Pass / Fail

Oh, passability. You most intensely problematic, yet utterly inescapable, of trans concepts. What a rascal you are! I think it’s time we had a little chat…

Passability is an issue that cuts pretty close to the bone for most trans folk. It’s immensely complicated, tied in to a dozen or so different larger issues, connects very deeply and intimately to intensely personal things like one’s body image and dysphoria and sense of validity in one’s identified gender, it’s hopelessly tangled up in privilege and risk and oppression and the day-to-day facts of our lives, and it breeds endless jealousy, disgust, resentment, alienation, and internalized transphobia, hierarchies and conflict in our own community. Can’t buy into it, because that elevates cisnormativity as what we “ought” aspire towards, measures our validity, beauty, worth and identity by cis standards, and positions being a good little tranny as being all about being as cis-like as possible. And you can’t really reject it either, because it’s deeply connected to what most of us are working towards, which is a body and social / cultural / interpersonal identity that are in accordance with our sense of self, our gender identity. You certainly can’t seem to ignore it, despite how many voices within the trans community want to just scrap the word entirely, because it’s completely impossible to talk about things like cis privilege, cissexism, transphobia, gender-based discrimination, our experiences, our lives, our fears, our beauty, our daily hassles and so forth without talking about passing.

It’s a great big mess, really. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

Since it’s not going anywhere, we might as well learn to talk about it and deal with it, right?

There’s a lot that’s inherently problematic in the term itself, and the assumptions that underlie simply choosing that word at all, and that semantic structure. For instance, it’s a verb in which we’re the active party. A trans person either “passes” or ze doesn’t, as though ze has some kind of say in the matter, or that it’s somehow hir responsibility, hir fault, if ze “passes” or… fails? A more accurate way to structure it would be to speak in terms of being gendered correctly or incorrectly. That the active party in this relationship is the people around us, who are the ones doing all the perceiving, and projecting their concepts of gender onto our presented selves. That would provide a lovely shifting of that problematic issue of who’s the one “doing” anything here, and whose “responsibility” it is. But it’s clunky, and doesn’t really provide us a way to talk about the trait, or set of traits, or state of being, by which a trans person has the privilege of being consistently gendered in a manner consistent with hir identity, which is something that sometimes we do need to talk about. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to discuss the issues surrounding the degree of media attention surrounding Jenna Talackova, in contrast to far more socially significant stories unfolding alongside her’s, without being able to talk about how much she fits into cisgender standards of female appearance and beauty… her “passability”.

Then there’s the sort of wider sociological sense from which “passing” is derived. “Passing” conventionally meant to be able to be seen and interpreted as others as being a member of a different identity or class or group or race than one’s own. It has that dimension of “deception” smuggled in through that etymology, which I’ve consistently to held to be one of the most dangerous and harmful ways in which transgenderism is conceived (as a “deception” or “trying to be something you’re not” and all that stuff). To say, for instance, that a trans woman “passes as female” is to quite clearly state by implication that she’s not really female. We aren’t “passing ourselves off” as members of our identified sex. We are the gender we are presenting.

But we could say that in “passing” what’s going on isn’t that we’re “passing” as female or male, but rather that we’re “passing” as cis. Which, arguably, is presenting ourselves as “something we’re not”. But here we run afoul of cisnormative assumptions again in that that sort of universalizes the flimsy assumption of “everyone is cis until proven otherwise”. It plays into the sense of cis as “normal” and default, hyper-privileged to the point of being almost entirely conceptually unmarked, such that our existence isn’t even factored into perceptions, and for us to not be wholly obvious in our marked status is somehow seen as trying to “pass” as the unmarked status. This is tricky to explain… but as with the “ethical imperative of disclosure” issue, the real problem here is the cis privilege that allows people to walk around as though there’s no such thing as trans people at all until that fact is staring you right in the face, explicitly announcing its presence. The simple truth is that trans people present with a range of phenotypes, which overlap, in varying degrees, with those of cis members of any morphological sex. Sometimes we look a way that you might read as “trans-looking” and sometimes we look in a way that you’d read as “passing” (or hardly get read at all, just fading into background noise), and most of the time we look somewhere in between and how we’re gendered varies from context to context, but regardless of what perceptions get imposed on us, that range of phenotypes IS the range of phenotypes that trans people may present. A “passable” trans woman doesn’t in any meaningful sense “look like a cis woman”, she simply looks the way that many trans women happen to look, which often happens to not be distinguishable from the way cis women look.

And there’s definitely no precise identifiers. Everything is gradiated, and everything is a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Like there’s a general range of brow bossing that most people consider within the norm for women, and there’s a general range of brow bossing that most people would consider within the norm for men, and the two overlap a bit. And there are women (cis and trans alike) who are outliers for the average range and men who are outliers for their average range. So effectively, there’s no specific point at which brow bossing ends up giving you a “male forehead” vs. a “female forehead”. It, in and of itself, won’t make any difference in terms of whether you “pass” or not. And every single one of these gradiated, gendered traits, pretty much all of which have male/female overlaps in the middle,  end up playing off one another. A prominent Adam’s Apple can go unnoticed on a woman. A large nose can go unnoticed. Big hands can go unnoticed. A strong jawline can go unnoticed. Broad shoulders can go unnoticed. A husky voice can go unnoticed. But if you take enough of those features together, and the way people will conceptually categorize you in that lightning-fast act of perceptual gendering will shift.

But yeah, sorry, but as De Beauvoir pointed out like, 75 years ago, there really isn’t any single, completely reliable test you could use to delineate a line between “woman” and “man”.Much less in terms of outward phenotypes. Instead we have a loose bundle of features that we happen to use to make little speedy intuitive (unreliable) abductions about unseen features of sex, like genitalia, chromosomes, whatever.

So we’re not “passing ourselves off” as cis just because our features happen to be in a given range that you happen to not find any difficulty abducting a gender from. Nor are we failing to “pass” just because we happen to land in a range of features (just as available to cis people) that strike you as unexpected and throw a bit of a kink into the totally intuitive guessing-game your brain constantly plays with everyone around you.

What’s really interesting, though, is that despite the degree to which these features all overlap and gradiate, such that there really isn’t any definable “trans look” or “cis look” (so if I catch you saying “looks like a tranny”, “hot tranny mess”, or anything of the sort, I will feed you to my cybernetic velo-cis-raptor, Mittens), is that the line between being gendered male and gendered female can be extremely thin. One has to work to be truly androgynous and genuinely confound perceptions (though it’s still, of course, easy to confound people so ignorant the thought of another human being being trans or intersex never even crosses their minds). I remember that after about three months of hormones, while I was still presenting as male, I very, very suddenly started experiencing “male fail” (that is, being gendered female, referred to as “miss”, “dear”, “love”, etc.). It happened virtually overnight. The overall whole, from the sum of the parts, had suddenly hit the tapping point at which people’s brains started to occasionally find it easier to guess that I was female than guess that I was male. I also remember one day where I was male-failed four times over the course of the day, then was back to being consistently “sirred” the next, when quite literally the ONLY change in my presentation was changing my shirt from a v-neck to a crew-neck.

One of the ways the trans community has started to work around and address some of the complex sociological factors into the issue of passing, and how it reflects and plays in to a cis-dominated system, is to frame it in terms of “passing privilege”. This helps. It reminds us that passing doesn’t make us better, it doesn’t make us more “real” as women or men, it isn’t because we’re more committed or serious or worked harder or anything, nor does it have anything to do with being more beautiful. It’s simply a matter of getting lucky, mostly just lucky with things like bone structure and height and noses, the stuff hormones can’t change. And it does typically operate as privilege… it’s a fortunate set of inexplicable circumstances or traits that make one’s life a little bit easier, particularly in terms of social power dynamics and discrimination. If you have passing privilege, you don’t have to deal with nearly as much misgendering, harassment, Othering, invasion of privacy, etc. You have the option of stealth if that’s what you feel is best for you. You’ll have your gender much more consistently validated by others, and much less consistently invalidated.

But discussing it as privilege doesn’t quite cut it. For one thing, the sociological privileges are not quite as clearly defined as they initially appear, or as intuition would suggest. “Passing”, for instance, is strongly correlated to increased risk of violence. This is due to things like the aforementioned “deception” issue (which, it suddenly re-occurs to me, is already explicitly coded into the term “passing” itself… handy, these implicit associative chains, aren’t they?), and “deception” (via “passing” as “something you’re not”) is very strongly tied to transphobic violence. But more subtly speaking, most murders are not committed by strangers. They’re committed by people you know and trust. A trans woman who is visibly so is going to be alienated from cis culture and individuals. People will harass her much more, yes, but ultimately they’re not going to emotionally invest themselves in her enough to care enough to commit murder. By virtue of her alienation, she’s paradoxically protected from that level of harm, and insulated by her social connections being primarily comprised of those who are already accepting of her gender. Whereas a “passable” trans woman will be able to assimilate into cis communities, and will typically feel the desire to do so, often as stealth, and won’t have any warning or buffer insulating her from letting violently hateful people into her life, trusting them, and allowing them the emotional investment that can fuel violence.

There’s also an element of the “passing privilege” discussion that ends up being used as fuel for internal conflicts and resentment. Speaking from experience, one of the most intensely insulting and frustrating things one can experience in the trans community is having another trans person lashing out at you because they assume from your appearance or age that you “had it easy”. None of us have it easy. And to be honest, I’ve seen a lot more of this sort of behaviour than of the inverse, or people being shunned on account of not living up to some kind of idealized standard of “passing”. Though there is that whole creepy “I don’t want to hang out with other trans women unless they’re super-duper passable because then I’ll get clocked too!” thing.

Yeah…ur… there are a lot of very good reasons I don’t go to trans support groups anymore.

