea. I wrote a few pieces on the subject myself in the past and decided it was time to kind of hone the concept in my own direction.

Some say stealth, and implied 100% passability are the ultimate goals for anyone undergoing gender transition. This is the holy or wholly grail of clean and clear authenticity. No one else needs to know because it was simply a matter of a personal medical condition that common sense suggests should not be advertised any more than a wicked case of the crabs long since eradicated. Others claim that living an authentic life means acknowledging the whole of that life, even the decades one wishes were better spent. We have a moral duty to our friends and lovers to let them know, not to mention to the trans tribe at large. Hiding ourselves behind a fabricated past is less palatable than feeling a wet spot next to the toilet absorb through your sock. You can pretend it’s something else while you are stuck sitting there, but deep down you know it’s piss.

For me stealth means something else, and passability isn’t even a factor. Stealth is achieved when we embrace a sense of self-assuredness and comfort with ourselves that allows us to interact with individuals, groups, and society at large where the apparent degree of our trans-ness is no longer a factor. Be clear, however, this does not mean that strangers will no longer stare, certain people will no longer treat us like shit, or that all dangers associated with being trans will disappear; more on that in a second. It does mean that being able to insert ourselves into personal relationships and social constructs where our being trans is not a defining factor. In this model a trans woman, comfortable in her female identity and successfully projecting that is able to relate to people and groups ideally as human to human, or at least woman to man/ woman/ child. This is what cisgender people do, aside from self-created ethno-religious categorization, but that is another ball of wax.

Here’s why I think that is the best model for the concept of stealth. There is a good chance that is the best we are going to do. I’m not convinced that there are many amongst us that are 100% passable. We may be to most people, but there always seem to be some who have that extra sensitive radar that at the very least invites questions. I also agree with some of the assessments over on TA that there is risk involved of being discovered, which in turn puts one right back in ‘living a life of deception’ mode, and really, I would think everyone would be sick and tired of that already. I know I am.

Just to clarify further, I’m not advising that it’s a good idea to lead off a dinner party conversation with a detailed blow by blow of your SRS (see note at the end), or walk into a ladies room and shout, “I used to have a wang, y’all!” You are going to have to use your best common sense judgment of where the line is between TMI and intentional denial of identity. We are trans, we will always be trans, and no matter what we do, if someone is determined enough, they can conclusively prove we are trans. Instead, our blending an assimilation into wider cis society is determined on who we are, how comfortable we are with ourselves, and what we say and do.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

10 responses »

  1. You’ve articulated this much better than I have ever managed. Well done!

  2. Great post. Couldn’t agree more.

  3. I *love* how you articulated this!!! It is *so much* of where my heart knows that I need to be, and feedback has shown me to be.

    I treat my transsexuality as a simple fact of my existence, and honor my transition as a high-point of growth in my life, a part of my ongoing development. And I am at home in my *becoming* body and *joyful*, and when (inadvertently) recognized as transgender or even outed by someone, I respond with grace, dignity, kindness, affirming my womanhood along with my former status. Yes, I am a husband and father, and I am also a woman and a sister, a spouse and a parent. These are facts of my life, of my commitments, of my personhood.

    It has been a *privilege* for me to talk to ordinary people in wonderfully positive ways about who we are as trans people. It usually doesn’t come-up in casual interactions (unless I have to mentioned my name/gender change), but it *does* come-up as a normal part of my interacting with others in more intimate ways because of my history as a “man” and now as a woman. (And also, on closer inspection, people can see that I may not have been birth-assigned female.)

    I came across these the other day:

    Instead of using the terms “passing” and “read/clocked,” how about the terms:

    “Recognized as a wo/man” and “Recognized as transgender?”

    We are not trying to “pass-ourselves-off” as something we are not – instead we are being increasingly true to ourselves. And being “recognized as transgender” is a simple fact of life for us, and SHOULD NOT connote shame – we are who we are. Transgender people have our own form of beauty, and much this is the inner beauty of character, courage and empathy that is inexorably working its way out to our outward selves. As transgender people, we are overcomers and with the special dues we “pay” we are given gifts that cisgendered people almost never have.

