On this day every year, every LGBT blog and site tries to get us to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility. Some try to shorten it to “Trans Day of Visibility” to try to be inclusive of non-binary identities. Others try to say it represents those who are “visible” for those who can’t be.
How does being out help out people who are in the closet, people who can’t transition? Does increased visibility mean it will help progress society into tolerating transgender, non-binary, and other gender-variant existences? When I was first came out to myself, others’ visibility didn’t help me; it worsened my dysphoria when I saw people able to undergo sex change therapies. I didn’t think I had the finances or resources to medically transition (I did, many weeks later). Seeing everyone living in kitsch liberal bubbles worsened my depression, because I live in an area where being gay or trans leads to social isolation. And saying it gives the freshly awakened “hope”, because “things will get better”, doesn’t address the here, the now, the present.
People are not often not “out” or “visible” not because they want to be, but they remain “in the closet” because they have to be. Countries that may jail us at the best, kill us at the worst. Children and teenagers who have parents whose religious objections may mean getting kicked out and become homeless if they admit it. Workers who could lose their jobs and residences in areas that don’t possess anti-discimination laws. Being denied essential services in low-income areas by private- or church-funded groups because their religion preaches against us.
And, well…the conversation is about those in the closet. What about the transsexual living in stealth? What is stealth, exactly, and how does it differ from being in the closet?
The closet refers to trans people who just found out they have gender dysphoria or gender incongruence, but haven’t admitted to others. They still resume lives as a member of the sex they were assigned at birth. Stealth, meanwhile, refers to people who had a sex change, live as members of the opposite sex, and don’t disclose their history to those around them; in the old days, and to the extreme today, it even means leaving your hometown area and relocating to a new place where nobody knew you before transitioning. In the past, this was recommended as part of the WPATH-SOC. Stealth is usually taken by those who wish to only be seen as men or women, or because being out may be dangerous.
In between the extremes is a lesser-known concept called “disclosure”, which is where you disclose your sex change selectively. I reveal myself to people not at first but after I know them. Living in a rural, conservative area, my family, neighbors, and the local coffeehouse know my history, but almost everyone else, from the clerk at my local convenience store to my coworkers, just see a guy. Why? Again—I live in a small town, in a conservative area, and I’m selective about who I entrust with my life story.
So, if I’m not obviously celebrating this holiday, it’s because while I am transsexed, I can’t always be out and obvious. Those in stealth, or who don’t disclose, have as much as risk as those who have to remain in the closet. And while your visibility may help others, it may also harm as well. Visibility is a double-edged sword, effective but can equally be destructive.