But more than any of that, there’s a hell of a lot of problems in the “passing” concept that simply reframing it as an issue of privilege fails to address. Like what about the question the question of how this relates to dysphoria, and the physical drives of transitioning? Where does the line lie between that which we do simply to ease our dysphoria and that which we do to attempt to “pass”? Is it even POSSIBLE to draw such a line? So if it’s such an extension of the one universality all transsexual people have in common, the desire to adapt our bodies so as to reflect our genders, and so as to feel at home in them, what exactly are we doing when we politicize it? Maybe it’s better to treat “passability”, or the conditions that produce it, as being an issue of dysphoria, and body image. To not allow resentments to fester.

Though that leaves us with the problems that are quite explicitly political in nature, that can’t be divorced from the tension between collective and individual needs. Such as how passability affects our visibility, as a community, along with all the deep importance visibility has to our ability to move forward as a movement. And maybe there’s an important difference between kinds of visibility? The chosen and the imposed?

And that issue of visibility connects back to the subjectivity of the dysphoria. If a questioning soon-to-transition person only ever sees transition through a lens of people who don’t “look like” the cultural standards for their identified sex, that’s a hugely discouraging factor. Not just in terms of feeling like they’ll have to make immense social sacrifices just to transition… but also in terms of developing the impression that it doesn’t matter, they’ll never be able to ease their dysphoria anyway.

I mean… damn. What are we supposed to do here? These are conversations we need to have and need to avoid. Concepts that are deeply personal, intimate and subjective but inherently political in their scope and implications. Privileges that often play out as risks. A stable condition that’s somehow emergent from ridiculously vague, scattered, gradiated, overlapping, non-delineated things. An issue of presenting ourselves as who we really are by not explicitly presenting all of who we really are. The paradoxes start stacking up the very moment you begin trying to wring any kind of answer out of “passability’s” Adam’s-Apple-less neck.

I don’t know… maybe others are right in saying we need to ditch the term entirely. Maybe these paradoxes only appear because I keep trying to analyze a “something” that isn’t really there. Maybe the problem with passing is that there is no problem with passing. Only a problem with humans having a really inadequate way of perceiving gender. Maybe it’s one of those situations where it’s only an important “indispensable” issue because we’ve made it one.

But we all worry about it, don’t we?

Or are we really worrying about something else?

Is it really our worry, or are we just doing the grues’ work for them?

What are we really talking about when we talk about passing?

I’m not sure I passed this particular test.


  1. says

    I am quite tall (6′.) I’m very scrawny. I’m white as a sheet. I have a strong jawline, broad shoulders, deep-set eyes, and a triangle shaped body. I typically fear that I’ll not be able to pass as a beautiful woman so easily.

    However, some things give me pause and make me realize I may be able to “pass” as an alternative type of woman. I have high cheekbones – which, from about four or five women I’ve been told they wish they had. I have EXCELLENT hair – full of body and curly, and really really dark. I have beautiful hazel eyes. I have great, already pouty lips. I have fucking awesome, long legs. And a few days ago I caught my body in the mirror wearing only a bra (with forms) and panties and had to pause for a second cause it looked like a woman’s body shape.

    I may never be a beautifully, girlish type of woman. I’ll be quite able to pass as a handsome, womanly one though.

    (and let me reiterate… FUCKING awesome legs!!!)

    • Happiestsadist says

      Seconding the “you sound more model-like than cute-girl-next-door-like”. Rawr.

      Also, considering the number of models who do fall down on the runway, you’d be in good company. (Okay, maybe that’s one of the more entertaining parts of Fashion Week everywhere.)

    • HFM says

      Just to warn you – I’m a 6′, broad-shouldered woman, and despite being cis, I get female-failed a couple of times per week. It’s just something that happens. (Usually, it’s clerks calling me “sir”, but I’ve been herded away from the ladies’ room more than once.)

      If you don’t quite match the prototype, people might not always get it right on first glance. Doesn’t mean you can’t be confident in yourself as a woman, nor that others won’t see you as one.

      • northstargirl says

        Something I did to ease my anxieties about my own physique (I’m just under six feet myself and have an athletic build) was to pay attention to the variations in cis women I came across and interacted with. I came to find that a lot of the features I gave myself grief about (height, build, voice) weren’t all that uncommon in cis women, and I eased up on myself. Now it’s to the point when if I get a “sir” I issue a gentle correction and more often than not get a profuse apology…and it helps to know this happens to some cis women as well.

  2. embertine says

    Mmmm, I can see why this is problematic.

    In a way it reminds me of the Mystique/Nightcrawler conversation again: you shouldn’t have to hide that you’re trans, but you shouldn’t have to have people questioning your preferred gender either. You shouldn’t contribute to trans invisibility but you want to be perceived as just another woman*. You don’t want to deceive anyone but you don’t want to be defined by your medical history either or face aggression/cluelessness. Phew.

    I used to get told I “looked like a tranny” all the time when I was thinner. At the time I was a little hurt – if it happens in the future I shall reply, “Thank you.”

    *albeit with MLP-gifted superpowers, obvs.

  3. rq says

    Something about this post made my brain hurt (in the good way). I think I’ll be re-reading it in smaller portions over the near future.

  4. jamessweet says

    I remember that after about three months of hormones, while I was still presenting as male, I very, very suddenly started experiencing “male fail” (that is, being gendered female, referred to as “miss”, “dear”, “love”, etc.). It happened virtually overnight. The overall whole, from the sum of the parts, had suddenly hit the tapping point at which people’s brains started to occasionally find it easier to guess that I was female than guess that I was male.

    Okay, I think I just sort of “got” something about gender binarism here… First, though, a story from my own life that made this particularly relatable to me:

    For a period of time in my early twenties, I occasionally “male failed” if somebody only got a brief look at me… but I am a cis heterosexual male, I have a fairly deep voice, and you would most definitely never guess my gender as anything other than male these days. But at that time, I weighed quite a bit less than I do now (I was still slightly overweight, but my face was a lot narrower), I had long hair, and I usually clean-shaved (none of those things are true today). Every once in a while, if say a cashier or a host at a restaurant didn’t look straight at me and I hadn’t spoken yet, I’d get “ma’am”-ed. It was a little irritating, to be honest… heh..

    If I posted a picture of myself today, you’d laugh at the idea that I might “pass” as a woman. And yet, just a couple of relatively minor changes, and I actually did a couple times, just by accident. Between that and your story, I realized something:

    Up to now, although I’ve been pretty comfortable with the idea that gender is a continuum (and not necessarily even a one-dimensional continuum), that there seemed to be a fairly clear “clustering” around two poles, providing a sort of ready explanation for why a binary gender model would be a pretty decent approximation most of the time. But it just sort of hit me, I think that apparent “clustering” is an artifact of our perceptions.

    As you say, the line is thin… but we don’t tend to be ambiguous in our classifications. As soon as the tipping point is reached, a person “really looks male”, and the idea that they might be mistaken for a woman is silly.

    Definitely some food for thought… I can think of plausible evolutionary explanations why we might have evolved a tendency to perceive gender as binary (after all, up until very recently in human history, correctly guessing a potential mate’s karyotype had a rather profound effect on reproductive fitness!). So it’s completely plausible that even if there were no polarity whatsoever in phenotype expression, not even a general trend towards polarity, that we might be primed to perceive a polarity anyways. Hmmm…

    • says

      “So it’s completely plausible that even if there were no polarity whatsoever in phenotype expression, not even a general trend towards polarity, that we might be primed to perceive a polarity anyways.”

      I tend to think so.

      Then again, I regard making up stories of evolutionary psychology as a guilty pleasure. 🙂 (Because so many people use unscientific claims like this one–that is, scientific-sounding but without actual studies–in order to justify awful things.)

    • says

      Though, I should add: these days, I still do the same lightning-fast intuitive gendering that just about everyone does. But, when someone isn’t obviously presenting “male” or “female” enough to make that snap judgment happen, this used to fill me with what Julia Serano calls “gender anxiety”, and I’d try to consciously look for more clues. These days, if that happens, I find myself not worrying about it, just thinking “they could be any gender” unless (for some reason) I’m going to need to use pronouns without introducing myself or otherwise learning the person’s name.

      Anyway, I don’t know how much of that priming is socially enforced, but either a lot of it is, or it can be trained away. Minds are cool things.

      • jamessweet says

        Yeah, I realize the EP thing was a bit of a “Just So” story, I’m just kinda speculating. And no doubt that it can be trained away. One rather nasty feature of our psychology that I am quite certain is innate — but which, thankfully, can and must be trained away — is just your basic outgroup hating. Who constitutes the outgroup is learned behavior, of course, but it seems from countless experiments you don’t really need to train young children to despise and fear the outgroup; you just have to provide a means for them to distinguish, and the rest comes naturally. So important to be aware of this and to work against it…

  5. Anders says

    Does it become automatic? Does a trans woman who has been living FT for ten or fifteen years still have to e.g. concentrate on sounding what we expect a woman to sound like?

    When I was working as a scientist I had recurring nightmares about the police turning up at the door and say “We’ve discovered that you’ve been passing yourself of as a scientist. We’re here to arrest you.” (these dreams always ended with me wandering around town naked and trying to find some clothes to put on.)

    I was worried about my behavior in an unfamiliar social environment. Can we use the term ‘passing’ here (apart from the fact that I already did)?

    What I’m trying to say is that maybe there’s an analogy here for us cis people. Imagine trying to survive in a social environment you’ve never been in before. You don’t know the codes, you don’t know the phrases, you don’t who to speak to and who to avoid… except it’s in something as large as your gender role. Or am I mixing up gender identity and gender expression? Bargle. And of course, most people don’t realize just how large a role gender plays in their lives. I certainly didn’t think about it (much) before I met trans people.

    And where would people classify themselves at the passability scale (adopted from Reed 2012).

    6 – You’re totally, completely passable, and look like just like a cis person.

    5 – You are very passable. You have a few traits that don’t quite fit in with the norm for your identified sex, but it’s not strongly noticeable.

    4 – You pass better than most. There are definitely one or two features or traits that stick out, but again, it’s not going to be noticeable to anyone unless they have a reason to look closely.

    3 – You pass more or less average. You don’t quite fit into the norm of someone of your identified sex, and clocking is something you need to take into consideration in your life, and something you worry about, but it doesn’t actually cause you any significant problems.

