Going Stealth – My Decision Not to Come Out as Trans
Going stealth seemed the right decision for me, at least at the time. It has worked out. I was a child of the 60s but I finally accepted my transgender path in the 90s.
There has been a lot of discussion about ‘coming out’ on the TGGuide Facebook page. This article is a result of that discussion and is offered as a contrast to Jaimi’s trans coming out story which was also published on TGGuide.com.
Going Stealth: Lori-Lee, a 50-Something Trans Woman
My name is Lori-Lee (on the left of this photo). I’m a 50-something post-op transgender woman. It feels odd saying that as I very rarely talk about it. It feels as if I’m divulging a deep-seated secret, even though I know I’m among supporters. I transitioned over 25 years ago. One day I threw out all my male clothing and emerged as female. I never looked back and I never really came out. It seemed the best possible choice for me at the time. Looking back, I really wouldn’t change it. The fact that I’m transgender is only known among my closest family members and perhaps a couple of others who I trusted or they needed to know. Otherwise, I live completely ‘stealth’ as a female. It’s a pretty happy life — finally.
“It still seems as confusing to me today as it was when I was a child.”
If you’re expecting me to divulge the secret of why people become transgender, I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. You know, it still seems as confusing to me today as it was when I was a child. I have no freakin’ idea why anybody would want to give up being male in a male-dominated society. I have no idea why my body and mind were not congruent. Surely, I don’t know why anyone would go through heartache and anguish simply to change their gender. I’ll have to leave this topic to scientists and academics. All I know is my deep-seated need to change gender was very, very real. In fact, it was a matter of life or death.
Looking back, I think my transgender story is similar in many respects to most others. I have made difficult decisions and had my share of loss. Against all odds, I have managed to build a remarkable life. I suppose I’ve had the advantage of ‘white privilege’ and education but it was never easy. Nothing was easy about it. I look forward to a future where our trans brothers and sisters will not have to deal with the same struggles I faced along the way. A future where transgender people are met with compassion and understanding and equal opportunities.
A Transgender Child of the 60s in the Deep Southern U.S.
My mother left our home when I was 2 years old. I lived with my father in abject poverty. I was a child of the sixties living in a broken home deep in the Southern U.S. state of Georgia. It was a ‘polite’ society. A ‘God-fearing’ society where white people kept to their own and black people kept to their own. Homosexuality was seen as a perversion and sometimes a joking matter among the self-righteous.
“Gender is God’s will and not to be trifled with…”
Transgender simply wasn’t spoken of. I first became aware that I was different somewhere around age 5 or 6. I somehow thought I would grow up to be a woman and I made the mistake of saying something to that effect. Lesson learned — Gender is God’s will and not to be trifled with by a confused child. I also learned it ain’t no good to be different down south. So you learn to blend in the best you can. The land in Georgia is beautiful. Unfortunately, many of the people are not so kind. One day, I knew I would leave the south.
I grew up daydreaming of life as a female but deep inside I had learned this was wrong. I was convinced I was the only human in the whole world who felt this way. It was a lonely secret for a child to bear. I withdrew. My dad had his own demons, in alcohol, but he was good to me. He unexpectedly died when I was 11 years old, leaving a void I never could have imagined. Suddenly I was shuttled through relatives homes throughout Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia. Eventually, at the age of 14, I moved to Reno, Nevada to live with my mother for the first time since she had left. My mother was a devout Christian and my misery was about to get worse.
Adolescence, Miracles and Exorcisms
During adolescence, I was unable to completely repress my feminine identity. I was confused and still believed I was the only person to ever feel at odds with their biological gender. I borrowed or stole female clothes to wear, so I could somehow feel more feminine. Perhaps that would be enough. But it wasn’t ever enough. I mentioned the devout Christian thing… every Sunday we were put in the car and taken to extreme evangelical churches. There was speaking in tongues and all sorts of disease and ailments being miraculously cured. I also witnessed the other side. The Satanic side where demons caused people to do bad things and exorcisms were performed. Homosexuals and deviants fell into that latter category.
Praying the Trans Away
All the religious stuff scared the hell out of me (pun intended). Boy, did I pray. I prayed for my salvation and for God to make me normal. Still, I couldn’t repress my feminine side. Why did God not answer my prayers? I continued dressing and wouldn’t know you know it — I got caught, around age 15. There was laying on of hands and prayer. I was told it was the work of demons and I was possessed. There was something wrong with me and it was perverted and evil. Mother made an appointment for an exorcism. Really! I was terrified and big enough by this time that I absolutely refused. In the end, my mother relented and took me to a psychiatrist instead.
