Orange is The New Black and its New Black Trans Narrative
July 22, 2013
Passing and Stealth: Two Words to Lose? Part Two
July 24, 2013

A Rant About MTF “Stealth”

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series on “stealth.” The goal of this series to examine the nuanced ways trans opinion leaders conceptualize stealth and how they feel about it. Suzan Cooke kicked off the series with her article, The Many Shades of Stealth. It should be noted that TA is not endorsing any one view, definition or conceptualization. As with the elephant parable, each perception presented in this series represents one representation of the truth; taken together, it’s hoped that this series will provide a more comprehensive conceptualization of stealth and what it means to an oppressed community.

Articles in this series: The Many Shades of Stealth | A Rant About MTF “Stealth” | Passing and Stealth: Two Words We Should Lose? | Stealth Doesn’t Help The Trans Community | You’re Only as Transitioned and Stealth as the Next Person Says You Aren’t | Not Against Stealth But For Being Out

What Stealth IsThe use of the word stealth has lost its meaning in the last decade. I hear people who go to trans support group meetings, activities and who run trans websites claim to be “stealth” now. When I came out, going to trans support group meetings, activities and running trans forums was the definition of being out in a big way! Some now say that “stealth” means one thing and “woodworking” another. I call BS. You can’t woodwork without being stealth. It’s like saying that the word “hide” and “conceal” are fundamentally different. If you’re going to conceal something, you have to hide it; if you’re going to woodwork, you’ve got to be stealth. Some say “stealth” just means privacy. Privacy is not telling my spouse that I had a wart removed years ago; stealth is not telling my spouse that I had testicles removed  years ago. Pretending that being “out” means telling everyone you meet you’re trans is BS. Associating with others in the trans community while claiming to be stealth is a mischaracterization of what stealth is.

Stealth is pretending to everyone that you’re a cisgender female. It means living in fear that the spouse you lied to will find out that you didn’t actually have a hysterectomy. It means always wondering if your friends would really like you if they knew the truth. Stealth is running away from or verbally running down your trans brothers and sisters so that others won’t make the connection. Stealth means that you hide being trans. Stealth is about shame and nothing more. Not telling the grocery sacker that you’re trans is not stealth. Trying to get your parents to lie to your new boyfriend is being stealth. Not telling every co-worker in the building that you’re trans is not being stealth. Not telling your best friend is being stealth. If you associate with other trans people, you’re not in stealth because you’re putting yourself in a position of allowing more and more people to know the truth about your history. Isolating and hiding your history is what it means to live in stealth.

Stealth people say things like “I just want to get on with my life as the woman I am” – a sentiment that sounds rational enough on the surface. The problem with that sentiment is that it’s also a delusion. Stealth people rationalize their lies by believing that being trans was only a medical problem that was fixed – kind of like a cleft palate; purposefully pretending that there wasn’t a social transition that entailed violating numerous cultural norms. Stealth is purposefully taking away the choice of letting the people you claim to love the most decide if they are willing to take on the potential social costs (as unfair and stupid as those social costs might be) of breaking those backwards cultural norms by being with you. If you believe that it is only a medical condition, remember that I said that you’re delusional when your best friend, your husband or wife, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your adopted child, etc finds out that you lied about your social and medical history. Yes, it is a medical condition that should be treated medically, but to pretend that this medical condition is exactly like having laser eye surgery is nothing more than living in denial. Living an authentic life means having the courage to stand firmly on the ground on truth regardless of what stupid, moronic and asinine stereotypes and/or fears others may choose to cling to.

Anyway… pretending to be a cisgender female to everyone in your life practically never works in the end. In the digital age, you can never destroy every piece of history documenting your true past and you certainly can’t kill everyone how knows the truth. Choosing stealth is a shame-based way to live because it supports the belief that being trans is bad and should be hidden. Being a transwoman and being a ciswoman are just two somewhat different ways of arriving at being a woman; living stealth supports the bogus idea that you’re not really a woman and you must therefore hide the truth from discovery. If you want to save yourself a lot of misery, be truthful about the history that made you into the wonderful person you are today with the people who matter to you. You don’t need to tell the gas station attendant, but the point of transitioning is that you get to live authentically. Don’t put yourself into a position that you have to go back to living a lie; don’t go from one closet to another.

Being completely closeted – being stealth – takes away your freedom of choice. After a while, you’ve constructed a life whereby you can no longer enjoy the freedom of sharing your history with the people you care about because to do so would risk the very relationships you so value. Choose to give yourself the power of choice. Be judicious about who you give this very important piece of yourself to. Privacy is a good thing in that it’s empowering; preserve your right to pick and choose who knows your history. Choose the power of choice and use it to give yourself the best possible shot at a happy life.


