Stealth and Disclosure

Nipper listening to His Master's Voice singing "Masculine Women, & Feminine Men"

Nipper listening to His Master’s Voice singing “Masculine Women & Feminine Men”

I’m having trouble telling the last of my casual acquaintances about my name change (almost two years into it). I’m also thinking about how to explain why I want to have top surgery. When people ask me “What’s going on?” I keep it all inside and say “Nothing much, what about you?”

Everyone who is important to me knows about the legal name change, but I keep running into people who greet me using my birth name. Sometimes I don’t correct them because I am in a rush. Sometimes I’m not in the mood to explain. It feels awkward to stop and tell the story. Almost everyone asks why I changed my name.

I’m not on Facebook. I have to do it face to face.

My name change is an opportunity to talk about my gender identity. It is my choice how much to disclose. I usually give the minimalist butch answer. “I never liked being called Amy. It was too girly. I wanted to change my name to something I like and that fits me better.” A more accurate explanation is “I hated having a girl’s name because I never felt like I was a girl. I wanted to change my name to something more boyish. I like Jamie and it works for me.” This opens the door to more discussion.

The honest answer is “I hated having a girl’s name because it was a constant and annoying reminder that I was female, but I never felt like I was a girl. Part of my process of accepting that I am transgender is changing my name. I’m trying to feel more comfortable in my own skin.”

It is a privilege to have a choice. To tell or not to tell. I could live my own version of stealth, and not say anything. There is a part of me that hesitates to disclose that I am transgender. One-on-one is way harder than writing.

It always comes down to shame. My shame of being transgender, and my shame of not transitioning. I worry about not being taken seriously because I am not on testosterone and not legally changing my gender marker. I worry about being viewed as confused, wishy-washy, conservative, and playing it safe.

I’ve said I’m not transitioning, but as Donna keeps reminding me, that is not true. I am doing something, I am just not becoming a visible man. It is my so-called transition. I’m changing, but I’m not sure into what. Sometimes it feels like there is no wiggle room between being an adult man and an adult woman and sometimes it feels like I am lost in non-binary space, looking for terra firma.

Most people assume I am a butch lesbian; a masculine woman. They see it as an act. They don’t understand why I can’t step out of it for an afternoon. For a meeting, for a wedding, or at the beach. They do not see the undertow that pulls me away from everything feminine, and the futility of trying to resist it. It took me years to accept that I could not fight it.

I can’t embrace butch without embracing transgender. I need to be open about both. For my sake, and for Donna’s.

Donna has started identifying as a partner of someone who is trans. Last week, when she told a friend of ours that we were on our way to the Dyke March, the friend replied “Oh, there are still Dykes? They haven’t all become men?” Donna was incensed, but not quick enough to challenge the remark. Next time, she said, she’s outing both of us.

Note: Here is a link to the original 1920’s recording of Masculine Women & Feminine Men, the recording featured in the post photo. There is a fun drag/crossdressing slide show that accompanies the recording.

 

 

37 thoughts on “Stealth and Disclosure

  1. RonaFraser

    Part of me says “Who cares what people think?!” But then the voice in my head quickly follows with “How many individuals do you freely tell that you are 47 and have never had a boyfriend?!” Oh ya…
    People DO judge — some more than others — but I think the main voices we need to get past are the one in our heads. For me it’s the one that shows me a neon, pink, “loser” sign pointing to my head whenever I think about it. Because really… what’s the big deal about what others think in their heads, as long as it doesn’t affect your personal or financial safety. I wish we could all worry less about what people think and spend more time in joy etc.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      We worry about what people think because of what we think about it ourselves (our shame). Shame is a very hard thing to get rid of, particularly old shame (“you’d be so pretty if you…lost weight, wore make-up, paid attention to what you wore”).
      I think anything that touches on sex and sexuality (whether I’m trans or you are a virgin) is a prime subject for shame. It is woven into our very being.
      I’d be empathetic with anyone else, but rough on myself.

