“You don’t know the secret Transsexual hand shake?” I was standing in a hotel room in Chicago with other transgender women getting ready to go out for the night. I was listening to my friend Kara talk to another one of the girls. The girl she was speaking with shrugged at the thought of a secret hand shake shared only by women who share our particular fate. The next thing Kara did made us all laugh. She flicked her pony tail up.
I’m currently reading a book about a revolution. I won’t mention the title here. The revolution aspect is not immediately apparent when you read the first chapter. But, I will say that this book is very popular right now. And a movie adaptation is imminent.
Late last night, as I was reading about people communicating with each other in a clandestine way, I was thinking about the secret life of a transgender person. Not every transgender person is clearly evident when walking down the street. The longer I spend down this road, the clearer it is to me that you can’t really say you haven’t spoken with one or stood in line behind one at the grocery store. There are more of us than you expect. There are little clues. Little things about a person that might lead me to wonder if they might share a not so common birth trait with me.
But, reading or clocking a person is not an exact science. There are many genetic women who have one or more male characteristics. And I wouldn’t dare just walk up to a stranger to ask if they were transgender. When I first started reading other’s experiences, I found that many women would drift into stealth and rarely if ever associate with other transwomen. As well they should. After what we’ve been through, we should be able to enjoy that gift.
The gift of stealth is a precious thing. Many don’t get it. And to be honest, for many it’s a safety thing. The world is not a nice place. It’s hard enough to live in this world as a genetic woman. To be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and be read by the wrong person is my greatest fear.
When most people think about what kinds of operations trans people have, they think about the genitals. But, that’s often the last operation trans people have. If they have it all. Modern science is not perfect. So, for transmen, the first and only surgery many will have is radical masectomy. If transwomen transition young enough, they don’t usually have to worry about their faces. But, the longer they are exposed to the toxicity of testosterone, the hardest it is to get rid of those dreaded male traits. So, a not very commonly known surgery called facial feminization surgery is often undergone. It’s not cheap. The top FFS surgeon in San Francisco can charge over $40,000 for a full facial feminization.
A funny thing has been happening over the last couple of years. Society is changing. Transpeople are becoming more visible. Some don’t fear hiding. Sure, there is Chaz Bono and trans activist Andrea James. But, I’ve also seen first hand local transwomen handle the world without “passing”. I hate that word, by the way. Using the word passing insinuates that we are trying to hide or deceive. While many try to hide out of fear of brutality or harassment, the main reason many choose to pass is because they just want to live life in the gender they feel they should have been born as. When they look in the mirror, they want to see the woman they know they are. I’ve heard it said that trans activism is about 30 years behind gay activism. So, maybe our time has come. Maybe I should be less worried about being clocked. In more ways than one.
But, it sometimes feels lonely. When it comes to my transgenderism, I have grown accustomed to acting in a clandistine manner. I used to avoid associating with women who don’t pass. I had to learn quickly to hide any potential mannerisms or preferences that aren’t uniquely male. Just yesterday, one girl I’ve started working with and have known in the company for about three or four years asked me about my previous relationship. I know her. But, we don’t know each other well. I had three options here in responding to her. As far as I can tell, she is not in the know. But, she’s insanely curious. She’ll ask question after question until you tell her to shut up. So, I quickly thought about what to say. These were my options:
1: We found that we were better off as friends.
2: She cheated on me a couple of times and we grew apart.
3: I started to realize that I was only with her because I wanted to keep trying to be a man and a father figure to her son.
Since she probably doesn’t know about me, likes to ask questions and I don’t know if I can trust her, I chose number one. I don’t know if a friend of her’s who is in the know has told her. She may be probing for answers. But, after word leaked around the company about 5 years ago, I’m not about to handle over control of my situation again. I rarely speak of girlfriends. When questioned, I say I’m too busy. I’m waiting for my life to come together. I was too burned by the ex.
You get to be a really good liar, the longer you live with this.
Although there are super secret message boards and private Facebook groups and real life support group meetings where we can talk somewhat freely. There aren’t secret meetings. No secret handshakes. No symbols pinned to our chest or association rings worn on our fingers. Before the internet, people would just vanish to start a new life. They would hide amongst you. Or kill themselves. Before the public’s attitude started to shift, we wouldn’t dare speak in the real world. We would keep any dialogue about transition to the virtual world.
The longer I observe this continued shift toward the acceptance of transpeople, the more I’m amazed and relieved. It’s nice to have mentors. Kids born with this condition will need people to look up too. They need to know that life really does get better. And for those who live in stealth lying about their past? Do they consistently need to worry about hiding baby pictures and changing pronouns when they speak of their teenage years? I suspect that as we continue down this road, that will continue to melt away.
Come in from the cold people. This is where the revolution is happening.