    I have noticed that as I interact with people who “know” (and I simply assume everyone does), I simply become one of the group,valued for myself as a human being, and my trans-ness fades into just a (somewhat peculiar) part of me. Even the people who cannot accept my womanhood, find themselves treating me like a woman because I am *so comfortable* in who and what I am: a woman, a special sort of woman, a transgender woman, a transsexual woman.

    Again, *thank you* for this post – it comes at a time for me when I am trying to articulate the things I’ve been coming to understand about all this and how & where I fit-in. (Thank you also for letting me blather-on about my own stuff {above}.)

    • Very nicely said, “Recognized as transgender,” and I found myself ruminating on this thought on the way to work this morning. I dressed to go shopping last week, being in need of a better fitting bra, among other things, and as usual, thought I looked very nice and very feminine. I looked at myself a million times in the rear view mirror on the way to the store, as I typically do, trying to convince myself I looked no different than any number of girls driving around, in fact, I vainly insisted to myself that I looked BETTER than a lot of them. When I got out of the car, however, I instantly felt like a man in a wig, and imagined that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, man, woman, and child saw right through me and, if accompanied by someone, was engaging in conversation about “that man who looks kind of like a girl.” Children, in my mind, could spot something wrong immediately, and were being shushed by mothers concerned that their babies were being unfairly confused and were full of questions that had no easy answers. Fathers were either shaking their heads and clucking their tongues or were secretly thinking less than innocent thoughts (I believe a lot of these guys have their own quirks in this area, let’s just say I spend a bit of time in tranny chat rooms).

      Now, I know I should probably try to be healthy about this, and I DO try to believe that the looks are because I DO look attractive. I mean, isn’t that what we DO when we see someone particularly good looking? We stare a bit, or at least cast lingering glances? I go out of my way to find a full length mirror and dally as I wander past, trying to appear nonchalant and not concerned with myself, merely happening to come upon this reflective surface by accident. For a moment, I’m as convinced as I was at home. I continue to walk, pushing the cart, feeling eyes everywhere cutting through the ‘too perfect for just shopping’ makeup and the clothing that must of course belie my obvious male frame. I pull my shoulders down as much as I can as I saunter and search for a bra size, 42B, that don’t exist in any of the several aisles. I’d tried to make the 42C I bought years ago work recently, and I felt like a big phony, having had to stuff it with socks to fill it out. It wasn’t me, any more than breast forms would be me.

      So, shopping done, I wandered to the cash register and endured the silent once-over the clerk would give me as she rang out each piece of female accessory. I swiped the card bearing my girl identity name, and sweated, waiting for her to ask for some other form of ID as proof of who I was. She didn’t. I left, drove away, looked at myself in the mirror and felt deflated. I’d fooled no one.

      But was that really my goal? Wasn’t this all about feeling natural, beautiful, feminine, empowered? What was I after? To be invisible? Would it have made me happier to have no one notice me? What was the point then, if NOT to be acknowledged? Thus, the conundrum. Did I FEEL I appeared enough like a genetic girl to accept that people were looking at me, not with condemnation or criticism, but with approval, or even admiration? Beyond that, even IF they were aware, would it be such a crime for them to recognize me as a transgendered person and not as some deluded sociopath? I can’t, and from what I’ve read, most of us can’t convince ourselves we pass completely, no matter HOW good we can make ourselves look or perform. That being the case, it becomes a matter of what we’re actually after when we screw up the courage to step out into society appearing as someone we feel we are inside. Ok, so then, people, recognize me for who and what I am. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of unless I’m not working at this with some serious conviction.

      • Deannadefoe, you are brave…be gentle with yourself.

        It really helps to have someone outside ourselves to be “mirrors” for us and to help us see what we cannot. Do you have a cisfemale friends who can help you see where you are in your presentation? I have one, and we spent a lot of time window shopping and such and she watched other people’s reactions of me. She confirmed to me what I had been long suspecting, and it helped me relax a little more.

