Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Accidental Stealth

So, as I’ve mentioned, I spent Christmas and New Year’s with the Darling Boyfriend and his family in Maryland. We stayed with his parents, and his big brother and his family stayed there as well for a few days while we were there. The Darling Boyfriend also has two older sisters who live in the same area as his parents with their families. So I got to meet and spend time with his whole family.

It was a great time. His family is all just sweet and lovely, and were super-warm and welcoming. I got to have pretty in-depth chats with most of them one-on-one, and I feel like I really got to know them, and they me. I think it went as well as I could have hoped. They said they hoped to see me again, and invited me back, and other lovely stuff. His oldest nephew even said that he felt like I’m already part of the family [yes, that made me cry mad tears of joy].

And the question on everyone’s mind ever since I started dating after my divorce seems to be: “Do they know?”

“Know,” of course, refers to whether or not people are aware of my medical history.

It’s sort of interesting that my medical history is so fascinating and all, though it does get tiring.

And the answer is that they don’t know, though they probably will at some point (and I did tell one of his sisters that I had surgery last February, and that it was genital surgery to correct a congenital birth defect), but they don’t know now. The Darling Boyfriend didn’t tell them before I met them, and we didn’t tell them while we were there. Who knows, maybe they’ll find my blog, which is rife with details about my life.

I actually felt the conversation veering in the direction of me telling them about my medical history a few times, but then the moment passed. I felt like it never really seemed relevant. If I had told them it would have been forced, and I saw no need to force it into a conversation. And as opposed to it feeling like an elephant in the room, which it used to feel like, it now sort of felt like some inconsequential piece of data that wasn’t that big of a piece of getting to know me.

We hung out with his best friend a few times, and the same thing happened. It almost came up a couple times, and I even talked about my church being GLBT-inclusive, but my own connection to the issue was never explored.

It was incredibly relaxing, just being a person for a change. Not being an identity. Not being a statement. Not being a controversy. Not being fascinating. Just being Penny. Truly.

The Darling Boyfriend’s acceptance and understanding of my past never ceases to amaze me. At this point I almost think he does a better job of explaining it than I do. And I think we both sort of decided to let it happen organically, or not. I think we were both fine with the way things progressed, and that it didn’t come up.

And yet it’s impossible for me to erase my life in the before time, and I would never want to. My ex is my ex, not my “friend” (I mean, she is my friend, but if someone asks how I know her, I’m going to tell them that she’s my ex, and not give some evasive answer), and a million other things like that. I went to an all-boys Catholic High School, and so on. I’m not about to re-write my life’s story. And yet, it is amazing how much of life happens in the here-and-now, and how history can be something that isn’t referenced all that much.

I mentioned to the Darling Boyfriend, toward the end of our stay, that I had sort of been “accidentally stealth.” I guess, since I knew we were staying for about ten days, that I had just figured it would come up at some point. The fact that I never ended up telling his family about my medical history, save for that brief mention to his oldest sister on our last day, surprised me.

It’ll be interesting to see when/how/if his family learns about my history.

But, just to reiterate, it was an incredible stay, and his family is all sorts of awesome and lovely.

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13 Comments»

  Priscilla wrote @

Hey, Penny! I’m so glad you got to be a reallife 3D person and not “just” a symbol over the holidays. Makes me happy to read about you being happy. 🙂

Happy New Year!

Priscilla

  Caroline wrote @

Nobody has ever asked me if I am “trans” and why should I have to “tell”, other folk do not go round explaining their gender and sexual inclinations and history. if the plan is to blend into the world as a woman then you should not have to “out” yourself to every passer by.

Caroline xxx

  pickypenelope wrote @

It’s been quite a while, but people did used to ask if I was “trans.” And while I certainly don’t out myself to every passerby, I do think there are times when my history becomes relevant (usually when I get to know someone more than just in passing).

It’s not my “plan” to blend into the world as a woman. I am a woman. I blend. But I believe it’s important for me to be honest and authentic about the whole complexity of my life, which sometimes does involve talking about my past.

It’s definitely complicated. Denial and repression were a big part of my history, I’m not about to deny any part of my history.

  Ellen wrote @

Penny,

I was a lot like you. I always intended to be “quietly out” (i.e., “out” but not “in your face”), but that turns out to be harder to do than it appears.

It’s not uncommon for peole not to talk to everyone about intimate somewhat traumatic things that they’ve been through. People who’ve been sexually assaulted know that others will look at them differently if they’re open about it. Likewise people who have to live with the consequences of having had an STD. Likewise people who have had a miscarriage or abortion. Likewise people who have a nonobvious disability.

In all cases, these things can help to define them, and coping with those things made them stronger better people in various ways. And yet they’re not things that people are open about, because being open about them changes the way that other people see them.