The psychiatrist didn’t seem much better. The message (to me) was that I was abnormal. I wish I could have opened up. Looking back, I believe the psychiatrist really did have my best interests in mind. He was perhaps the first to give me a clue that my crazy religious family life wasn’t completely normal. Still, I couldn’t speak the truth so I lied. I said I was just curious about women’s clothes and tried it on mostly as a gag. I went on to explain that I felt silly and didn’t intend to do that ever again. It wasn’t the last lie I would have to tell to avoid the nasty repercussions of an unaccepting world.
Learning to Play the Part
I learned to act the part and became fairly popular in high school. I played sports and hung with the guys. My height was 5′ 10″ so I figured I was too tall to be a woman anyway. Repressing my inner identity with all my might, still, she got through. Now and then and I would find myself cross-dressing. I had learned to be careful. Sometime during high school, I first learned about Christine Jorgensen. OMG, I wasn’t the only one! I graduated high school and moved out of the house at the first opportunity. I repressed my feminine side as much as I could but I always kept a secret stash of women’s clothes, wigs and makeup. Every now and then I just couldn’t help myself. I searched the personal ads. (The internet wasn’t a thing yet.) I located a crossdresser who was seeking friends.
“Surely, I was a cross-dresser. It felt right at the time.”
My new cross-dressing friend introduced me to others like me. Surely, I was a cross-dresser. It felt right at the time. I met others like me. With the support of my new friends, I was able to develop better makeup techniques and I got out of the house now and then. Usually, I would quietly leave from inside my garage, in my car with tinted windows. I would drive, terrified of being pulled over by police, to a friend’s house. It was my first taste of freedom to be me.
Fighting against the transgender feelings as much as I could, I decided to get married. I will always regret that I didn’t have the nerve to tell her in advance. I just couldn’t and I was going to overcome that part of me anyway. So, I became a police officer. I had two children — a boy and a girl. That should do it. But of course, it didn’t. I was drinking, smoking and generally living on the edge and placed myself in dangerous situations at work. It was a miserable existence. I was withdrawn from my wife and knew I couldn’t go on this way. Feeling cornered with only one way out, I reluctantly opened up to my wife. Surprisingly, she was supportive. At least now she understood why I had been withdrawn.
Preparing to Go Stealth: Practice and Support
My wife (at that time) was the first to help me refine my makeup, hair and clothing choices. Like many of you reading this, I sucked at picking out a realistic outfit for a day shopping at the mall. I confided in my wife that I had to make a choice and that choice was to transition. The pain of living life as a male outweighed the fear of what was to come. She was surprisingly supportive. I think I had partly driven her away and now it all made sense. We somehow became closer. I took vacations and extra days where I would go en femme and remain that way for the entire time. I practiced my walk, mannerisms, voice, etc. My wife was happy for me but I could see she was sad for herself — for her loss. I never meant to cause her such pain.
“A dream without a plan — is just a dream.”
Being the meticulous planner that I am, I drew up goals and objectives and developed timelines. While I kind of chuckle at myself for all this planning, it really was helpful. A dream without a plan — is just a dream. My planning included not only the timeline but how I could achieve each goal financially. I was fortunate that I had a small pension and a home with equity. I could make it work. It would be tight, but possible with proper planning and budgeting.
Another vital part of my plan was a Rolodex (yeah, we used those back then) with the names and numbers of all the professionals I would need to pursue my gender transition. There was my electrologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, endocrinologist and general practitioner. I also had a core group of transgender friends, and some cisgender friends to provide friendship and support along the way. That small group of friends made all the difference during some tough times. But the tough times were short-lived, thankfully. My planning paid off in a big way once I set the wheels in motion.
“It was never awkward with my kids.”
I began electrolysis, psychotherapy, hormone therapy and preparations for a new life as Lori-Lee. There was virtually no option to transition at work so I submitted my resignation. I had risen through the ranks and found myself leaving a high paying position. One night I told the kids of my plans to become a mommy rather than a daddy. It was a tender conversation and I was prepared for their concerns. Instead, they were fine with it all. It was pretty much a non-event. Whew! My 10-year-old son said he just wanted me to be happy. It was never awkward with my kids. Now, there was no turning back. I cashed out my pension to fund a brief transition period and surgery. My wife and I divorced.
