One of the most personal, private decisions for any transgender person is the time, manner, and place where they "come out" to other people. Some trans folks choose to "go stealth" in their everyday lives. They choose not to disclose the fact that they are trans and allow the people they interact with to assume that they are cisgender (Sidebar: One of the most insensitive and harmful things you can do to a trans person is to "out" them without their explicit consent. DON'T DO IT).
There are many compelling reasons to be stealth. Given the stratospheric levels of discrimination, sexual assault and violence towards trans people, life is certainly easier (and safer) for those of us who are able to successfully pull off a stealth presentation. Every trans person has their own unique set of desires and motivations, and there is nothing inherently "better" or "worse" about being "out and proud" or "going stealth." I have chosen to be open with others about being trans, and the reasons are both practical and philosophical.
One practical reason I choose to be "out" is the fact that as a late transitioner (I went "full-time" at age 38), to truly "go stealth" I would have to move to a new city and abandon my girlfriend and my circle of friends. In addition, with two small children living here in Ohio, just picking up and moving to a new city isn't a viable option for me. On top of that, if I tried to completely cut ties with my past, what would my resume look like? How would I explain not having any references or job history before my mid 30s?
I also find the mere idea of living stealth to be stressful. For a long stretch of my life, I was worried about people finding out that I was "different." The idea of going back to that, of constantly being worried of people figuring out that I'm trans, is terrifying. One of the things that I've most enjoyed about transitioning is living openly and authentically in a way I had never been able to do before. I can't imagine diving into a life akin to a Directorate S illegal on The Americans. I'm already a jittery, anxious person, and I don't think I'm psychologically built to pull off stealth day-to-day.
For example, on my OK Cupid account, I disclose that I'm trans in the first sentence of my profile. Why? Because I hate the idea of getting to know a person, reaching a point of mutual interest and attraction, and then having to give them "the talk." Maybe it would go great, but there's also a high probability of rejection and psychological pain for me, and a non-trivial chance of physical violence targeted my direction. I'd much rather filter out the transphobes at the start and choose among people who are open to dating folks like me.
Philosophically, I'm not ashamed of being trans. In my perfect world, people would look at me and assume that I'm cis, but if/when I get "clocked" as trans, my reaction would be "So? Yeah, I'm trans. What of it?" It's also important to me that my children know that being trans isn't something to be ashamed of, or a secret they need keep about me.
I also feel some responsibility to be a visible trans person. Less than 10% of the population "knows a trans person" (Of course, many of the respondents to the Pew poll in question may know trans people without KNOWING that they are trans), and as we've seen with the gay and lesbian communities, general acceptance increases as more people realize that friends, family, and/or coworkers are trans. Negative abstractions are replaced with the reality that folks they know and care about are transgender. I feel obligated, as a trans woman who enjoys an array of socioeconomic privileges, to embody that reality. I also want other people who might be trans and struggling (particularly younger trans folks) to see that I'm an out trans woman, I'm happy, and I'm more or less OK.
No trans person is obligated to be an activist, or to "represent" the trans community. Everyone's first responsibility is self-care, and if living stealth is something that gives a person a sense of contentment and security, it's a perfectly cromulent way to exist. Me? It's just not in my wheelhouse. To all my stealth brothers and sisters out there: I'm sending you love. You have strength I do not possess.
What do you all think? Whether you are "out" or "stealth," I'd love to hear your feedback.