Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stealth / Closeted

Autumn Sandeen recently wrote an article about Mike Penner / Christine Daniels called "The Closet Kills" for PHB. A woman who transitioned quite a long time ago responded to it, and her take on Sandeen's ideas about stealth seemed like exactly the kind of opinion we don't often hear in the larger / activist trans communities. So here it is:
Sandeen writes:

So first of all, there is a difference in trans community in living closeted and living stealth.

Then a couple of paragraphs further down, confuses stealth and closeted:

However, I didn't chose (sic) stealth; I instead chose (sic) to live out of the closet.

This is such a common misconception. It drives me nuts. This stealth = closeted thing.

Here's how I see it. In order to be happy and harmonious and generally get on well in life, you've gotta present to the world at large as how you identify. When I was assigned male and self identified as female, I was fucking miserable.

So then I transitioned, and started presenting as transsexual. I was still fucking miserable, because people still didn't see me as the gender that I saw myself, which is female. For the most part, they still gendered me as male, doing some sort of "act". Often they were really complimentary about my act. "Oh, I would never have known!" (that you were really a bloke). Not terribly helpful.

So then I stopped telling people about my trans past, and allowed them to gender me correctly. Guess what? My identity and presentation are aligned. I'm a happy camper. No act.

So this Autumn Sandeen clearly identifies as trans. She gets to to the point where her self identification and presentation match, and she's happy as an out (in all capitals, apparently) trans woman. Good for her. Only there's a hitch. It appears she identifies all trans women as being just like her, and is somehow disappointed/distressed/off her weetbix because some of us are "living in a closet".

Apparently my life can't ever be fulfilling, because I'm not disclosing.

Now here's how I see stealth and closet.

Closeted is where you hide some aspect of yourself. Something you do. Whether that's fucking with other men or dressing up as a woman on weekends.

Stealth is where you fail to disclose an irrelevant past that would cause people to gender you incorrectly. There's no ambiguity, because you present how you identify.

Totally, totally different things. If you're living stealthily because you identify as female, despite being assigned male as a kid, then you're certainly not living in a closet. You're showing people what you actually are, not what somebody arbitrarily assigned you once.

I have no idea what set Penner/Daniels off. It could be that he was a CDer who got caught up in the pink mist and ended up transitioning and regretting it. It could be that she ID'd as female, but made the mistake of a very public transition, so found that she was never able to reach escape velocity and actually be seen as female. Either way it was a fucking tragedy. Either way he/she was in torment. Obviously.


MerWaif said...

Having read the original article, It seems you're jumping to conclusions. What I took from Sandeen's article was that, by her definition you would be considered stealth, not closeted, and that they are mutually exclusive. The difference being actually taking steps to address the issue.

"Living completely stealth would mean not telling anyone at all of your past history of having one's gender identity not matching the sex assigned to one at birth -- usually assigned at birth by the shape of one's genitalia."

It sounds like your interpreting her line incorrectly. She isn't saying that people who live stealth are in the closet (as opposed to being out). She is saying that she instead choose a different option, that of being out.

It's unbelievably sad about what happened to Christine, but Sandeen also writes that there may have been other forces pushing her to de-transition.

Unknown said...

Fully agree. If Autumn has found happiness in her personal label and her identification as a "third gender" then great; but, many of us as you've pointed out do not identify with the "stereotypical" trans & queer communities, and have simple felt our identities were that of a traditional female (or Male in F2M).

MgS said...

We are all the sum of our past and presents - it would be folly indeed to outright deny our pasts. However, that said, it is not always necessary to disclose them either - we should feel the freedom to choose as the situation merits.

For example, I work in a fairly small industry in my home town - my past is well known as is my present. I make no bones about either; and few people do anything other than respect that choice. Attempting to be stealth would simply erase a part of my past that I carry some pride in.

Yet, there are those in my life who have never seen me as anything other than a woman, and for them I leave it there. If they were to ask, I'd happily answer questions; if they don't ask, I leave it lie.

The luxury is in being honest with ourselves; the freedom is in the choices we allow ourselves to make.

Autumn Sandeen said...

Well, I made distinctions in the article that were specific to the article. I didn't' have terms that fit what I wanted to say, so I defined stealth and closet for the article, and was careful to make sure that the terms were for the article -- stealth and closet mean different things to different members of our community.

In the article I definitely described different gradations of being out to say that not all people are out to broader communities and people, and embraced the idea that stealth functionally works for many transsexual women. Knowing Christine, I would say stealth would have probably worked better for her, or being out in small letters.

What didn't work for her -- and most transsexuals who are at that point of needing to transition -- was not living her gender truth as Christine.

I don't believe all trans people are alike, and anyone who reads me for any length of time knows I embrace a diversity model for people and community. I don't want trans people to embrace my life as what their life should look like; I want people to live their own lives and find their own truths. Recognizing we're not all the same, and embracing the idea that their is a diversity of valid life experiences, is something I strongly believe. I hold the embracing of diversity as a value.

In my article I had this line:

There are many good reasons for transsexuals to live more stealthy existences than I do...

And this paragraph:

To my peers whose gender identities don't match the sex assigned to them at birth, I say this: live stealth, out, Out, or OUT, but strongly consider living out of the closet -- which is in this context is to say "Live your gender truth by matching your gender expression to your gender identity." Living within the closet, as I've defined the closet within this article, doesn't kill everyone who lives in that closet, but it does kill far too many of us.

I'm tired of my peers dying dreadful deaths. Whether those deaths be by their own hands, or be those at the hateful hands of others, I'm tired of watching my peers die before their times.