      Like

      Reply
  2. frommetohe

    I’ve seen ways for people to naturally transition through the use of herbs and vitamins to avoid using T. Transitioning, to me, is more the mind than the body. There was this book written by a young hetero woman who pretended to be male and merged into the masculine culture. This person was able to feel comfortable despite initial confrontation and find a way. I’m sure that with time and support your internal transition will bring to you a place of comfort.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and referencing the natural transition approach.
      I’m used to being butch on the outside, and to think of myself as a boy (not really a man) on the inside. It is a challenge to pull the two (outside/inside) together. Mostly what I’ve done (besides the name change) to get in-sync is to lose some weight, bind, work out, and pay more attention to buying men’s clothes that fit me as best as possible. The blog helps me to “quiet my mind” and eventually I’ll probably get to that inner peace. Meanwhile, I write and pine for top surgery.

      Like

      Reply
      1. frommetohe

        I understand. As far as binding goes I always worry for others. I know that binders for FTMs can be expensive, but I do have a link for compression shirts and such. I use their stuff and find the results more satisfying than binding. Makes one fell better about clothes. http://www.underworks.com

        Like

  3. BC Craig

    Avoiding for the moment the tricky issue of what you want to be when you grow up, I encourage you to leave behind the shame of not “transitioning” by someone else’s definition of that word. For thousands of years, we know of biological females who have chosen to live as men, long before there was such a thing as synthetic testosterone and before surgery would have been a viable or desirable choice. They were men because of how they saw themselves, presented themselves, and lived. Nobody gets to undermine their choices because they didn’t go far enough. So why should we do it today just because more medical options are available? The problem is that it’s harder to live as “not a woman” as opposed to as a man, because no one is sure what that is. You need to fight harder, explain more, justify constantly. Doing so is not only socially awkward, but also traps you in that psychological moment of the choice-making rather than the being. Which is far less comfortable. If you decide to live as a man, then do it through any means you want. If you decide to live as “not a woman” then stand your ground and let the world adapt. But don’t be pushed into moving from one identity that has been so wrong for you to another that is not quite right, just because it’s easier for the world to recognize.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks BC, as always, well said and a lot to think about. Sometimes it seems that a medical/legal transition makes sense because there is a path to follow (name change, testosterone, beard, top surgery, legal gender marker) and a process that gets completed. At least I would know what I was doing. The DIY approach feels amorphous, an ever changing non-binary, genderqueer, trans-masculine incremental process.
      When I get tired of being a visibly non-conforming person of gender aka “not a woman”, the binary system looks appealing, even though where I am now feels more authentic to me than being a 55 year old straight, short, bald, white guy with a small beer gut (a 22 year old A & F model in my mind only).
      In ye olden days, I don’t think I would be able to “pass” reliably – I would have to take hormones, which didn’t exist. I’m not independently wealthy (just cushy middle class, born in the wrong family); I’d need a vocation that allowed me to be self supporting as a not-quite-legal male without papers – i.e. off the books. Those who lived as men mostly lived on the margins without legal protection or access to health care – one of the reasons that transgender rights are so important.

      Like

      Reply
  4. middleagebutch

    Very powerful post. I find myself in a similar boat sometimes … when someone calls me “sir,” when someone assumes my partner is a he (although this rarely happens any more). Sometimes I take the time to explain and educate. Other times, I’m in a hurry or not in the mood to explain.

    I liked in Gender Failure when Ivan Coyote wrote a letter to her family and friends regarding their decision to get top surgery. I thought it was very brave and the right thing to do.

    I find myself tip-toeing around friends and family about certain things because I am afraid of how they will react. I know I should be more upfront so it doesn’t always look like I am sneaking around.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Maybe I should hire Ivan Coyote to write mine? I think my brother (the Republican who still adores Ronald Reagan) and his family would be OK with it – it is my wide ranging circle of peace activist, lesbian, and queer friends who have voiced issues about my rejecting “being a woman”, body disfigurement, use of money that could go to more important causes etc…

      The other part, which I should have written about, is this expectation that “this is just a phase I am going through on my path to full transition to male.” They should wake up and realize that if they made it easier for (or were more accepting of) people in the middle they might stay there instead of transitioning, de-transitioning, committing suicide, or resorting to drugs/drinking.

      Like

      Reply
      1. middleagebutch

        Interesting that it is your lesbian and queer friends who seem to take offense to your transitioning. Maybe because I was a late bloomer I don’t have such rigid beliefs.