Coming Out to Family
Although my family life during the younger years was lousy, I still didn’t want to lose my mother and a brother. I wrote out a message, memorized it and rehearsed for several weeks. There was a great deal of time spent on trying to put myself in their position. I prepared for as many questions and/or objections as I could foresee. I reasoned that my mother wouldn’t be terribly shocked and my relationship with her couldn’t get much worse. Individually, I met with my mother and brother and explained to them what was going on.
My mother’s reaction was pretty stoic. At first, she tried to talk me out of it. She suggested prayer and counseling with a pastoral counselor. I politely declined. There was absolutely no chance of turning back and I told her as much, still being as considerate to her as possible. My mother eventually did appear to accept me on the surface. After years of improper pronouns, she eventually settled into female pronouns. Our relationship didn’t get better but it didn’t seem to get worse either, and at least I could live my own life.
My brother accepted me right away. Mr. macho man found a way. There seemed to be an opening-up between us. I could tell he was uncomfortable going out in public at first, but once he saw that other people weren’t startled, he became comfortable. He is actually one of those religious people and I know he only accepted me because I’m his sister. The difference is that I’m not that lonely, confused little child. I can handle it now.
Transgender Parent Going Stealth, with Children
Surprisingly to me, my children wanted to live with me, so I transitioned with a 10-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter relying on me. It wasn’t that my wife was a bad mother. It was that I had learned from my father how to be a good parent. I certainly knew a few things about what not to do. Failure was not an option. Having made the decision to go stealth, we moved across town and began a new life as a family where I was a single mom with 2 children.
Overnight, I went from a respected male law enforcement supervisor to an unemployed, unknown woman with dependents. I had no college degree in my name and no work history. Not even a high school diploma. My expenses were growing and I had to find employment quickly or else my surgery plans would be derailed.
“I passed very well due to all the practice…”
Going stealth was relatively easy. I passed very well due to all the practice I had done on those vacations and days off. Even though I was a bit tall, I had lost weight and looked pretty decent. Feeling I had nothing to lose, I applied for a job at a casino as a cocktail waitress. I was hired on the spot by a food and beverage manager who took a liking to me. I was creative in the employment application. It didn’t matter. They weren’t going to do a background check anyway.
Problem was, I still had to obtain a permit to work in the casino serving alcohol. Terrified at the prospect of being called out, I applied in person to go through fingerprinting, photographs and a background check for the permit. I was approved. Nobody seemed to notice the glaring “M” on my driver’s license. Whew! So I was able to begin working as a cocktail waitress. I was good at the job. Customers and coworkers liked me. It was the kind of job where a girl like me could get constant validation in the form of admiring glances and comments. Not bad at all. Life was good.
Each time I was called to the office my heart sank. Did they find out about my gender? I figured that was a termination offense and guessed it was a matter of time. Thankfully that time never came. This was my favorite job ever. Eventually, I needed to earn more money, but I loved the job and the people I worked with. Too bad I had to work each day in fear my secret would be found out.
Gender Reassignment Surgery
Life was going really well. I was preparing for my trip to Montreal for gender reassignment surgery. The phone rings and an investigator from Child Protective Services greeted me with notification they were conducting an investigation due to my gender transition. A friend of my wife, another religious zealot, had reported me for no reason other than being transgender. I had learned to stand up for myself. I mostly avoided talking about my transition. Instead, I became incredulous and suggested the investigator come to inspect the home, talk with the kids and see if there is any real neglect or cause of action. I was pissed off! Apparently, that was enough. I never heard from them again.
Having accumulated a 2-year work history I started putting feelers out for a better paying job. I was surprised when a friend who offered me a law enforcement position with his company which was a government contractor. He knew about my transition but had no problem with it. I was overqualified. It was understood that my transition would be kept secret which was fine with me. Going stealth worked out in this case, allowing me to return to a good-paying job in my career field.
“I felt like I had a new lease on life and that I had no limits.”
I took a medical leave and went to Montreal, Canada in 1993. Gender reassignment surgery was performed by Dr. Menard, who has since retired. Gender surgery was successful and I returned home a new woman! There was a sense of completion but then it was back to life as usual.
I felt like I had a new lease on life and that I had no limits. I started dabbling with a business idea. The internet was sweeping across the world and I wanted in on it. After work, and in my free time, I began building websites and learned search optimization. Eventually, income from my side gig became more than my real job. I submitted my resignation. It was scary but I sensed it was time to make a change!
