Stealth Shaming: What It Is, Why You Shouldn’t Do It, and How Not To

It looks like I’ve made up a term.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  It’s not like it’s in common usage, but I think it’s a good term.  That is to say, I made it up to do a particular job and I think it does its job well.  To get this out of the way: I am a trans man who discloses.  I haven’t always disclosed, i.e. I’ve had jobs and brief periods of residence in rural periods when I’ve blended as cis full time, but for a variety of reasons blending as cis hasn’t been an option for most of my life.  At the place in my life I’m in now, I don’t want to blend as cis full time,  I am able to disclose my trans status safely, and pretty much everyone I meet learns quickly that I’m trans.

 

The term is stealth shaming, and here’s a definition:

 

stealth shaming:  The practice or act of stating, implying, or acting as though binary-identified trans people who do not disclose their trans status are somehow not being trans properly.

 

First of all, let’s unpack the term “stealth.”  Obviously problematic, right?  It carries all these icky connotations of hiding and lying and general cissexist bullshit.  It’s a term from the Dark Ages of trans discourse, when every doctor told us we had to learn to “construct a plausible history” and that we had to live “stealth” if we ever wanted to be considered “real” men and women.  People have inaugurated new terms, like “blending as cis full time,” which is my favorite, or just “nondisclosing.”  I recommend we use these new terms instead of “stealth.”  I’d say I insist, but if you follow this blog you know I’m kind of incurably fluttery.

 

I use “stealth” in the context of stealth shaming in a similar way feminists use “slut” in the context of slut shaming—it’s a problematic word being used to describe a problematic action.

 

There’s a second really important thing we have to do here before we attack just what stealth shaming is and how to prevent doing it—we need to countenance the fact that disclosing and blending as cis aren’t mutually exclusive.  There’s ambiguity everywhere.  To say that the two things are utterly different and have no overlap is to create a false dichotomy.  Feel free to skip this part and go straight to the numbered list below if you want; it’s kind of abstract and gets a bit long.

 

Obviously almost everyone who blends as cis full time have a few people in their lives who know about their trans status.  I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.  But consider this:  If you’re a trans person who gets read correctly in a consistent way, and you don’t walk down the street yelling “I’m trans!” or have one of those OP T-shirts that say “Nobody knows I’m a transsexual”—you’re blending as cis!  If you ever go to a dinner party with people you don’t know well and you don’t disclose to them, or you have a beer with some guys you’re meeting for the first time and you don’t disclose to them—you’re blending as cis!  I know this seems obvious, but it often seems like people need it articulated,especially binary-identified trans activists who have the privilege to be read correctly but trumpet themselves as paragons of complete openness w/r/t their trans status.  I’m just about as close as someone who runs down the street yelling “NOBODY KNOWS I’M A TRANSSEXUAL” as a guy can get without actually doing so, and most of the interactions I have with people daily, they assume I’m a cis man.

 

Now for the meat of the post.  Important points to remember.

 

1)  Saying that people who blend as cis full time are not “out” is stealth shaming.

 

The term “out” is of massive importance to queers.  It is a term that describes how brave we are, how open, and most important how good we are at being us when everyone else insists that we shouldn’t be us.  Denying blending trans people access to this term is identity policing in the worst way, and of course, it’s cissexist.

 

In a specifically trans context, to be out means to be honest and open about one’s gender identity.  When a trans man tells someone he’s male, or walks into a men’s bathroom, or says, “From a guy’s perspective…” or does anything that indicates that he identifies as male, he’s out as a man.  And he’s out. Full stop.  He’s put his gender identity out there.  The idea that he needs to add being trans to that as some sort of qualifier is a huge double standard.  We don’t demand that all cis people come out as cis in order to be honest about their gender identities, even though it’s entirely possible that some of people in our lives whom we assume are cis are actually trans.

 

A trans person comes out when they say “Hey world, I know I was assigned one gender at birth, but as it turns out, I’m not that gender.”  The process occurs at different times with different people and it can take a long time.  But that trans person has been out ever since—they know who they are, and they’re open about who they are with others.  To say otherwise is stealth shaming.