        I understand the just a phase part. Sometimes I wonder if butch is just a phase for me in this journey of self-identity. A resting place. Hard to know.

        Sure, hit up Ivan Coyote. I’m sure Ivan would help a butch in need.

        Like

  5. Lesboi

    Wow! It looks like Donna has come a long way towards meeting you in the middle. That’s awesome! So much of what you say here echoes what I’m dealing with in my life too. What you said about people seeing our butch exterior as an act is so true. They really do think that we can just wear a dress for a special occasion and it’s no big deal. I hadn’t thought about it that way before. I so want to start to come out to people but it seems like I become mute when an opportunity presents itself. And, often, the opportunities don’t just pop up and I sit there wondering how to create an opportunity or broach the subject. I’m not so good verbally and don’t have a lot of confidence expressing myself that way. Anyway, this is a great post. Somehow we’ll all get through these murky waters to the clarity we’re all searching for.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think Donna finally realized that she wants to stay in the relationship (as long as I don’t do a full transition) and that I’m just going to be me without breasts. She is trying to check her own transphobia and has become much more aware of it when she hears it coming from others. She still wishes I wasn’t planning on surgery, but accepts that it is inevitable and that she needs support to deal with her negative feelings about it. She may never like it, and that is OK.

      I think that having grown up as gender non-conforming kids we learn to be silent and not talk about what is going on (e.g. wanting to be a boy) because it is too dangerous. We learn to be very private – the strong silent type. It is hard to get over that. I find writing much, much, easier than talking.

      Like

      Reply
  6. Elisabeth

    I’ve wondered what you think of the term “dyke,” and this seems like a good context to ask. I live around the corner from you, and I’ve seen you around dog walking for ages. The first time I saw you, you were with Lena, and I do remember thinking, yeah, another dog-loving dyke in the neighborhood!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I embrace fag and dyke (and the historical bull-dyke) as part of my heritage of gender non-conforming people, and would never deny being one, even if I don’t use the term to describe myself (I’ll often think when I see someone -oh thats a real bull dyke). I tend to use butch or the generic (non-gendered) gay, queer, or trans to describe myself. And I have no problem marching in the Dyke March – it is a anti-assimilationist antidote to corporate Pride.

      Next time you see me and Gracie, flag us down and introduce yourself so I can connect the name and face (do you have a dog and if so what is their name?).

      Like

      Reply
      1. Elisabeth

        I have no dog of my own, but do have several dog friends, whose love I shamelessly buy with food.
        I’ll try to get up the nerve to say hi, but I’m pretty pathologically shy.

        Like

  7. MainelyButch

    I feel your pain in this blog. I know that I live as “other” so to speak, I am neither woman nor man. I have chosen a low dose T and I am preparing to have top surgery – but not because I am transitioning, I am not…I am TRANSFORMING to be comfortable in my own body. I don’t want to “be” a man, but I don’t feel like a woman either. I guess you could say I’m gender-fucked, but I don’t feel uncomfortable in my choice to just be who I am. I hope you can find that same place as time goes on. Less and less questions are asked once you authentically just live your life as you please. On another note, the dyke march crack was bad, I would have gone off on that person! 🙂

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I would find it very hard to give up the concept of being butch – butch feels authentic. I would rather cast my lot with other gender non-conforming people that with straight white guys. However, I stick out very, very, far when I am in a place with cisgender women – more than I stick out in a group of guys.
      I could go on a rant about American culture and how it has no tolerance for nuance and ambiguity, and how it tries to polarize everything – including gender (politics, race, dogs vs. cats). I just wish there was more room and more allowances made for being in-between.

      Like

      Reply
  8. anexactinglife

    I would make a timid trans or genderqueer person because I’m very reserved and I rarely talk about myself unless I’m asked directly. But trans and genderqueer people are asked direct questions by acquaintances and strangers all the time! I don’t know how I would deal with that. I suppose I would approach each person on a need-to-know basis and try to have individual conversations when the timing felt OK to me. I wouldn’t like to be put on the spot and I’d probably clam up, unless I felt I had a genuine chance of educating someone. But it would get tiring to always have to play an educator role, too.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’d bet if someone said something disparaging about transgender people or about Link’s choices you would jump all over them.
      I was kind of hoping the gossip mill would take care of everything (it did on my job), but a surprising number of people in other places didn’t get the message or didn’t think it was news worthy enough to pass on. Conceptually, I prefer the one-on-one personal approach, but it is more awkward than I thought it would be and more time-consuming. If I had to do it over, I might rely more on a snail-mail or e-mail announcement.

