A Trans Woman's Reflections on "Passing"

The politics of "passing"  for trans people is a topic filled with complexity, nuance, emotion, and not just an academic think piece kind of pursuit, but something with real life consequences.  Trans people all over the spectrum have different ideas, and relationships to the concept of "passing" as a cis person in their day to day life.  For some it is a matter of safety, for others it is a matter of access, and for others it is not even a desire or something to attain to.  We all have different proximities to "passing" and for many of us, it is something that changes from day to day.  This is true for me at this current stage of my transition, as some days I wish I passed as a cis woman in the world, other days, I am more than proud to be a visibly trans woman.  

I was once told once during my early days as a baby trans that there would be a moment in my transition when everything would begin to change and the person that I was, (assigned male at birth then socialized into masculinity) would no longer be the lead actor in the role that is my life.  It made me happy to hear these words from someone who had been through it herself, and it gave me hope for something better in the future, something closer to my understanding of myself and the world.



Other trans girls like to remind me that some day soon the “Excuse me Sir’s” and “What’s up Bro’s” would begin to drop like flies all around me. That the misgendering would start to get less and less frequent until maybe some day it would go away all together and I would be able to live my life just as I see myself, a beautiful trans woman worthy of love and respect.

 

One time my best friend (a passing trans girl herself) told me that I was going to start being seen as pretty and that eventually I would begin to get attention from men whether or not I wanted it. She gave it to me directly, saying “Trust me boo, You are gonna be having problems some day, and I know you don't fuck with boys, but they sure as hell are gonna want to fuck with you”.  Since then, I have spent every moment I can trying to figure out how to be attractive enough to women I can still get dates, but ugly enough to men that they would leave me alone, but just attractive enough to them that they don’t start clocking my T. I’m still working on nailing down this aesthetic to be honest, some days I feel closer to it than others.

 

It has been a little over 4 years since I first came out to myself as a trans woman, it has been just a little over 1.5 since I started on Hormone Replacement Therapy, and I still wonder if those days I was told about by all my friends would ever come to fruition for me.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are some days when I don’t get misgendered at all, sadly those days usually involve the condition that I never leave the house, or don't run into any cis heteros, but for the most part I still get called sir and bro, and that boy I was socialized as since birth, still takes the lead role when I step out in public most days and I am forced to think about how I would be lying if I told you that I never wanted to pass as a cis woman. Or how sometimes I wish I would get catcalled on the streets by men, just to know that I’m being seen as a woman, even if it means they see me as prey for them to hunt instead of being seen as a predator scamming his way to some dick, and y'all already know, I don't even fuck with boys like that.

 

These sporadic fantastical hopes churning around in my head often catch me off guard, and before you know it I am spiraling into thoughts about how even in my refusal to perform for the male gaze, I cannot escape its reach, its violence, its burning demand for approval. I think about what a twisted world we live in when being subjected to the violence of patriarchy for a trans woman is often the clearest signal of our “arrival” into womanhood.

 

This feeling and thought is so pervasive that even when I am absolutely am proud to be this self proclaimed baddie scorpiheaux trans woman cougar, that sees herself as a mix of sporty spice femme on her worst days and a Posh/scary spice hybrid femme on her best days, there are still some days, when the world feels particularly cruel, when being a visibly trans woman in a physically transphobic society has me feeling worn out.  When I spend hours applying this full beat of makeup, then shave off all the hair on my body, painstakingly scrubbing away any remnants of my masculinity coercively assigned to me at birth simply to leave the house and the first person I see still says to me “What can i get for you today Sir?”  My heart drops, and I just want to yell at the top of my lungs at the "trying too hard to be polite but ending up hella rude" barista at Starbucks “Can i get some damn respect please? But can I also get a venti double shot espresso caramel frappuccino extra caramel with coconut milk no whip please!”

 

On days like that I really do fantasize about what it would feel like to move through the world

without having to carry all this transness with me everywhere I go, I wonder what it would be like if I could just exist passing as a cis woman and all the lovely things that would come along with it. While most days I don't pass, and I have no real clear path towards resolving this dilemma in the meantime, I’ve determined I am too stubborn to believe that I am the one that needs to change just to be seen as a woman instead of everyone else needing to expand their definition of what a woman is and can be.

 

The other day while I was in line at Target, a white, appearingly cis hetero woman was holding up the line waiting for an item being brought to the counter, so she told the cashier, “You can ring her up first while we are waiting.” as she was pointing towards me, I stood shocked for a second, hit with the realization she was talking about me. She follows with “No need to make her wait too!” and smiled my way. “Is this real life?” I thought to myself. I flipped my hair, said thank you, and walked up to the cashier with a confidence I have never had before in public. I can't lie and tell you that it doesn't feel good to be seen as a woman by a stranger I have never met. And I guess the best I can do is hope that I’m doing something right


It’s complicated I know, and I don’t know how to end this piece or put a ribbon on it properly

I don’t really have any answers, or happy endings, I don’t know if I’ll ever consider my transition complete some day. Or if there's even a destination to arrive at in the end.  Does transition even begin to describe what I’m doing? So instead I’ll just leave you all with a poem at the beginning and my outlook to the future.

 

“THE GARDEN”

As a child and through my adolescence

It never really occurred to me that i wasn't supposed to be a boy

It never crossed my mind

That I had been born in the wrong body

Nor do I have any recollection

Of any traumatic gender dysphoria

 

In fact

Most of my childhood i can remember

Enjoying the mischief of boyhood

(Which i now refer to in hindsight as my tom boy phase

Only it was like a 25 year phase)

 

So if you were to ask me the origin of my trans identity

I would honestly have no clear answer in response

No “Eureka” moment to speak of

No “Genesis” to my transition

 

When pressed for an answer

The best I can do instead

Is cite how poorly i grew into my masculinity

How the seams of my boyhood

Quickly began to unravel in my process of “becoming a man”

 

How eventually i started to outgrow its limits

How I started feeling trapped in its lack of vulnerability

Isolated in its fear of deep emotions or connection

I found myself tired of being shamed

Every time i stepped outside of its expected codes of behavior

(like that one time I was out drinking with my boys and I ordered a fruity drink cocktail and they all laughed at me for some reason, “oh im sorry, I didnt realize your masculinity was so fragile your drinks had to be manly enough to keep the glass from breaking”)

 

Slowly I began to notice

How masculinity no longer fit my body right

The way it was so fragile but needed to be worn unbreakable

Perhaps subconciously

I began looking for something else to wear altogether

Searching for something maybe less fragile

Or not so afraid to be broken

Something able to rise into the swell of a tide my emotions had become

 

It didnt happen suddenly

I still havent woken up one morning

To find the skin of my masculinity shed away overnight

 

Rather i think of my transition as something more fluid

Like an ocean in all its majesty always in flux

With no destination in place other than simply existing

And the pull of the moon Embracing the impact with beautiful force

The shore never the same look twice

 

I like to think of my femme expression

As little seeds planted at my birth

Nearest the roots of my fullest potential

My most authentic expression in bloom

Free from the thorns and weeds of toxic masculinity assigned to me at birth

Then scattered throughout my garden

 

I like to think of these femme seeds

Rising to the surface my whole life

How the shedding skin of my masculinity

Becomes compost meant to prepare my soil for the spring

 

Rather

I like to think of myself flowering

A beautiful collection of petals

Peeling its way open ever so slowly

Each reveal much more beautiful than the last

 

Ive come to discover myself as a resplendent garden

Finally seeing its beauty nearing full bloom

And how foolish of me it would be, passing up an opportunity

To spend the rest of my life, tending to its care