 

2)  Saying that blending people are “not being honest” is both stealth shaming and vilely cissexist.

 

It is nothing more and nothing less than a regurgitated version of the internalized cissupremacist idea that trans genders are lies, fabrications, or figments of our imaginations.  The idea that trans people must disclose their trans status exists so that cissexist assholes—pardon me!  I seem to be getting ruffled!—can be sure they can tell the “real” men and women from the monsters.

 

Why do you think so much violent hate crimes occur after a blending trans person is outed or discloses?  It is because they do not want us to have privacy.  They want to treat us like animals whose bodies are open, including the genitals, for perusal and examination at all times.  They are willing to kill and maim us to reinforce this condition.  It’s depressing beyond words to see trans people vomiting this kind of cissexist idea back.

 

“I just wish they could be honest!”  If this person is a man and is telling you he is a man, he is honest.  If this person is a woman and is telling you she is a woman, she is  honest.  To say that binary trans people must always state that they are trans is to say that they must qualify their maleness or femaleness, so that we all know they are not REAL men or women.

 

3)  One hears often that trans people who blend are “traitors to the trans community” or “harming the trans community” or “not really part of the trans community.”  The most false and holier than thou version goes “I’m so sad that those poor people can’t be open and disclosing!”  All these are stealth shaming and full of unchecked privilege.

 

These attitudes are always laden with one and usually several but not necessarily all of the following:  class privilege, white privilege, and abled privilege.

 

It may be safe and comfortable for you to be out where you are, but what about a blue collar trans person in a small town in the Southern US, in a state with no protections for transgender employees and no hate crime legislation, in a place were there’s very little institutionalized support for queer people, who is currently working an absolutely necessary job they’d risk losing if they disclosed?  What about a trans person with a social anxiety disorder, or clinical depression, or another disability that doesn’t allow them to go through the daily grind of disclosure and explanation?

 

It’s great that people want everyone to come play on the big fun happy safe queer jungle gym, but this poorly overextended metaphor is like playgrounds in real life, there are big strong kids who like to smack little weak kids in the head, and there are kids who are too tired or sick to get on the jungle gym, and just not everybody has access to the fucking jungle gym, ok?  Go get a juice box and mull it over until recess ends.

 

The assumption that all trans people are upper or middle class people in liberal areas who read lots of Judith Butler just enrages me.  There are, astonishingly, trans people who do not attend and will not be attending liberal arts colleges in the Northeast with LGBT Studies programs where they get to participate in symposiums on gender diversity.  (Disclaimer: Stephen, the author of this article, is a student at a liberal arts college in the Northeast with an LGBT studies program; he will be organizing a symposium on gender diversity during the coming year.)

 

Lastly, I think any discussion about disclosure versus blending brings up some really interesting questions about what these terms and ideas mean for non-binary people, for whom blending in their gender isn’t really an option because most people don’t know their gender exists.  I tried initially to make this post inclusive of that kind of experience, but I just don’t have the knowledge, and I don’t want to speak to others’ experiences.  I’d love to hear from any of my non-binary identified readers on the subject.

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39 Responses to “Stealth Shaming: What It Is, Why You Shouldn’t Do It, and How Not To”


  1. 1 Jamie November 18, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Thanks for writing this, I’ve started a facebook page with my legal name on it and I’m using it to spread Trans* awareness. I’d love to share this on it. (:
    Not only is this brilliantly written, but it brings light to something generally looked over in our community. I agree with your points wholeheartedly.

  2. 2 Aiden November 18, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Thanks for writing. I was wondering if you could explain to me why it is that stealth is always talked about in terms of post transition (social/medical/otherwise) instead of pre/non/”mid + continuing”/”mid + static” transition. I identify as male, but for the most part do not have the privilege of being read as male. I have socially transitioned for the most part (as in I use he/him most of the time and most people in my life know i identify as male) When I have a job and let people assume that I am a lesbian, or when I let a classmate refer to me as she/her without correcting the classmate isn’t that a form of stealth too? I feel like often it is someone like me, who doesn’t “pass” as their identified sex but is sometimes stealth (according to my new definition), who are the biggest policers of people who are stealth as their identified sex. Maybe it’s because for people like myself, being true to oneself and being out means disclosing one’s identity. (me saying, actually… I identify as male) where as those who are stealth don’t really need to declare their identity because they are read as their identified gender and that to them is recognition of their true identity. Thoughts on that?

