Just read a moving and seriously insightful blog by Hannah Boo on the subject of stealth. I’m not going to go into detail here about the blog itself – just suggest you go read it yourself if you’re interested – but it did set me musing on the nature of the stealth beast.
How it feels to be part of a community for which, superficially, a hierarchy exists, with those who are “in deep stealth” seeing themselves as somewhere at the top of the tree.
Even if that accomplishment seems at times to be a little self-defeating: “Come quickly! Look! Out in the garden! The most beautiful creature in the world. The fabulous invisible rainbow bird!”
“I don’t see it…”
Apart from that, I have difficulties with the word itselth: too many connotations of secret squirrels and cat burglars nipping in during the night to nick your milk. It smacks of darkness and thievery and – yes! – laddishness: cause who wouldn’t want to be a stealth Mistress?
I think that last bit – the laddishness – has a lot to answer for. The trans community is still in the process of emerging from definition by a mostly male, middle-aged – and disapproving – medical profession. Early days, the only peeps who got to transition MtF were those who fulfilled a male wet dream stereotypical image of women.
Skirts please: not dresses. Petite. Gay as start point (cause of course, proper women could not possibly be lesbian). Every male prejudice in the book got codified and written onto the existence of trans people and trans women especially, and that has done lasting damage.
First, though this is debate for another space, it has set the trans community up as supposed poster girls for the gender binary, thereby creating some – not all – of the issues still playing out with some – not all – feminists. A shame, because just like the rest of the world, trans peeps come in all shapes, sizes and political persuasions. I happen to be very binary in my personal existence, while happily supporting the rights and existence of non-binary. But there are many, many trans non-binary as well.
Second, because the obvious counterpart to “stealth” is “deception”, which is not just a bad thing but, when it comes into conflict with the male need to control, can be fatal.
Stealth – or fitting in
Second, “stealth” isn’t really something that MOST trans folk aim for. My heart goes out to Hannah for her experience – though more for the way her life is controlled and regulated which is something quite beyond me. I don’t know how I could live that. Literally.
But I also think – having some slight congruence with her own experience – that she is wrong. Wrong, in the sense that she will never, can never, be viewed unambiguously as her true gender. By which, of course, we mean, people walking in and reading her as female first.
The commonality lies in that sense of despair. The feeling that “I am a woman – but I am doomed forever to have the world see me as male or, worse, some sort of in-between freak”. Setting out to transition late in life, I oscillated between utterly ridiculous visions of me as some gorgeous femme fatale – and doomed forever to be the weirdo tranny on the street everyone is warned about.
How could anyone EVER see me as female?
I underwent the usual odyssey of small triumphs and equally small setbacks – which felt like the sky had fallen on my head – and am amused now to find myself gently mothering those just setting out on their personal journey. For I get, now, as they don’t yet, that those small sleights and insults aren’t all that important: are just the price you pay for travelling this way.
Still, I have been shocked, surprised, delighted, even to find that for the most part, in many – most – spaces, places, people just don’t give me a second look. I pass…80%…90% of the time? Though not a close inspection. Nor, interestingly, quite so well with children, which possibly illustrates how much better children are as observers are than adults.
I am, I suspect, a bit like one of those chamaliens, so beloved of sci-fi film. Initially assuming perfectly the shape desired: then, wounded, tired, flickering between assumed and original.
Not believing in my own outward feminity I have deliberately opted for the disgraceful older woman look: Vivienne Westwood out of Barbara Cartland, more than respectable out of Evans. OK. That’s also true-ish to who i am as well, so its also authentic.
But I don’t set out to steal, to stealth. Its just: I am a woman. I dress like a woman. Most people see me as one.
Society has issues
So where’s the problem? For me, personally, the real issue lies in how people react when one of those flicker moments happens. Most recently, out minding my own business, with a friend, a guy started to chat to us. We didn’t invite it: but it was nice, fun, flirty. Tinged, though, by a nagging inner fear of the consequence when suddenly he saw through my disguise. Which isn’t a disguise but which he might view as such.
Where’s the exit? Will I be able to defuse the situation, to manage to calm him down enough to walk out with a tongue-lashing and no worse? Or is the start of a long slow journey to A&E?
For the trans community, the argument is harder. The false argument between stealth/non-stealth will rumble on. But in reality, what most object to in current debate is the sense of state imposition. Bottom line: the vast majority of trans peeps would out themselves in a long-term relationship; a high proportion are a bit more conflicted about outing themselves on a one-night stand; but there seems to be a near-universal disgust at the idea that the law or state will now tell us when to out ourselves. No. Sorry. Fuck that.
Or if you must, just send round the pink triangles now, and have done with it.
Then there are the next generation: those transitioning ever younger. Those who identify as trans at 5 or 6, stop puberty at 12, transition at 18.They don’t live “in stealth”. They ARE the gender they identify as: and is the law honestly suggesting that they could be sent to jail because one night, thirty years later, they fail to mention to someone or other that they once had different genital bits?
If it is, the law is a total ass – but we knew that anyway
Last up, Hannah. WTF? You ARE a woman. Your online picture says woman. Your current carers know your past…but time erases much, much more than you realise. For six years, the tax system held on to my old identity. The last traces of that are fading now. Ditto direct mail companies: the avalanche of mail to who I once was is turned to trickle. Friends change. And in the end, those closest to you walk into a room and look at who they see before them.
I get the challenges of your situation. Trust me, though: there will come a day when you look back at what you once wrote and realise you were wrong (as I do frequently with my own scribblings). Change and acceptance (not stealth!) claims all of us in the end: and you are no exception.