    2 – You have trouble passing. Whether it’s a small number of extremely noticeable traits, like your height or facial bone structure, or whether it’s just a whole bunch of slightly noticeable traits, being identified as transsexual is an ongoing problem for you.

    1 – You are visibly gender variant. You rarely, if ever, manage to appear to others as cis. In almost all instances you are immediately identifiable as transgender.

    Trying to measure it… I began to think about it but all the methods I came up with would be cruel. Although it’s possible some sort of combined Likert scale scores on various features… *wanders off into the distance mumbling to himself*

  6. Stevarious says

    This whole issue is so confusing and complicated, just standing from here with a (more or less) objective viewpoint. I can’t imagine what it must be like to actually live this.

    • Gonfal says

      There’s no such thing as an objective perspective – you just have the perspective of “not having to think about it”. But it’s good you’re starting to think about it – and to answer what it is to live like that – frustrating at best.

    • Anders says

      That’s one thing that is not very gradual, is it? I would probably not misgender a trans woman with DD-cups either. And if I saw a person with both I would collapse in a heap of BSOD.

      • Dalillama says

        I’ve known a number of people with both actually (including at least 1 cis woman). It is usually worth asking what gender they identify as in those cases, though. Also, @Ace of Sevens, L still gets misgendered occasionally despite his facial hair, although it is a big help. I know that my own lack of facial hair contributes to my occasional misgendering, although usually only if my head is covered, these days.

        • Vicki says

          You’re coming close to describing me, a cis woman who is approaching menopause. I think I’m wearing a 40C bra, and I have an increasing amount of somewhat scruffy hair on my chin and neck. (I distrust razors, but the electric shaver leaves visible stubble; I will use a razor to shave my chin before a job interview, but not for trips to the gym or supermarket.) The facial stubble gets me mis-gendered male a few times a year, but usually hearing my high-pitched voice shifts the analysis into “she’s a woman, and I will apologize for my mistake.”

          Oddly, I only remember getting this from men; I don’t know if this means anything except that deli counters and food carts are staffed mostly by men.

          • Anders says

            That’s not what I’m talking about. Look at my gravatar (click at the picture). That’s what I’m talking about.

      • anne mariehovgaard says

        I have D/DD cups, and I have to watch how I dress if I don’t want people to think I’m a man. It’s not a problem for me if they do, but they tend to get embarrassed when I speak – my voice is more obviously female than the rest of me, apparently…

        • Anders says

          Which leads to the question – is it worse to misgender a cis or a trans person? I’d say the trans person, because ze is more vulnerable. It’s like poking an open wound compared to poking whole skin.

          • anne mariehovgaard says

            I’d agree – I will not be even slightly upset if you call me stupid, as I am very confident WRT my cognitive abilities, but I’ll be hurt if you call me fat – even though I’m not – because I have been (not seriously obese, just something like 15 kg too heavy, but as I’m not very tall that was enough to be a problem).

          • HFM says

            I suspect that trans people do have it worse, because getting read as trans is more of a problem than reading as the wrong gender. The former is a safety issue, because there are morons on the loose. The latter is usually unintentional, and gets you an immediate apology when it’s pointed out; it’s annoying but not threatening.

    • Alex says

      It’s not really clear what “this” is, in context, since as Natalie points out, “passing” covers a lot of motivators from “avoiding violence” to “mitigating dysphoria”.

      While I’m sure plenty of trans guys grow out facial hair [assuming they can] to reduce misgendering, in my experience it happens more frequently for the same reason that lots of teenage boys sport mousy moustaches and scraggly goatees – they’re just excited they can. [Personally, I wear a full beard because I’m too lazy to shave.]

  7. Emily says

    I think for me one tangental issue about ‘passing’ is a more precise definition of what it accomplishes. Does passing mean being read as cis? Or can passing mean being accepted as the gender you identity with (even if clocked as trans?) If I go to see my accountant and he’s consistently referring to me in the way that I wish to be referred, even as I discuss prescription estrogen as a medical deduction, then I am content. I think for so many of us translings we needed to find an individualized space of comfort as to what expectations we have for the reception of our expression.

    One of the problems I have with ‘passing’ is who emphatically the ideal has been thrust upon us. Films like ‘TransAmerica’, although clever in its way, bothered me in the extreme with its focus on “stealth or nothing” idealization. That Bree, the main character, goes from awkward tranny to womanish inconspicuousity, all from a road trip, a change your voice DVD — and, wait for it — SRS, annoys me considerably.

    I suffered from some pretty intense internalised transphobia where, for a very long time, I declined transition purely on the basis that I wouldn’t be pretty enough (and therefore not passable enough). I thought there was nothing worse than going through all of the bother that transition entails only to end up in a gender limbo of unsustainable intersubjective “what the fuck are you?” It was wrong-headed thinking. I prioritized expression over identity: I inculcated myself with the bad faith of someone else’s hierarchy. And I lost a lot of precious time in doing so.

    I’m currently writing a critique of the play /The Silicone Diaries/, which to my mind is one of the worst examples I’ve seen of a trans woman so utterly exteriorizing the barbie complex to the point of self-harm. The play had numerous snide asides about “non-passing” trans women, even as the character’s narrative slavishly pursues the unattainable Platonic womanness. (Natalie, this is my problem with the last page of /Game of You/, which I’d like to discuss when you finish it — spoilers, so I won’t say anything more.)

    I can also say that I have met loads of utterly passable, utterly gorgeous trans women who possess the very latest stealth technology for flying into CisWorld. And many of them are quite miserable, in fact, as the expression has been so solidified at the expense of a concrete, inner kind of self-knowing. I don’t want my message to descend into amateur psycho-drama, but beauty alone guarantees nothing. And for a trans-women to weigh her whole identity on appearances is doubly troubling — since ‘passing’ is about sitting an exam, forever, with a headmaster whom you’ll never see and a schoolroom you can never graduate from.

    • northstargirl says

      The issue of “pretty enough” kept me from transitioning for a while and scared me when I transitioned in the mid-’90s. I was too aware of my perceived flaws: large frame, big head, goofy nose. Worse, when I found Andrea James’ great website in 1998 or so, the section about FFS made me feel so very inadequate. I wanted to be made pretty like that, both for my own reasons and to help with passing. But Andrea’s descriptions of the surgery were more than I wanted to go through…not to mention, there’s no way then or now I could afford it (and if I could, there’s a lot of other things I’d rather spend that money on). There were also some family issues; they were freaked out enough, and altering my face like that would have caused even more grief than I was already getting.

      It took a long time for me to accept what worked about my body and my appearance, and for me to realize I didn’t need facial surgery to get the “girl version” of me. Hormones did a lot to help, as did just going out and living and trying things and finding out what worked for me and what didn’t. SRS fixed what I *really* wanted fixed on my body, and that really helped how I felt about myself. I’m at home in my skin now, and have no real desire to see another scalpel. I’ll keep my features and form my own beauty. It’s an unusual beauty, but it’s mine and I don’t want it to get away.

      By far the best thing I did was adjust what was between my ears. I’ve had self-esteem issues for a very long time because I was “different,” and I’ve really struggled with self-confidence. But when I present myself as a happy and smart and confident woman who smiles and stands tall and looks people in the eye when she speaks to them, I have no trouble whatsoever being accepted as female. That, above all else, has made the difference for me.

    • says

      I suffered from some pretty intense internalised transphobia where, for a very long time, I declined transition purely on the basis that I wouldn’t be pretty enough (and therefore not passable enough). I thought there was nothing worse than going through all of the bother that transition entails only to end up in a gender limbo of unsustainable intersubjective “what the fuck are you?” It was wrong-headed thinking. I prioritized expression over identity: I inculcated myself with the bad faith of someone else’s hierarchy. And I lost a lot of precious time in doing so.

      This sounds familiar. I eventually managed to do away with the first half of this, after wasting a good many years. But the second part, the worry that after all my hard work and sacrifice I won’t be able to arrive at a point of “unambiguously female”, still hounds me… to the point that I have a rather awful defeatist attitude to the whole thing: if I don’t get there I can always kill myself. I recognise how silly it is to plan suicide in the event I fail at achieving an appearance that satisfies all standards of cis-normative femaleness, but it’s so hard to get rid of the idea that this a pass-fail exercise, and that passing vs failing equates to life vs death… Some days I think that I will be OK, and some days not, but always there is this ridiculous notion… I suppose a part of it is that I, like everybody, have certain expectations for my life, regardless of how truncated my options seem right now. But the scenario that Natalie described, of someone finding shelter in the community, being unable to really blend in or move through cis society… the idea of being that person horrifies me. It is a life so far from my expectations as to be the life of a completely different person… I just want to be myself and live a “normal” life (whatever that means… I suppose the kind of life that those with cis privilege are gifted with the opportunity to live), not live hidden within a subsociety… Even this is a probably I somewhat ridiculous fear, but I can’t shake it. Every time I look in the mirror, and see something I hate, these fears stretch lazily in the background behind me and say “yep, still here”…

      • embertine says

        Gah, this whole topic makes me want to take all you who are still struggling with this and give you enormous hugs and say yes, I DO accept you as your target gender, I DO recognise that being cis makes things a hell of a lot easier for me, I DO value you and want you to be happy.

        There is so much hate and ridicule directed towards trans people. Just to let you know there’s some love coming from this little corner of the UK too.

      • northstargirl says

        Miri, if it’s any reassurance, I struggled with the voices in the back of my mind that told me certain things about me would always be “tells.” But once I transitioned I was amazed by the things about me people didn’t seem to notice, including many things I agonized about. Many of them just didn’t matter, it turned out.

        My transition wasn’t sunshine and rainbows all the time; I embarrassed myself a few times and I ran into people who were jerks, but I learned how to cope. Self-acceptance was probably the most difficult but by far most important part. I know my imperfections, but I make the most of what works. I can look at the girl in the mirror and smile because she’s the real me. It takes time and effort, but you can do it, and it is so worth it.

