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TransActive: In or Out

| Jun 28, 2010
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christine_beattySMLTo All Our Loyal Readers:

I’ve spent much of my off hours this week at the LA Film Festival, so this article isn’t as robust as I’d like to have presented. (Ed. Note: Christine did speak with Calpernia Addams and includes that interview in this column.)

Many if not most important choices come as double-edged swords. For a transwoman it can be the choice between the joy of being true to oneself (and the hell of rejection by family, friends and society) or the comfort of the approval of family, friends and society (and the agony of living a lie). For a crossdresser it can be between being feeling good about being honest with one’s mate about one’s pastime (but possibly feeling her disapproval) and feeling bad about the sneaking around (but keeping the relationship happy on the surface).

One of the most intense places where a dichotomy plays out is in the choice to be out as a transwoman or to be “deep stealth” or “woodworked” — to live with nearly nobody in your life knowing of your gender transition. The debate of the pros and cons of this decision has raged in the trans community for decades, and it affects us on both personal and community-wide levels.

Until the Eighties and later our very providers encouraged post-operative transsexual women to blend into the woodwork, to lie about their past and in general to just Be Women. Part of the backlash of that was that these new women dropped so far off of the radar that the success of their adjustment to the new lives became impossible to track, so that the only ones who did surface were those who became drug addicts, got arrested or died horribly by their own hand or another’s. (The downside of this was that it led some researchers to believe transition and surgery didn’t work because they largely only heard about the bad outcomes.)

Realistically this is such a far flung as well as heated topic that I will focus on the most poignant facet of being in or out, and that is in dating and relationships. In my first transition in 1985-86 and my second transition in 1988, I regularly lamented not passing as a genetic female (which is tough for a transwoman in a trans-savvy town like San Francisco) and all of the crap it brought down on my shoulders. I never imagined there might be a downside to passing perfectly. Two and a half years later I discovered the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.

In 1991 I was attending a convention for clean and sober LGBT folks and, as I always have, attended whatever workshops where were on the topic of transgender sobriety. I was one of the workshop leaders having amassed two and a half years of sobriety at that point, and when it was over I was discreetly approached in the hall be a petite and very lovely young woman. After glancing furtively around she quietly admitted she was a TS woman, which I never would have guessed. She expressed her admiration of my being so open and told me  how she’d lived in anxiety over the past two years. For purposes of this article I shall refer to her as “Audrey.”

For the past two years Audrey had lived in a lesbian community in the quiet coastal town of Santa Cruz, which hosts a University of California campus. She spoke of living in fear of having trans past discovered and being ostracized from the small and tightly knit lesbian community because she feared she’d be rejected. What she said made it especially bad was that she suspected her lover and a few of her closest friends knew the truth of her past but were considerately not bringing it up, probably not knowing how torn up about her secret she was inside. I didn’t counsel her one way or another nor did she request it, feeling better just getting it off her shoulders, however that lesson stayed with me ever since.

Flash forward nearly twenty years and the transgender community is now at a place where the gay community was about twenty years ago: just starting to find social acceptance and starting to exercise some tangible political power, only we’re in fewer numbers. However many of us still find ourselves in that quandary of to disclose or not to disclose, especially in a relationship.

Seeing how I never thought of myself as passable (as a GG) until the last five or six years, especially since my SRS and FFS, I turned my unpassability into an asset and used it to help educate others and to be the best example I could. And even though I can now hold extended conversations these days and still not get clocked, part of me knows deep down I will never be “deep stealth” capable, so I asked my good friend actress, performer and entrepreneur Calpernia Addams for her perspective. Ms. Addams is as deep stealth a woman as I’ve ever met, and yet even she has had her struggles so I inquired about her perspective.

Calpernia
Calpernia

“I grew up with dating ideals defined by TV, movies, religion and fairy tales, so I longed to be romanced by a sweet guy who would eventually commit to me in marriage,” she told me. “Once I had decided to begin transitioning, I looked forward to a day when the process would be ‘over’ and I could settle into a quiet, normal life with a special guy.

