As a writer the current debate within the trans community around stealth and passing really interests me. The main bones of contention concern the ability and right for people to live in stealth, and whether they should disclose their trans status to any prospective partner. Now this has definitely ruffled a few feathers and we have not arrived at a consensus yet. Perhaps on this issue we never will. But I just wanted to share a bit of my own perspective and why I think the way I do.
When I think of stealth I think of the cast of Cats. I went to see the touring production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical recently. It begins with a gaggle of cats on stage. The stage is dimly lit and strewn with rubbish and various other oddments. The cats are prancing around alert to any noise and try desperately to evade the gaze of humankind, congratulating themselves as they succeed.
Kinetically speaking, the movement of cats is very quick and light. You may catch a glimpse of them for one minute or so and then you will find them gone.
For some life as a trans woman or a trans man is based upon living by similar norms. They don’t disclose their trans status to anybody and live in stealth. The brouhaha around disclosure for stealth trans people has been reignited in recent weeks thanks to legal developments. I won’t cover analysis of those legal developments here as they have been well covered by others. I will post some must reads at the end of this entry though..
But for me I find the notion of stealth quite peculiar. This is in no small part due to my disability. Somebody once remarked to me that many people like me grow up thinking they are public property. Honey stealth isn’t even an option for me. There are times when I would love to hide from the telescope that is society but I can’t.
Being blunt about it I require a lot of physical help to go about my day and require 24-hour care. So any developments in my life are not only known to myself but also to my carer and other involved third parties.
People have seen my body thousands of times and let me tell you, it’s hardly Boudicca. The body is a temple trope goes out the window. It becomes an object for people to do things to. The person is a body, a damaged deformed body. Whilst many do find love happiness and fulfilment, disability does make it harder to love your body, because it would give anything to have one which moved properly, or looked aesthetically pleasing.
Nothing can ever either be done in peace. For me I require assistance to carry out many basic tasks.
My transition itself was also a very public one. I lived in a care home at the time. But the staff team at the care home were trained around issues of sex and gender dysphoria and my name change and timescales were publicly agreed. I could never take ownership of my transition in the same way a person living in stealth could, and indeed does.
It was something to be talked about gossiped about and disseminated amongst as many people as possible. They made the most of the exclusive story. Don’t get me wrong – I knew what I was getting into but that doesn’t make it easier. It just means you have to develop a thicker skin.
Often in trans circles people trade on their bodies and their photographs on social networks to gain validation in their female role. Understandable perhaps in a world that is obsessed over visuals and aesthetic. However deformed body is not the typical representation of sex appeal.
This is not though a ‘woe-is-me’ type reflection. But stealth has never been an option for me. Nor have I had time to worry about passing. Because I am stuck with my body for the rest of my life and I have to make the best of it. I understand why people may want to live in stealth, but for some of us this is not a choice we can ever make
I read a Tweet the other day from someone bemoaning the loss of male privilege, saying they used to be considered handsome. I was always, and still am “sweet” or “cute”. A classic patronising construction of the disabled child. The thing is though such constructions are based on a very narrow sample frame, if you like. As my counsellor once remarked wryly “there are no disabled pin ups are there Hannah?”
She’s right there aren’t. And it would be easy to give up. But I don’t want to. Do you know why? Because other women don’t give up other women stand strong and I must stand strong with them in solidarity. In some ways with transition I feel as though I have nothing to gain from my birth sex identity and nothing to lose either. Disability pretty much ransacked any male privilege I could have had at birth so it is not something I’ve ever known. Perhaps this helps me to approach myself in a blank way allowing myself the reflexivity to just be without any preconceived ideas. I’m not a stereotype and I don’t pander to them. I’m just me. I like the same things as I’ve always liked – my writing, my keyboard and my musicals. I dislike the same things as always disliked. Namely, they are football, ignorance and prejudice.
You can’t be at all stealth like if you have a disability. You can’t hide a bloody thing. When I was going through some particularly intense times and intense counselling sessions back in the care home I cut myself with a razor blade. Something in me just was about to explode and I couldn’t take it any more. Cutting then was a release, and I couldn’t even do that in peace. You can’t be emotional or vulnerable in peace either. Being disabled means you forfeit any of these rights, even though people around you are as respectful of your choices as they can be. But in my case the physical disability means I’m dependent on somebody else.
There are times when this stealth thing sounds quite seductive and appealing. I think the reason why I feel a bit disconnected from the debates around stealth the moment, is because it is something I have never and will never be able to practice in my daily life.
I’m just concentrating on surviving, living life to the full, and being the best me that I know how to be. Such debates to me are beamed from an island of remote privilege which I shall never be able to contemplate visiting. People have always stared ever since I was born.
I’ve come to the conclusion that if there is a spare space in the Louvre you may as well hang me right there is an exhibit and pay me for my services as the newest painting. Stealth could never happen for me. Just something to think about. Honesty is the alternative. But for me it’s a good thing.