“Going stealth”, or the art of concealing one’s transgender status to others, can be a valuable tool in improving health and wellbeing. Going stealth can shield trans people from hate crime and discrimination, and protect them from gossip or bullying. In my anecdotal experience, “stealth” trans people earn more money than “out” trans people, and have more financial opportunities.
It is not possible for every trans person to be stealth. Trans people who do not pass as cisgender, or who do not have access to a legal name and gender change, cannot be stealth. Stealth requires not only the ability to “pass” as cis, and access to legal name change documents, but it also requires conforming to certain behaviors as to not draw too much attention and to avoid getting outed. In my experience, going stealth involves taking precautions that most people don’t ever have to think about. Going stealth can feel like being in the witness protection program, but for some people, it is the safest lifestyle choice.
Benefits of Going Stealth
If a trans person is “stealth”, they are less likely to encounter transphobic comments, less likely to encounter random violence, less likely to experience false accusations of drug possession, prostitution or sexual perversion, less likely to experience stalking, less likely to be murdered, less likely to be the victim of crime or violent behavior in general.
Although the LGBT community can often be hostile to trans people, some trans people nevertheless rely on social support systems within the LGBT community that they may not have access to if they were to conceal their transgender status. Sacrificing the safety of community support for the safety of blending in can be a worthwhile option for some, but not for others.
Trans male erasure is something which often impacts a trans man’s choice to be stealth, as erasure can create feelings of alienation from both the “queer” world and the “straight” world. A trans man may face the same social isolation and lack of material resources which attend to his specific problems regardless of whether or not he is stealth. Some trans men find that once they have reached a certain point in their transition, it is more advantageous to blend in with the straight world and reap the potential benefits of “passing” than to affiliate with the LGBT community.
Risks of Going Stealth
Out trans people have the ability to navigate LGBT spaces without worrying about getting “clocked” or noticed as a trans person. Most importantly, out trans people don’t have to do work to conceal a their trans status, or worry that their trans status may one day be revealed.
The risks of being outed are different for trans women than they are for trans men. Some straight men (both cis and trans) feel sexually possessive of random women they see in life, even women they do not know or have never been intimate with. Straight cis men often are raised to defend their heterosexuality, and to believe that being labeled as “gay” is a fate worse than death.
If a straight cis man realizes that the female coworker he has been eyeing for months was quote unquote “born a man”, he may react violently in order to prove his heterosexuality to himself or to other straight men. Some trans women may feel a pressure to announce their trans status wherever they go in order to avoid this kind of backlash, which, unfortunately, can open them up to yet more violence. This is a lose-lose situation that many trans men do not experience, as women are surveyed by the public more often than men are, and their appearance is more likely to be scrutinized.
Stealth trans people often experience feelings of isolation from their own communities, as well as feelings of survivor’s guilt. Being stealth is a personal choice, and no one is obligated to “fight” for the trans community by making themselves visible if they do not choose to do so.
I have developed these five (5) tips to help transitioning people reliably conceal their trans status. I’m not going to sugar coat anything, and I am going to be blunt. I am not going to lie to you about the dangers I’ve seen and been through, or the dangers I’ve observed others live through. At the same time, understand that these tips are based on my personal experiences and are not rules that have been written in stone.
I am not infallible, I am just a transgender person attempting to pass on information in writing that I have learned from word of mouth. With that in mind, consider these five tips carefully, and measure them against your own experience.
Five Tips for Going Stealth
1) Have a sterilized online presence
Begin by removing old photos from the Internet (if applicable and if possible), and by deleting old online accounts. If necessary, create new social media accounts with updated images and information. Do not document your transition or post before/after photos, do not engage in transgender online groups. Do not join any transgender groups or chats, whether under a legal name or a pseudonym. Do not create “dummy” or “sock” accounts to discuss transgender issues. Do not use gay apps to meet people, as these count as social media.
No information on LGBT topics should be on a stealth person’s social media feed. Social media feeds should contain neutral images such as cute animals or sports. Vacation photos, family photos, and basic information which pertains to school, work, or family, are examples of riskier but still permissible content. Do not post or re-post political content, memes, jokes, or comments. Do not make offensive jokes, or criticize any movie, book or video game. Do not make up fictional stories, roleplay, or engage in fandom communities.
Do not have conversations in direct messages. Do not have online friendships or business relationships with people online. Do not participate in group chats or forums. Do not blog or microblog.
Some video sharing or blogging platforms will require a user to create an account in order to view content. Dummy accounts should be used for this purpose, not for making comments, disclosing information, or adding content. Social media should be used minimally if at all. It is also a good idea, but not always necessary, to have protected or locked accounts that can only be seen by “friends”, all of whom are in-person friends as well.
Why? Online arguments can get very heated. People can end up getting doxed (having their location and legal name revealed for the purposes of harassment and stalking) for having the wrong opinion about a video game. For transgender people, drawing the ire of an online mob can be dangerous. If a user makes posts about being transgender, this can draw the attention of TERFs or other transphobes. Do not mention being transgender on social media, even under a psyudonym, and do not get involved in online fandom or other similar communities even if transgender topics are never discussed there. Keep social media feeds simple, boring, and inoffensive.
