Clara Barnhurst

The most validating moments, for me, is when people forget I’m transgender. It doesn’t happen often. Now and then, someone will say something or use particular language that makes clear they’re including me or excluding me on the basis of my gender. That doesn’t mean they forget though. What shows they’ve forgotten is when they do it in such a way that it’s clear that they’re not considering my transgender past.

Maybe they do actually remember, but what matters to me is that their behaviour and language is such that they’ve just let the web of assumption do its work. Suddenly I’m being included in a conversation about men and sex, or having men explain something about how men experience things women don’t generally know about from direct experience. The assumption of direct experience - or lack thereof - signals that nobody lost the game.

It’s a wonderful feeling, to just exist in that space where the game isn’t lost: everyone’s forgotten about my transgender past. It’s a buzz and I can’t think of a more satisfying high. Gender euphoria at its purest, but trying to share my good vibe automatically ruins it.

The trouble with the game is that when it’s won, making my good feelings clear to those around me means the game gets lost. We all remember the game, we then have to talk about transgender something (the equivalent of having to announce that we just lost the game) before we can move on to other things. The gathering never quite wins the game again if that happens.

It’s a lonely thing, not being able to share good feelings - especially when there’s a great story to go along with it. It’s not even something I can share with friends outside the exchange because if they’re all going along winning the game, I’m forcing a loss. The overall potential for victory is lost. So that’s the balance: sharing the joy versus the joy of automatic inclusion. It’s the strongest case for stealth that I’ve found, but that’s a different balance, especially for a storyteller like me: living with that buzz as a constant vs the buzz of sharing a good story.


Of course, the thing that makes the stories good ones is the context of my transgender past. When someone starts talking smear tests with a transgender woman as though they have a direct shared experience, it’s funny because transgender women often don’t have that experience. The opposite is also true: odds are pretty good a transgender man does have direct experience, but when the game is won people will talk to them as though they don’t know what that is. That mismatch makes it entertaining, but sharing the story highlights a transgender status that a person may or may not like. If, like me, they get a buzz when the game is won, they don’t want that story shared.

It’s a trap: we’re stuck. This exact thing happened to me this week when a friend stopped to explain how gross urinals were as though I had no direct experience of them. Clearly not true (though I always kept my interaction with the things to a minimum), and quite fun to have happen. I got a kick out of winning the game. Because I’m me, I went on to privately text my friend’s wife about it and a couple of other friends. But as I went on sharing, I found myself becoming uncomfortable. I didn’t end up sharing it with certain friends: I didn’t want them to think of my transgender past.

It may seem odd for a transgender blogger to say that. I highlight my transgender past a few times a week in my writings and there’s no sign of that stopping. There is a separation though. My writings exist in a context that bleeds across my personal life, but I’m not what I write. Not completely.

It’s an uneasy relationship, and not one I’m entirely comfortable with. There might come a day when I decide I’d rather just win the game all the time and not share this part of my life anymore. I see no sign of that happening, but it’s a possibility. For now, there is joy in sharing my winnings, even if that makes the chances of winning smaller.


All the same, I am at my happiest when my gender isn’t a thing and the web of assumption just does its work. I’ve entered into this bizarre game of forgetfulness where I find ways to enable the assumption to override the knowledge of those around me. When I win, I am the woman I always was without the turmoil of a transgender past. And I get a good story to tell later, when the buzz wears off. In the telling, I start the game over and play until I win again.

I understand that not everyone gets that euphoria from being forgotten about. Some folks embrace the out and proud mentality and find their joy in their visibility. They don’t play the game. I’ve had some people accuse me of denying who I am by playing the game. Maybe I am, but it’s what I crave and how I feel most at home with myself. The irony isn’t lost on me.

The other trouble with the game is it gets played whether you want to take part or not. It’s just a matter of how someone feels when they win. Somebody’s response to being mansplained urinals could be to remind them that, actually, they do have that direct experience (and yeah they’re gross). At that point, they’ve forced a loss in that game but maybe they’re playing another one that gives them satisfaction. There is satisfaction to be found in visibility. Maybe, by writing and sharing, I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too.

At the end of the day, we all get to decide whether forgetfulness is a win or a loss: it’s our decision whether to remind people. How we play the game will have everything to do with how we feel validated in ourselves. That process is individual, but luckily this game is played on the terms of the person being forgotten. Remind or remain silent - it’s our choice.

Comments (3)
No. 1-3

As you age "the game" will take on another meaning. Having lived stealth for many years (since 1992 except to my loved ones and doctors) there are the beautiful moments when you are just living in the moment and you forget that you are trans. When you can just be yourself, moving through life as yourself, dealing only with life's standard issues. It's collect your prize, game over.


But maybe thats just part or trans life. I am trans, I’ll always be trans, no matter how well or often I score points in the game. It’s not ideal but I’m happier being in the game than sitting in the bleachers or warming the bench.


Very interesting metaphor for our common experience. I get it, I experience it too. I’m always playing the game, getting a small endorphin hit when I’m properly gendered, is like scoring a point.

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