The Myth That Others Counseled Us To Be Totally Stealth

I was there in the early days, aware regarding transsexualism even as it was being discovered by the tabloids.

I was in the system when University research and Medical School training were part of being in “the program”

I saw Dr Benjamin as a patient and he wrote one of my surgery recommendations.

I went to the monthly rap groups at Stanford for a couple of years and co-ran the NTCU.

The doctors and counselors weren’t the ones telling us we should live absolutely stealth and they were not the ones recommending we make up an appropriate childhood.

They didn’t have to.

We weren’t stupid.  While we had gained knowledge of self because of the news and scandal created by people like Christine Jorgensen and April Ashley we could see the impact on both our ability to function in the world. How the notoriety meant that to be out would mean always being a freak.  It meant that “Transsexual” would become our new first name.

We weren’t aware of how many of us there were in those days.  Each of us had grown up thinking we were the only one.  When we discovered there were others like ourselves we found them in the underclass demimonde of the trannie/queen ghettos where the only way of life was that of being a sexual outlaw.

When some of us started living as women our very existence was illegal. As I have said we ironically describe our career choices as performer, hairdresser or sex worker.

All one had to do was look at the tabloid headlines.  Some things never change even today the news digests of Brenda Lana Smith and Stephanie Stevens all too often have the same bigoted nasty language, the pronoun abuse that the head lines have always had.

We weren’t stupid back then, indeed if someone who delayed coming out until middle age were to say to me, “I didn’t want a lifetime of being treated the way the women born transsexual I read about in the tabloids were treated…”  I would see that as a completely valid reason for not transitioning as a young person.

We didn’t need doctors or counselors to tell us that if we wanted a chance at escaping all the bullshit we had been put through as transkids, all the discrimination we had faced as pre-ops,  that stealth was a better option than wearing the label transsexual like a t-shirt slogan.

Andy Warhol said, “In the future everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.”  When there were a few hundred post-ops just the willingness to be out could get one a book contract for putting your face on a ghost written pulp.  By the 1970s when there were a few thousand of us or 15 minutes of fame had been devalued to the point of having a good story might  be worth a writer taking you to dinner.  If you were hot looking and fuckable.

So those of us who wanted to be just women, straight or lesbian looked at the situation and how little outness was worth and said “screw that shit”.  I want something more than working the sex ads.  Even if my dreams are only having a lover, an Ikea furnished place to live and a decent used car.  I want the life I can have if I keep my mouth shut.

Stealth equaled survival.

For many of us stealth was never absolute.  We kept our sister friends,  signed petitions.  Wrote and spoke and realized that those who really made the headlines tended to be the glamorous and the notorious.  Mostly though there were more and more of us and we sort of hit a critical mass where we were no longer one in ten thousand.  We might not be as common as gays and lesbians but it sometimes seems as though we are close.

And yeah we owe a debt of gratitude to those who were in the headlines.  Yet if we chose stealth (and that always tended to be more about controlling information than keeping an absolute secret) we were nonetheless brave enough to live our lives as post-SRS women and by simply doing that help make it easier for those who came after us.

Those who believe the myths without questioning them do us a disservice and dis-empower us by making the assumption that stealth was pushed upon us from above and wasn’t a way of survival we developed on our own.

In fact I sometimes think it is a bit insulting of those of us who were smart enough and crazy brave enough to be the first for people to think we had much of anything pushed on us from above.

Some of us started living as women in preparation for our operations at a time when it was illegal for us to dress in women’s clothes, when we had to teach the doctors about the right dosage of hormones to prescribe, when we couldn’t change our ID until after SRS.

We questioned authority, we gave authority the finger, we didn’t just submit to it.

4 Responses to “The Myth That Others Counseled Us To Be Totally Stealth”

  1. sarahblogging Says:

    > when we had to teach the doctors about the right dosage of hormones to prescribe

    Isn’t exactly better these days. What might have changed is that Drs no think they know best. In Europe Androcur (CPA) is often subscribed. Its not allowed by the APA because of bad sideeffects. But its part of the standard treatment over here. While Progesteron is more ore less standard now in the USA (as far as I can judge from over here) its even demonized by many Drs here. So many of us are still fighting to get good treatment (or use foreign onlinepharmacies and pay for themselves, like I do)

    > We questioned authority, we gave authority the finger, we didn’t just submit to it.

    Some do, like me. But its not the best thing to do. It cost me a lot of lifetime (but that would be a longer story). And now that I’m through I have more freedom to fight for better care for others because I’m not dependend on abusers anymore.

  2. dianakat Says:

    I try not to use the term stealth anymore because it seems to be a hot button, but I completely agree that for 99% of us it is a matter of controlling information rather than absolute secrecy. I have noted in many of your earlier articles you mention that some of us are not as stealth as we think we are, and can be found out with a little detective work.

    Well, I guess that’s true. But most people aren’t going to bother with detective work to determine if someone had a sex change unless they have some pretty specific information to start with. I have found that a little bit of care can give one a high level of assurance that few or none among the new acquaintances in your personal life will likely find out without your telling them.

    But IMO the reason for stealth (or privacy as I now usually call it) is different only in degree rather than kind from what you describe. If someone knows you had a sex change operation right from the start of a relationship, it all too often becomes your prominent feature in their minds. Prospective romantic partners, employers, or even friends, cannot be expected to fully understand at the outset that you are like every other woman (for the most part) rather than some eccentric, randy Lifetime Network protagonist.

    So, we do not tell. So we may not blog about this, at least under our real names. So we make sure everything is changed and records are expunged to the extent practicable. We move. Sometimes we change jobs, etc, etc.

    But there always s a trade off. I don’t believe in throwing away old friends, for example. And I have ended up telling some newer friends that have become very close to me. So far, I have not told dates, and I don’t know what I will do if one of them and I get serious.

    And we get sloppy. Half the time I link my main blog to a post lie this and half the time I don’t. I am not sure which is best. As you suggest, anyone that wants to put in that much effort will find us out anyway.

    It is an interesting life.

  3. Hypatia's Child Says:

    It’s absolutely true. I’m not going to post how to do it on a public blog but anyone who knows how can easily find out all the names any current U.S. citizen ever went by, going back at least 10 years. Online, and without paying a cent except for the electricity.

    The bottom line is, it is impossible to be truly safe in your current identity from someone who wants to out you if you transitioned (came out, whatever) in the last 15 years, unless you went into the Witness Protection Program or were otherwise helped by law enforcement officials.

    Of course, what you say is also true. Many of us will never be found out because no one has a reason to take the trouble to find us out. But that’s the only kind of “stealth” that exists today, unless you had your sex change many, many years ago.

    • Suzan Says:

      At the beginning of the year I re-established a friendship with someone I knew in high school. I was a teenage transkid, an early sixties folkie, artsy, teen queenish sissy. The kids in my class set me up and voted me class representative to the Junior Prom. This girl didn’t like the way kids were picking on me and asked to be my date. She lined up some guys she knew to make sure no one messed with me. then her and some of my other class mate taught me to dance.

      As long ago as I changed my name, she knew because her mother worked in the office at the high school and changed my name on my transcripts.

      I have never fetishized stealth. I’m too political. But we live in a wold of TIA Total Information Awareness and the reality is that if someone wants to know everything about you they can.

      I am considering doing a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to see just exactly how big the file on me is. It probably tapers off after the 1970s but it’s weird how they had spies in vegetarian peace groups even recently.

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