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To Pass or Not to Pass

One of the most important goals of transgender people, especially those who identify with a gender binary existence, is to pass as the gender they identify with. Speaking first hand, what a royal pain in the ass this is! People like to trot out the old hypothetical aliens when seeking to demonstrate how alike we humans all are and highlight that to an outsider, there is no difference between a native Samoan and white guy from Duluth. The same could apply to gender. These aliens, usually imagined as the cute grey guys with the huge eyes, probably wouldn’t see much different in terms of gender either, at least any more than we can tell the difference between chimpanzees unless the male has a hard on. Good for them and their adorable anal probing ways, but people sure can, and do.

Keeping with my first hand perspective, it’s not at all comfortable for me to be perceived as male, even when I happen to be in male mode. It feels like a misrepresentation, a lie, and often even a costume. Transforming a middle age male body with a pot belly, ungodly thick beard growth, and severe balding is just as hard as you think it would be. I’m not looking for sympathy or anything. This is my lot and I accept it and happy to be living in an age where the option of having someone burn part of my face off with lasers is available and affordable. Living in the sixteenth century and relying on thick lead based makeup and the possibility of being burned at the stake would have been much worse.

The point I’m looking to explore is, what happens when all that can be done, is done, and it’s still not quite enough? What if I finish zapping the beard, get fitted for a kick ass wig, let the hormones do their thing, get all Mary Kay’d up, and still get read by everyone this side of Stevie Wonder? It does happen. Some trans women are naturally built like Refrigerator Perry or have faces that would pass for the Hulk with a little green paint. The only real answer is that you just live with it.

A female impersonator might consider going into another line of work, like an accountant bad at math. It might not be a fit if you can’t meet the basic qualifications for employment. For trans women, that isn’t a consideration. No one is transitioning with a qualification that they come out looking like Evangeline Lilly in the end or no dice. Once we figure out what we are, anything is better. To highlight my Gleek status, we may want to be Quinn Fabray, but if Coach Beiste is all we can manage, it’s still better than the alternative; she’s still a woman.

Passing is way more comfortable of course. Being accepted as a woman is far better than being accepted as a trans woman, and way, way better than being perceived as a man in a dress. Some of us tell ourselves we are more femme then Ann Hathaway just to make it out the front door. Others feel they may as well be wearing a tee shirt that reads, “I have/ used to have a penis” in sparkling neon letters no matter what they do, but have found a way to be OK with that. I wish I was in the former group but stuck in the latter. It’s driven me to work on passing – getting off my ass to start beard removal, dressing low key, learning to do makeup so it doesn’t look like I have 5 lbs of pancake batter on my face. Still, when I go out, I assume everyone can tell.

Everyone is different, but in the end we have to live our lives. This is who we are no matter what we look like. If we pass, wonderful, it will always be the goal. In the mean time I’ve developed a mental exercise to make the day to day a little bit easier. If I’m going to the grocery store, I think about all the people there or on their way to buy cat food and toilet paper. Not a one of those people has a thought or opinion I care about. Who are they to me? If that is the case, what changes in 10 minutes when I’m at the store with them? Yes, I know some will see me as affront to their god, or just plain silly, but most couldn’t care less. Me either and it makes life good.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

12 responses »

  1. I agree with Sandy that attitude is key to presentation, no matter how masculine you may appear. I never go out anymore with the assumption that someone will “know”, I never ever think about what’s under my skirt because I know most women aren’t thinking about what’s under theirs, and I am no longer timid as I used to be when I was a man. With men I know that they are always casing us women out no matter how young, old, fat, thin, plain or gorgeous and even if I have to get up close and personal with them, it is seldom a problem either. I occasionally get called sir over the phone and I respond politely “actually its ma’am” and the caller will apologize and I will say “it’s okay.” It really is all about treating others with respect first and then they will usually do the same.

    • So right Deanna, so right! That happened for me as well. I was such a shy wallflower as a “dude” and have way more confidence now that I present myself truly. I’m not the biggest chatterbox or anything, but way, way more social than I have ever been. And yes, being respectful first is the key. I have loads of patience for people making mistakes with me, so long as it is not malicious and it has served me well in all but one occasion, which I will post about tomorrow.

  2. A lot of “passing” is attitude–know that you belong there. Another is gestures- style & graceful movements. And throw in there the right amount of make-up. Yes, and sometimes a thick skin is needed because you will, generally, run into a situation where someone “reads” you.

    • Hi Sandy! Thanks for commenting! 🙂 Oh, I’m all about the thick skin sister. Now the graceful movements… yeah, I need a little more work there. The hard part is that I”m not even graceful for a dude. When I joined the Air Force lo so many years ago, the drill sergent learned my name first for sticking out like a sore thumb when marching about. It’s OK though, I’ll get there. 🙂

  3. Getting to a head space where it doesn’t matter whether or not other people care how we look is the healthiest strategy that I’ve discovered as well. Interestingly I found that once I had ‘hardened my armor’ my self confidence grew and that made a great difference in people’s perception. Best wishes sister 🙂

  4. Michelle, Thanks for putting transitioning into words that I’m so sure that most if not all of us can relate to. I quit caring as much as I once did when it came to what outhers think. Most people I have met are not even comfortable with themselves, and hope to feel good about themselves at your expense. I beleive that most people aren’t half as smart as they think they are and can’t help but to equate outhers to their standards that they don’t practice themselves. I will not let anyone impose their limits on me stright or trans. Religion sucks, Faith is a wonderful thing that I posses a great deal of. I’m a woman no matter what anyone might say. When out with my wife or by myself I’m more offten than not am refured to as you girls or mam. Only people I know want to make sure I know they know the difference, not all but most and I am so proud of them, their soo smart!! I have found my peace, I can’t find it for anyone else and I won’t let them take mine anymore.

  5. Your final paragraph says it all. Not only does it not matter to you what they think, you will also find that it doesn’t really matter to them what you look like.
    Think of it this way. Before this became the focus of your life, did you go into the store and try to figure other people out or did you go looking for the cat food and toilet paper?
    Same with everybody else. I have some good friends who remind me of this every day. If they did not, I would be sure that everyone was staring at me too.


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