Going Stealth in Seattle and New Love
I moved to Seattle, Washington where I could take advantage of technology and a steady supply of computer nerds. I made new connections and business took off. At an LGBT meet-up, I met a woman who would become my new spouse. We live as lesbians in a committed domestic partnership. I did tell my new spouse early on when we were dating that I was transgender. I expected a long conversation and didn’t know if I would get another date. To my great relief, she said, “so what.” We’ve been inseparable since that day. That was over 10 years ago. The transgender subject rarely comes up. Seriously, maybe once every other year something will be matter of factly said but no big deal.
“I’m not out to even my closest friends.”
I remain in stealth in my community and in business. I don’t talk about my past. It’s nobody’s business. I’m not out to even my closest friends. Not one of them (other than my spouse) knows my past. I’m not perfect. Somebody might wonder about me, but I don’t think they would ever know for sure. I prefer life this way. It’s a simple life. It’s a peaceful life that I enjoy.
My children have made every move with me. They are grown now and have their own children. They have given me 6 amazing grandchildren. My ex-wife (the children’s mother) eventually moved to be near the rest of us. We all remain very close and visit frequently. When we can, we travel together. We enjoy the company of each other. My children have always known that I am much more than my gender identity. I’m also a parent, a teacher, a business owner and a pretty decent person. In spite of any failures or shortcomings, I have one outstanding accomplishment — I raised two kind, self-confident, responsible adults who are great parents to their own children.
Family and Friends
Over the years several relatives have found me through social media or by reaching out to the family. I don’t mind. I have a very close relationship with some of my cousins in fact. They accept me with no apparent reservations. Others have made their disapproval known. Once again, the underlying reason is religion. I’ve learned to roll with it. They can’t hurt me.
I’m fortunate to have close family and friends. The family all know about my transition. None of my friends know, however. At least, not that I’m aware of. However, I am pretty certain that every last friend would be accepting and supportive. They wouldn’t be my friend otherwise. I don’t tolerate bigotry or ignorant people. Life is too short.
Still Stealth With No Plans to ‘Come Out’
I’ve never been the flag-waving LGBTQ+ rights type. I still have no intention of coming out publicly. There are those who say every transgender person needs to come out. I disagree. That is a highly personal decision. Each of us has the absolute right to choose how and when we decide to come out, or if we come out at all. I was judged and emotionally abused for the first 25 years of my life. Life is easier when I don’t have to be viewed through the transgender filter all the time.
This is not to say I don’t have compassion or feel a commitment to bettering the lives of transgender people because I do! Many of my friends are transgender. I still need to connect with my people and I truly want to make a difference. I participate in forums and have spent many hours counseling transgender people who are trying to grapple with the complex issues that I did years ago. A particular focus is participation in anti-bullying efforts in my community. My new wife and I donate regularly to trans equality organizations. I also hold my elected officials to a higher standard and I call out bigotry when I see it.
“There is a deep yearning, inside me, to reconnect my soul with Georgia”
I still get back to Georgia now and then. There is a deep yearning, inside me, to reconnect my soul with Georgia, but not the people. I don’t know anyone there aside from a few new friends in the local LGBT community. I’m a white 50s aged woman. I fit in nicely with this southern society. The locals are friendly and chat with me. I usually travel solo, so I sit alone and wonder if they would be so polite if they knew my real story. But that’s a moot point.
So, if you were thinking a 25 year+ post-op trans woman was going to tell you why she did it, you are likely disappointed. I still don’t know and I suppose I never will. Does it even matter? I just know there was no alternative aside from death. I would have destroyed myself. Since transition, I have never looked back and never felt I made a mistake.
Would I change my life if I could, and not be transgender? Yes, I think I would. It has been a difficult life for me and my loved ones. I’ve never wanted to be different. I dislike having a secret, especially one so fundamental to the very essence of who I am. I live in a world of reality though. This is my journey for whatever reason. I’ve had to adapt. It required strength and courage I didn’t know I possessed. The struggle has made me stronger. as of forged by fire.
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs defines ‘self-actualization’ as the fulfillment of the highest needs for meaning in life. I believe I have arrived at that higher level. I am one of the lucky ones. Many of us in the transgender community will never reach this level due to ignorance, bigotry and a grossly uneven playing field. I am very mindful of that fact, and even though I live in stealth as a trans woman, I am deeply committed to making the world a better place for transgender people.
The process of writing this auto-biographical article has been somewhat cathartic. I don’t know if my story can help anyone, but if anyone draws inspiration or understanding from my journey then it has been time well spent.
Love, hugs and peace to all.