        I know this seems like a very big and intimidating thing, because your fears were once my own. But I think you will be pleasantly surprised. There will be trials along the way, but it’s not going to be as difficult as you fear, and I know there are a lot of people here who are pulling for you. And one day before you know it, you will look in the mirror and really like what you see. Don’t give up.

  8. troll says

    Is passing one of those things that impacts trans women more strongly than trans men?

    I am obviously in no position to weigh in on whether passing is worth worrying about. I guess my question is would many trans people consider passing important in a world where most cis people treated trans people decently? If passing is solely a matter of making us cis peeps feel better about you, then it probably should go. On the other hand, if passing makes you more comfortable in your own skin, how is it not worthwhile? Is it simply a language problem? Would an adjective be better than a verb?

    • says

      This is an issue that does affect trans men, but to a much lesser degree, mostly because hormone therapy is much more effective for trans men than it is for trans women when it comes to creating a gender appropriate phenotype. Think of them as a blank slate at the outset: T induces the growth of body and facial hair, deepens the voice, encourages the development of muscle mass, some thickening of the skeletal structure over time, and it provides the trigger for male pattern hair loss if the trans guy in question is prone to it. If a trans woman transitions after puberty (and most of us do), then we have to undo the growth of facial hair (which doesn’t go away because of E), have to retrain our voices (which doesn’t change because of E or because of bilateral orchiectomy, and nevermind all those jokes in movies about talking soprano after injuring your gonads), and have to deal with any baldness as best we can. Plus, once you have a male skeletal structure, it’s pretty much yours to keep, though you can address the skeletal structure of the face through (very expensive) surgeries. It’s MUCH harder to go M to F.

      It’s not all peaches and cream for trans guys, though. Yeah, they get a measure of male privilege and a ton of passing privilege, but their bottom surgery sucks to the point that most of the guys I know don’t plan to ever have it.

      • Alex says

        Ok, couple issues with your response:

        – “blank slate” – This is perilously close to the kind of “females are males without the male stuff” logic that inspires people to couch trans women’s surgery as “getting your penis cut off”. The majority of trans men have endocrine systems entirely capable of producing estrogen, which is not a nothing hormone – it does lots of pretty powerful things! [And T doesn’t change skeletal structure any more than E does – wide hips and narrow shoulders are yours to keep.]

        – Yes, testosterone helps a lot with passing. However, talking about trans males’ experience solely in terms of testosterone erases the experience of everyone who’s pre- or non-HRT.

        – “[trans male] bottom surgery sucks” is a really great [read: “douchy”] way to judge the bodies and choices of trans males who get bottom surgery [many of whom are thrilled with the results]. Bottom surgery is not for everyone [both in terms of results and in terms of cost], and there is certainly room for research and progress, but it still needs to be put in terms of personal decision, not objective judgement.

        • says

          Serves me right for writing informally. To address your concerns:

          You are entirely correct. There are serious divergences between an adult male and an adult female body and you’re also correct in saying that T won’t change the overall structure of your skeleton, but I disagree that T “won’t thicken your bones,” I probably phrased my initial reply badly, but, for example: this study at the NIH concludes that testosterone actually does cause an increase in bone mineral density in FtM transsexuals, though I’m suspicious of their sample size. Anecdotally, more than one of the trans guys I know has reported some coarsening of their features consistent with some “thickening” of their facial bones, though even though I’m taking them at their word, I don’t know that this is specifically true. It could certainly be a result of the loss of body fat or a ramping up of the facial muscles for all I know. In any case, I’ll take you at your word.

          Regarding trans guys who don’t take T? I don’t have any desire to erase their experiences. I imagine that they have some of the same issues as trans women who don’t take E. But let me amend my original post to suggest that trans guys who DO take T tend to have it easier. I suppose you could say the same about trans women who take E vs those who don’t, but I’ll stand by the notion that if one aim of transitioning through hormone therapy is to be mistaken for cis more often, then T is more effective for that purpose than estrogen.

          Regarding your last paragraph, however, I think you’ve entirely misread what I’ve written. I’m not judging trans men’s bodies or even anyone who wants to get bottom surgery. I’m judging the surgery itself, which even you conclude has “room for research and progress.” If one of my trans guy friends chooses to get the surgery, I’ll be ecstatic for him. If he’s satisfied, then fabulous! The fact that such a high number of trans guys are satisfied with their surgery is great, too. But until phalloplasty can provide more than a 9% success rate in providing erogenous sensitivity, and as long as the complications include the possiblity of necrosis and blood clotting, and as long as trans guys have a 25 percent chance of developing these complications, and as long as the metoidplasty technique is incapable of providing a trans guy with the option of penetrative sexual function should he want it, then I’m sorry to say, bottom surgery for trans guys–and NOT the bodies of trans guys themselves–is a sucky set of options. It seriously needs to be better.

          • Alex says

            – While my point was specifically with the “blank slate” comment [since we can go over individual effects of HRT all day], I wasn’t aware anyone had problems passing because of bone *thickness* [“OMG, Becky, look. at. her. ULNA.”]. Anyways, density change is not the same thing as size/shape change, and I’m virtually certain that facial changes are the result of fat/muscle changes and skin texture changes – mammalian bones just don’t get radically reworked after puberty.

            – [Regarding bottom surgery] You wrote “their bottom surgery sucks” – how am I misreading that? I know a lot of trans guys talk about it the same way [including past-me], and they are also being jerky about it. There is a lot of difference between “this is not what I want” [and “this is not what many people want”] and “this sucks”. I’m not positing this from the abstract, I’m saying this from the perspective of conversations with post-bottom op trans guys, who are saying that hearing how terrible everyone thinks their surgery outcomes are is really hurtful and ultimately, they are the judges of whether or not the conversation has taken a turn for the douche. We can be mindful of that and still have a conversation about the compromises and limitations of current techniques [you did a much better job in your response, thank you].

          • says

            Let me put this “blank slate” business a little differently. All human embryos begin as female. Can we agree on that? Sexual differentiation is a function of embryological development, but even post natal, there are profound similarities between male bodies and female bodies because secondary sexual characteristics generally don’t develop until puberty. If you look at a nine year old girl and a nine year old boy who are fraternal twins and if you are not told which gender they’ve been assigned, you might not be able to guess just from looking at them. I do NOT mean that men are “women plus” or that women are “men minus,” what I mean is that adult female human beings do not deviate from juvenile males AND females as much as adult male human beings because the female body, up until specific developmental cues are triggered both in utero and in childhood, is the default. This is what I meant, but I didn’t mean to take a paragraph to do it. “Blank slate” seemed like an effective rhetorical shorthand to communicate this. I’m sorry if you found that offensive. This is what I meant when I quipped “serves me right for writing informally.”

            “how am I misreading that”

            You’ll pardon me, but I think you are. What you are doing is projecting “bottom surgery (for trans guys) sucks” into “(you are) judg(ing) the bodies and choices of trans males who get bottom surgery.” No. I’m not. You are translating my statement about the procedure itself as a statement about the motives of trans guys (They’re wasting their time on a procedure that doesn’t work! Foolish trans guys!) and you are projecting some kind of judgement on my part about on the worth of the bodies of trans guys who get the surgery. I.E: trans guys’ penises suck because their surgery sucks. There’s an unstated assumption from that that I have some kind of disgust for the results of FtM bottom surgery (or, at least, my own paranoid mind reads what you’ve written that way, and that irrational part of my mind bristles at it). I assure you, this is not the case.

            I’m aware of the fact that the reputation of bottom surgery dissuades some guys who would otherwise get it from considering it, and that’s unfortunate.

            Let me walk this back a little bit into my own experience. Up until relatively recently, bottom surgery for trans women had a lot of the same drawbacks, particularly regarding erogenous sensitivity, but also in terms of cosmetic appearance, complications, etc (it still has a lot of drawbacks, but details). You know what? That procedure sucked, too, because it didn’t accomplish nearly enough of what it sets out to do. Would I, as a desperate young trans woman, have gotten that version of the surgery had I been able, regardless of its drawbacks? Probably. I certainly don’t think saying “this surgery sucks” is a judgement on the trans women who got it, because under different circumstances, I would be one of them and probably would have been delighted. But the surgery itself still sucked. So if I say that “bottom surgery for trans guys sucks,” it’s not because I want to dissuade someone from getting it or because I want to make some kind of judgment on the form and function of the penises that trans guys get in the bargain, it’s because I desperately want it to get better because I love my trans guy friends and I love the trans guy I used to date and it kills me to see them settle for something that’s less than it should be. And from my perspective, unless the trans guys who get the surgery are willing to say things like “I got it and I’m happy enough with it, but it still kinda sucks,” it won’t get better, because without that pressure of discontent, the instrumentality of the medical profession will not be willing to improve it. They’ll say “good enough” and leave it as is and I don’t think that’s acceptable. This is what happened with bottom surgery for trans women. It sucked. People said it sucked. There was pressure to improve it. It improved. If it comes across as “douchy” to say all of this, that, too, is unfortunate, and I regret that.

            As an aside that may be off the subject (and prone to wild, unsupported speculations). How many of the surgeons who perform bottom surgery for trans guys are trans guys themselves? I mention this because it seems to me that the surgeries for trans women didn’t start to dramatically improve until doctors who were trans women themselves (Marci Bowers, Christine McGinn, for example) started to perform them.

          • Alex says

            – re: “blank slate” No, we cannot agree that embryos start as “female”, because they don’t – they start as undifferentiated, and to some extent, this state of less-than-complete differentiation persists until the completion of puberty [assuming the absence of any of the myriad of intersex conditions]. “All embryos are female” is Biology 101 for “this mostly works and we don’t have time to get into what’s actually happening; just roll with it”. As someone who’s gone through primary “female” puberty, it does shit that testosterone does not undo; I was not a blank slate. Characterising FAAB people as such feels really dismissive. Also, “I’m sorry if you found that offensive” is a non-apology [see: every time conservatives apologise for anything, ever].