New people you meet are going to assume that you are cis, I don’t think you would be human if you didn’t enjoy that at some level. From there, it’s very very easy to fall into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality where if it doesn’t come up, you don’t tell. And of course, if you blend in, it’s never really going to come up. Even if you speak out in favor of transsexual people, people may well just see you as a cis ally. (Heck, I used to go to meetings of transsexual people and have people assume I was a cis ally; in that venue, I would correct them.)

Since transition, I have never lied to any of my friends, acquaintances, coworkers, etc. I have occasionally said things like “my time in high school was painful enough that I don’t really want to go into detail”, and they accept that and move on. Once you realize that you’re probably never going to have to tell people (but if you ever did have to, you could ride it out okay), it’s hard to push yourself into telling them because you can always procrastinate and decide to put it off a little longer.

In fact, now that I think of it, even early on under extreme circumstances I managed to somehow avoid outing myself in situations where it might have been reasonable to do so. When I first changed my name, I went into my bank with my name change document and said to the clerk, “I need to change the name on my account”, and the clerk replied “Oh, did you get married?”, and I said no, and handed over my name change documents (which made no reference to gender), saying “Now, umm, my old name might be a bit of a surprise for you”, and she looked at it, and said “Oh… I suppose your parents must have really wanted a boy?” (i.e. to have given a girl a boy’s name). Clearly, no other possibility occurred to her, which I thought was really sweet and quite flattering. I don’t think I could have made myself say, “No, you see actually I’m a transsexual woman”, since that would have dramatically changed the dynamics. (I did have to add “You might want to make sure they have my gender right, because, well, with a name like I used to have, people make assumptions”.) She didn’t know. She didn’t need to know. It was easier on me to leave it that way.

I have thought many times about outing myself to people close to me (my partner does know), but I feel that it’s a bit like a married partner talking about an affair — briefly cathartic and theoretically more “honest”, but in reality something you probably regret doing because of the way it changes the dynamics (they’ll never see you the way they did before) and burdens others with information they would have been happier never knowing.

Yet being unwilling to out myself seems wrong too. It goes against the position I promised myself I would adopt when I transitioned. I have gone from being quietly out to being in my own stealth bubble just by doing nothing and allowing it to happen.

It seems that, to paraphrase Star Wars, “Blending leads to stealth, and stealth leads to the trans-erasure side”. Yet it’s hard not to end up being swallowed up into stealth, especially if your work leads you to move and make new friends.

I don’t have any good answers. I am, as far as I know, pretty much silent-running stealth, notwithstanding my speaking out about everything on the marginalized-groups spectrum, including trans stuff.

It the same kind of thing happens to you, don’t be too surprised. I transitioned years ago now, and as far as I know, everyone in my peer group who transitioned at the same time has pretty much blended away. It happens.

  pickypenelope wrote @

Wow Ellen, thank you for such a thoughtful and interesting comment. So much of what you said resonates with me. I remember realizing a while ago, to my great surprise, that I could be a lot more stealthy than I ever expected possible; and that realization was quite powerful.

I don’t know what the future will look like for me, but being super-stealthy doesn’t seem in the cards. My profession makes it difficult for me to completely separate my current life from my former, and part of my activism with my church puts my history sort of “front-and-center” at times. It’s possible I will gradually shrink from being quite so open, but I’m not sure.

And as for knowledge changing perception, well, I suppose that’s true. There are people who find out (or know) about my medical history who will see me as a woman with an asterisk. But if I believe that there’s nothing wrong with my history, that there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of, then I feel it’s even more important for me to be open. I am a normal woman. Many people know about my unique history and yet are still able to fully and completely grok my womanhood and femaleness (and I feel comfortable saying that by comparing how the people who know with the people who don’t know treat me).

A transsexual history does not make a woman anything “less than,” and most of the people in my life understand that.

I feel it’s important for me to be as open as I am in the hopes of making the world a better place for people suffering with a similar condition. My life would have been very different if I had been properly diagnosed when I was much younger. I wish I had seen real people who had been treated for transsexualism when I was younger. I don’t expect to change the whole world, but I do think it’s possible for me to make a difference, and that’s what I’m hoping to do.

And having said all that, yes, of course, it’s so much easier to just blend and go through my day without talking about my medical history. It does get tiring sometimes, and it’s very relaxing just being.

I think the thing that really tips the scale for me is the fact that I was raised with a lot of repression and denial; I would rather err on the side of too much information rather than not enough.

Thanks Ellen, again, for your thought-provoking comment. I really appreciate it.

  lisalee18wheeler wrote @

“A transsexual history does not make a woman anything “less than,” and most of the people in my life understand that. ”

I have to respectfully disagree with you, Penny. Google “transsexual” and you’ll have your answer. The real problem is not the “history” but the “attitude”. IMHO, tacking the word “trans” on “others” you and does make you “less than” who you truly are, a woman.

  pickypenelope wrote @

Ah, but the thing is, I was born with the wrong body no matter how I describe it. I am a member of a minority whether I wish it were true or not.