      Like

      Reply
  9. urbanmythcafe

    It is hard to fill in all the cracks. We have a friend who is actually quite close, but who has somehow been left out of the loop on the specifics of my changes. So we both sat down with her and explained things a couple of weeks ago. Part of the reason I didn’t explain things to her is that I never doubted that she would be 100% supportive. And I figured that she would just figure out for herself.
    The way I read her is that she already knew everything. The way Helen read her is that it was a complete surprise.
    In any case, it was the most awkward coming out ever.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Each time I tell someone it is Yogi Berra’s quote that comes to mind “It’s like deja vu all over again.” I try to put myself in their position, and there is no discussion I like less than one that starts out with “I have something I need to tell you.” All I think is “Uh-oh.”
      It is very different than when I was 17 and coming out as gay to everyone.

      Like

      Reply
  10. gok9go

    I love that Donna is identifying as partnered with someone who is trans* and that next time she’s coming out for both of you! This is all hard, but you have Donna’s support and love. You’ve both come so far. Congrats!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      She still has moments of “How can you do this to me?” but they occur less frequently and she gets over them faster. She definitely gets credit for trying.

      Like

      Reply
  11. tinybutchdc

    It sucks feeling like you have to justify to others the way you want to live your life. I guess the consolation is that there are a whole bunch of us in this boat!

    I think that living based on other people’s labels and expectations is cumbersome. Don’t let their prejudices become your burden to bear. Call yourself the name that you feel is authentically yours, do with your chest what you want, take as much T as feels right. The only person who your existence needs to make comfortable is you, you know? Of course, part of that is thinking about the people closest to you and not giving them whiplash :). You don’t owe anyone an explanation of your change outside of your immediate family and your closest friends. Actually, you don’t really owe anyone but your partner an explanation, but I like to err on the side of letting my family ask questions when appropriate.

    As for casual acquaintances and new people: Anyone you worry will judge you as less than for not transitioning fully or transitioning at all are – for lack of a better word – haters. If they give you a hard time, you shouldn’t get too hung up on saying “see ya” and getting on with your awesome, authentic life.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for commenting and throwing your thoughts into the mix. I think all butches have to justify themselves and their existence whether they are cis or trans – if only to explain why they are in the ladies room or why they are wearing a suit instead of a dress to a wedding or their complicated relationship to gender (or why they set off the alarm going through the x-ray machine at the airport).
      Name changes and surgery are more personal, but it is hard to go through them and not have people know (the whole point of the name change is for everyone to know, and unless you disappear for a few weeks after surgery anyone who sees you regularly will know you had some form of surgery). Personally I’d rather people know than create their own stories about what and why.
      Plus, Donna (my partner) needs me to be open about it so she can be open about it. It shouldn’t fall to her to be the person who discloses my status (she is much more social and talkative than I am) although it does happen. A lot of the people I know are just ignorant – they may know a little about trans women, but they don’t know anything about the transgender spectrum, trans-masculinity, or the process of binary or non-binary transition. And it may take them a while to wrap their cisgendered brains around it.

      Like

      Reply
  12. micah

    You are transitioning, in your own way. Even calling yourself different labels in your head is part of the process.

    For what it’s worth, disclosing for me is very hard. I don’t usually do it. Being trans is a non-issue, but I don’t like to disclose private things about myself, period. It’s like giving away free information when they haven’t earned my trust. It’s also hard to explain to others, since it is not something they easily understand most of the time, and it is part of a very long and ongoing and uncertain journey, which is not something we like to share. (And that is also a part of transitioning.)

    Like

    Reply
  13. Charlie

    It’s not shame. Sometimes we are in the closet not due to shame but fear. Other times we are in stealth because, unless they’re our family or doctor or current employer, why should anyone know of our past? Mine is more of simply using the correct gender usage! Other than my family, everyone who knows me calls me “Charlie” without referring to me by my birth name, and I have slowly been coming out for the lat three months. Some people I am simply not ready to come out with; others I just correct; when the eyebrows raise, I simply say I am transitioning, without all the emotional “I don’t like identifying as a girl anymore” stuff unless they straight ask me questions.

