Transitioning early in life: Leslie's advice

In August 2002, I received the following note from Leslie Townsend, a beautiful model and comedian who lived stealth most of her adult life:

I wanted to tell you about a book I am having published on called 'Hidden In Plain Sight'. It is autobiographical and tells my story of transitioning at twenty-three and how I lived closeted for the last eighteen years. My experience in the sex industry and my attempts to break free from that part of my past is an undercurrent of my book. Also how living closeted has its' own price to pay. I would love to send you a copy and if you see merit in my story I hope you will consider recommending on your website. Sincerely, Leslie Townsend

I do indeed recommend it, especially for younger readers considering the option of stealth. Below is my review.

Blending into the woodwork: an unvarnished account

I would like to recommend a new book, especially to my younger readers and those who may be contemplating or fantasizing about a life of deep stealth. It's called "Hidden in Plain Sight" by Leslie Townsend. Leslie represents the least-represented public image of our community: the deep stealth, completely assimilated transsexual. There are people within our community who think this is rare or doesn't even exist, but I have received enough correspondence through my website and met enough women in person to know that there are a great many young women living this life. Their invisibility and self-imposed silence leaves them vastly undercounted.

Leslie's story echoes many similar tales I have heard from deep stealth women of extraordinary beauty. The only other book I'm aware of that represents a similar experience is Caroline Cossey's "My Story." While it is possible to live as a professional model after transition for some of us, there is often a big price to pay when we hide our past.

Leslie learned as a child about Renee Richards, and later saw a Donahue episode featuring transsexuals. After her father discovered some informational materials she had sent for, Leslie had a series of humiliating and disappointing encounters with "helping professionals," including the notorious John Money of Johns Hopkins University.

Leslie left home at 19 to begin her transition in Key West. Her journey then took her all over the country as she sought to distance herself from her past. She tells of working as a showgirl at female illusionist clubs, as a sex worker, as a professional model, and as an aspiring actress and stand-up comic.

She is refreshingly frank about difficulties with family acceptance, relationships with men (including an 18-month marriage), as well as the meaningful friendships throughout her life. The book was brought out through a self-publishing imprint, so you'll need to overlook the somewhat unedited prose and scattered errors. Those sorts of minor issues do not take away from the power of Leslie's message, however.

"Hidden in Plain Sight" has a cathartic feel to it-- it's a coming-out story, a confessional. The book is written at a time when Leslie had reached a low point caused by years of low self-esteem and lack of self-acceptance about being transsexual. Sadly, these are frequent problems for those living deep stealth. From these depths, Leslie has an important revelation:

"The energy it took to hide my past always weakened any attempts to become a whole person with the strength and conviction to live free of fear."

I like to think that Leslie's book is the first in a series. This first part ends with the feeling that she's about to start a whole new chapter in her life. I for one am very excited to see where she goes as a woman who is out, proud, and whole. Her decision to be so candid about her difficulties with deep stealth and self-esteem makes this book a real eye-opener for those who wish to live a similar life.

"Hidden in Plain Sight" includes 32 lovely photos, including pictures from her childhood and various modeling assignments. Leslie possesses extraordinary physical beauty and has led a colorful life, but this goes beyond being a simple tell-all book or a mere cautionary tale. She presents the inspirational story of the survivor in all of us, of the self-esteem we all possess once we get over the shame of one of the most important parts of who we are. In telling this story, Leslie reveals that her extraordinary beauty is much more than skin deep.

Purchasing information

Leslie's book is currently being revised for the second edition. I'll update this when the new version is abailable.

Send me your thoughts, links, and advice!

If you transitioned in your teens or twenties and have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.