Living in Stealth – Defined as:
- Living and passing in society in the opposite gender role and with no knowledge of such by friends, coworkers, associates, etc.
- Highly closeted, giving no hint of being transgender(ed) to friends, spouse, etc.
- Any of several variants of the above.
- When a trans person chooses not to disclose their trans status to others. This can be done for numerous reasons including safety, or simply because the trans person doesn’t feel other people have the right to know. (This last definition is taken from You know you’re trans* when… )
The (now defunct) source, GeekBabe, mentions the term is “somewhat overloaded.” Dictionary.com in term defines “Overloaded” as:
“Most of all, I hate the constant worry about what will happen if and when someone finds out that I am trans.”
Hali is another blogger I follow – a gay chaplain ministering to geriatrics, very few openly gay and out. In a post Hali writes:
“These brave souls (geriatrics) who told me their stories of fear and shame and adversity, of pain and anguish, also shared their deep wells of sadness. When it has been right to tell them I was gay too, I have found them looking back at me with shadowed eyes brimming with imagining, longing, wonder and no small amount of envy.”
The photographer, Jill Peters’, photos of Men by choice, were published on a few web sites, but I found them on Slate.com. Wikipedia has an article on these “Sworn Virgins” or burrneshas. These northern Albanian women take a vow of chastity and live as men in their patriarchal society. It is claimed that the practice still exists, or has existed, in other parts of the western Balkans.
In our own South African history, there is a fascinating character who lived as Dr James Barry (1795-1865) and who was an Inspector-General in the British Army – female assigned at birth, living stealth as a man. It is not documented what exactly motivated Dr Barry’s decision.
Billy Tipton (born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in 1914), an American jazz pianist and saxophonist, began her career as a musician in 1933 and began to associate with her father’s name Billy, presenting herself as male by breast-binding and packing.
There are other women living as men examples listed on Listverse, most of them females not identifying as another gender, but having a motive to dress and act like a man. Brita Nilsdotter apparently participated in the Russo-Swedish war (1788 – 1790) to look for her husband.
Huffingtonpost has some more examples.
Whatever the reason – whether the person identifies as gay, but chooses to live in the closet, or in order to practice a profession, take part in sports, or have rights in a Patriarchal society – living stealth can be soul-destroying for many trans* people.
Dallas Denny writes:
“Passing and stealth are not the same. When one passes, one is assumed to be have been a member of the gender of presentation since birth. That of course, is not the case. We may pass casually, while putting gasoline in our vehicles, say, or long-term, as say, a library patron, or at work. Passing becomes stealth when we deny our transness. If confronted and we say “Oh, yes, I assumed you knew,” we’re out. When we say, “Of course not, and I can’t believe you asked,” we’re in stealth. Stealth requires an active denial of our past–of much of who we are and all of who we were.”
I’ve been pondering the question. “Where do I fit in?” I was assigned female at birth (AFAB), pass as and look like a butch, gay woman, identifies as a trans man who had top surgery, but have chosen not to disclose it actively.
Am I harming the transgender cause by living in the woodwork? Probably. As Hali writes:
“It is not unlike the way I sometimes look at young people coming out today, through my own covetous gaze and wondering heart. I find myself asking the same question that those older asked me, “Do you have any idea how easy you have it, how hard we fought for what you now take for granted?””
People have died to be accepted for who they were and for the rights of others to live openly, safely and freely wherever they feel comfortable on the gender spectrum. What right do I now have to choose to transition without disclosure?
But doesn’t freedom lie in the right to choose? To ultimately choose and live the life that feels right for me? To be cognizant of the frail emotional state of my partner and, let’s face it, myself? Am I a worm and not a man?
I’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on this?