    • 3 Mym November 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

      Similarly (I think?) I refer to the time before I transitioned as “passing as male”, and for the most part I was stealth about it, only a few friends knew I was trans and simply hadn’t done anything about it yet.

  3. 5 David K November 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    This cis- & bi- man agrees with you 100% (if agrees is the right word.)
    Brilliant piece of writing that could also apply to “closet shaming” – I’m out, but I know that people will assume that I’m straight, unless/until they see me holding my boyfriends hand.

    L,G,B,T or S, you have a right to act as it comes naturally to you to act, a right to privacy, and a right to judge for yourself what you want to disclose about yourself in any given situation.

  4. 6 Jayadam November 18, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Linked from elsewhere (and thus new to your blog!) and I definitely agree that taking this kind of thinking apart shows that very cissexist assumptions are usually at the core of it
    I’ve joked before that not disclosing on command is actually an act of resistance. In fact, I don’t even think it’s a joke. I’m not super “stealth” but I reserve the right to out my trans status to whomever I feel like, whenever I feel like and feel it’s entirely per my own discretion.

  5. 7 ScarUponTheSky November 18, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    “I think any discussion about disclosure versus blending brings up some really interesting questions about what these terms and ideas mean for non-binary people, for whom blending in their gender isn’t really an option because most people don’t know their gender exists. I tried initially to make this post inclusive of that kind of experience,”

    As a non-binary individual I’m struggling to understand what exactly you might be looking for in terms of a non-binary person sharing their thoughts.

    • 8 Stephen November 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      I guess what I mean is: What’s this whole dichotomy of passing/blending like for you? That is to say, since most people aren’t educated about non-binary gender identities, what would it mean for you to be blending?

      • 9 ScarUponTheSky November 18, 2011 at 9:25 pm

        I am in a unique situation whereas I am also a “medically transitioning” person so often times people simply read me as “male” and in the case of me ordering food through a drive-thru or at my university, I don’t much care to get into “advocate-mode.”

        In most of my life, I will “correct” most people and am now at a point where I am tired of people making me feel like I can’t be genderqueer because I’m a “transdude” (even though I don’t identify as such). I prefer the neutral pronoun “ta” but “they, them, their” is acceptable so I tell people such.

        With that out, it has been my recent experience, and the experience of a few other of my non-binary friends, that there’s is no dichotomy for us in regards to people just label us as it makes sense for them. More and more people are learning about or becoming aware of more binary focused transgender issues but as you know non-binary issue still evoke scratching heads. For us (because I don’t want to generalize every non-binary person’s experiences it’s a constant struggle on whether to just blend (which is a much better phrasing that I like :) ) or to disclose and spend a lengthy amount of time educating others.

        Back to my experiences, for me blending is unfortunately what I do now because I am still fully embracing my transqueer identity and have not had opportunities to incorporate clothing and styles that are more of an androgynous nature. This not calling out people’s misgendering at every turn could be construed s a form of blending for non-binary individuals. It sometimes is for me.

        (Did this long reply answer your question in anyway?)

  6. 10 Stephen November 18, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    It does! Thanks. I’ve also never heard the pronoun “ta” used before. I love it.

    Your reply did really illuminate for me what the non-binary experience of the blending/disclosing dichotomy is like. Or at least, your experience of it–again, we don’t want to generalize, like you said.

    • 11 Mym November 19, 2011 at 3:16 am

      One of my friends mentioned it once, I think it’s based in chinese?

      Personally I also prefer neutral pronouns… but I’ll only tell people if I’m asked or otherwise talking about that sort of thing. I don’t correct people to neutral because I don’t have the energy to be constantly having to explain to people what neutral pronouns are and why I prefer them and this and that and ugh.

      • 12 ScarUponTheSky November 19, 2011 at 4:22 am

        Yes, Mym, it is a Chinese gender neutral pronoun. Unfortunately the government has created two distinct gender pronouns now. :( I still use ‘ta’ though. :)

        I love that other people are using it too!

