Stealth

It’s a perfectly ordinary day, and I’m sitting in my 5th grade class. Half of my attention is watching the teacher illustrate on the blackboard how to multiply fractions, the rest of me is watching driving Oregon rain outside the window. The next thing I know the lecture is over, I grab the bathroom pass and head outside through the little corridor that leads to the restroom.

Before I arrive I’m stopped by a man dressed in a suit and wearing dark sunglasses. He says he needs to talk to me privately so I follow him around the corner.

“I’m sorry to bother you in class,” he says, “but we need you for a secret mission.”
“What is it?” I ask.
“We need you to go deep undercover in service for your country. So deep, as a matter of fact, that we’ll need you to become a girl. You’ll lose all contact with your friends and family and never see them again–they will only know that you are working for us.”
It only takes me a second to respond, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

I’m whisked back out of my daydream to reality when I realize that I’m still sitting at my desk and the teacher has just asked me a question. My face turns red and I ask him to repeat the question.

_______________

Stealth is the term that trans people use to describe a state of living where nobody (or only a few people) know of their trans background. For those of us who are early in transition, the idea of being able to live in stealth seems like a dream scenario; to be able to just blend into the gender you feel you are, form relationships as the man or woman you’ve always known yourself to be, and have your trans status not have to be on display for all.

In my childhood fantasies I didn’t realize I was daydreaming about being stealth, but that’s what it was. It’s not really an uncommon daydream either. After spending a few years wishing on stars and birthday cakes the mind turns to more practical solutions to the complex problem. The idea of the government coming to me and asking me to go stealth in service to my country seemed to be the perfect solution at the time. My parents could still be proud, I would still be socially validated through government service, and I’d not have to worry about the impact on family and friends. As I got older and came to fully accept my situation, the daydream changed of course–but being able to just live my life unchallenged as an average woman was a beautiful dream.

I’m now nearly two years into living full time as a female, and can honestly say that in my day to day interactions I’m living stealth. As I go about my day to day life I never get misgendered by people I meet, and even among coworkers I don’t think they know (I came out to one coworker recently who said she had no idea and doesn’t see how anyone else would know). Now that I’m able to experience stealth in at least parts of my life, I’m discovering it’s not like I thought it would be.

For example, one of the friendships that’s formed at work is with a really kind woman that doesn’t know I’m trans. It’s been so nice to be able to have a girlfriend with whom I can go to lunch, or go to a movie and just hang out as girls. It’s the first female friend I’ve had where there’s no trans baggage  in play. It’s been really nice; a lifetime coming, to be honest.

But at the same time I have to admit I feel a little guilty that she doesn’t know I’m trans. It doesn’t help me feel better knowing she’s also a deeply religious person, and that there’s a chance that if she knew I was trans that she wouldn’t be able to be friends with me. So this makes me a little sad and confused. Part of me feels like it’s perfectly acceptable for me to not have to tell her about this, and to not expect that she would reject me if she knew. The other part of me feels like if I’m to have an authentic friendship with someone, I need to be willing to be vulnerable and authentic; at least at some point.

The dream of my childhood is coming true.  I’m having entirely normal and average girl experiences, with ordinary friends, and in many ways experiencing a beautifully simple friendship (and I don’t even have to work for the government). But while my childhood fantasy was a simple solution to a complex problem, being stealth in real life isn’t quite so elegant. With it comes the question in the back of my mind, “if they knew, would they be my friend?”

When I was little I was afraid that people would reject me if they discovered the real me, and now I wonder if they will reject me for the little boy I never wanted to be.

10 thoughts on “Stealth”

  1. Shannon Tucker

    To me, living “stealth” as a trans person is making the conscious and deliberate effort to protect the knowledge of your trans past from anyone but your closest friends who have known you for most of your transition.

    Living as yourself and if no one knows or guesses your past, fine, but if it comes out, also fine. That is not living “stealth.” That is simply living.

