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.