  7. 13 Shekinah Love November 18, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    I feel that in terms of sexual orientation being *out* is important in many ways, because essentially otherwise you are hiding who you are completely in public in a way that doesnt allow you to be yourself in public and be with who you are in a relationship with and doesnt allow much freedom. Being out being gay is about your right to live your life as you see fit…instead of having to hide affections, and tell everyone your date is just your *friend*. Unless of course you are a hermit, and/or asexual. I dont think its the same for gender identity though. Ones medical *gender assignment* at birth is no ones business unless youre in an intimate relationship with them, where disclosure is about your safety (and if you personally feel better by disclosing) If you are blending/passing, then you should be able to live your life as you see fit and be open in public with what your likes are, and how you want to live your life so its different than disclosing as gay.
    If you are a straight trans person you can go out with your date and people will read you as a cis hetero couple and you wont be harassed for it. (hetero privelege) (mostly) If youre gay though, and go out in public with a date, you might be harassed, There are some merits to being out as trans though, in standing up for the community, but its a personal choice. I support gay people in coming out, and personally believe its a necessity for mental health and well being, but I do know that there are certain situations that aren’t ideal for it.

  8. 14 kt November 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    OK. grain of salt here, I am cis and I want to recognize my outside perspective to this issue and I may not fully understand as much as I think I do due to that. but moving on…

    It seems to me that a different sort of clarification of terms might be useful here: the use of the term Trans STATUS. Considering trans as a status, a state of being, I think, contributes to the issues you are writing about. I think it makes much more sense to think of it as just an event/process. My friend who has transitioned is a woman. She doesn’t have to be a ‘TransWoman’ (unless she wants to). She’s a woman. Those that are close to her, may know enough about her past, by having been a part of it, or by her talking about it, to know that earlier in her life, she lived as a man. She determines how close to her you are to happen to have that knowledge. You may be a close enough friend to me to know that I used to be a pianist,* or be familiar with how I dressed in middle school. You may not. I may tell stories about it to everyone I meet, or it could be a closely guarded secret. It doesn’t really matter. The importance placed on trans As A Status, I think may be perpetuating the emphasis on them as Other, and less productive to acceptance. It’s just a fact. It’s not that important, unless it is important to you. And everyone can be as different with their attitude towards that importance as they are to everything else about themselves. When thought about this way, the dichotomy between “blending” and “being out” sorta breaks down. It’s just a variety of what information different people know about you and your past.

    *I do not mean to trivialize transitioning gender by this analogy, but only to emphasize that in the ideal world, it really would just be another aspect of a person, not a big deal (except for the deal that it is to the individual). I also realize we’re NOT in the ideal world, but I tend to think that a lot of times, behaving as if we are, using language as if we are, sometimes helps to push it in that direction.

    • 15 Stephen November 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm

      For me, it’s very important to consider trans a status, because no matter what, I will always be trans, and that makes me no less of a man. But I know that for others that terminology doesn’t work, and I respect that too, just as they respect the words I choose. You make a good point here!

      I actually wrote a post about why I don’t view being trans as an event or a process. It’s here, if you’d like to read it.

      • 16 kt November 19, 2011 at 12:02 am

        That’s an enlightening post too. Thank you. I think the ideas there actually fit well with some of what I was trying to express even if I may have taken a wrong turn with the ‘process’ comment. My main point being that it’s really all just a large variety of information, and people can know, and feel different importance for different information, rather than a black and white dichotomy.

  9. 17 Zanron November 19, 2011 at 1:42 am

    “Stealth” makes me think of high tech aircrafts. “I am Stealth, hear me break the sound barrier. Then me and Bumblebee go out for drinks.”

    There’s no stealth in my future though. That’s what you get for working at a school in a small city, and making rounds in the classrooms going:
    “Hey guys, guess what!”
    “What??”
    “I’m a guy!”
    “…what?”

