TaraElla Responds: Trans Culture Should Truly Move Past the Stealth Mentality
The following article was written in response to Stealth vs Non-Stealth and Trans Rights, Feb 17.
The idea that the traditional 'stealth model' is responsible for holding back trans rights has got me thinking, and I think that there is at least some merit to the idea. As the letter explained, many of the existing avenues for legal recognition of trans people were designed around the 'stealth model', where post-transition trans people were expected to live as if they had never transitioned (e.g. trans women lived as if they were genetic women). This model helped trans people re-integrate into society, back when very few people transitioned, and society didn't have much awareness or acceptance of trans people. However, now that trans issues are part of the general social awareness, and trans people are increasingly wanting to live openly, this model has become unsustainable and unsuitable for our times.
Much of the discourse around trans rights and accommodation is still based around the mentality of building upon what has already been achieved. However, this would necessarily mean that we insist on keeping all elements of the 'stealth model' intact in some ways, even while many (likely most) trans people are no longer living the stealth life anymore. This would inevitably create situations which are logically problematic. The letter discussed issues around legal recognition, and I think the issues raised are very valid. However, I think this problem extends to social situations and conventions too, and this is what I will be focusing on today.
For example, there is a lot of sensitivity around discussion of trans people's personal history, especially with very well known trans people. I mean, if a trans person has said they don't want their past discussed, then that should be respected. But otherwise, when we're talking about trans people with a proud history of achievements before they transitioned, it would essentially amount to downplaying their past achievements, which might not be what they truly want. But it's a universal expectation in the trans discourse culture anyway. I think many of these conventions and attitudes are ultimately rooted in the historical need to protect trans people living in stealth from being outed, and they were needed because the price of being outed back then were enormous. But I don't think it always makes sense to apply the same conventions and attitudes, in the context of trans people who are living openly. Indeed, it could make social interactions unnecessarily awkward and distanced.
I actually think it's good that we are moving past the 'stealth model'. After all, that model only made sense in a world that didn't accept trans people. And we wouldn't want the world to stay that way. The history of the gay rights movement also shows us that living openly and truthfully is the only way we can gain acceptance and support. However, the important thing is, now that we've moved away from the 'stealth model', we do need to think about things differently. For example, certain things that might have been considered unacceptable because they would 'out' trans people living in stealth, might not actually be bad in the context of trans people who are living openly. The important thing is, we need to be able to talk about issues like this without taboos, barriers, or prior assumptions.
The point is, to advance trans rights reforms, as well as to improve trans representation, understanding and acceptance, much of the 'stealth model' will probably have to go, and historical conventions and attitudes will need re-calibration. It's an ongoing re-calibration process that will probably take some time. I guess the important thing is that, we remain open minded and open to all sorts of ideas in this process. Giving up some of the conventions of the 'stealth model' could mean moving towards a healthier social dynamic for all of us.