Tangled Web

Deceptions of a transgender guy

Woodworm boring into wood

Living in the woodwork


Living in Stealth – Defined as:

  1. Living and passing in society in the opposite gender role and with no knowledge of such by friends, coworkers, associates, etc.
  2. Highly closeted, giving no hint of being transgender(ed) to friends, spouse, etc.
  3. Any of several variants of the above.
  4. 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:

  • to load to excess;
  • overburden.

So, if you do a bit of tweaking, Living in Stealth translates to Living Overburdened, which by anyone’s definition, is a hell of a lot to expect of anybody.

The burden of the responsible man

The burden of the responsible man. James Christensen.

I’ve been reading everydaytrans‘ post titled Turning point and the stress he experiences by living stealth in a village in Alaska.

“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.

Dr James Barry

Dr James Barry

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.

Albert Cashier

Albert Cashier

Albert D. J. Cashier (1843–1915), served as a male soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was born Jennie Irene Hodgers.

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?

Be who you are

Jennifer Carr’s children’s book “Be Who You Are” (Author House, Bloomington, IN, 2010), describes the challenges of a gender variant child, “Nick” as he transforms into “Hope”. Sure wish I had books like these when I was a child…



Author: Kris

Hi! I'm Kris. I live in South Africa with my life partner of 27+ years, whom I call B or Madam in my posts. We have a Pug dog child, Remi, also known as Pooch, who has graced and enriched our lives for the past 12 years.

12 thoughts on “Living in the woodwork

  1. The most important thing is to be yourself, express it in any way that is comfortable for you! Back east I lived fairly stealthy, had to! In those days I’da been killed for sure! It was bad enough they thought I was butch…..assumed I was at least a lesbian…..live was hell in the ’70s. Man, go with what YOU fell best doing! The movement is not on your shoulders….living your life is. By writing about your feelings, you’re doing your part.


  2. This is such an individual thing. Not everyone is always obligated to be a trail-blazer, ot a role model, all of the time. Outness is so complicated. Yes, it is liberating, but yes, it can be dangerous.
    Just being out and about in the world as yourself is shaking the tree a bit. Your own personal business is your own business, and it is up to you to choose when to share it.


  3. In 34 states, (I believe that’s the number), it is still legal for an employer to fire you being transgender. In 29 states, it is legal to be fired for being gay. With that in mind, I would not fault anyone for being stealth. It’s still legal to discriminate against us, and until that isn’t the case, there will always be times that stealth isn’t just a convenience, but a necessity. I am fortunate enough to work in a field where being queer/trans is okay – my state doesn’t offer protections, but my employer does have an ENDA. But so many of us are not guaranteed those protections. I don’t like stealth, but I understand the need for it, at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the law often forces us to not live openly the way we would want or need to and in other cases, like here in South Africa, provides protection. But nothing protects us from our biggest threat – the human mind. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It is hard to come out when you don’t know exactly where you are and where you want to go. The biggest hurdle is accepting being transgender, and then letting yourself express it – which does look a lot like a butch lesbian unless you take testosterone. That is OK.

    I’ve gone very slowly – my therapist, my partner, some close friends, my legal name change and letting people know at work that I changed my name, an interruption in a conversation to correct someone who said something transphobic, etc.

    The biggest problem I’ve had to date is saying that I am transgender to other people who have fully(?) transitioned. I still don’t feel “trans enough” to do it without some kind of apology, that they will view me as some half-assed butch who is too uptight to take the plunge.


    • I guess butch lesbian it is – for now. My partner is understanding and accepting, but needs time to digest changes, like my “manning up” with regards to clothing. I understand and appreciate her feelings, it has taken both of us many many years to get this far.


  5. That ugly path that staggers between safe and stifling, and dangerous and free, is determined by, as you said, the choices we make, for a lifetime, a year, a week, even a single day, and most assuredly moment to moment.

    And there are degrees of disclosure, you’re certainly ‘out’ on this blog. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Widder. Yes, feeling the need to be out in some way to accepting people, contributed a lot to my starting this blog. Thank you for being one of those people. Take care.


  6. Kris – you are soooo not a worm. Given your age, life circumstances and choice – you have every right to stay stealth. And I believe trans is today where gays and lesbians were 30 years ago. There is still a huge burden to bear to move society into the acceptance that the glb community has. And, from my perspective being an openly gay butch, you do your part of pushing the boundaries of cultural norms. So no not a worm but doing your part as you can to support human evolution.

    Liked by 1 person