Thursday, 17 November 2011


From CNLester's twitter feed:

Always makes me smile, reading people arguing about being #stealth - some of us don't have the choice. #antistealth by default.


The arguments CN is referring to mostly revolve around whether or not transpeople, whose "trans" isn't obvious, or is no longer obvious, should live by "stealth" (that is without being "open" about who they are or were). It's primarily a political argument and I understand both sides – the stealth and anti-stealth positions. But I don't intend to write about them here, because I'm not trans in the same way, and it's not my place.

Or is it?

Thinking about stealth as it concerns TVs, as it concerns me: We don't seem to talk about this very much. We're just assumed to be stealth; we assume ourselves to be stealth. Our support groups assume that. All our discussions seem to be on that basis: safe spaces, safe times for cross-dressing, passing, secrecy, stealth. For this, as it were, default stealth, we're sometimes regarded (and disparaged) by other transpeople as part-timers, scuttling timidly in and out of the heteronormative woodwork, because we can. And it's true: anti-stealth transvestites aren't so plentiful. A lot of us are "out" at home, to a certain extent, within certain limits, but not so often in the wider world. And I understand all the reasons for that too.

So what about me?

I'm stealth. Pretty much; yes, I'd say that; I'm ashamed to say that. I'm not exactly part time – one coat, one cloth cap is the sum total of my "male" wardrobe – but I'm not anti-stealth either. Or even particularly "out".

Day to day, my presentation is hardly ever so femme as to cause alarm. In fact it's not very femmey at all. Although all my clothes are off the women's racks, they're not really that different from what I've always worn – jeans, jumpers, t-shirts, trainers. Maybe they don't look quite the same as those off the men's racks, but any apparent femme-iness is largely negated by being an otherwise un-femmey middle-aged man with a number-one shaved head. (And I don't actually mind that. I don't want to pass as a woman anyway, even supposing I still could; I just want to wear women's clothes – femme clothes.) Okay, I do get occasional comments such as: "nice jeans, mate" (sarcastically, having clocked that they're women's jeans); "that's a woman's coat!" (well, yes, so what?); or "do you pluck your eyebrows?" (no one has yet followed that up with "why?"). But there's nothing blatantly femme about my appearance. I don't go round the shops in a skirt and heels.

Similarly, while I think most people who know me know I'm a transvestite, that's not because we've ever had a serious conversation about it. I've not started one; they've not started one. They just know – without us having had to talk about it. I guess they all regard it, tolerantly, as my business (which of course it is) and choose (and probably prefer) to leave things as they are, without it intruding. And that's okay – up to a point.

So that's my life, mostly. Stealth. Stealth drag. Stealth living. Silence. Fear. Silence. Stealth. I said "up to a point", didn't I.

Excuse me while I go and chew the carpet.

Going back to the beginning: I don't think stealth is really getting us TVs anywhere. It certainly isn't getting me anywhere. Perhaps it's time we did talk about stealth.


  1. I think it's a tricky one; stealth. One the one hand, when I do go out dressed up, I don't want to be noticed as trans. Realistically, I know that I'm going to be clocked pretty quickly, but I'm more than happy to be overlooked as background noise and be allowed to get on with my day.

    Perhaps contrary to that, blending in means that Joe Public is less aware that there are trans folk out there. I'm hopeful that as more of us go out and just get on with life, that we'll stop being a curiosity and maybe, for some, no longer a target.

  2. Hi Lynn. Thanks for replying. :)

    On stealth: I think it's both tricky and not tricky at all. Being allowed to get on with my day – yes, indeed; quite so. But I think we probably could be who we are and be allowed to get on with our days, mostly, because I don't think most people really give a shit. The experience of Graham Holmes (see my 24-06-2011 post), for instance, is that this is exactly the case; that we're worrying ourselves about nothing – and more: that our (TVs) overwhelming stealth is damaging both ourselves and our community, in that we've hardly made any progress with our own rights whatsoever. And I think he's right on almost every count.

    Nevertheless, there are two things that still keep me undercover. Firstly, I really don't want any bother where I live, or even the possibility of any bother. I can't deal with confrontation. (That's where fear and cowardice betrays me – and it is mostly cowardice.) But secondly, if there was any bother it wouldn't just affect me, so it can't just be my decision. That's partly an excuse to do nothing, of course; but even so, I find it hard to rationalize my way past it.

    At least I can't do that by myself. I can raise it with friends and family, which I'm going to have to do at some point anyway, because the status quo really isn't working for me anymore. But what I'd really like is for us (TVs) to have the conversation – for us to talk seriously about stealth, and what we might do about it – instead of just going along as we've always done and getting nowhere, by ourselves, alone, unto the end — okay, I'm in a bit of a gloomy mood at the moment. ;)

  3. I'm sorry to have to point this out after Lynn began so well, but once again there's the "passing is good" idea. To quote: "Blending in means that Joe Public is less aware that there are transfolk out there." This is undoubtedly true, but that's not a good enough reason for going stealth. Hell, let's be honest about it - that's not a good reason for anything; indeed, it's exactly what keeps the crossdressing community firmly in the closet, because it implies that if you don't pass, you shouldn't go out.