            – While I understand, and in large part agree with, what you are talking about with regards to bottom surgery options for trans males, the fact remains that a significant subset of trans males who have had bottom surgery say that they find the way bottom surgery is talked about hurtful and, however you meant it, things like “their bottom surgery sucks” are part of that hurtful discourse. Language matters. The good-ally response to someone from a marginalised community of which you are not part telling you “hey, that’s hurtful” isn’t “that’s not what I meant”, it’s “I’m sorry, I’ll knock that the fuck off.”

            I do appreciate your willingness to engage civilly.

            To my knowledge [which is heavily biased towards the States], there are no trans male surgeons performing either top or bottom surgery.

          • earth & stars says

            Y’know, I’m checking out my surgical options right now and I’ve discovered an interesting complication that a *lot* of guys report: they feel completely unsafe discussing their experiences and results because every time the topic of lower surgery comes up, there’s always someone to tell them that their results suck.

            It doesn’t matter what your intent was in phrasing your comment they way you did; “the options suck” is one of the biggest factors preventing trans men from exchanging information. If you want our options to improve, you can help us out right here and now by *not* making post-op guys feel as though they and their bodies are being judged.

  9. Brittany says

    The issue of “passing” IS very important whether you want it to be or not and in some cases our LIVES depend on being able to “pass.” I live in Texas and I have to say that if I did NOT pass it would be next to impossible to live here at all. If you don’t pass your personal safety is at great risk.

    Also, I have to say that I was BORN “transsexual” because I was born with a female brain/soul/identity in a male body. Still, I have ALWAYS been and have ALWAYS identified as female. When I transitioned it was to live my life as the true person I was — a woman — NOT as a “transsexual”. I was born transsexual, but I IDENTIFY as a woman!

    This being the case, of course it’s important to me to “pass” so that I can be fully accepted as a woman — because I AM a woman! I have done everything I could do to “correct” the body I was born in to match my true gender identity — including GRS, 11-hours of FFS (facial feminization surgery), HRT, and hundreds of hours of electrolysis/laser. I have fully transitioned in all phases of my life and it is VERY important to me to FINALLY be accepted as the true person I am — and that is a woman!

    For most of my life I had to hide who I really was – because my life depended on that. Now I no longer have to hide who I am, but in order to be ACCEPTED as the true person I am by other people I HAVE to “pass.” The unfortunate truth is that if people know you are TS they will never accept you as a woman. If you are lucky they MAY accept you as TS, but never as a woman. Again, I transitioned to live my life as the true person I am — a woman — not as a TS. In order to do that in society, I have to fully “pass” for the true gender I am or I will not be accepted (as a woman) and my life would be in real danger and absolute living hell…

    • Sofia says

      What does this say about women who for whatever reason fail to obtain “passing privilege”? I feel like that is the kind of thinking that stops many women from even trying to live the full expression of themselves. I understand what you are saying and I am guilty of thinking this way too at times (especially since the single greatest factor in delaying my transition was the continual fear that I wouldn’t be able to pass) but I think more importantly, the issue isn’t out bodies and whether they are responded to kindly by cis people and cis expectations but larger sociological and evolutionary perceptions that need to be changed.

      I struggle with this a lot because while in many circumstances I do truly “need” passing privilege to accomplish some of my goals (though most could probably be accomplished without it, it would just be much much easier). At the same time though a whole lot of my personality and some of the deepest drives I have arise out of my transgender experience and I hate thinking that I would have to hide that important part of my life in order to always be seen how I identify (despite being able to pass). Also, in changing the framework of larger cis society we can’t simply blend in with them and continue to support the framework that oppresses us. I strongly believe in that too but I don’t know if the associated risks are worth it. That angers me because I think of all the trans people coming after us and how I want life to be easier for them but self-sacrifice is not easy for anyone, especially when all I want to do is just blend in and be myself.

      • Brittany says

        It is not about “passing” but more about acceptance to me – to FINALLY be ACCEPTED for the person you are. I have gone through a LOT to get here and I deserve the chance to finally live the life I was meant to live and be accepted as the WOMAN I am.

        I used to look as “male” as could be. People were (still are) IN SHOCK when I transitioned. I was a lineman on my high school football team and I grew up far back in the Ozarks — HICKVILLE. I used to weigh 258-lbs at one time. Do you think I used to worry about being able to pass? Of course I did! We ALL do… But you DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO in order to live your life!

        The fact is, it IS very dangerous to live in certain areas if you don’t pass. Living in those areas WOULD BE a LIVING HELL if you didn’t fully pass. Those are the facts – and unfortunately they won’t change any time soon…

        • Sinead says

          I grew up mostly in Oklahoma and Texas, so I commiserate greatly with your situation. I was gender bending around on the Univ. Oklahoma campus during college, and there were many nights of being attacked and fending off frat boys.

          I am more of an androgynous tomboy, so the issue of acceptance is a muddied one.

          I also found it quite difficult to pursue graduate school during my transition.

          That said, when I graduated college, I drove 100mph between OKC and Amarillo, and had to stop because I had to pee. I made my life on the West Coast, because it was important for me to live somewhere safe, because there’s no amount of surgery that will make me appear acceptable.

        • Brittany says

          I have experienced it (and still do) from both sides. I transitioned on the job when I was 49-years old. I am a Federal Liaison from one agency to another so I actually transitioned in two separate workplaces at the same time. I worked very hard to plan things out and do things the right way in order to keep my job. When I transitioned I had worked with some people for 23-years – and I knew exactly how most of them would view my transition, but I didn’t give a damn what anyone “thought” of me. I work in an office in downtown Dallas where there are around 1,200 people and there are many who think I am “insane,” a “sexual pervert” or a “moral degenerate.” I deal with hate/bigotry on a daily basis. People who I work with directly have no real problems with me but they will NEVER accept me as a woman – at best some accept me as TS. I will always be known as “the transsexual” at work – NOT as a woman. My point is that I know how it is to NOT be fully accepted as the true gender you are.

          But when I am out in regular society I am completely stealth and completely accepted as the woman I am. I have even been in ‘wet spas’ completely naked with many other women and young girls around me and no one has ever given me so much as a second glance. So I also know how WONDERFUL it is to be fully accepted as the true gender you are!

          I have found that if you disclose your past history to anyone new you meet they will look at you differently and will no longer view you as a woman – and this also applies to people you try to date. You quickly learn to keep your mouth shut after you have been burned a couple of times. You also quickly realize that your LIFE is much easier and more fulfilling when you are stealth — because you are FINALLY fully accepted for who you really are. It enables you to live your life no differently than any other “normal” person in society does — which is the whole point of going “stealth”…

    • says

      I’m not sure what to say to this Brittany… I agree with you that it is more about “acceptance” than “passing” (and this is in line with what Natalie said about being “gendered correctly”, as being accepted is something other people do), but what if you are not “acceptable” (and that’s why “acceptance” is probably not such a good word choice)? You were able to go through all those procedures you described, and so that seems like a solution. But, then again, it also sounds like you had a reasonable good, stable, secure job, a career even (correct me if I’m wrong at any point about you individually, the general gist of this isn’t about you specifically really anyway), with which you could finance these things. What if you can’t? Because here I am, sitting in my mother’s lounge room, where I also sleep (having no other home to speak of), unable to work, (potentially, I haven’t got anything yet) getting at best a pittance from the state, being thousands of dollars in debt, wondering when I’ll be able to afford to get even laser/electro done, let alone SRS or FFS (or indeed, if I could ever have these), and what I’ll do about housing and feeding myself, not to mention obtain hormones, should anything happen to my mother. And then I read this, what you’ve written, and think about how I look, so unfeminine (despite what I do, and despite what people who have seen pictures of me say — In real life I have never been gendered correctly be anyone outside of my family, and no one has ever given me a compliment, even to say I look “like a woman”, let alone pretty) and obviously trans, and I wonder, so how, HOW, am I going to be “accepted” as a woman? I am a woman, but will anyone ever accept it without these things you’ve mentioned, these things it would take as many years as I’ve already lived for me to be able to afford? From what you’ve said, all I can hope for is a future where I’m seen solely as a transsexual, but never as a woman. Or else I can simply wait, forever it seems, until I can afford this. I’m not telling you all my problems because I want sympathy, I don’t, and I don’t really need it, my life is what it is, but I think saying that to be accepted as a woman you need to go to incredible lengths that are unreachable by many to fit a societies standards, or else be relegated to the trans trash can, is quite damaging, and buys into a lot of what cis-society believes, both about us, and about gender in general.

      • Brittany says

        Miri, I don’t know your particular situation, how your face/body looks or how old you are. I won’t give an entire history here, but I was born in 1960 and was first beaten for wearing women’s clothes when I was four years old (and throughout my childhood). There was NO information available about what I was dealing with at all for MANY years. The Internet didn’t even come around until I was about 35 and at first there wasn’t even much on it. I never even SPOKE to anyone about being Trans until I was 33-years old! I could never have relationships because I had to hide who I was. I was completely trapped all those years. I didn’t start to transition until I was 48-years old and fully transitioned a year after that.

        I felt the same way you did for many years – probably EVERY ONE OF US DID. I thought I was a “hopeless case” who would never be able to live and pass in society as female. I didn’t know how I would ever be able to afford GRS and thought FFS was out of the question. For YEARS I had terrible ‘social anxiety’ (the fear of going out dressed as female in public) and it took me MANY years to finally overcome that – which I did by finally accepting myself and being PROUD of who I was. I was “read” MANY TIMES when I first started going out in public but I was finally proud of who I was and I wasn’t about to let anyone stop me from finally living my life. I have been there, and I have experienced it all, believe me!

        When you want something bad enough you DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO to make it happen! Transition is NOT an easy process. It IS very expensive. It IS very painful. It IS NOT easy at all and anyone who has been through it will tell you the same thing. But we all did what we had to do in the end…

        The most difficult thing of all during transition is dealing with all the people in your life. You WILL have people tell you that you “look too masculine” or “you look STUPID!” or whatever else to try to talk you out of it. You WILL have to deal with people in society who might read you, harass you, threaten you or even try to harm you – so GET READY FOR IT! I could tell you stories that would send shivers down your spine – and so could anyone else who has transitioned. But again, if you want something bad enough you do whatever you have to do.