    Ok, so that’s not exactly how it happened, but it was close-ish. And when you have hundreds of kids (and their parents) who know you’re a guy who used to be a girl … it’s kinda out there. I’d love to have the privacy of not having a lot of random people knowing something I consider to be private, but to do that I’d have to move and I’d rather not. Besides, it’s kinda cool to be able to show kids that trans people do exist, and it’s ok to be one of them. Other than that, I never talk about being trans, I’m not an activist in any way, and my only involvement in any trans communities are forums online.

    Having been on T for over a year, I’m read as male by strangers most of the time, and I look forward to when people no longer have that confused look on their face before they dive in and use the prounoun they *hope* is the right one.

    Anyways, to what was supposed to be the point of this comment (I really shouldn’t write comments after 2am, I get rambly when tired): I really appreciate those who are out and loud and step into the public to spread trans awareness. We need them. I also appreciate that most trans people would rather just live their lives without having to disclose to anyone. Heck I would be one of them if my situation allowed for it. :p And for either group to look down on the other is bullshit.

    tl;dr: I agree with this blog post.

  10. 18 valeriekeefe November 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    I do agree to a large extent, but there’s also got to be some recognition that, if you transition, if you blend, and if you say nothing, ever, if you say, ‘welp, I’m cis now, adios suckers,’ You’re not paying forward the sacrifices that were made to get to the point where transition is as accessible as it is.

    If it wasn’t for men and women who fought like hell during the 80s and 90s, I’d have been turned away for being a lesbian, for not presenting high femme, and about now someone would be looking at the dissolved remains of my liver in a specimen jar. So yeah, I consider it a duty to be a little more than out-if-asked.

    • 19 Life In Neon November 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm

      “You’re not paying forward the sacrifices that were made to get to the point where transition is as accessible as it is.”

      Exactly this.

      And I do take issue with redefining “out” in the way this article does. That’s not being out. “Out” means to unapologetically disclose the aspect of you that others take issue with. If everyone reads a trans man as being cis and he does nothing to indicate otherwise, that’s very much not “out” about being trans.

      • 20 Stephen November 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm

        I see where you guys are coming from, but you have to face the fact that not everyone can deal with disclosing their trans status constantly. Some of us live in communities where that would mean physical danger. Some of us have health issues, mental or physical, that mean we can’t expend spoons that way. (If you don’t know what spoons are, I just linked to an explanation.)

        The ability to be safely open about your trans status with everyone in your life is a privilege–a privilege of having a certain amount of ability, of economic privilege, often of white privilege. Not everyone has that privilege.

        I just don’t see how shaming people who genuinely cannot contend with disclosing is helpful or productive at all.

      • 21 Life In Neon November 21, 2011 at 1:04 am

        No one is required to disclose, and doubly so, no one should be expected to disclose when safety is an issue.

        But claiming “out” status when one is very much NOT out is appropriating a term that has real and definite costs for those who actually are out. There is no shame in not taking that risk, but don’t devalue the sacrifice others make by claiming to be out when one is not.

        The aspect one is out about is about being trans, not about one’s gender identity. It’s the trans part that people characterize as invalidating the gender identity. A trans man has every right to allow others to assume he is cis and quietly go on with his life. After all, that’s the goal of transition for a lot of folks: a life unhindered by all this trans stuff. But make no mistake, he is NOT “out” in the same sense of the word as a gay man being out, or a trans man who is out as trans.

        There is a real risk involved, even for those who you see as being privileged enough to be out. Even if for a particular person that risk never becomes reality, disregarding that risk is crass.

        • 22 Stephen November 21, 2011 at 1:37 am

          I think telling other people that they aren’t out when they experience themselves as out is kind of silly, isn’t it? After all, the closet is a socially constituted thing, it’s not a real empirically defined space. I think understanding blending trans folks as out is a much more progressive, unsettling idea than thinking of them as in some way closeted; it necessitates a real unthinking of how we understand “outness” and trans identity. And I’m all about the unthinking.

          We just see the idea of “out” in different ways, and it’s not really a very interesting question for me–who is or isn’t “out.” Frankly, I think that policing and gatekeeping who’s allowed to be considered “out” and who isn’t is a waste of time.

          Thanks for engaging with the article, even though we don’t agree–no matter what conclusions readers come to, it’s just cool to me that people are thinking hard about my stuff. Have you ever read Epistemology of the Closet by Eve Sedgwick? It really shaped a lot of my thinking about how being out works and what the closet is.

