Author’s Notes: I use “transexual” here in terms of someone who was categorized as a different gender upon birth than they personally associate with, and then later used medical treatments (e.g.: hormones, surgery) to feel more in touch with their true gender. Although it’s considered the incorrect spelling, “transexual” (with one S) is often used to de-medicalize and undo the dehumanization of transexuals in text because “transsexual” (with two S’s) was so rampant in medical texts that objectified transexual people. I use “stealth” in the sense of transexuals who appear cissexual in their true gender on a daily, casual basis. While I’m not excited about the term “stealth” itself – and find much of what the word applies to be problematic – I’m still looking for the oh-so-perfect word to take its place.
When you live stealth, you tend to find yourself in all sorts of amusing little situations.
One day, during the lunch break of one of those awful, privileged-people cubicle jobs, I found myself at a table with a bunch of male and female acquaintances. At some point, the females started discussing their menstrual cycles and the methods they used to ease cramping.
It was a draining day for me, so my filter wasn’t quite in place, and I very nearly caught myself casually saying, “Well, back when I would get my—”
Oops. Back up there, James. These people read you as a (cis) male. Their poor little brains might very well explode with the information you were just about to generously bestow upon them.
And so I sat. And listened. Which, if you didn’t know, can gather you quite the collection of tidbits you wouldn’t otherwise overhear from cissexual people when they know you’re trans.
Let me tell you, there are some doozies of myths out there that cis people (and non-transexual trans people) hold about transexuals.
1. Being Stealth Isn’t Possible
You know what gaydar is, right? Well, just as much as straight people think they have gaydar, cis people think they have trans-dar. As in, they can spot any variation of a trans person a mile away.
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: No. No, you cannot.
How do I know this? Because not only have I myself been knocked sideways sometimes when someone shares their body history with me – and seriously, who could pick another trans person out of a crowd better than another trans person? – but there have been countless times now where I’ve interacted with cis people, pleased as punch when it becomes painfully clear that they have no clue my sub-species is different from theirs.
In sum, being stealth is incredibly possible, especially to those of us with passing privilege.
That being said, in some ways, being stealth isn’t possible – but I mean that in the sense of the rascally government.
With so many US states varying in their rules on birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, and other legal documents, some transexuals find themselves legally documented as male in one space and female in another.
I’m one of them.
And let me tell you, it’s quite maddening to pass as a man during a great job interview, only for a recruiter to get all dopey and awkward when the background check comes back.
And then we wonder why so many trans people can’t find jobs and end up homeless. Thanks, government. Thanks.
2. Anyone Can Live Stealth If They Try Hard Enough
Word around the rumor mill is that transexuals (and other trans people) can pass if they try hard enough: if they take enough hormones, if they get enough surgery, if they wear the right clothes in just the right way.
In other words, if they play the cissexual game of picking only one of two genders and putting every ounce of their being into making cissexuals feel comfortable around transsexuals – by not knowing they’re even there.
And is anybody else noticing the addition of assumed financial and medically accessible privilege?
Not everybody has passing privilege, and not everybody should have to have passing privilege.
It’s not something that’s done to make cissexuals feel more comfortable. It’s so we can feel more comfortable.
3. There Are Few of Us Around
Lulz nope. We’re alllll around youuuuuu.
And in that vein, you should really watch the tr*nny slurs and jokes you say in front of people you automatically assume to be cissexual. Because we can hear you. And we’re taking stock.
4. Living Stealth Means You’re Ashamed of Being Trans
This one is rampant in both the cis/straight and LGBTQIA+ communities. Even with fellow trans people themselves!
Pay attention, dears: Living stealth neither says you’re ashamed of being trans nor forsakes your fellow trans siblings.
It simply means you’re 1) sick of or exhausted from being treated like a zoo animal in everyday society, 2) feel threatened if you were to make your body history public, or 3) just plain know that living stealth makes you the most mentally comfortable.
These are all extremely valid reasons to live stealth.
You’ve done nothing wrong by—you know—freaking protecting yourself physically and/or emotionally.
Anybody who tells you otherwise – even a fellow trans person – is an asshole.
5. Being Stealth Means We Want to Be Cis
Lord help me.
You cis people are sweet, but we’ll never understand you. And please don’t hold yourselves in such a high regard that you think us living stealth means we want to be seen as you, act like you, talk like you, walk like you, think like you, or otherwise be the utter and infallible awesomeness that is the cissexual life. Because we don’t.
We just want to be left alone in our identities. And not get stabbed.
The thing about wanting to be stealth isn’t because we somehow want to be you, but because we want to reap your many everyday privileges.
We want to be treated like humans. We want to be able to do job interviews easier, to make a last-second trip to the corner market, to not be slurred or shoved or have things thrown at us by any jerk who walks down the street.
These are all examples of passing privilege, which is a topic I plan to talk about at length at a later time. But can we nonetheless just stop for a moment and reflect on what I just wrote?
Not having stuff thrown at you is considered a privilege in the trans world. A privilege.
Let’s try and fix that ASAP, cissexuals, m’kay?
6. Living Stealth Is the Same as LGBQ Folk Staying in the Closet
Actually, they’re the opposites of each other, thankyouverymuch.
Think about it.
Staying in the closet is choosing not to disclose parts of your identity to others, and that can happen for a number of reasons — mainly safety. Living stealth is showing the world who you were meant to be perceived as to begin with, it’s showing the part of you that used to be hidden.
When someone comes out of the closet (and they are doing it intentionally, with folks they feel safer with, and of their own volition and desire), they’re saying, “Yay, I’m gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer/whatever! I’m proud to be me! Here’s some rainbows and sparkles and cookies!”
When someone lives stealth, they’re saying, “Yay, I’m finally living as the man/woman/whatever I’ve always been! I don’t need to cart around that baggage that hurt me so much before!”
Only we say it very, very quietly. Because our body histories are nobody else’s business. Shh…
7. Not Being Stealth Will Free You
Not being stealth didn’t free me.
It put me in very dangerous and awkward situations every day.
And once I was blessed enough to start passing as a cissexual and having the choice to continue to do so, I took it.
Sure, there is most definitely the worry in the back of my head that some soulless creature will be nasty enough to target me for an outing.
There are some scarily well-oiled groups out there that actually spend their lives hunting down stealthies in order to divulge their body histories to the trans person’s bosses, friends, and anybody else in the hopes of destroying the trans person’s life.
And is it illegal? Hell yeah.
They’re technically making part of your medical profile public. But once it’s time to sue, the damage is already done.
That being said, living stealth has been incredibly freeing for me. In other words, being myself as wholly as possible without risking my life or well being.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve thanked my stars for having the privileged option to live stealth. Because if I hadn’t during those dangerous moments, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be alive to write this now.
But keeping a large part of your backstory hidden is nonetheless mentally tiring.
Your filter is constantly on. I’d actually love the day when I can say, “Well, back when I would get my period…” without worry of being fired or shot or homeless.
But it’s unfortunately still the lesser of two evils to me.
And until the Day of Transtopia comes, I’m pretty okay with where I am. At least overhearing the silly assumptions cissexuals have about transexuals helps pass the time.
So thanks for that, I guess.
James St. James is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He isn’t particularly fond of his name, but he has to admit it makes him easier to remember. When he’s not busy scaring cis gender people with his trans gender agenda, he likes to play SEGA and eat candy.
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