        I didn’t get to start living my life until I was 48-years old. I had MANY obstacles to overcome but I found a way to overcome everyone of them because I wanted to finally be able to live my life.

        Every one of us thought we looked “too male” to ever transition. Yes, I have had FFS, but not until last June. Remember the story I told about being naked in the women’s spa — that happened BEFORE I had FFS! I had some VERY male facial features and I “passed” long before I ever had FFS. Learning how to ‘pass’ is part of the transition process. Hormones help and so does knowing deportment, how to do hair and makeup and how to dress.

        Everything I said before still applies. Your life IS much easier if you are accepted as the gender you present as – period. If you do NOT “pass” very well you ARE in danger in today’s society. In MOST states you can be put in JAIL if you are ‘read’ and go into a women’s rest room – that happened to a VERY passable TG woman less than a year ago in the city of Houston, TX at the public library. Where I live, you ARE in danger of being harassed, harmed or even killed if you are read. Just three weeks ago in Dallas two Gay guys had a car pull up next to them and five guys got out and beat them with baseball bats! What do you think those guys would have done if they had come across people they knew were transgender? The FACT is, because of ignorance there is a LOT of hate towards transgender people in today’s society. That is not fair, but that is the way it is…

        • says

          I think something may not have come across well in what I wrote… I’m not saying I can’t transition because I won’t pass/be accepted, I’m saying that I don’t pass, and may not be able to, and those things you mentioned, particularly the surgeries, are well outside my grasp for the time being (and possibly forever). I’m six months into transition right now, and I’ve been full time for about a month. I’m not letting my circumstances stop me, but they might result in things being rather difficult for me. But I have no intention of waiting.

          My concern was you seemed to be tying getting certain procedures formed to passing. While some of them help a lot (as someone who is not a huge fan of makeup, facial hair removal is extremely critical to me), none of them are strictly necessary for passing. Even (in admittedly rare cases) hormones aren’t (although, I’d imagine they’d be preferable for most, I couldn’t live without them, I know that). These things are all aids to passing, but just that, aids.

          When you want something bad enough you DO WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO to make it happen! Transition is NOT an easy process. It IS very expensive. It IS very painful. It IS NOT easy at all and anyone who has been through it will tell you the same thing. But we all did what we had to do in the end…

          I know it’s not easy. I’m going through it now. There is not really a whole lot I can do. It IS happening, just in a minimal sort of way. I’ve got hormones, but I can’t afford anything else really. Although that will change shortly, it’s only going to be facial hair (and other) removal. Anything else is beyond me. So, what would you suggest? I can’t actually work, so… what?

          Learning how to ‘pass’ is part of the transition process. Hormones help and so does knowing deportment, how to do hair and makeup and how to dress.

          When you say “deportment”, I assume you mean “behaving like a woman”, whatever that means. The thing is I do already behave like a woman. Me. As for the other things, well, what I don’t really like makeup (I don’t), and why do I need to “learn” how to dress? And who would teach me? I don’t know… these things you’re saying need to be learnt are quite… prescriptive…

          As for the last part, I’m well aware of the danger, and how passing or not increases or decreases the risk in various ways. I don’t know though… I sort of got the impression you were trying dissuade me, or at least suggesting I give it a few more years before transitioning… and using the risks to convince me…

          • Brittany says

            No, I’m NOT trying to “dissuade” you at all – I’m just telling you the facts. When I talk about “deportment” I mean not only “acting like a woman” but your movements, how you walk, etc. I have seen many late transitioners who did NOT know how to walk (with or without heels), talk, sit (legs apart while wearing a skirt or dress), etc. They stand out like sore thumbs in public. Those things do NOT come naturally to people who spent most of their lives living as men. Women were “taught” how to do those things when they were growing up, but you are not taught those things if you are male.

            Same thing is true with hair and makeup – that is something that you have to learn how to do – again, including women. I became an expert with makeup in my early twenties and if you know how to do it you can use it to hide your facial hair. It HELPS you be able to pass easier in public. If you “don’t like makeup” and choose not to use it that is up to you but do NOT expect to pass well in public if you have a heavy beard shadow.

            And then there is “learning how to dress”… How many times have I seen crossdressers in bars wearing mini-skirts, stiletto heels and fishnets? I have seen many people who transitioned who dressed just as ridiculously. Women don’t dress like that in public. They also do not wear short cocktail dresses to the grocery store or while shopping at the mall or Walmart, etc. Knowing how to dress properly is a ‘no brainer’ for a lot of us, but for some it is not.

            Again, I’m NOT trying to “dissuade you” from transitioning at all, I am just telling you the hard facts. Maybe those “facts” are a lot different depending on where you live, but in MOST of the U.S. everything I said is valid. The sad fact of the matter is that being able to “pass” or “being accepted as the gender you present as” DOES make your life easier and a lot safer.

          • says

            You mean “Did not know how to walk, talk, etc. in accordance with cisnormative, sexist, heteronormative, often-misogynistic standards for female behaviour”.

            What you’re reporting are the “facts” of how to blend in and play along with a heavily patriarchal, cissexist, binarist society, and remain untargeted by it. They most certainly AREN’T the facts of what is and isn’t “womanly”/”feminine”, or what makes a woman a woman. It is most certainly NOT a fact that “women don’t dress like that”. The fact that you’re criticizing some women for doing so immediately invalidates the claim that they don’t.

            Cis women will sometimes dress audaciously. Cis women will sometimes dress butch. Cis women will sometimes dress very casually. If it doesn’t invalidate them as being women to do so, why the hell should it invalidate us?

        • Anders says

          You may not be looking for sympathy, but you’ll get it anyway. Oh, Miri, I wish so much that I could help you. I really do. But life isn’t like that. All I can offer you is an internet *hug* if you want it. That, and the words one of our civil servants said not long ago – “there is no standard for what a woman looks like.”

          • Brittany says

            Natalie, I fully agree with you, but the point I am trying to make is that NOT how women can or should or not dress or act or look, etc. My point is that being able to pass as the gender you present as DOES make your life easier in today’s society. The less you stand out in public the better off you are and the safer you are. Those are just the FACTS. For example, if you are dressed as a woman and your are easily ‘read’ (in MOST U.S. states) you can be arrested for simply using the women’s rest room. You WILL be harassed out in public and there IS a danger of being harmed by some idiot if you don’t pass. Those ARE the facts – and they are sad, but they are true.

          • says

            You’re still buying into the entirely erroneous notion that we have much control over whether or not we’re “read”. It’s not OUR problem, it’s THEIRS. And as I’ve discussed before, visibility is an extremely important factor in being able to move forward towards rights and acceptance. Buying into these structures, and not challenging them, and taking on that imposition as our responsibility, that’s a nice way to keep things exactly the way they are now. A way that happens to make things really, really shitty for those who simply don’t have the option of “passing” no matter WHAT their “deportment”.

  10. Sinead says

    It’s interesting that we’ve both experience hostility from the Trans community, but from different sides. You feel that it’s those of us who do not “pass” attacking those who do, as having it easier…while I have experienced the opposite, being ostracized and put down as not “trans enough” for not passing.

    I have more to say on this, but since I’m at work, I should probably, you know, work.

    • says

      Oh, yeah, absolutely it works in both directions. But I just find that the ostacization of trans people for being visibly gender variant and the risks and hassles of being such is a much more spoken and visible thing, as well as something much less counter-intuitive, than the kind of attacks, resentment and risks faced by those who read as cis members of their identified sex.

      • Anna says

        I find the trans community feels the need to parade around how much each has it harder. Young versus old, passing versus non passing, full time versus part time or not out, straight versus gay versus bi, SRS versus non op, trans men versus trans woman….the list goes on. What everyone needs to realize is that, as you say in the article, it sucks to be any of us. We pretty much all had a difficult period just being who we are.

        I try to keep in mind that every activist community I’ve been part of has done the same thing. People just feel the need to be special and want their experience recognized even if it means belittling others. It does make trans support groups really sucky though.

      • Sinead says

        Yeah, I understand the feelings of jealousy towards people who “pass.” I was rather taken aback by your photo the other day, with your broken/sliced up finger (can’t remember what you did). Of course, I was more upset that you’re androphilic, heh. 😉

        There are times where I wish things were different, but as long as a “passable” trans woman doesn’t actually put me down as being “ugly” for not “passing” then I don’t really care.

  11. Anders says

    This post is me skating on wafer-thin ice. I have intuitions about this but I don’t have the experience to make them clear. Please chime in. I’m trying to convey something I believe is important, about the need to look at the entire system. Looking at what I’ve written, I’m not certain I succeded. Let the reader beware.

    I’m not entirely happy with ‘passing’ as the defining action. But I’m not entirely happy with ‘clocking’ as the defining action either. It’s a system of interactions that can be called the ‘gendering game’ where both people try to appear as something and try to discern what the other person tries to appear as and what ze is not telling. I’m not using ‘try’ here as with deceptive connotations, or something that necessarily requires conscious thought.

    Cis people play the game with each other. Althogh in our case it’s very much subconscious because we have never questioned our gender identity or having it being questioned as others. But I avoid putting on a skirt, for instance, because that would interfere with my attempts to appear male.

    And I would guess that trans people play the game with each other, but my courage fails me – describing this is something I will not attempt. I simply do not have the knowledge. If anyone else feels like chiming in, please do.

    When cis meets trans, and the trans tries to not signal that gender assigned at birth matches preferred gender, it becomes a game (not in the sense as something done for a lark, but in the sense of a situation where different strategies and counter-strategies can be chosen).

    The cis person tries (subconsciously) to present as hir assigned and preferred gender. Ze also tries to tell if there’s anything important that the other person does not signal. Not only gender but everything else we deem interesting.

    The trans person tries to present as hir preferred gender and not signal hir assigned gender. Ze also tries to tell anything important about the cis person that ze can.