“While transitioning in my 20’s, I had fun exploring my sexuality as a woman in the gay club scene and made do with what attention I could get from chasers who wanted pre-op women. I wasn’t particularly passable, so ‘telling’ wasn’t an issue. As I became more and more able to leave behind the heavy makeup, padding and wigs I began to get attention from regular hetero men while out and about in my daily life. Upon close examination, I was still quite readable as trans, so my interaction with them as a potential interest consisted of just a few thrilling moments at a time.

“After my SRS, I had a brief period of time when I looked in the mirror and considered myself “done” as well as could be hoped for. I felt quite passable, and believed that my newly corrected body would no longer offer any impediment to dating a heterosexual man,” she said. However as one of the original members of her online transsexual women’s forum at Calpernia.com, I’ve heard the disappointments she’s encountered and about her evolving perspective.

“Now approaching a decade postop, I’ve settled into a less optimistic place where dating is concerned,” she admitted. “On a purely pragmatic level, I’ve discovered that I am still quite ‘clockable’ as trans upon close examination by the educated eyes of Los Angeles men. As age settles in, and as I stop caring so desperately about whether people guess my history, hiding my trans history tends to fade a little into the background of top-line concerns for me anyway, though I still want very much to be perceived as a woman. Being clockable as trans, and being unwilling to lie about my history in all but the most cursory social interactions, exposes me to the common anti-trans bias we all know about. 99.9% of men don’t want to date a woman who has transitioned, and the remaining point one percent mostly prefer pre-op trans women. I corrected my body for me, though, and I have absolutely no regrets, even if I were to never date again in my life.”

Calpernia sees two possible courses of action: (1) lying to everyone in hery life about having transitioned and working fulltime to “pass” completely as a woman who has not transitioned so that guys can be more comfortable with her; or (2) keep improving as a human being and hope that an open minded man will be attracted to her for my strengths rather than her struggles.

“Obviously, I have chosen #2,” she says, referring to her show business career and visible model to other transwomen.  “I am not judging anyone who chooses #1, and I honestly say ‘More power to you!’ Likewise, I do not tolerate being judged by people on a different path.”

She concludes with, “Speaking practically, if I meet a ‘nice young man’ out somewhere and agree to have coffee with him after feeling a mutual spark, I do not lead off with my trans history. If we make it to three dates, and I feel like there is a potential for us to have ‘something special’ I will begin figuring out how to discuss my history with him. An email? A face-to-face talk? Something else?”

Calpernia says that she’s been terribly busy over the last few years and hasn’t put forth much effort in dating. “Being cocooned in the asexual safety of the gay community hasn’t helped my dating life, either, but it’s a very comfortable and safe space. Maybe this Summer I’ll break out and start dating again… who knows?”

If there is any wisdom to be gleaned from this story it is that there is no one correct choice, that every decision carries its own rewards and burdens, brings its own lessons to be learned. Doing one’s best though and making peace with your situation seems to be the most consistent design for eking happiness out of your situation, whatever it may be. And, if I’ve learned any lesson after all this time, is that I’ll never be happy looking forlornly over the fence and envying the grass on the other side.

Christine Beatty is a transsexual author and journalist, a longtime activist and musician. Formerly from San Francisco, where she co-founded the rock group Glamazon in 1994, she now resides in Los Angeles. Her personal web page is at www.glamazon.net.


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Opinion

Christine_Beatty

About the Author ()

Christine Beatty is a familiar name to TGForum readers. In 2010 she wrote the TransActive column here, and she was featured in the Perpetual Change column back in 2001 as part of the rock duo Glamazon. Along with her musical endeavors, she is also a TG activist, an author and a poet. She has recently published "Misery Loves Company" and has had articles appear in such publications as Chrysalis Quarterly, Transgender Tapestry, Spectator, and TransSisters.

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