I just watched Jeff Varner outing Zeke Smith as trans on Survivor. My wife and I were both in tears watching it, as I am sure many other people were too. No one has the right to out anyone anywhere, any time – let alone on a TV show watched by millions of people. Jeff Varner just made an enormous change to Zeke Smith’s life, in an attempt not to get voted off. That failed – because the only good thing about the episode was the outraged way that all the other contestants responded. In particular, the host, Jeff Probst, earned my respect by the way he responded. Zeke Smith was incredibly brave about it. Watching this heart-wrenching episode of Survivor made me think very deeply about why I choose to be stealth.
Since transitioning from female to male, I have worked hard on being stealth – that is, I encourage people to think that I have always been identified by others as male. I never disclose my trans status to anyone. Here are my reasons for this, and how I achieve it.
Out and Proud Trans Men
There are some very brave and committed people who choose to affirm publicly and vocally that they are transmen, because they feel that this provides a positive role model for people who are struggling with gender dysphoria and are afraid to do something about it. I admire these men very much, but I am not personally able to do that. I just want to blend. Being publicly trans makes that impossible. Worse still, it tends to obliterate your personality, because people tend to focus on just that trans aspect of you. I want to just be Thomas, not “that trans person.” Or as Zeke Smith put it:
“I’m not ashamed of being trans, but I didn’t want that to be my story.”
I believe that there is no “right” way to identify yourself: it comes down to what you feel comfortable with, what you believe in, and what you are able to achieve. We are all trying to be the best people we can be, but we all have different abilities and limitations. I have to admit that I feel very comfortable when I am with people who have never known me as anything but a man, because I can just blend in and feel “average” and “normal.”
After decades of abuse, I just want to be one of the guys and be left alone
I have lived for decades feeling like a misfit, feeling unable to be “one of the girls” because I just was not one of them. My earliest memories are being cast out by the other kids because they perceived that I was not a real boy OR a real girl. Girls looked at me as if I was a freak on the rare occasions when – out of sheer loneliness – I tried to join their games. More usually, I would try and join the boys in their games.
Sometimes the boys would allow me in, but then often they would go out of their way to “accidentally” hurt me. For example, throw balls directly at me, as hard as they could. I still clearly remember the malicious gleam in my cousin’s eyes as he would do that. And he was two years older and a whole lot stronger, so he really hurt me a lot.
Once a group of boys threw stones at me for trying to join their game. What made it worse was that – after a moment of hesitation – my brother joined them. I had hoped he would help me, but once he joined them, I had no choice but to run away. Such is the hatred so many people have for those who refuse to behave the way gender norms dictate.
Once I was an adult, I was subjected to random verbal and physical assaults from strangers, for being a “bull dyke.” My whole life felt like a war zone. So now, the joy of being able to fit in and just be “one of the guys” is indescribable. Much like Zeke Smith must have felt until the crucial moment when Jeff Varner chose to out him. It’s incredibly relaxing to be able to go anywhere without fear of attack. It’s wonderful to actually be able to fit in with various groups of men, and have them talk to me as an equal – not with resentment, hatred, suspicion or – worst of all – amusement.
It’s impossible for me to be a 100% stealth trans man
Going stealth all of the time is simply not an option for me, because my life will always be full of people who knew me when I was still socially identified as female. For most of those people (maybe all of them), I will always be a transman, not just one of the guys. And for some people, notably my mother, I will always be a woman. By contrast, when I go to work, I feel so very relieved that no one knows me as anything but a man.
Sometimes I think I would just like to move to a different country where no one has ever known me, so that I don’t have to deal with people who persistently think of me as female. But I have a lot of very beloved friends and family who fit into that category, and I would hate to lose them. At the same time, it is terribly undermining and depressing, after all these years of working SO hard on transition, to be at a social gathering and have someone accidentally call me “she.” At such times I just want to walk away from decades of friendships and start all over again.
We are partly defined by other people, but we CAN define ourselves
To some extent other people define us, and to some extent we define ourselves. Deciding to gender transition is a gigantic, confident step that says:
“I choose to define who I am, regardless of how the entire world has defined me for the whole of my life up to now – and regardless of how the world defines me in the future.”
I think that’s a tremendously courageous step to take. Beyond that, how you deal with it and what you call yourself is up to you. Just bear in mind that some people will always see you as female, even if you lose all your hair and grow a ten-inch beard. Depressing, but true. A wise (trans) friend once counseled me not to take offense at this, and to remember that it is just hard for some people to shift their mental picture.
And of course … at any time, someone may out you. For the first few years after transition, that was my greatest fear. I literally had nightmares about it. I guess that is why Zeke Smith’s experience hit me on such a visceral level.
How I manage to pass
I am able to be stealth because I have am lucky enough to have had the material resources (and medical coverage) to create a male chest. I also have been able to be on testosterone (T) long enough to be reasonably hairy, appear male, have a reasonably deep voice, and to have very obvious male-pattern baldness. I have read all I could to help me pass, and followed the tips I got. Hudson’s FTM Resource Guide was very helpful with this – I highly recommend it for all your transman questions!
For a while I was in a kind of gender twilight when I first started transitioning, and that was awful. But nowadays I can pass pretty easily, and I take full advantage of this to be a completely stealth trans man.
Of course, it’s not always a carefree walk in the park! For example, I am very short and have small hands – petite, really. I was short compared to average women, so I am tiny compared to average men. In fact, my height was a big factor that delayed me starting my transition, because I feared I would never be able to pass. It’s gone better than I hoped, but still … because of my height and my hands, I never feel sure that I will not be detected.
I sometimes find myself in situations where I keep my hands under the table, so as not to draw attention to my most obviously non-male characteristic. Or I keep my gloves on long after others have taken theirs off. Of course, a lot of transmen are in this position. It helps to remember that height and hand size varies tremendously even among cis men. And it really helps to go on vacation to Mexico, where I am average height for a man!
Bottom line on being trans and being outed
In short (not to make a pun), I am stealth because it makes my life easier and more comfortable every day. I am not proud of this, but I am certainly NOT ashamed of it.
We all deserve to live life the way we want to, on our own terms.
I choose to be stealth about being trans. I just pray no one ever takes that right away from me, the way Jeff Varner just took that right away from Zeke Smith.
Here is Jeff Probst’s response to Jeff Varner outing Zeke Smith.
More about transitioning
I have written a book about my transitioning experience, called How I Changed my Gender from Female to Male. You can look inside this book and see the table of contents by clicking on the Amazon link below.
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