The Lure of Stealth

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At first glance, the stealth lifestyle is enticing.  Trying to date as a post-op transgender woman has frustrated me, and being seen simply as a woman has a powerful allure.

Stealth, as I’m defining it, is a life where no one knows I’ve transitioned or those few who do are committed to keeping that secret.

It would change dating. I wouldn’t have “transgender” on my dating profile, so cisgender straight men and lesbian women would see me romantically as a full-fledged member of my gender. I’d have the same chance as any other woman of my age and attractiveness, without the extra burden of being seen as not completely female. I wouldn’t face the often insurmountable obstacle of convincing people I’ve never met that I’d make as good a girlfriend as a cisgender woman.

I’ve only met a few stealth women, always in confidential support settings where they felt safe disclosing their history. I’ve also read a number of accounts in the forums on this site, and often hear a nagging fear that their past would be revealed. One woman was out to her fiance but not his family, who likely wouldn’t have been accepting. She worried that if one of her relatives spilled the beans during the wedding, it would have negative repercussions for her husband-to-be. Another had been married for years to a man who didn’t know. What would that be like? Isolation after cutting all pre-transition social and family ties. Teeth-gritting anxiety after swearing to secrecy everyone who knows and then crossing fingers that they all attach the same importance to their silence as she does.  Imagining what smouldering embers of her marriage would remain if her husband ever found out.

I majored in math in college, so I know that the probability of keeping a secret decreases exponentially with the number of people who know it. If every person who knows you are trans has a 90% chance of keeping mum (a generous number, given human fallibility and  the way tongues generally wag) your chance of it remaining secret drops to around 80% when two people know,  and down to about 60% when five people know. When just ten people know, your odds fall to barely 1 out of 3.

And once the cat is out of the bag, there’s no way that furry feline is going back in.

Could I do it? With enough surgeries, I’m sure only an expert could tell my history. If I moved to a distant town and broke off contact with my family, no one in my new life would know who I used to be.

Then what? I’d need entirely new friends. I’d be alone in a strange place with zero social supports. My career, which depends on reputation, experience,and verifiable credentials, would be over. I’d need to start again on the entry level in some new field. And suppose I were to meet someone. Someone unaware of my history. Someone who got to know Suzi the person instead of rejecting Suzi the transgender woman. Suppose we ultimately formed a romantic connection. Would they start wondering why I don’t seem to have any family? Why I have no friends where I used to live? Would they press me for information about Before? Would they want to talk about my childhood, forcing a choice between lying, refusing to open up,  or somehow scrubbing all references to my gender?

How long before something gives me away? Would I feel obligated to make a contingency plan, composing a carefully worded coming out to my spouse in case the beans spill? Would I puzzle over which exact combination of nouns, verbs, and adjectives would bring about enough understanding to keep my partner from departing in fury over a gargantuan betrayal of trust? Such a departure would be justified. Maybe I don’t owe someone my gender history when I first hand them my phone number, or during that initial phone call. Maybe not even on those first few dates. One even could argue that an invitation to my bedchamber need not include an accounting of all my medications and past surgeries, as surely I wouldn’t expect anyone else to inform me of all theirs.

But sometime during the process of becoming someone’s soulmate, their one and only, their caretaker, confidante, and life partner, surely I owe them the window into my soul that only comes from understanding my history. I couldn’t blame them for leaving me after such a disclosure, or at the very least requiring the tower of trust between us to be rebuilt completely from the ground up.

I admire people who can live with that hanging over their heads. It’s a perfectly legitimate way to live, albeit anxiety provoking. But they’re made of sterner stuff than I.

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About Author

Suzi Chase writes about transgender issues through both fiction and non-fiction. She has had careers in teaching and software engineering and has raised two children.

5 Comments

  1. There can be a happy medium with limited disclosure. Not everyone is comfortable with being out and proud. But I really just don’t tell anyone. If people know, they know. Those who do tend to keep their mouths shut. I don’t really think one size fits all.

  2. I think I am stern enough to be stealth because I never had much of a social life to begin with. So I already have a head start, so to speak, in the art of stealth. 🙂

  3. Excellent points Suzi. I agree that your life partner/soulmate should have full disclosure of who you were. IMO If a person has transitioned they are that gender and should be judged as any cis person would be as a potential dating partner. Their partner should know when things get serious though, and I agree with all the points you raised about that. Stealth mode of your birth gender seems ideal almost Utopian at 1st, but the devil is in the details.

    I found early on in life that living a lie is difficult at best. People who have transitioned have embraced the truth about who they really are.. I think it would be a major mind trip to then go off and live life with secrets and/or lies over your head.

  4. I’ve not transitioned but I’m taking steps toward it and have thought about this very problem. My goal is to be as obviously female as I can but I will not live my life in stealth with anyone. I’ve lived too long ashamed of my true nature, in stealth, living a lie that weighed too heavily on me. Yes, that may hurt future friend and partner relationships but if so I feel it’s better for me and them to have all of the cards on the table early on. That said I have no intention of wearing a pink “T” on my blouse or forehead.

  5. I’m in the same boat with Phoenix above. Having been a hermit for many years, when I’ve fully transitioned I’ll simply be a hermit nun. I doubt I’ll dress or even look a great deal different. My goal is less to look like a woman than to be one, in my own eyes. Peace.

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