Author’s Note:  I wrote this piece in 2010 after meeting a transwoman who had transitioned in the 1970s. She’d been instructed to live a closeted life by her doctors at the time. Unfortunately, she took their advice, married and never told him. He found out years and years later and she lost practically everything she valued after the lie got out – to everyone in her life. The devastation her life had become was profound.

Since writing this, I understand that others – especially others in different geographic locations – view stealth and out as a binary continuum so that one can be both stealth and out and proud in the exact same moment. I can see how this view has its conceptual benefits for those who use it in that way. For me – and perhaps this is simply an artifact of my own geographic location – stealth means that one is not out. When I began transition, the only people who were stealth were those who actively shunned other trans folk. For me, stealth continues to have a very specific conceptual framework that does not include being out and proud about being trans.

Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.
  • I know this web site presents quality dependent content
    and extra stuff, is there any other web page which gives such data in quality?

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  • Dear TransAdvocate,
    This website has been truly amazing and supporting in educating me about my gender identity. I thank you for your hard works.

    However, I have some issues about stealth and coming out as well transphobia. I’d like to post a few topic related questions and get advice on them. How do I contact you? Please email me the request form to send in my questions and possibly a rant following up with questions.

    Talk Hard,
    Draven Taylor.

    P.S., my email is draventaylor666@gmail.com

  • I had my 2 part SRS 13 years ago. My surgeon was Eugene Schrang. A few months after having my surgery, a certain member of the Harry Benjamin Association made a stinging comment about Dr. Schrang after one of his patients died from a blood clot, even though all preparations, including “advice” were given to that patient. That patient chose “the possibility of complications, or death” over living the rest of her life incomplete. I asked a friend where I could go in order to find help from other surgeons, and other people in general. My friend connected me to an online group called “alt.support.srs”. That is where I met some wonderful caring people, but unfortunately encountered some of the worst. Previous to that, I had a website dedicated to helping people regardless of where they stood within the Transgender circle of people. I met some of the worst, within the types of people that I now referred to as “Trolls”. At that time I was acquainted as a friend with people such as Lynn, Calpernia, and Andrea. One of the people that Andrea ID’d as a “troll” is a people name “Sue Ann Robbins”, a good friend of a person named “Jennifer Usher”. “Sue Ann” used, and uses the handle “Not Your Friend” (NYF), and has been one of the “Notes From The T Side” backers, avidly supporting, along with her friend Jennifer, every demeaning slur fabricated by “Elizabeth”. With the support of other “trolls” (fakes, wanna-be-whatevers, and very delusional hateful people, they mock every person who does not fit within their narrow scope of things. Several of those people backing up “Liz” were admitted CD’s, who betray ever cell in their bodies, now enveloped within their need to be be superior to everything that they are, by trashing everyone else. Their constant abuse of other people’s gender identification is nothing other that their own inability to accept themselves, who the really are, and where “they had been”.

    I say to you all, that LIFE was not given to you for others to claim it for themselves. YOUR LIFE is “YOUR OWN”, and nobody that exists on this Earth has the right to JUDGE YOU, for who you are, or who you want to be….If they try to, then their attempt at being God just brings them closing to what the devil wants them to be.

    Whether, or not you wish to choose to use whatever word you want, to describe your personal journey, that is your choice. Those people that mock you, such as those people of “Liz’s” network, are not as content with themselves as they would want you to believe. If anything at all, they are certainly not complete, and whatever transition they’ve claimed to have completed, is still, and likely to be forever, LOST IN LIMBO.

    huggz to all,

    June

    • I consider Jennifer Usher and Elizabeth along with the rest of the trolls to be as much an enemy of TS/TG people along with the rest of the alphabet soup as the RadFems, the Religious Fanatics and the Rabid Right Wing.

      • I am here because I own a computer. I wanted to throw it out the window many times, but each time I thought of that, soon after, I went out, and ordered an upgrade….stupid! stupid! stupid!

        I live in a house that I often have thought of as one of the most beautiful places to live. It would inspire my innate talent for art, and my love of beauty, if only I was able to get away from this danged, time waste of a nemesis. 🙂 lol…

        …I guess there are good uses for the computer, and I reluctantly admit, that I have always had the need to be honest, or just send out signals that I would also like to connect with you all.

        I am really sorry for all the crap you all have found. That is what happens when we are honest.

        I also live with the memories, the losses, and those things I try to accept as gifts of life…my life, and for what I am sharing with you now.

        We don’t see bad things as “gifts”. It is often very unacceptable to view it that way. Our particular changes of life, for what they are worth, can be just as horrifying as the loss of a loved one, but, wait a sec…..