You are very right Lisalee, examples abound of people who misunderstand and hate women like you and me. I can’t help that. And just because people will hate me doesn’t mean that I can deny my past.

Being a part of a minority is hard, hard work. The world can be an unfair place for minorities, and it’s strange to live for 35 years before realizing that I’m a member of a minority. But just like being a member of any minority group can be difficult, it’s also sort of something that exists in my history one way or the other.

I am part of the group that is lucky enough to keep my medical history (and personal history) secret if I so chose. Just like light-skinned blacks can pass unseen in a white world, so too can I pass unseen through the “normal” world as a woman who wasn’t forced to live the wrong life for oh so long. But I won’t do that, because I believe that the only way the world will change and realize that people like me are not a threat is for me to be honest about my past.

My life is my life, no matter what specific words I attach to it. I have an ex-wife who isn’t a lesbian – that’s sort of the kind of thing I refuse to deny. She deserves better than being denied.

I am Swedish. I am a woman. I was born with the wrong body. I am a drummer. I am tall. I am overweight. I don’t have a gallbladder. I only had two wisdom teeth. All of these things and many more make me unique and special. We are all different, and we are all the same.

Finally, I have no problem with others being more discreet about their history than I am. I actually understand it keenly. It is relaxing to just be a person rather than a cause. I’m a fan of people choosing their own destiny and writing their own stories.

But no one can “other” me without my consent, and I am never “othered.”

  lisalee18wheeler wrote @

“I am a member of a minority whether I wish it were true or not.”

This is the attitude I spoke of, Penny. I know you still read the blogs even though you rarely comment, so you know how strongly I feel about this. But this is your house and I’ll refrain from commenting… besides, I’m too busy removing the plank from my eye… 🙂

  pickypenelope wrote @

Sure, it’s easier if I don’t think about it the way, but I want to be visible to let others know that there is a way to transition and live a good life. And my life rocks.

😉

And even though we slightly disagree on this, I still mad love you and hope you’ll still wanna have lunch when you drive through Boston.

  lisalee18wheeler wrote @

I always admired your strength and tenacity, Penny. And yes, we slightly disagree on this…

Oh, could you see me parking on your street in Quincy? Not!

😉

  pickypenelope wrote @

Oh come on; I have a ~really~ long driveway.

😉

  Abby wrote @

My feelings are similar to yours, Penny. I am proud of being trans, and the rest of my history, because it has brought me to who and where I am today, and I like who I am today and the life I have. Like you, however, there are many people in my life who don’t know I’m trans and some who do. The only difference between those groups is that there have been situations with people in the latter group where it made sense to tell them. When I do tell someone, it’s for one or both of these reasons: one, I want them to truly know who I am, which I don’t think is possible without knowing I am transgender, since that has been such an important part of my life, especially in the last 4 years or so; or two, I see an opportunity to educate them about trans people and trans issues by letting them know who I am, so they can realize that I am not so very different than they are. I just want to live a live of peace, dignity and love just like they do.

One example involves my church – the Unity Church of Prescott, which, like yours, is an important part of my life. I have been a member there since 1995. However, because of a hiatus of about 4 years when I didn’t attend at all and which didn’t end until 8 months or so before I went full time, most people there don’t know that I am trans. Many do, however. For example, both the minister and his wife know because they have known me since I started attending in 1995 and I sought and obtained their support when I finally went full time, something that happened without any fanfare or disruption at all. Also, there are also a few people that have known me since I began attending there who know of my history and remain friends and supporters. Also, I outed myself to a number of church members a few months ago during a panel discussion following a showing of “For the Bible Tells Me So” at our church. Finally, after attending for over a year without any questions, I told my story to the Course in Miracles study group at the church, which happened to be all women at the time, because I believe my life is an important demonstration of some of the primary principles of the Course that we were studying.

Most remarkably and wonderfully, despite these disclosures, next month I will attend our church’s annual women’s retreat for the third year in a row. The first year after my transition, I was specifically invited to attend by a cis woman who I have known for years and I have been welcomed back without question each year since. In fact, this year I am on the planning committee for the retreat.

Hiding the truth about who I am, even from myself, was one of the most painful parts of my life before transition, and my transition is all about living authentically. Therefore, I refuse to hide who I am and endure that pain any longer.

  pickypenelope wrote @

Abby, I feel basically the same as you, though I do have trouble with the concept of being “proud” about my medical history. I’m proud of the way I have lived my life, but I’m not proud of an accident of my birth.


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