  2. Rachel McDermott

    I’m a woman of faith. I know your story. I am /will be your friend. Only thing is I’m in Wisconsin … so not much good for coffee or lunch dates

  3. Fran

    Maddie, you’ve already conquered most of the fear of what people are gonna think — I mean, you have a loving, supportive family and a lot of friends. But this will still pop up from time to time in your travels, and the older you get, the more you’ll embrace “Who cares what others think?”

    I understand the religion aspect of this. All I can offer are two instances from my own experience.

    One of the writers I edited at The Fresno Bee was the religion writer; he’s a longtime born-again but also one of the gentlest souls I’ve ever met. And when I told him about what was going on, he said five words: “Well, you’re my friend, right?”

    The other was my elderly and devoutly Catholic parents. Add to that the fact that I was their oldest boy and had known me nearly half a century as such. That took a little over a year of weirdness, but they’ve been on board the last two years, along with their priest and their friends, mostly from their church circle. I mean, I’m living with them for now as I job-hunt, and I’ve gone out with them on errands, etc., as Frannie 2.0. That’s acceptance.

    The point: If someone truly is a person of God, then that person should, and better, accept you as you are. Give her a shot and see how she reacts. If she’s who she says she is, she’ll love you for it. If not … well, would it have been better to not be authentic? You know the answer already. Just find the right opening to talk about it and let go of your fear. Good luck.

  4. Harold M

    Thank you Madelyn for sharing. It made me stop for a moment to examine my own life. We all, in a sense, feel that question about ourselves. “If any of my friends knew me like I know myself, would they still be my friends?” And that is what true transformation is all about. Living authentically is a hard thing to do yet it is the one thing that all the great spiritual leaders agree upon. Jesus, Buddha, Tao, and others teach that transformation and growth in our lives only happens when we can move towards being more authentic and less egoic (fearful). Thanks for reminding me of that.

  5. judy

    Think, my friends that know about me being trans still love me for me. I am sure your new friends will be the same. Plus the Bible and our religion teaches us about acceptance. You surround yourself with people that are open and open hearted. You are one sweet, caring, loving, smart, funny, fun woman to be around. I have known you for it seems like forever and the only thing that has changed is your gender. You are still the same you only with make-up and long hair (and the obvious girl parts lol) Maddie, as i have said time and time again, i am the luckiest girl to have a friend like you!!! YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Brit

    Thank you so much for you openness here. I, too, experience gender dysphoria and it’s nice to hear your open and frank discussion and realize that I’m not alone.

    And to me, that’s the most tragic part of this life experience is that as wonderful as gender reassignment surgery is, it still is an ill-fitting band-aid and not a cure.

    For me, (and I suspect your experience has been similar), I’ve always wished I were female but never wished to be a trans-female. I don’t want to have to lose loved ones over it. I don’t want to have to ‘hide’ any past or desire. I don’t want to stand out simply for wanting to be female. I want to be who I’d feel I am and I’d like it to be quite unremarkable.

    The ‘cure’ doesn’t exist and never will because you can’t go back and start life over. My dream was that I’d always just wake up one morning and I’d be female and that would be that – no one would notice and it would be normal. I’m a deeply religious person and every prayer I offered that my body would change came with the caveat that it wouldn’t be noticed and could just be normal.

    My only hope comes from my hope that there’s more to life after death and that then all will be made right, that the ‘cure’ exists there.

    Thanks again for your bravery in this blog. It means a lot to be and many others, I suspect. I’m happy to hear that you’re well and I hope that things continue to go well for you, Madelyn!