  11. 23 anon November 21, 2011 at 12:21 am

    While I agree with most you said, I’d like to add some thoughts:
    I’m one of the people who aren’t out for the reasons that you describe. I’d like to be out though.
    But from what I hear, most people are not disclosing because they just want it that way. It’s a choice that has to do with the fact that even in a friendly environment, people tend to treat you differently when they know you’re trans (which can be both good and bad). For some, this is fine, and for others it’s just not what they want. Some people suffer when they feel they get invisible by passing physically as cis. Others feel relief, as they always felt male, not trans anyway.
    And then there are those who want to be out just because non disclosure can be a pain sometimes. They want to be able to relax and not worry that someone finds out.
    By suggesting that people choose non-disclosure only out of lack, porverty, ill health etc. you inadvertantly say that non-disclosure can’t be a conscious free choice. Also it feels a bit patronizing to me (as someone from a less priviledged position) to use the “lower class victim” strategy to bolster your argument. Someone in a high class position might be non disclosing for safety or job reasons too. In fact I know two very high class professionals who are non-disclosing.

    • 24 Stephen November 21, 2011 at 1:32 am

      You make a good point. I’m sorry my language wasn’t clear enough–I think it’s also a perfectly valid choice that’s made in the absence of coercive factors like being physically unsafe, etc. I may try to edit the post sometime soon, or I might actually just link to your comment at the top since I wrote it a while back and have a lot on my plate right now. Would you be ok with that?

  12. 25 David November 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

    ScarUponTheSky, I am so grateful that there is someone else out there who is a transdude and genderqueer! Im a fan already! Thanks (ta!)

  13. 26 Queer Radical November 21, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    This is an incredible piece you have written! Thanks for the lucid analysis. I’ve written about this subject for an advice column at http://theprecarious.com/content/gender-stealth-why-transgender-disclosure-not-necessary My answer to this question is a bit saltier than yours, but also to the point. There are few things that irritate me more than the assumption that there is a closet when someone is expressing their gender fully and that disclosure is necessary (because, afterall, what is disclosure really but conforming to the standards of heteropatriarchy?). And the word “stealth” really irks me too. Alas.

  14. 29 Gloria November 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Hi, a bit of a late reply here.

    I’m non-binary (though I’m very new to the whole… thing, so forgive me if I come across as really naive or ignorant) and I thought I’d add some input.

    For me, I live pretty openly as my gender. Even before I would have DARED consider myself “trans” (sadly I was transphobic in the past due to my upbringing) I had given up on basically any semblance of adhering to female gender roles (aside from using women’s restrooms and the fact that I’m legally married to a cis-male).

    However, even though I live my life as non-binary in my own mind, people still read me as female. I’m okay with that because right now there’s nothing I would gain from trying to explain it to anybody unless they asked – and who’s going to ask? So it’s a weird in-between thing. I’m not HIDING my identity at all, but at the same time I don’t see any reason to volunteer that information since it would only be confusing to people. Since, as you mentioned, there’s no way to “blend” as non-binary (as an aside: even if Androgyny were an accepted thing I probably STILL wouldn’t be able to blend because I don’t look like the stereotype and I suspect that I tend to dress in what many would consider to be a very masculine style compared to a lot of other non-binary people) I’m forced to blend as female since my body type is such that I could never be mistaken for anything else (unless maybe it’s dark and I’m wearing exceptionally baggy clothing) and my marital status is such that no one would assume I’m anything but a straight (in reality I’m a/demisexual), cis female.

    This post of yours was actually helpful to me, because it’s sort of helping me deal with the vaguely guilty feeling I’ve been having about not being able to disclose my gender. I’ve gotten a vibe from many sources that there’s an expectation to “come out” or that it’s somehow wrong to let people think of me as a woman when I’m really not.

    Anyway, thanks!

  15. 30 Grey November 28, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Nonbinary here. Usually read as lesbian woman. Which means that when I transition to a relatively androgynous presentation, depending on how I manage, I may possibly go from being read as out-lesbian to being read as cis-het-man. This prospect is at once tempting and completely unappealing.

