Stealthon August 2nd, 2013 at 12:02 pm
Cisgender people (“cisgender” being the opposite of “transgender;” “cis-“ is the Greek root for “on the same side”) imagine it’s pretty easy to spot transwomen. Transwomen, they believe, are tall, with coarse facial features, big hands, deep voices, and almost cartoonishly hyper feminine clothes and makeup. In the comment boards for news stories about transwomen (usually reports of our murders or severe beatings), you can always find some yahoo declaring “I can always spot them.”
After my post about gender cues, I realized I needed to write a follow-up. One could infer from that post that all transpeople work obsessively toward conforming with the traits typical of their preferred gender—with “passing.”
I work hard to be perceived as femme and female as possible, up to a point (I rarely wear skirts, and I dislike jewelry), and I’m always a little sad when a stranger “clocks” me as trans. This is only partly about vanity; a transwoman who gets clocked can immediately be in great physical danger. I don’t worry much about this (maybe I should?), but I don’t like hostile remarks or being mocked, either, and those also can be a common experience. In the early days of my transition, a group of adolescent boys at Northlake Mall clocked me and shouted “you’re going to Hell!” That incident was an important reason I chose to have FFS. And that was nothing, really, < a href=http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/2013/08/01/the-not-so-subtleties-of-facing-discrimination-in-a-very-public-space/#>compared to what some transwomen have been through when they fail to pass. This sort of random harassment is similar to the casual racism many African-Americans encounter, shorthanded as “driving while black,” “shopping while black, etc. We often call this “living while trans.”
Many of us pass quite well. What the comment-board yahoos fail to understand (or refuse to admit) is that they “can always spot” only the transpeople they’re able to spot. Many transpeople are able to pass invisibly, and are perceived by everyone they meet as ordinary cisgender individuals. Those who accept this privilege are said to be living a “stealth” life.
At this extreme, stealth transpeople don’t fly the “transgender pride” flag. They don’t march in parades. They don’t lobby for nondiscrimination bills in front of the Capitol. They don’t burn candles or read names at TDOR each year. You won’t find photos of them in their former gender identity, or much evidence at all that they’ve crossed the gender binary.
Often, living stealth means abandoning every family member and friend one knew before transition, changing jobs (voluntarily, unlike most transpeople), and moving to another city or state. They will seem to have lived half a life, sprung into existence only a handful of years ago. No childhood or early years will ever be mentioned, or will be mentioned only after careful mental editing for pronoun or context.
People living stealth will never have any other transgender friends, because when you’re seen with a transgender person you’re more likely to be clocked. My therapist and friend Erin Swenson has joked that it’s exponential, e.g. when two transpeople are together, each is twice as likely to be clocked. When three are together, each is four times as likely; four are eight times, etc.
At the other end of the spectrum are transpeople whose presentation is well beyond “out and proud.” Not only do they not care whether they “pass,” they reject the very notion of “trying to pass” as a cisnormative requirement imposed by a transphobic society. They may reject the gender binary altogether. If their presentation is ambiguous, it will be clear to all who meet them that if this is a problem, it’s not theirs. Nobody will tell them how they “should” dress or act.
Most transpeople fall somewhere between these two extremes, and stealth people in particular are frowned upon as selfishly enjoying a privilege not available to us all, without doing their part to make things better. I get this; we’re living in a pivotal historical moment, and the more of us are out, the better off in the community as a whole will be. We don’t get a place at the table if society at large doesn’t even realize we’re in the dining room.
What do you all think? Leave a comment below.