    Let's say, for argument's sake, that black people in the deep south of the US a century ago became very adept at using cosmetics to whiten their faces and hands - so much so, in fact, that unless you looked really closely, you'd think they were truly white-skinned. Black support organisations thought this was a great idea, because it meant that black people could go out anywhere they wanted - even to a KKK convention, if they wished - without fear of being racially abused, assualted, murdered, and so on. A century later, black people are still routinely disguising themselves as whites to ensure their continued safety. Meanwhile, the world has forgotten what a black person looks like.

    Now, I don't know about you, but I see a fundamental problem with this argument. Black people aren't a curiosity nowadays NOT because no-one's ever seen one, but because everyone knows and accepts that some people have different skin colour. Black people have rights, legal protection, and equality under the law. But they didn't get all this by making themselves invisible while the world moved on around them - black rights were hard-won, with numerous casualties as there are in any battle.

    I hope the parallel with crossdressing is clear. Let me put it to you straight - the western world generally still thinks that crossdressing is perverted, or suspicious at best. Who can blame them, when the medical description of crossdressing is as a fetish, and is categorised alongside paedophilia, necrophilia, sadism and voyeurism. Furthermore, who can blame the public for this misperception, when even our so-called support networks refuse to stand up and counter such offensive lies on behalf of their members? The question, then, is why crossdressers - perhaps the last oppressed minority - still insist in the 21st century that passively disguising themselves as women will win the same sort of equality and rights that blacks, women, the disabled, and gays have had to fight for. Am I to understand that all of the problems and the bad press surrounding crossdressing will somehow just evaporate of its own accord if I disguise myself as a woman? Tell me why you think this.

    Or is it more likely that crossdressers will succeed in "[not] being a curiosity and ... a target" by being seen in public as crossdressers, having a political presence in society that wins and safeguards our rights, and generally showing that we're just regular people?

  4. Stealth is something I've agonised over again and again. On one hand I wonder if stealth is something I should pursue, on the other I wonder if it is something I will have the choice to pursue. I find being gendered correctly in public immensely comforting but in the end I don't know if being gendered correctly means I've 'passed' or simply a result of people being educated.

    In response to Graham I find it hard to believe that crossdressers as a whole think 'disguising themselves as women' will attain any equality, they just don't want the hassle they perceive will come from being out. My life right now is waking up and presenting female but knowing I'm perceived as male and I know now that the hassle isn't always as present or extreme as I once thought and that actually a lot of advocacy work
    seems to have been done in support of crossdressing and alternate gender presentation.

    I'd also draw parallels between homosexuality and crossdressing with regards to stealth. It's perfectly possible to be either without anyone ever knowing by looking at you when you aren't engaged in the commonly associated behaviour of either.

  5. Hello Graham. Nice to see you here :)

    Or is it more likely that crossdressers will succeed in "[not] being a curiosity and ... a target" by being seen in public as crossdressers, having a political presence in society that wins and safeguards our rights, and generally showing that we're just regular people?

    You already know I think you're right ;)


  6. Hi again MG.

    I don't think it's to do so much with stealth and passing at the personal level. As you imply in your parallel, a lot of gay people aren't exactly out – and their reasons for being out or not are their own, in the same way that our personal decisions and circumstances are our own.

    The difference is that there's a culture of coming out in the gay community which isn't there in ours (and by "ours" I mean specifically TV, rather than any other form of trans*). Our agenda is one of assumed stealth; the discussions on passing are about whether you can and how you might – hardly ever about why you should, what you might be passing as, and why you might want to.

    I want us to have these discussions – and the activism and solidarity that might arise from them. I can't see us getting anywhere until we do.

  7. Ahoy there Jonathan!

    I'm very much enjoying this blog of yours. You seem so relativity-minded, humble yet incisive! I appreciate this mindset/demeanor! Also, you said very nice things about my utterly imperfect Feministe article, so I'm full of gratitude that I wanted to express. Thanks. I'll be a-readin'.


  8. Hi Rebecca :)

    Thanks for your kind words about my blog. Of course it always makes me happy when people say they like it. I'm checking ducttapedance just now. Is that the little mermaid I see at the top there? :)

    Yes, I did like your Feministe article – naturally so, since any expression of female desire for male femininity gets my attention at the personal level ;) . My own erotic interest is in the reverse; i.e. female masculinity, or at least gender non-conformity.

    As for me saying nice things – I guess you noticed then that I got into a long argument about it at NSWATM (with someone who couldn't get past the EXTREME STOLIDITY and INTENSE NOTHINGNESS part). Actually the most sensible comment in that thread probably came from Jay Generally ("did she post her number?" etc) towards the bottom.


  9. Ah! Yes, I appreciated that one too. Humor goes a long way, especially when emotions are running high.

    I update ducttape very infrequently... but thanks for the extra hit! Yup, that is the Little Mermaid statue in Denmark, the one that's so eerily featured at the beginning of the 70s anime version of The Little Mermaid.. Oh, how that movie detrimentally informed my sense of traditional "feminine" masochism and martyrdom!

    I always appreciate a personal response (all those comments on NSWATM were very illuminating), as all responses are. The idea of objectivity is a pretty... subjective an idea to me.