    For me, both of those readings are blending; they are both incorrect assumptions of who I am that fit me relatively neatly into other people’s norms, and they render me invisible as a target of transphobic harassment.

    Disclosure is not an easy thing, because mostly it’s not understood and/or dismissed as nonexistent. Usually both. I don’t have a clear, open path to disclosure because it’s not as simple as stepping into the sunlight while holding my girlfriend’s hand. What I have in its place is a long and sometimes arduous process of convincing the people to whom it’s important that I am who I say I am.

    Each and every member of the general public is not worth this expenditure of personal effort on my part. Hell, my employers are not native speakers of English, and so far as I can tell do not have a vocabulary for this.

    I also have better and less risky sartorial choices than a signboard that says, “My gender is nonbinary / Yes, that’s a Thing” with a three-paragraph explanation complete with Sources Cited on the back.

    So I’m a little sorry to ride invisibly on the backs of those who have been Gender Warriors all day, all the time, to the better good of us all. On the other hand I can’t see where it’s my fault that androgyny in the US is generally read as a fashion choice rather than a statement of identity. And I don’t have the responsibility or energy to educate every damn person, and I can’t be out without doing so.

  16. 31 Transdad December 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I’m nearly 40, ‘three years old’, and have a bit of internalized stealth shame. Your post was encouraging and I very much enjoyed reading the comments.

    For my entire adult life I was the big out dyke in the room. Sixteen years. Feminist, radical queer activist, revolutionary, righteous, proud. But not happy. As I found my way to where I am now I have lost some of my former life-self on the way.

    There are layers to being undisclosed at work and with new cis friends. I have an unemployed wife and a baby at home and cannot jeopardize my job or my career. If I am to represent publicly I also effect how people see my wife and my kid. I am so afraid of what is going to happen for him when he is old enough to understand, if he chooses to confide in someone… years away, but I worry. New friends we meet outside of the queer community are another issue. If I really get close to these people, how close could our friendship be if they don’t know? Is there an invisible line somewhere in between being mostly myself and being all present with all of who I am?

    I read as queer, which I like, but it seems disingenuous to me as I am not in a relationship with a man at the moment. I could be content with the queer thing and leave it there – I feel more like a quantum spectrum gender and sexuality event anyway.

    To get back to my point – visibility is powerful. It opens minds, gives truth to rumor, humanizes, and normalizes. Seeing trans folk in the media and represented in film/art/music etc… is so rare and every single time my heart beats louder, stronger, more free. I am in the room. And I am ashamed that I cannot take that power up to serve my community because I need to protect my family. I can live with this but I do not think I would be myself, with my understanding of the world, if I did not allow this discomfort in alongside the knowledge that I am doing what is right for me at this moment.

    On a slight tangent – I think visibility is very much tied to economic insecurity. The trans community is often underemployed and under- compensated; though over-educated and extremely resilient, thoughtful, creative and resourceful. I would love to see a study on work/jobs/careers [preferably from a feminist-Marxist/anarcho-syndicalist constructivist perspective (yeah I'm dreaming)] in relation to the transgendered community. Anyone here ever seen one?

  17. 32 Jane Doe December 10, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Trans awareness got me fired from jobs and threatened with brutality. So many people think trans awareness is such a great thing but oh.. the stories I could tell. I am not especially talented, I am unemployed and I have no education. My life is a struggle and it has been all my life. Needing to transition has come with poverty, insecurity, vulnerability and shaming by many individuals in the “trans community” who see transition as more of a political choice or a call to righteousness or “art” maybe, rather than a medical necessity or a means to heal one’s life. I am not an especially intelligent person, not especially resourceful, not especially creative. I just try to get to the next day as an aging sex industry worker. Thank you so much for this article, I feel like I have an ally for the first time in my life.

  18. 34 anon December 10, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    you didn’t make up this term. i wrote an extremely similar piece (coincidence?) a month a half before you published this one. oh well, i guess.

