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.