  7. Sally

    Sometimes having superficial friendships is a relief from the stress of deeper connections. I have had lots of work friends, people I went out to lunch with or grabbed a drink with after work or even had a bbq or whatever on the weekend. We didn’t discuss our sex lives, religion, politics, etc because it isn’t relevant to the casual friendship we had. I think there is a point in every relationship where you either choose to grow closer or you move on. It’s none of her business what is going on medically with you, unless you choose to divulge it. If you decide that it’s important to you that she know then you will have to deal with the potential for rejection at that point. However, I wouldn’t worry about it too much, there is nothing you can do about her reaction and unless you are concerned she will find out some other way and be upset, I wouldn’t tell her. Just enjoy being who you genuinely are and having a ‘normal’ friendship. 🙂

  8. Debra

    Lovely post! I love how you you started it with the daydream and then wrapped it all up just really nicely. Great writing, girl.

    As someone who is stealth in her everyday life as well, I can relate in some ways. I don’t really find myself worrying about telling anyone anymore though. Sure it’s a part of us but it is the past and it’s a very personal, medical thing that shouldn’t hold any bearing on friendships….and yet we both know that some people have issues with it even though they interact with trans people all around them without knowing about it.

    I guess in that respect, coming out to someone who may very well hold a bias, may be a healthy thing to do, not for us but for the community. It does tend to approach people who would otherwise have never gotten to know someone who is/was trans…from the back or from a stealthy position. Suddenly you’re in their world and they like you and when they find out, it may very well change their world view of trans people in general.

    Then again, it could as you say risk the friendship as well. That’s always a risk. And not just that but it also can change how that person will forever see you going forward.

    Good thoughts and frankly there is no right or wrong answer. There is only what you decided you need/desire to do.

    *hugs*!!!

  9. Gysela

    I’ve been thinking about this post for most of the day…trying to find the words that adequately express my emotions. I don’t know that I’ve found them, but I’m choosing to respond anyhow.

    First of all, I very much resonate with this dilemma, and have experienced it many times myself. And, every time I do, I learn something new. I liken it to the ramp-up to a much anticipated holiday, filled with excitement, friends, family, and events, and then once its passed, the let-down sets in. Very rarely have I found that I can see past the momentous events to the after-effects…which is probably a good thing, at least for me.

    What I’ve learned is that whenever I make such a significant change in my life, I always misjudge the people around me. People love me for me, no matter how I present myself. It may take some adjusting for them…which oftentimes requires them to confront their own prejudices, edges of belief, or personal identity, but ultimately, that has nothing to do with me. Their response or reaction is only about them and their journeys. Once I fully grasped the implications of this, it’s made life _so_ much easier.

    The other issue of wanting to be accepted fully is an interesting one. I liken it to being in an intimate relationship. No matter how close you are with another, there are always things you cannot know about another…and yet, we still choose to love. It may be imperfect because the knowledge is imperfect, but it’s love none-the-less. To devalue that is to throw away life.

    The other aspect of this issue is that of wanting…wanting another to think or be a particular way other than they are. I totally get this. I currently am very attracted to a man who I think is my soulmate, and I really want him to see me in the same way. He may eventually, or he may not. The more I want, the more suffering I experience…unnecessarily, I’m finally realizing. A valuable teaching around this issue that I’m starting to really grasp is this: to identify what it is that you have to gain by accomplishing this want. In your case, you have a want for this person to know your sexual identity history (as though this is the most important thing there is to know about you) and still accept you and want you as a friend despite her religious beliefs. What will you gain if you accomplish that? Once you figure that out, go within and find that thread within your Divine Line and meet your need/want there. When you are fully satisfied in meeting that need/want within, your outer world will reflect that to you. It takes the pressure of expectation off the other person, and it takes the pressure of worry and rejection off of you…allowing your relationship to simply be two souls sharing commonalities in joy and love.

    Hugs chica!

  10. Deeanne

    Thank you for a beautifully written post Madelyn. I was really caught up in your story; it reminded me of how Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes” always daydreamed in his classes. We all have fears that we carry around- fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of rejection. Most of the time we keep those feelings at a distance, as we should. And most of the people in our lives don’t need to be held close enough to be part of those struggles. But thank you for your openness and keeping us all close to you! It’s an honor to journey through all of life’s challenges together. You’re not alone!

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