    But I have easier than most other butches when out in public among strangers. I already look like a chubby guy with man boobs, no T or surgery yet (will get to that when school starts again in the fall).

    I try to use the word transition, but if it’s confusing I will straight up use the old adage “sex change” so they get it, then clarify what I mean. But as far as I see it, I’m correcting a physical issue, rather than seeking help for a psychological issue. I misidentified as a butch, and am just making up for lost time. Some may call it living in stealth; I call it living my life. As for the butch flight thing—we were never the butch community’s property to claim in the first place. More of us are finally able to realize we’re actually guys, not masculine women, or we finally have the medical and legal resources to finally transition, and we are finally claiming ourselves as our own again, instead of fitting into the next best label.

    Like

    Reply
  14. Jamie Ray Post author

    Thanks for commenting and sharing how you are dealing with your transition. I still carry around a lot of childhood shame around wanting to be a boy, and it is tough to free myself from its grip. That is one of my major struggles. The more voices out there explaining the diversity of our situations the better.
    I know for me, I am too integrated into my community (work, neighborhood, etc.) to go stealth without “starting over”, even if I wanted to. I’d have to move and change professions. I have no problem with not disclosing status to strangers or in situations where I don’t expect to see people again – it is no one’s business. I try not to judge anyone’s choices, unless I think they are being reckless and endangering themselves or others.

    Like

    Reply
  15. accidentallygay

    I have to say when I hear something like this my first thought is, “you are a wonderful person, come out and don’t be ashamed”. It sounds great as a trite answer, but in the end that is just a trite answer for something that has so many variables in your life.

    That is when I realize I can’t even get as far as you have in coming out and I feel a ton of shame. So all I can really say is I am happy to see you where you are at. It helps to read about your journey, and while I am starting in the opposite direction with the same but different social issues it is good to know I am not the only person doing it.

    Just remember, you are a great person.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I try to be a “good enough” person. I think it is important for us to write about our roadblocks. What I should have said in the post is that I can’t go stealth because i can’t keep my mouth shut. It is a contradiction – I’m shy but if someone says something stupid, I step up (In your Diner example it is harder because silent rudeness is different than spoken stupidity).
      I admire your support of Jello (and I love his nick-name – my Dad used to call me “Jelly-Belly”). Donna supports me but needs to be pulled (coaxed) along on each step kicking and screaming, and then she gets it, and we are onto the next step. It is hard because the person transitioning is always (usually?) a step ahead of their partner. Jello is a lucky guy to have you backing him up.

      Like

      Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I wish WordPress let you edit your comments after they are posted. I’ve stopped using my iPhone for comments because it always, always, changes my words and does weird stuff. And as always, I appreciate all reader’s comments and thoughts.

      Like

      Reply
  16. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

    Another great post, JR. Personally, I rarely, if ever, feel the need to explain myself to anyone. I do not go looking for questions. I find that it’s all about how I handle myself. If I’m comfortable and confident with myself, then I feel others are as well. . . and if they aren’t, I don’t usually pay much attention to them anyway. If there are any questions, I keep my answers short, sweet and to the point. I pay attention to how I speak; my sentences are statements, they do not end with a upward inflection.
    I’m surprised at how many people in this world think they owe others an explanation. . . not just about who they are, but for everyday ordinary things like why they do something a certain way. If no one asks for an explanation, why even go there? You don’t owe anything to anyone.
    Peace.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the compliment and for commenting. I think of “coming out to people” with the name change (and potentially top surgery) as part of a rite of passage. Maybe it is not as necessary as I think it is, but if I want people to call me by my name, I need to ask them to do it. I do feel like I am not being honest when I give the minimalist answer; but maybe for those who are not so important to me it is OK (the equivalent of saying “I’m fine” when they ask how I am). Mostly I need to get over the roadblock of asking people to use Jamie.

      Like

      Reply
  17. sarashanmugham

    There is nothing to feel bad or sad of being what you are. It is not your fault to be a transgender person. it is also a creation of god. Be courageous to talk to people. You can definitely be a successful person in future but you need to be brave and speak out for yourself.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s