        If we can only look back at what has passed, and respect it all as “a gift”, like what the people we loved have given us, then maybe we can find a moment, to realize within ourselves, that even those people who have hurt us, for whatever reason of their own, have also given to us, within a different perspective, gifts. The gift of “knowledge”, “of reason”, “of choice”, “of learning to grow, and enrich our OWN lives, without succumbing to all the hate that others proliferate”.

        “You are not alone”. That is what I used to tell me. I am beginning to finally understand what that means.

        huggz young lady

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  • My identity is a sum of all the parts of my life. This includes my previous male identity and my presnt female identity. From the time I first have memory, around the age of 4 or so, I lived a life of stealth, I denied, hid, pretended my gender was male. I denied all forms of femaleness. Not very good at being stealth, the toll this took on my life was huge. I am paying the piper now, I have developed at times very severe mental illness.

    Stealth can only be used in extreme circumstances, for very very brief periods, and with the aid of mental health professionals, even though I personally do not believe in mental health professionals. Others might.

    Stealth, or in other words, the denial of a previous history in the birth gender, puts you in the realm of a psychosis, an unnatural fear of being discovered. I have seen this happen, and it is scary, to see a rational person have an unnatural fear of being “read” or “clocked”.

    As I see it, there is no rational logical reason for stealth, leaving behind friends, allies, moving countries or states, in the “hope” you will not be discovered as being trans, in the end it only will lead to you being perceived as untrustworthy for having lied about this…What else has she lied about?

    Stealth is a self imposed prison of your own mind, you lock yourself into this mindset, of trying to hang onto all the lies, as the truth is surrounded by a bodyguard of lies*, it is this that you use to hide the truth, and as time marches on, and the number of interactions increases, so the number of lies you need increases, making the chance for being found out more and more likely, you fool yourself with self deception, that you are being successful, when you are actually making a fool of yourself and the entire trans community.

    When the #2 hits the fan, will the trans community support you? It depends on many factors, depth and duration of lying, how many bridges you have destroyed, the damage you have caused…

    In the end, you can only live stealth for only so long till 1 of 2 things happens, you are unmasked/outed/read/clock, or you end up in the nuthouse….

    • I really detest the term stealth, along with passing.

      As you said yourself you were stealth for years before coming out and transitioning.

      I did that one nearly 45 years ago. As the years wear on that period of transition fades. If I only depended on my friend from that time who were trans I would be very lonely as most have passed away leaving me to tell their stories.

      I am actually friends with many activist and I blog so saying I’m stealth is highly questionable. But I don’t like that word any how. It is far more accurate to say I control my information and do not share it with everyone. More accurate to say I guard and limit my sharing to those I consider family and friends.

      It is TMI for work. Hell I catch enough flack and get fired often enough for being a lesbian with a casual at best approach to commercially defined femininity, not to mention my being openly atheist.

      Fortunately I’m bright and work hard so I can if I want usually find an entry level position and work my way up a notch or two before I rub someone in power the wrong way.

      You presume people who guard their history lie to a lot of people. That is kind of a false presumption. It is more a matter of not sharing details.

      I actually see all sorts of reasons for changing jobs and cities where one may have lived before, if for no other reason than a fresh start where you don’t have do deal with people misgendering you. Or using your former name.

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  • If a trans woman feels that her best chance of moving ahead on her life’s path is to bury her past, more power to her. If a trans woman feels that her best chance of moving ahead on her life’s path is to be Out and Proud, more power to her. We have not yet discovered any form of a universal trans feminine experience, and everyone finds her own way in life, and every one of us who transitions is rolling the dice every day for her own survival. I will not gainsay another trans woman for choosing a different way of life than mine. I leave that sort of fuckery to jerkwads like Jennifer Usher.

  • Jenna Fischetti

    So does this mean if you’re one of the 6 “stealth” trans people who work at HRC and GLAAD, they’re actually out and proud?

    • Jenna Fischetti

      That’s in reference to a “stealth” trans woman who claims to know of 6 “stealth” trans people at HRC and GLAAD.

  • Actually Lynn Conway kicked it off with “Many shades of Out” on Huffington Post.

    My contention is that most of us live our lives as a combination of stealth and out, perhaps stealth at work and with acquaintances and out with close friends.

    Like the war planes that gave the label stealth isn’t invisible, more like reduced visibility. Still there if people know what to look for.

    I sort of look at it as circles of trust. It applies to many things besides trans. Like not talking about my politics or atheism at work.

    It can be simply a matter of laziness 10-20 years post transition, particularly as people age they lose many of the reads and often the need to share with others something that is ancient history.

    • I totally agree with that, Suzan.

      This old post is certainly a polemic. It was a reaction to the destruction and suffering that – as she called it – being “stealth” cost. If I were to write it over, it probably wouldn’t be as strident.

      I’m very much about having the freedom of choice. I think that being on the extremes – totally out to everyone or totally closeted – takes away choice and tends to produce really painful outcomes.