It’s never been a part of my plan to go stealth although I’ve wondered what it must be like. I’m pretty open and, since I want to keep my job (tenure and security for life if I want it!), there is no way that I could have transitioned and be stealth anyway.
However, there are certain quarters in which I’ve tried to be discrete. I haven’t really been that open with my students, for example. Because of the perfect timing of me getting PhD funding and being able to take first, a part-time leave, and now a full-time leave, most of the physical changes necessary for me to be consistently read as male were done before going back to teach. And now I won’t be teaching for 2 years while I work on my doctorate. So there hasn’t been any need for me to deal with students so much.
Now, as a general policy, I don’t talk too much about myself in class. If there is a relevant example from my life, I will use it if it’s not too personal. There have been times when I’ve come out as queer in higher level classes with more mature students and smaller groups, where we had established a closer dynamic and there was an atmosphere of trust. But in large intro classes like the one I taught this past winter, that is usually not the case. But sometimes things slip out in the heat of the moment (I get very excited and passionate when I’m teaching) and I’m not into self-censorship.
Therefore, the one class I did have last semester was an interesting experiment. It was my first time teaching as male and I found that I had to think twice before I gave my usual examples. In the past, I would sometimes qualify something by saying: “As a mother . . .” I had to catch myself a few times before that slipped out.
Now, it’s not that I want to hide from my students. If someone asked me about it, I would be as honest as I could, depending on context. It’s just that I didn’t feel like having to spend a whole class explaining why their male teacher was a mother. I teach anthropology and therefore talk about gender and sexuality pretty frequently and I do make sure to raise awareness about LGBT themes that way. I don’t want to propagate the idea that only queers can talk about queer issues though. So I don’t want my personal things to become more central than the actual material.
But where I’m going with this is the stress of self-censorship. Having to think about what I am about to say is a new thing. And I did spend some time stressing over how I would deal with it if I accidentally slipped and called myself a mother. Or said something about having been a little girl. I know it would have been mostly OK and my students surprise me by their openness sometimes. So I wasn’t extremely stressed. Just a little apprehensive, one might say.
Another place where I got a mini-sampling of stealth was in my PhD seminar this past academic year. I had written to the professor before it began in September to let him know that, although he had a Nancy on his list, I was transitioning and going by male pronouns and the name Jacky and that I would appreciate being addressed that way so that my peers could get to know me the way I was. Again, it wasn’t a question of hiding. Eventually, I did come out to most of them. But I didn’t want *trans* to be the first thing they knew me as. The prof wrote back the next day, warmly saying that he would address me as Jacky and use male pronouns and thanking me for trusting him. One other student knew that I was trans but we knew each other before.
Throughout the year, I came out to other students here and there (well, there were only 12 of us) if it happened to come up. In one case, I was having coffee with a woman fom the seminar. In her late 40s, her kids are all grown up but she works on child development in her research. So we were talking about children, in general and our own. Of course, the question came up: where is the mother of your child? Do you live with her?
Awkward silence as she probably realised she was asking a personal question and as I assessed how to best answer her. Finally, I said: “I’m the mother.” The poor woman practically had a heart attack as she thought that she had been misgendering me for the past 2 months. So I immediately explained the situation with a smile.
After that, there were situations where I felt I had to hold back in group discussions. It wasn’t a question of hiding but a question of respecting the conversation that was happening. At lunch one time after a seminar, 3 of the women were talking about their childbirth experiences. I could have shared my own. As someone who has given birth, I had that right. But knowing that I would have to explain myself to 2 of these women who did not yet know I was trans and knowing that the conversation would shift away from their sharing and toward my transition, I felt that I should keep it to myself for now and simply sympathise with them. Interestingly, they all seemed quite comfortable talking about this with a guy there.
So, all these circumstances, and other similar ones, helped me see that going stealth is probably extremely stressful. The stress of self-censorship and of having to watch one’s words would be, for a mouthy person like myself, hell on wheels. My examples above are pretty tame since I could simply not say anything most of the time and avoid complications that way. But if I were stealth, I would actually have to reinvent my past.
I understand that many trans people have the desire or need to go stealth so I’m not bashing this at all. For myself, it just wouldn’t work. I would find it stressfulfor one thing. Secondly, with a child that calls me Mommy (and I want it that way), it would be impossible whenever he was around. Finally, I actually enjoy some of the fun things I get to say with my wonderful male voice: “When I was in the girlscouts” or “when I was in labour” or “Ouch, my ovaries hurt.”