Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects in the MTF transgender community is the concept of “passing,” that is hewing to women’s gender stereotypes so convincingly that one is taken at face value as a cisgender woman. While it is doubtlessly gratifying for the woman in question and often the realization of a life-long dream, it has given rise to “stealth” and “woodworking,” the complete sublimation of their trans identity, successfully presenting themselves as cisgender women to friends, sexual partners, and eventually, even to their husbands.
While perhaps a personal triumph, living a life in stealth mode is in fact a life lived in fear, forever worrying that you’ll be discovered. Ironically the more successful you are in passing as a genetic female, the higher the stakes become should you be found out. While a not particularly passable trans woman might face discrimination and rejection, at least she knows where she stands in her interpersonal relationships. If someone rejects her, at least it’s on her own terms whereas the girl who passes and fades into the woodwork as a cisgender female finds herself facing an ever-increasing deception penalty should she be found out. More importantly, for the practitioner of stealth, she is, by definition, implicitly admitting that she is “less than” a natural-born female, which isn’t doing her psyche any favors, and it’s doing a disservice for the larger trans community.
Stealth, unless it is done for genuine safety and security reasons, deprives the trans community of role models who can show the community that trans women are more than the ugly stereotype of a “man in a dress,” and it is through the efforts of positive role models like Janet Mock who came out as transexual, that the trans community gained an eloquent spokeswoman for the cause of trans women everywhere.
Flamboyant gay men who were unable to pass as straight were the ones who ultimately got the gay liberation movement started in the late sixties and early seventies, while their able-to-pass counterparts hid behind comfortable and privileged lives built on a lie. If you are a trans woman who is indistinguishable from a cisgender woman, congratulations, but your sisters, who like women everywhere, range from the beautiful to the dumpy, need you to be out and proud of who you are.
If you’re are a trans-attracted man, it’s your duty as well to live your life openly. The message you send to your transgender or transexual mate when you tell her that no one can know about her status is that you are ashamed of her. Invariably trans women have been to hell and back in their journey to self-actualization, and being asked to hide it, or being excluded from the rest of your life because you’re concerned about being called “gay” or something along those lines, is corrosive personally, and is doing a disservice to the larger community. It’s the 21st century, and if you’re an adult afraid of being called “gay” because of the woman you love, you’re truly a coward.
Do us all a favor, if you’re a stealth trans woman, unless you have a genuine fear of physical harm, come out of the closet, if not for yourself, then for the rest of the community and the next generation of trans women who are wrestling with the same issues you did. The culture is changing for the better but having positive role models will accelerate this change, and it’s not hyperbole to say it’s a matter of life and death.