Stealth vs Out: The Neverending Dilema

One of the things all transguys have to deal with eventually is how open they want to be about their trans* status.  Unfortunately, most of us don’t start thinking about this until it becomes a problem — whether because we didn’t realise we weren’t out already or because suddenly people we don’t want knowing have found out.  I actually had both problems at the same time which is at least amusing, if also a little frustrating.

The first thing to realise is that there are more options than simply “no one knows, ever” and “everyone in the world knows, from my mom to the mailman.”  We just looked at the spectra for sex, sexuality, gender, and gender expression, look at disclosure as another spectrum.  On the one end you have deep stealth and on the other there’s 100% out.  Some people are on the ends, but most fall somewhere in the middle.  Where you fall can also shift as you transition and figure out your own comfort levels.

I fall closer to the stealth end simply because I hated being the token tranny.  Could not stand it, felt more uncomfortable then than when people considered me a weird little tomboy.  So I tend to not tell anyone.  If I’m likely to try getting in someone’s pants then they get to know, but other than that I avoid the topic entirely.

That said, it wasn’t always like this.  When I first came out I was all gung-ho “yay, trans pride!” and figured I’d be out to all of my friends, regardless of whether they saw me as a girl or a guy when we met.  For a while this worked out simply because early in transition it’s nearly impossible to get the right name and pronouns out of people unless you’re open about things.  Being stealth wasn’t even an option at that point, it was either out myself or deal with people thinking I was a girl.  So I blogged and told people and participated in studies and even was in a few news articles (this was back when transguys were THE hot news topic).

Then I moved.  All of a sudden I didn’t have to be out.  People assumed I had some sort of glandular problem, but they weren’t questioning what was in my pants.  It took me a while to realise this, but once I did I was thrilled.  No more having to explain gender theory, no more awkward questions to avoid, all I had to do was be myself.  Until they started Googling my name.  One person found out and told another person who told another person and it all went to hell.

That was when I realised that I don’t really like being out as trans.  It was a great option when I was starting, but as I grew into myself it started being more and more uncomfortable.  Problem was, it’s ridiculously difficult to take things off the internet.  Eventually I managed to change over all my old blogs and convinced the people who’d found out to keep it to themselves.  That still left all the studies and news articles I was in.  The studies weren’t as big of a deal simply because they all had their own privacy plans in place so even I can barely tell that I’m Patient X.  The news articles on the other hand…well, let’s just say that six months of calls only showed me that reporters are rarely (if ever) willing to change even a word of something that’s already been published.

I lived with just about everyone in my world knowing about my status for a little over a year.  Any time I met someone knew I wondered if I should tell them myself or wait for them to find the articles online.  Most of the time I waited.  About 3/4 of the people I didn’t tell eventually asked me directly after trying to find my Facebook or MySpace or the articles I was starting to write for the local gay press.  There was always a bit of a shift after people found out, I was no longer just another one of the guys.  That irritated me more than anything else, I had been more accepted as just another flamingly gay teen long before I ever even came out!

That was when I found out I’d be moving again.  I had applied for a study abroad programme with no real hope of getting in, but ended up being more qualified than I had expected.  With four months to prepare, I had plenty of time to decide what I wanted to be different.  I knew that I absolutely, 100% did not want to be out unless I was the one telling people.  I still hadn’t fully figured out when to tell, but I knew that I didn’t want them to find out via Google.  The only way I could even begin to do this was to change my name a second time and even that wasn’t a guarantee as name changes are public record.  Still, I didn’t figure people would be interested enough to look through stacks of records in a different country.

So let’s recap.  I came out, figured I’d always be out, was very public about being trans, moved, realised I didn’t have to be out, tried to be somewhat stealth, had people find out via internet, and went through a second name change in order to be given my preferred level of privacy.  It all worked out in the end, but it was kind of a pain in the ass and not how I’d do things if given a second chance.

Which is why I’m always a little concerned when newly out guys start posting things online without any concern for their anonymity.  It’s easy to assume that you’ll always be out, the early days of transition are intense.  There’s an immense pride in discovering yourself, particularly once you find a community of people who understand.  Few of us consider that there may come a time when we don’t want to be out to everyone, something that is exacerbated by the fact that most trans* support groups (both on and offline) are predominantly populated by the newly out/early in transition.  It’s the downside to so many transmen going the exact opposite route and never speaking to other transguys again, but that’s a topic for another day.

3 thoughts on “Stealth vs Out: The Neverending Dilema

  1. Pingback: Stealth vs Out: Decision Making | Not Another Aiden

  2. I’m very early in transition –I haven’t started hormones– but miraculously I pass most of the time. I thought I’d enjoy being out as trans, but I’ve had a couple of bad experiences in which people started messing up their pronouns after finding out. It also makes me feel self-conscious and less confident; I know that my body doesn’t make me any less of a guy, but I also know that it’s easy for others to see the “girl” in me (both in my body and in the ways I move).

    Now, I’m stealth in a couple of social circles, and having that is a relief; it balances the situations where I have to use a female name and pronouns. I’ve always figured that I’d be more comfortable being out in the future, after some time on testosterone; I’d be more confident, and it would be hard for people to see me as female. In any case, since I’d be seen as male pretty much everywhere, it wouldn’t matter so much. But I don’t know how I’ll feel in the future; I guess I’ll go with my feelings.

    Also, I don’t think I’d ever be out EVERYwhere, but it would be nice if my friends knew. Sometimes, when I’m talking with recent acquaintances, I have to refrain from commenting on my female past, and it feels weird. (someone: “my mom used to make me wear dresses” me: “mine too!” “what?!”)

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  3. Pingback: Stealth vs Out: Decision Making | Not Another Aiden

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