If you’ve ever spent any time around me, or follow me on twitter, you’ve probably heard me use the phrase passing before. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and decided it’s probably worth talking about why it’s so important to me, and presumably, to a great many other trans people as well.
First off, though, something more basic. What is “passing”?
Passing is when someone perceives you as your identified gender, not your assigned gender. For instance, if I am in public, and somebody sees me, or talks to me, and assumes that I am female, I am passing. I have passed. Passing is something that becomes more difficult as more scrutiny is applied; you may pass easily at a casual glance, but on closer inspection people’s perceptions may change.
The body I was born with is one that the majority of people would say is ‘male’, and so I must work to change the way that people see me. People see things like facial hair, square jaws, muscular and square torsos, body hair, all sorts of things, and assume ‘male’. People see breasts, curves and long hair, and assume ‘female’. However, in the presence of any strong masculine identifier, that almost always takes precedence. For instance, I can be the curviest, boob-iest, long hair-iest girl in the room, but if I haven’t shaved, people will assume I’m a man (albeit a bit of an odd one). So I work to hide the masculine identifiers and focus on the feminine ones.
There are a lot of reasons. Some are more practical than others. All of them are important.
On a basic level, I want to be able to use female spaces. I want to be able to use women’s restooms without causing a commotion. I want to shop in the women’s section without drawing judgemental looks and hurtful comments. I want to be able to buy make-up without the salesperson assuming it’s for someone else.
More importantly, I want to feel safe. I want to wear the feminine clothing that I like, paint my nails, wear make-up and talk about cute things*. If I do these things, and am perceived as a woman, then I’m just a woman, and that’s that. If I do them, and am perceived as a man, I have opened myself up for a particularly damaging and dangerous form of harassment. The further ‘men’ delve into feminine presentation (and ‘cross-dressing’ and wearing make-up is delving pretty damn far) the more likely they are to find themselves victims of threats, abuse, violence and even sexual assault. Every time I go out in public, I’m playing a very dangerous game. I am constantly terrified, but the alternative is unacceptable to me. I will wear the clothes I like, make myself look the way I like, and no ass-backwards homophobic misogynistic transphobic culture is going to stop me. Though it may kill me.
In some ways, it’s vanity. Even when I thought I was a boy, I wished that I was a cute girl. I’m closer now to making that dream a reality than ever, and yes, I want to be judged as attractive, as a woman, by those standards. I don’t want to look at women I find attractive with jealousy, I want to see myself among them. Passing is a big part of that. After all, how can people think I’m a cute girl if they don’t think I’m a girl?
Honestly, though, none of that really matters. The real reason it’s important, the real reason it occupies so much of my time, and energy, the reason I obsess over my appearance and my voice, is far simpler.
It’s what I want. I’m a woman, and I bloody well want people to see me as one. It’s as simple as that. I want people to see the person that I want to be, not the person I was told I am.
Because when they don’t, when they look at me and think “man”, they are denying me a part of my identity, a part that has taken me years of pain and confusion and tears and sleepless nights to understand. When someone calls me “sir” they are taking away the part of me I have worked hardest to claim as my own, completely dismissing the most difficult struggle of my life, one that they will never have to go through, and never understand.
I did not survive two decades of confusion and misery, months of psychiatric assessment, more months of speech therapy, constant doctor’s appointments and blood tests and a cycle of medication that will last until I die, just to have some random-ass stranger take one look at me and decide that I am a man, because that is what works best for them.
You cannot take that away from me.
*Side note: apparently, it’s extremely rare, and frowned upon, for men to talk about things as being cute, or acknowledge that cuteness has any value, unless they’re talking about a woman they want to have sex with.