    Now, there is a continuous interaction between the two, with the two shifting strategies and counter-strategies constantly. To understand what is going on, neither ‘passing’ nor ‘clocking’ it will do. We need a way to understand the entire system, we need to look at what these strategies are and how they clash with each other.

    Is there something real here? Or am I talking gibberish?

    • says

      I would counter that you do not wear a skirt, as a cis male, for a number of reasons, but probably the least likely is that it would interfere with your “attempts” to appear male. Unless you are extremely androgynous, or feminine in appearance, it would take considerable effort on your part to look anything but male. Look at yourself right now, and imagine that you are shaven, with foundation, lipstick, eyeshadow, eyliner, and a dress on (to be oh so stereotypical in our attempt to feminize you), and tell me if this attempt would really at all hamper your ability to appear male. I would suggest all it would do is enhance your ability to look fairly ridiculous.

      The reason that you, or any straight (and many queer) cis men do not wear skirts is simply because society deems these women’s clothing. Not because donning them results in terrible gender confusion, but because the clothes of women are seen as inappropriate for men to wear (note that this does not, for the most part, follow in the opposite direction, for reasons I’m sure you’re already aware of).

      Gendering occurs largely independent of these socially determined fashion based gender cues (they can be sufficient to tip androgyny one way or the other, but rarely are they sufficient to completely result in being gendered a certain way, at least, not without a great deal more effort than what most people put into picking what to wear in the morning). Imagine it this way. You could get a group of people, and showing them from the neck up, you could get a group of observers to gender the vast majority of them one way or another (correctly or not is irrelevant). This occurs completely passively on the part of the people being observed. Obviously showing their entire bodies would assist in the observation further. Society determines what is acceptable attire for either gender, and most people conform with this because society would penalize them otherwise. But regardless of what any given person wears, even if they make a colossal effort at appearing to be of a certain gender, do they have any real control over how they are gendered. Because the final arbiters of this are other people.

      (I think I lost the thread of what I was saying somewhere in there, feel free to tear apart my inconsistencies…)

      • Anders says

        Considering that I have a full beard, wearing a skirt would not make me more passable.

        I think the problem might be that I’m trying to explain something most trans people think is obvious, in a very complicated way. Let me see if I can clarify my thoughts.

        The risk of being read does not depend on the trans person alone, nor on the cis person alone. You must analyze them both, and the social context they’re in, to make a good assessment. For instance, the social context limits what methods the cis person may use to assess sex (glancing, gawking, asking, and grabbing*). It also determines if the trans person needs to speak, which might be an issue, what kind of lighting conditions there are, the relative degree of drunkenness, etc.

        This makes it difficult to assess before leaving the house whether you’re ‘passable’ or not. Passability is in all three variables, the trans person, the eyes of the beholder, and in the specifics of the social scene. Assuming a typical cis person* and knowing what the social setting is can give you a better estimate, but you might have the bad luck of running into Sherlock Holmes (although he probably wouldn’t care).

        Does this make sense? Is it too trivial?

  12. Monica Maldonado says

    Hey Natalie,

    As usual I really love what you’ve written here. And I do think these conversations are important.

    I wrote in part one of my latest series about how i’d allowed ethnocentric standards of beauty/womanhood and their enforcement therin to pervert into something that I’d internalized as a part of my dysphoria. And it’s something that we should talk about. We should say “hey, look. Dysphoria itself is a remarkably complex concept with lots of grey area and it IS easy, as a remarkably vulnerable class to this sort of thing, to internalize this stuff and interpret it as our own dysphoria.” But that’s not to say the dysphoria I felt about my features (that were being judged by white standards) wasn’t real, it’s just it was kind of socially constructed and enforced rather than being a part of my original dysphoria I felt. I do think it’s a valuable thing for us to all deconstruct those ideas and beliefs, if not for the community as a whole, but at least for ourselves.

    Also, in regards to the word itself “passing” it always stings me the wrong way. I’ve never ever been keen on just the word, but the concept is valuable to discuss. So how do we navigate that? Well, I, personally, prefer the use of “Blending as cis” as the inactive process and the passive process of default-as-cis in society. And discuss things along the lines of transperency or opacity. Further to discuss the aspects of privilege inherent in the discussion I use “conditional cis privilege.” Which barrows language from discussions of race, but in a very neutral way which I’m completely comfortable with.

    So, when I say: I typically blend as cis, and as such i experience conditional cis privilege” I think it gets across the point. And honestly, yes It’s slightly more words, but sometimes when moving away from problematic language (like passing) it requires more words to appropriately discuss the nuance.

    I dunno though, That’s honestly just me. Because of the racial issues I can’t bring myself to use passing in the context of ‘transness’ because of it’s historical negative connotation and a world of awful. But I don’t really have a problem with others using whatever words they feel comfortable. I think as we start to form a stronger activist community talking about language but respecting the language others use is paramount.

    Anyway, yah…

    • Anders says

      Your talk about ehtnocentricity makes me think of the “vagina whitening cream” that turned up in the WTF thread on the SGU forums. The mind boggles. Why is there a market for this? How do we drive it out of business?

      • says

        Vagina whitening creme is truly WTF, but I’m not sure if it’s (entirely) an ethnocentricity thing. Whitening cremes (although, not so much for gentialia, although I’ll return to that) are extremely popular in many parts of East Asia, where being extremely pale is a beauty ideal. This is often viewed by Westerners as being a sort of “aspiring to be White”. But I’d claim that this view is in itself ethnocentric. Being pale has been an ideal in many Asian countries (particularly the Chinese influence ones) for far longer than regular contact with the West existed (this is corroborated in various periods by art work displaying people as very pale, and advice for women to ensure the paleness of their skin). This is largely due to class differences, the lower classes being characteristically darker due to outdoor labour (and the propensity of Asian skin to tan very darkly, in contrast to that of Caucasians), and beauty in the uppper classes being perceived as being as far from being a peasant as possible (there are parallels in other societies as well). This attitude about beauty has persisted into modern times, and explains (if not entirely) the great proliferation of whitening products available in these countries (both for men and women).

        As for the vaginal whitening creme… well, often skin in that area can be darker than in other areas of the body, and some people find this quite unsightly, and would prefer the coloration to be more uniform… So it’s more of a weird vanity thing, than anything else…

        • Anders says

          When I heard about it it was in India. I wouldn’t be enormously surprised if I could find it in the West, though.

    • Sinead says

      As a white trans woman, I have had to rewire my thinking on the racial/ethnic issues of “passing” but am stuck having to articulate what has been part of the community dialogue since I was attending trans support groups online and in person since the mid-90s. I only associate the term with the negative aspects of conformity and not with the positive aspects of acceptance that some might use it as.

      I might also speak about “passing” in the context of my maternal grandfather, because he was half Cherokee in a culture and time where it was better to live as white if possible, but also as a bastard child of a white man and a Cherokee woman there was also the stigma of being considered white by the roll and yet simultaneous disowned by a white father. To me, that is something that I still struggle with speaking about because everyone who illegitimately claims Native American ancestry makes me hide my maternal legacy out of fear of being labelled as yet another one of those people. I read as white and I am not a tribal member. I feel I have more social freedom to discuss my British ancestry.

      Still, though, once a more appropriate word comes up that allows me to discuss my existential living as a trans woman, whereby I am judged by cis and trans people by cis standards, then I will use that word. However, I feel trapped into using the term “passing” as a the only word, since life isn’t nearly as academically free to go into discussions about words, often with people who really don’t care.

  13. Monica Maldonado says

    One more thing…

    I touched on it slightly, but the concept of blending as cis is ALWAYS focused on Anglo ethnocentric, heteronormative (sometimes homonormative), and ableist standards. And those who exhibit features that may fit within the norm for one particular group may not meet the rigorous standard presented to them by not only cis society but by the trans community.

    And sometimes vice versa: How many times have you heard white trans women lament about how much easier it is to blend as cis for certain races?

    It’s something that’s really gross and those standards lead to a lot of tragedy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a large contributor to TWoC being more likely victims (violent enforcement of beauty standards)

    • says

      My white girlfriend has made reference to Asians now and then. The obvious explanation is that the Asian trans women you see online tend to be models and pageant winners and porn stars, compared to the ordinary white trans women she knows IRL in Iowa. Likely in Thailand trans women are seeing Jenna Tackalova ON TV and wondering why white women have an easy time of it.

          • Monica Maldonado says

            sure, autostraddle has an article that references it, and it’s been mentioned a lot of other places before as well.

            Since posting a link will put this in moderation I’ll say search on google for this article: “On 20/20, Trans Beauty Queen Jenna Talackova Enlightens Barbara Walters, Your Family” on autostraddle.

            Here’s a quote.

            Talackova’s family comes from the Babine Nation, an indigenous native community in Canada who live in Burns Lake, British Columbia. The Lake Babine Nation raised $2,500 to help Jenna with her entry fee for Miss Universe, and her cousin, a band councillor, told The Vancouver Sun: “We’re supportive of her. (Transgender people) are all over the world.”

        • Brett says

          I’m probably being needlessly nit-picky here, but are being Native American and white mutually exclusive? It seems that she could be a member of a tribe by blood relation, and also “white”. I wouldn’t normally mention it, but this is a blog where self identification and non-binary identifiers come up frequently. I also admit I didn’t read all the links, so there could be some quote like “I’m not white” that I just missed 😉

          (I’m not using the U.S. term to be offensive, but out of fear of using the Canadian term incorrectly and sounding racist)

          • says

            While I’m sure it’s entirely possible to have a sort of bi-racial identity, I’m pretty sure Jenna considers her identity First Nations in a pretty clearcut way. I’m curious about why people are so reluctant to view her as aboriginal and non-white? Because she dyes her hair blonde? Maybe it’s a Vancouver thing, where we’re sort of familiar with Coast Salish people being a prominent ethnic minority in our city and suburbs, but frankly, she doesn’t look any more “white” than many First Nations women (both cis and trans!) I know here.