  19. 36 Wes Austin January 21, 2012 at 2:06 am

    As someone who regularly passes as a ‘cis’ man, being out and not living stealth simply means that IF my past comes up in conversation, I own that past as having lived it in a female body and female identified societal role. I do not trumpet my status as trans (unless I’m being asked to speak on that topic) but nor do I re-write my past to appear as if I’ve always lived as male.

    Now, when people are not in a safe situation (or feel as if they are not safe) so as to disclose, holding that against them would simply be reprehensible. What I advocate is for people (both ‘cis’ and trans) to own their own pasts for what they are, theirs and part of their own personal mythos.

  20. 37 G February 15, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I keep my gender affirmation history private because living with gender dysphoria prior to transitioning and going through the affirmation process itself were both deeply traumatic experiences for me.

    I relate to my gender affirmation history as a trauma history.

    I don’t talk about this trauma history publicly because it’s emotionally distressing to do so. I’m a very private person generally, but not sharing this part of my history with most people isn’t just about maintaining my privacy, it’s about preserving my mental health and emotional well-being.

    I don’t like talking about my history even with people who already know that I went through a process of affirming my true gender. It’s not having them know my history that’s distressing, it’s revisiting it in conversation that I can’t handle.

    I guess that’s a safety issue, but it’s not like I’m afraid for my physical safety or social status. It’s more that I’ve got to the point where I’ve done as much as I can to process the trauma I experienced and now the best self care I can give myself is to move on from it and revisit it as little as I possibly can and then only with people I trust absolutely.

    • 38 Stephen February 15, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate hearing about this experience, and while I don’t completely share it (obviously, because of the way I relate to my trans identity) I definitely identify with parts of it. I think in a way I also “relate to my gender affirmation history as a trauma history,” and I think lots of trans folks do.

  21. 39 Invisible Man November 23, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Thank you for this post. A year later, it is still a very relevant and important conversation. I came across it while searching for answers. Can I be authentic without disclosing? Can I still be an advocate for my community? Will everyone think I’m shallow and dishonest or can my identity be valid without disclosing?

    I am a 30-something man who was labeled ‘female’ at birth. I began my transition a few years ago. I am also disabled. Trust me – the intersection of ‘transgender’ and ‘disabled’ can really suck. And because my condition is rare, I’m literally treated like a circus side-show act. I have chosen to be an educator in regards to my condition. Sometimes I really just need to blend.

    Outside of medical situations, I blend very easily. In fact, very few of my current friends know about my past. It feels great in that I’m FINALLY seen as I’ve always seen myself – just another gay guy. The problem occurs when people eventually find out. I lost a very good friend this way – an older gay man who I thought considered me his brother – wouldn’t even talk to me about it. He just walked away.

    So for me, blending is bittersweet. It is about moments – the moments when I’m seen as who I’ve always been – and the moments when it all falls apart and I’m treated like some sort of con artist. I wish I believed that I could disclose my history without consequence, but experience tells me different. My belief is that either way, I will be left feeling the burden of other people’s prejudice.

    It depresses me that to some, my struggle and sacrifice around recognizing who I am and going through a difficult physical transition means nothing since I don’t tell the world about those extremely personal and private struggles. I’ve lost a lot in this process – both while disclosing and while blending – and I believe that I can say that I ‘came out of the closet’.

    I really wish this were a non-issue. People are so obsessed and hung up on genitals – so unwilling to step out of the rigid, archaic prisons that leave so many of us feeling ‘less than’ or ‘abnormal’. What will it take for us to instead search with equal diligence for the exquisite pearl that lies deep within each and every human being? If we gave as much value to compassion and non-violent communication as we give to judgement and division, this world would be unrecognizable. I can dream.

    As it is, I struggle to find reason to keep going. It seems that no matter what, I will be either ‘too trans’ or ‘not trans enough’ in the eyes of many. Disability has had its own effect – leaving me invisible when I most need to be seen and visible when I most need to blend. I’m unbelievably isolated and alone despite working so hard to connect with people. Sometimes I just really wish I could get off the ride and try again. Until then, I hold onto the hope that maybe my life can have meaning even though it opposes what so many feel is ‘worthy’.

    Thank you for exploring this issue and for having compassion for others. You’re clearly a brave, bright, passionate person and I know you’ll change the world.


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