Thursday, August 2, 2012

On Trans and Passing

Passing is one of those things that is a big deal for all trans people - but I see more confusion about it among pre-transition and early transition transsexuals than any other group. So this blog post is aimed at them, though it's also aimed at people who don't understand the importance of keeping it quiet when around their trans friends, family, and acquaintances.

To start, what is passing? Passing is the term used for a trans* person being read as a cis person. This is important because of the rampant discrimination against trans* people. Many cisgender people believe it's their right to determine our gender for us, based on criteria they decide on. And I don't mean doctors, scientists, or researchers, I mean ignorant, uneducated average joes who make up their mind that one criteria tells the truth, be it genital configuration or chromosomal makeup. If/when they determine that we're trans, they can pick a whole variety of ways to insult us, from being loud and outing us (the practice of announcing one's trans status against the wishes of the trans person) to intentionally misgendering us, as well as plain old disrespect.

Because of the above, to live a discrimination free life, and to not suffer constant insults, it is imperative that we pass. Now, there's good news and bad news about this. The good news is passing is at least a little easier than most people give it credit for. The bad news is that the trans illusion tends to be fragile for many of us.

Good news first - passing is easier than most people really think. Many, many pre transition transgirls obsess over passing - and decry pictures of transwomen because their jaw is a little to big, or their shoulders a little too wide.

Here's the thing with that - even cisgender women have wide shoulders, or are tall, or other such signals. People ignore them because the last thing on someone's mind when they're out and about in their day-to-day lives is transsexualism. We're skewed because we live it every day of our lives, but to the average joe, we're a myth, a legend, and not even on their radar.

Now the bad - most of us do have more than a few signals to our assigned-at-birth gender. This is why when pre-everything trans people are always able to 'tell' - and their perception that because they can 'tell' everyone else can.

I won't split hairs - we do have these signals - and  that makes it dangerous to get people thinking about transsexuals around us - ESPECIALLY if we're the one being asked about it/talking about it. The line of thought is no cisgender person would discuss it so seriously, so it immediately brings speculation about which 'one of us is the "tranny". They then look with that in mind, spot our signals, then our 'cover' is blown.

Now I should add, that passing isn't everything. There's something to be said for the peace of mind that comes from being comfortable in your own skin first and foremost. And even with the above, some people may never truly pass. Passing is merely an extra security level - one which does make life easier, and affords you many privileges you wouldn't have if you wore your trans status on your sleeve. The purpose of this was to get people thinking about the fragile balance of appearing as our desired gender, realizing that passing isn't as hard as people really think, and realizing that maybe chatting up your trans friend about trans issues in public might be a bit more dangerous for him or her than you give credit for.


(Comments are open to anonymous posting! If you think I failed to address a point, or if you have a question, please leave it in the comment section below! This blog thrives on reader questions, so please ask them if you have them! )


  1. Thanks, this was really helpful for me.

    Is there any more general advice you would give to pre or early transition people?

  2. The idea of nobody thinking the tall ciswoman is trans is something that can work in our favor as well. It has been my experience that wherever I go the only person thinking about trans issues is me. Everyone else is concerned with their own issues, the least of which is transsexuality.

    For passing privilege I have found that while HRT won't replace FFS, it really helps over time. I also found that facial hair removal is an important step. But one of the most important elements of passing is voice. True that there are some husky voiced women out there, voice work in indeed important. All the elements, voice, face, movement, dress, come together for a package that is almost complete and allow one to move about the world as themselves.

    The most important element of all of this though, in fact the glue that holds it all together is confidence. This is something that like all the other elements, we build up over time.

    Eventually what happens is that you are seen as female, which is the goal. For me it's to the point where I hear "ma'am" even if someone knows my male name. And that's a really nice thing to hear whatever name they know me by.


  3. This is a really great piece and cudos to the author as the subject of passing is a hot topic yet scary to talk about. In near every instance of this topic, a "lone wolf" comes in to bash those that think passing privilege should not be a virtue and teaching it is wrong. "Acceptance in your own skin" they say.

    As you pointed out and I agree, it is important to accept yourself but these wolves feel that acceptance is easier than passing is and I personally find that untrue. If acceptance were all we needed, would we even transition in the first place? Would we use medical methods to alter our bodies?

    I think this topic of passing needs to be explored more openly, honestly and with less fear of the wolf pack. Passing, whether we like it or not, is a huge virtue for the new transition-er, and topics discussing it could be so helpful for their well being.

    Well done on this great start of the discussion, let us know where to go from here. :)