Living Stealth – Hidden in Plain Sight

Living Stealth – Hidden in Plain Sight was written by me in February 2014 – I have a new defined “stealth” now for my husband and I.  I am open in my professional world, but anywhere else we are stealth.

You may notice my name is not under the title.  You may notice my name is not at the bottom of this article or even attached to this article at all.  That is because I am “living stealth”.  Well not quite but my husband is and that means I am too.

So what does “living stealth” or “being stealth” mean?  In the transgender\transsexual world, it means that a male that has transitioned to female or a female that has transitioned to male hides their history of their birth sex. 

My husband transitioned more than a decade ago.  I met him after he transitioned.  He was honest with me from the start, but I soon noticed as we chatted with people in public how careful he was to hide his past.  He has told me stories when he was helping someone get out of a chair and was hit in the groin he had to remember to act like it hurt worse than it did.  He has told me when a transgendered person who does not “pass” (successfully conceal their birth sex) enters his work, that some of the staff have made rude comments after they leave or under their breath.  I noticed when he drove him from visiting relatives and he nearly got in a car accident on the way back home that his anxiety was not from fear of the accident, or getting hurt, or even his car getting totaled, it was that if an ambulance was called he might be “found out”.

Being stealth leads to having a basic amount of anxiety and paranoia.  My husband works in the healthcare industry and he has heard what many people who work around him think of transsexuals.  He also knows if he was in an accident or had to have x-rays on his pelvis region, his birth gender would be noted in his chart and it would be easy for someone he works with to see it.  He is also always worried that someone will figure out he is transsexual.  Just like when an any person has a blemish on their face, they are sure that everyone is staring at the blemish and sees what a huge thing it is. 

So with all of the anxiety transgendered people living stealth need support right?  Yes, they do very much.  However, where do they get it?  You might think the LGBTQ community.  Actually, most frown on living stealth if not actually believe it is wrong to live stealth, as it does not “help the cause”.  Can you imagine someone living stealth walking into a LGBTQ Community building?  They are already paranoid and anxious about someone finding out, to them it would make them so worried that someone would see them. 

When I met my husband, I thought he was a bit paranoid and thought, “Who cares whether people know”.  Well I was surprised when listening to co-workers and other people talk about transgendered and transsexual people.  I heard a prevailing stereotype that transsexual people were perverts and child molesters who are so sick in the head they don’t even know what sex they are so therefore they would molest anyone and anything because no one would ever voluntarily have sex with them unless it was another pervert. 

I so wanted to believe that social workers and therapists had been trained to be more open as they would have learned about this in school at the minimum.  Sadly, the BBS only requires 10 hours of Human Sexuality for MFT, LPCC and LCSW licenses.  In 10 hours transsexual\transgender concepts are barely touched upon. 

I have children from a previous marriage and we were open to them about my husband.  As often happens, one of my children became rebellious and made a couple comments to a teacher or a social worker about my husband and it was amazing how quickly they jumped to conclusions about how “perverted” we are as a couple.  When media started covering the “pregnant man” the conversations even among mental health professionals made me nauseated and scared that if my husband were ever found out, how many problems he would have personally and professionally.

There were many times in therapy with my children, that I wish I could have felt comfortable explaining how tough some issues are and why we have to be careful about things.  For example, we as a family of four cannot stay in a regular hotel.  I have a daughter and a son so no combination of two rooms is acceptable should my more troubled teen say anything.  Obviously my son and daughter cannot share a room, but also either of us adults cannot share a room with either of my children in case someone were to consider us “perverted”.  This meant we had to plan way ahead and set aside more money and rent a vacation home that was at least 3 bedrooms so as to make sure everything looked appropriate. 

While many therapists say they are LGBTQ friendly, most really do not understand the issues of living stealth unless it is their specialty.  This of course often makes those that are stealth nervous about going to someone who is known as a therapist that specializes in transsexual issues as they feel like they are being watched and someone will connect who they are seeing with who they are.

This forces many who are living stealth to only do online support groups, which helps a bit but limits still the connection and therapeutic aspects.

Even simple medical procedures and dealing with medical practitioners are problematic.

My husband limped for months because he knew that if he got an x-ray to diagnose the knee problem he could be “outed” and since he works for the same company that he gets medical care from it could really cause problems for him.  He also fears losing his health insurance because he “lied” and listed his gender as male.  He also knows what many will say under their breath or after he leaves because he has heard his co-workers do that.

Simple things that many people celebrate cause anxiety.  The only doctor my husband really sees, who is outside of our city, became part of the same system my husband works for.  He was scared to death that when the records merged there would be notes or obvious changes that would “out” him.  Luckily, his doctor was very careful which notes went into the system, as his doctor is aware he lives stealth.  Most people though would be thrilled to be able to have their doctor as part of their mental healthcare system and not have to pay out of pocket; we were not until we knew it was going to be ok.

With all of this anxiety, is it worth living stealth?  Sadly, where we live, I have to say yes.  My husband enjoys his co-workers but knows how they feel about transsexuals and would forever be uncomfortable if they knew he was a transsexual.  He makes a decent living doing what he does and he is supporting me while I build my own business.  We need him to be ok working where he is so we can keep a roof over our heads.  Yes we wish we could help the transgender and transsexual community by being out, but we know the reality is we are not able to make that sacrifice at this time in our lives.

The reason I wrote this article?  I would like mental health workers to realize that not all transgender and transsexual people are obvious when you look at them.  They may be actually seeing you in your practice, or standing next to you when you are chatting with others whether they are completely stealth or just not noticeable.  With all of recent media exposure about transgender\transsexual children in school and their rights, carefully think about how hard it is for them to make it in the world and have normal growing up experiences without being bullied. Remember many people who are transsexual\transgender or those who love them are hiding in plain sight.

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