2) Be self-employed
Starting a small business, freelancing, or being self employed are great ways to avoid an employee background check. In the United States, most courts will require a transgender person to have both old and new names be published in a local newspaper at the time of a legal name change. Because of this requirement, it is possible for a transgender person’s status to be discovered by employers.
Consider specializing in a trade which will allow for self employment and where background checks are usually not necessary. A dog groomer doesn’t get background checked by every single one of his clients, for example. The ideal career for a stealth trans person is one where he, she or they can work independently without becoming famous or well known, and without needing a background check. Becoming an artist, an actor, or a writer is risky for trans people, see my above comments on fandom communities.
Trans people who become famous for inventing something special, for doing something important, for being an activist, for being a hero, or for being a martyr, are at risk of having their trans status revealed during life or after death. Trans people who become infamous for having controversial political or personal opinions, creating offensive comedy or art, for belonging to an unpopular religion, for committing a crime, for being accused of a crime, or for being a witness to a crime, are at risk of having their trans status revealed during life or after death. A trans person who aims to be stealth forever will live a simple and unremarkable lifestyle.
3) Choose romantic partners carefully and do not engage in casual sex
Do not “date” or “hook up” with strangers, friends, or acquaintances without understanding the risks. Hooking up, for pre-operative trans people at least, means disclosing trans status to at least one person, which risks that person revealing the information to others. Because even married partners of trans people might “out” their spouse due to romantic scorn, sexual partners should be selected delicately. Sexual restraint and the ability to self-pleasure can be valuable. Celibacy, or abstinence-until-marriage, can be used as a safety precaution as well.
4) Do not publicly affiliate yourself with anything LGBT
During public debates or discussions about gay or transgender people, try to stay out of the conversation. Don’t look nervous, don’t get angry, don’t have an opinion, just try to stay out of the conversation completely, especially at school or work. Do not share articles about LGBT topics, or invite any speculation about gender or sexual orientation. This also means not being involved in public activism, or being seen at gay venues, clubs, coffee shops, bookstores or bars. Affiliating with the LGBT community, and inviting speculation about gender or sexual orientation, is a risk for being outed as trans.
I also caution against wearing flags or pins, using pride flag bumper stickers, or dressing in a manner associated with LGBT subcultures, as these can also invite speculation in regards to gender and orientation. Other LGBT people are more likely to be able to differentiate transgender person from a person who is not trans, and there is no guarantee that they will keep their observations to themselves.
“Public affiliation with LGBT” includes census forms, surveys, or any other official or non official document. Do not check “LGBT” or “trans” on any official or non official form unless absolutely necessary. Operate in the world as a cis person would, while taking special care not to draw too much attention.
Some stealth trans people conceal their status even to doctors, and will see a specialist in transgender issues in order to procure medications or treatment for a transgender-specific issue. This is partially for safety reasons — if out as trans, a medical provider may give a transgender patient incorrect dosages because they are treating the patient as their assigned sex, they may blame cross sex hormones for an illness or symptom of illness instead of doing further tests, or they may ignore the patient’s complaints of sickness or pain — and partly just to avoid being outed or gossiped about. On the other hand, some trans people may genuinely have a transgender-specific issue or a unique anatomy which requires medical disclosure. Understand both the risks and benefits of being stealth to doctors.
It is not uncommon for confidential support groups for “stealth” trans people to exist. These can be a valuable resource for those those trans people who choose not to disclose and want to avoid getting outed. If being stealth is stressful, exploring a confidential support group is an option to help alleviate the such stress.
5) Conceal scars and medications
When friends are invited over to stay, sometimes they can’t help but root through their host’s medicine cabinet. Make sure prescription hormones, needles, and other medicines-related items are well concealed in the home.
Scars can be minimized with vitamin e or retinol cream. During the first year of surgery, do not expose scars to sunlight. If scars from surgery are still noticeable, cover them when at the pool or beach. If scars are on areas which are traditionally uncovered, such as on the arms, as is the case for some forms of phalloplasty, wear long sleeves or pants.
Remember that the world is very prejudiced against the trans community. The choice to be stealth or to conceal a transgender identity is a personal one. Don’t let anyone pressure you into choosing to go stealth, or pressure you into being “out.” Being “stealth” and being “out” are both difficult, and each option has their own risks and benefits.
I, obviously, am not stealth, and as such my advice may be missing a perspective that can only be gleaned from someone currently in deep stealth. As trans people in deep stealth usually do not write on trans issues, their advice can only be relayed through writers like me, who have absorbed their advice through word of mouth. Keep in mind that these are only “tips”, and following the advice outlined in here is not the only way to be stealth. If you find this outline to be incomplete, consider joining a support group for stealth trans people if one exists in your area. The connections you form at a support group may help prevent feelings the of social isolation many stealth trans people experience.
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