          • Brett says

            I was trying to reply directly to Natalie, but there was no “reply” button, is there a limit to nested replies?

            Anyway, I only brought it up because I know a bi-racial person that identifies as both white and Filipino (which she identifies with more seems to vary). I don’t think she’d actually be offended if someone said she wasn’t white (unless they meant it as an insult), but she might look at them funny.

          • Alex says

            Re: Natalie – actually, to the best I can tell from what I’ve read, she [and her mother] just have light colour hair, she doesn’t dye it – [my apologies for the Daily Fail link, it was the one with the most pictures]. Which is absolutely not to deny her being First Nations, just pointing out that, like every other group, there’s a lot of variation =)

  14. says

    In the trans support group I attend, we have taken to using “read” as an alternative to “pass.” The only tricky thing is that you can’t just swap one word for the other; you have to reword “I don’t pass well” to “I’m not usually read the way I want to be” or something along those lines. That makes it a little bit tricky to change the habit, but in the long run its an advantage. Its good that it prevents you from forming a sentence where the trans person is in the active role, because we shouldn’t have been talking about it that way to begin with. It also avoids the problem of assuming intent to look cis/that the alternative to looking cis is “failing.” Passing as a woman who is transgendered is a self-contradiction, but you can talk about reading someone as a trans woman, trans man, non-binary individual etc.

  15. embertine says

    Hey, I had a long conversation with my mum last night about transexuality – explained that there was this blogger I Reed™ and a lot of her Reeders™ are trans too. My mum is awesome, and used to work with a trans lady who was mid-transition and my mum was totally cool with it (no mis-gendering from my mama, no sirree) but she said to me, “Do you know, I’ve never really thought about it before because I’ve always taken it for granted but I really do identify strongly as female and I’m really lucky that my body matches that. I never realised that before today”

    Haha, I feel like a proper ally today*. Changing hearts and minds. *puts on sunglasses* YEEEEEAAAAAAHHH!

    *self-identification as ally totes does not count, I know. But it is, just a little bit, like being a superhero. FOR GREAT JUSTICE!

  16. Brittany says

    Natalie – no, I’m not “buying into” anything, I’m simply telling it like it is. To you, this topic of passing is looked at more from a feministic/rights point of view – which I understand and fully agree with. But, for many of us, passing is a SURVIVAL issue! Visibility IS important to move our rights forward, but unfortunately in some places you simply cannot risk doing that. In MOST states in the U.S. you can be FIRED just because you are LGBT. I KNOW people who were fired from their job after someone they worked with saw them dressed as female and then told the boss! In MOST states you can be thrown in jail if you are read in a women’s rest room. In MOST places in the U.S. you ARE in danger if you are read. THIS is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Until certain laws and attitudes are changed in the U.S. you simply CAN NOT BE “visible” out in public. The ONLY “responsibility” we have is to SURVIVE! Fighting for rights and being visible is one thing – and I have done that by trying to educate people through my blog, my article in the NY Times and even by giving talks to people at national conferences — but survival is another. Saying that we should be “visible” to forward our rights IS true and there are many ways to do that, but the FACT remains that in today’s society (where I live anyway)if you are too “visible” in public you could very well end up in a jail cell for going to a women’s rest room, beaten up, fired from your job, or even KILLED — just because you are known to be Transgender! Again, the issue of “passing as the gender you present as” is (unfortunately) an issue of survival for many people…

    • says

      It’s both a trans-feminist issue AND a survival issue.

      Each of us needs to negotiate it for ourselves. As I’ve written about before, I really, genuinely don’t fault ANYONE for choosing to be stealth, or for stressing over passability due to the risks involved with being read or outed- discrimination, being fired, being denied housing, being mistreated at hospitals and social services, harassment, violence, etc. But by the same token, I still think it’s a huge problem when we start reinforcing a) structures that hold trans women to these absurdly rigid, and absurdly high, standards of femininity, and expectations about what constitutes a “real” woman and b) patriarchal notions of femininity and womanhood itself.

      We are free to negotiate our own decisions. Just as you don’t need anyone chastising you for any decisions you’ve made regarding stealth by claiming you’re “being selfish” or “letting down the community” or whatever, people like Miri or myself don’t need people telling us that whatever bad things happen to us, and all the times we’re read or misgendered, are all our own fault because we’re not dressing/behaving “properly” in accordance with some archaic and excessively strict concept of how a woman is “supposed” to dress/behave.

      There are FACTS about trans women being at considerable risk, yes, and that risk being mitigated by blending in. But concepts of what gender is “supposed” to be or mean, or how someone is “supposed” to express, embody or enact it, are definitey NOT facts. And the FACTS of trans-misogyny, transphobia, cissexism, patriarchy etc. can be made into new facts, but only once we are willing to look beyond “that’s just the way it is” and see the way it could someday be.

      • Brittany says

        I totally agree with you – all these things can and WILL eventually be changed over time. But like I said before, there are different ways to do that and those ways can be different depending on where you live.

        I am NOT “chastising” or trying to put the blame on anyone for NOT being able to ‘blend in’ or “pass” at all. I AGREE that it is THEIR (society’s) problem and not ours — but I’m also a realist. The fact is that being able to ‘blend in’ or “pass as the gender you present as” DOES make your life easier, safer and even POSSIBLE in certain areas. If you can’t do that (pass…) there ARE other places to live where the majority of people are NOT bigoted idiots – but that is NOT in MOST areas of the U.S.

        Unfortunately, we are a long way from “it could someday be” and some of us are FORCED to deal with the “way it is now” depending on where we live. I certainly will keep doing everything I can do to fight for the “it could someday be” era — and I also WISH that day was now…

        • says

          Well, the thing is Brittany, “who I am” is more than simply being a woman. My sole purpose in transition is to be honest about who I am, and comfortable with myself. If I slip into artifice to conform to societies expectations in ways I’m not comfortable with (like makeup, which I accept as a necessity until my facial hair is gone), then where has “who I am” gone? My gender expression is not part of my gender identity, but it is part of my overall identity. There are plenty of women more masculine than I am, and plenty more feminine, and this varies in different facets of my life and self expression. Why should I, or any trans woman, feel she has to express something she is not to be accepted as who she is, when any given cis woman can eschew these things and still expect to be gendered correctly (for the most part, obviously exceptions and all that)?

          As for the danger, I appreciate that it exists, and that my experience living in Australia as a somewhat more generally liberal (overall) place than the US colours my opinions here, but I do believe that you are greatly overstating it. I have seen a large number of people, be they trans women, or cross dressers, or what have you… transgender people, very much not passable, around quite frequently. And what happens? Nothing. They are ignored. Most people have the politeness on the street to do little more than cast (what they think are) covert glances. Of course, there are places where it would be dangerous, and violence an ever present risk, but out in the shopping mall, or eating in a restaurant? Today, when I go out, I know I will be read consistently as male. I have no doubt. This thought crushes me, so much so that I need a strong dose of diazepam to get out the door. But still, it’s not the threat of violence that I’m afraid of, but being seen as something I’m not. And that fear comes from inside me. The day I see, without a doubt, a woman looking back at me from the mirror, is the day I won’t have a single concern about what others think. I am a far harsher judge of myself than they ever could be.

          • Brittany says

            Miri, Please don’t think that I am saying that you (or anyone else for that matter) should ‘conform’ to anything – I’m not. I want you to be happy and be able to live your life as the true person you are! It sounds like you live in an area where you will have no trouble doing that. I also have no doubt that one day you WILL look in the mirror and see only a woman looking back.

            I completely understand what you say about how you have felt sometimes when you are read – because I have been there. During my ‘real life experience’ (RLE) I just naturally assumed that everyone ‘read’ me. I had a “M” on my driver’s license which instantly gave me away any time I had to use it for I.D. There were times when I had to drive 6-hours without stopping to pee because it was far too risky and I could have been arrested and thrown in some men’s jail in ‘Po-dunk’ Oklahoma or Texas. Where I live, you NEVER see transgender people (as a rule) out in society and people are NOT used to seeing them — even in cities like Dallas where I live. I was the first person to ever transition at the Federal agency where I am assigned in the entire country – and I am also the very first TS person most of the people I work with have ever known or even ever seen in ‘real life.’ The ignorance, bigotry and hate toward Transgender people in most areas in the U.S. is simply shocking to say the least.

            The laws and risks I mentioned are all too real and were not overstated. I was just being honest when I said that your life is easier in MOST areas of the U.S. if you can fully pass as the gender you present as. I have known people who transitioned in Dallas who could NOT find a job because they were TS – I even stopped one girl from killing herself because of this once. I know one girl who was followed around a grocery store in Dallas being harassed the whole time by a man and a woman after they read her. I have been purposely “sired” while presenting as a woman by a cashier in a checkout line. I have also received nasty letters from coworkers and even threats through my blog. I could go on and on… I have experienced and witnessed hate firsthand and I know what I’m talking about.

            I completely understand what you say about “being seen as something you’re not.” This is particularly frustrating to me where I work because none of those people there will ever accept me as the woman I have always been. This is also the reason that many of us end up going stealth – leaving all the people from our pasts behind. I have a few years left before I can retire and then I will probably do the same thing…

  17. Ruth says

    I am a cis female who was a tomboy as a child. I have an hourglass female shape, I identify as female and am very comfortable as female but generally dislike stereotypically ‘female’ clothes. I tend to dress androgynously and have an unusual hair cut that is very short at the front and sides (just a centimeter or two) and very long from the crown of my head (as long as my arms). For many years I worked in a daycare with children 2-10 years old. I would often have kids new to the center ask “Are you a boy or a girl?” What I found fascinating about their confused read of my gender was that as I probed for what cues were confusing them the most common thing I heard from them was I had earrings in just one ear and that was what boys had.

    It is interesting how much of that unconscious gendering we do is culturally mediated. No one is born with pierced ears after all.

    By the way, I would continue to push the boundaries of their mental gender boxes by answering “neither..(pause for several seconds while they looked confused). I am a woman”. I was totally ignorant of anything trans then. Now I might not resolve their confusion so quickly.


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