        “Desensitization is a GOOD thing.” Keep doing what you are doing by going out and interacting with people. Soon it will will find that your are forgetting yourself more and more…

        …Early-on, I was very self-conscious, but I pushed myself to get out and mingle. Then I discovered that going out of my way to be nice to people made this process easier: I engaged people; even if they saw me as trans, they were left with a positive impression; I forgot myself for a bit. Around our local mall, I smile and wave to all the regulars and take moments to compliment people and engage babies with waves and smiles. By this time, it must be well known that I am trans because these regulars have seen me gradually transition through androgyny. Now I blend-in reasonably well, and they know I’m trans and sometimes trip over pronouns, but it seems THAT part of me is not really relevant anymore, having been cast into the “so what” bin. Regardless of what they may think, they treat me as a woman, and I have grown to relax in my womanhood all the while realizing I have much to learn to become better assimilated…

        Deannadefoe? Do little kids and teen girls pretty much ignore you? If so, then they are accepting you as a woman. These two groups *really* notice “men in dresses” and they are usually quick to make their discovery apparent!

        I remember something interesting Lannie Rose said about the differences between cross dressers and transsexuals: “you are thrilled when you go out and you occasionally pass. we are annoyed when occasionally we don’t pass.” As much as I’ve enjoyed being regarded as myself, a woman, there are times (especially lately) where I’ve been annoyed to have been “recognized as transgender.” Then, I have to remember that It’s OKAY to be different, to be trans, to be recognized as trans. “Desensitization is a GOOD thing.”

        Many times, I would “throw up my hands” and say, I don’t care WHAT anyone sees, thinks, says or does, I will be who I am. It’s the “I don’t give a damn” moment that is incredibly liberating!! I’ve learned to “abandon myself” to my transition. AND Being who I am is worth whatever people throw at me.

        I have done these things so much now, and I did them incrementally, that each new part of my transition became easier and easier. I’m to the point where I “bounce” into places where I need to change my name/gender and I joyfully present my request. I’ve yet to encounter someone who wasn’t happy for me!

        I’ve been working-on adding casual feminine touching (others) to my mannerisms. I’ve been scared to do this because men can’t really do this (well, gay men can), but TRANS people touching others??? Well CREEP ME OUT!!! That’s what *I* thought…then I thought, you know, I *want* to touch others like other women do…it’s *so natural* for me and I’m not doing it on the off-chance that I will be recognized as transgender and the other person will be upset. We, I told myself, “I am who I am, and I can do this where appropriate. I give myself permission to be myself in this.” And I have been doing it more and more, and now the only thought that passes my mind about this happens AFTER I’ve gently touched someone and realized that I didn’t fret about it; I simply did what my heart said do.

        Diane Wilson has written some pieces that have been really helpful to me:

        On the Importance of Passing

        More Thoughts on Passing

        Less Than Perfect Passing

        Deannadefoe? Be gentle with yourself…it’s early days yet!!

        Blessings & Joy!!!

  4. Of course embracing the classic notion of stealth – of being invisible – often means embracing other bits of military terminology and technology. Sooner or latter if you stay invisible, expect a DRONE to turn up and target you. What happens then is up to you.

    Personally I’ve chased kids down the street with the axle of a wheelie bin, threatened to bash idiots with large tins of dog food, and generally shown equivalent fools and dickheads that the assumption that I’m an “easy target” is wrong. In most of my life passing is not an issue. Either I do, or it never comes up. Sometimes of course the drones appear and think that because they’ve read me that this is some sort of special bit of information that allows them to be loud in public. But it’s a bit looks fools who shout things out of passing cars. They might know what they’re saying but often you can’t pick out a word of it. Just confirms they’re wankers.

    I think that might be one reason reason I stopped going to the Sydney Mardi Gras March, an annual pride event. Up here in The Hunter Valley I’m just Laura, and even if someone knows I’m trans so what. Down at that event though I get “read” and misinterpreted (and not just by straight folk). Who needs that?

  5. Absolutely. Not so different from my own recent blog on this. I think I’d even drop the stealth term altogether. And just be.

  6. my sentiments made much more interesting in your clever words…by the way, have i mentioned that i love … love … love you!

  7. Michellelianna. You’re great. ❤

  8. Yep, Yep and Yep. Can you see me now? Sheri


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