Pasupatidasi's Blog

thoughts, poetry, life as it is…

some ‘passing’ thoughts


lately i have been rereading “whipping girl” and finishing up “luna”. two very awesome books that deal with the subject of trans-women altho coming from two very different places. both of these recent reads have gotten me thinking about this thing called “passing”.

it isn’t something i’ll ever have to worry about. the fact that i was born in the body that matches my gender identity means that i’ll never have prove i’m a woman. to anyone. ever. certainly i pass.

but what is passing? why is it so important? what paradigms frame its importance? is it all external appearance? is this notion of passing a by-product of our binary gender system? can one be a woman without the surgeries, without the hormones? does the plumbing have to match the wiring?

i wonder….

of course, society will recognise me as a woman, no matter what i do. i can wear men’s clothing, buzz-cut my hair, go without make-up, date women, participate in employment areas and hobbies that are usually thought of as “man stuff” and the world may call me a dyke (which i like) but it will still see me as a woman.

but what really makes me a woman, is the same thing that makes my daughter a woman. it is something between the ears, not between the thighs. so, since this is true, why is it so important to ‘pass’? why the need to change the outsides?

i tried to tell my daughter that there are transgender women that don’t feel they have to have their “spare parts” (her word for them) taken away in order to be the girls they are. i told her about the places in native american, hindu and japanese society where ‘two-spirit’ beings are accepted as belonging to the gender with which they identify…no assembly required.

but she wont have any of it!

for her the body must match the brain. and starting early on cross-hormones, before any testosterone has had the chance to make irreversible changes resulting in male physical features, she will likely ‘pass’ more easily than my friends who were adults by the time they decided to transition.

‘passing for a woman’ seems reliant on meeting strict gender expectations imposed by the dominant culture. women are supposed to have delicate features, small hands and feet, soft voices…all of the things that would help one to pass as a woman seem to me to derive from preconceptions about what is feminine. and much of what is deemed feminine has roots in an oppressive and misogynist ideology that has relegated women to the lower castes of society.

this whole ‘passing’ issue also tends to validate the dominant cultures prejudice against those who are “other than”, in much the same way that a fair-skinned person of color passing for white, or a gay man passing for straight does. in other words, it reinforces the narrative that the majority group is better than the minority group, and therefore it is desirable to ‘pass’.

of course, should a trans-person be able to ‘pass’ for their identified gender they are less likely to suffer discriminaton, making it easier to find employment, or even housing, or just to be accepted as their identified gender, and thus taken seriously, and ironically are those who can pass are accused of being deceptive. very often in our society if transgender or transsexual women ‘pass’ cissexuals feel betrayed or threatened by them.

the rigorous measures to which a trans-woman is subjected in order to be considered ‘passing’ are not applied to me, a cis-sexual woman. for example, my rather large thyroid area of the neck, (and it is large) is never scrutinised, my large hands, (and they are large) are not held against me. the fact that i haven’t got big hips, or an hourglass shape or big breasts will never raise eyebrows or cast doubt as to my gender. but for my transsexual friends these features are viewed by the world as drawbacks to ‘passing’, as if the only way for a transsexual woman to be accepted into the exclusive sisterhood is to be judged by the same cis-privileged society that has insisted on the binary gender code in the first place.

it isn’t fair.

once, a friend of mine who is transsexual was talking on skype with me, when her roommate passed by the screen and upon seeing me mistook me for a trans-woman. my friend ‘shushed’ her, as tho it were some sort of insult. i told her, no…quite the contrary, i considered it a compliment. but the fact that my friend thought i should be insulted shows that she still struggles within herself to be free of the negativity our society has ingrained in us about not being ‘true’ to the established gender rules.

so what is passing? should it be important?

as a member of the cis-privileged group it is far beyond my right to say, and beyond my experience to know. but i can say this much; for me, it matters not in the slightest, this thing called ‘passing’. because it’s whats inside that makes the woman.

i only wish society saw it the same way…for my daughter’s sake.


8 thoughts on “some ‘passing’ thoughts

  1. I know that “Western” societies are not the only ones, nor are they truly the most enlightened, but they are the culture in which we live and we are forced to deal with the bigotry and discrimination. Your right, it’s not “fair” or more to the point, it isn’t right, but much of life is that way and so we are left to draw upon our own inner strength to stand for what we know is right and proper.

    When society refuses to do the correct thing, it is left to the individual.

    “Passing” in many ways forces us back into a box that often does not fit, a box of a binary universe where there are only two extremes and not the infinite spectrum that truly exists. It is for each of us to embrace our true gender and our true selves in the one place that it counts and that is in our hearts.

    I understand the feelings that the “plumbing” should match the programing, however I would point out that in the end even this is not enough for those who choose to hate. They have said that unless you have the genes to match, your not a given gender. If one day science finds a way to correct even this, the haters would find something else.

    We need to separate gender from birth sex. As I know personally, what is or is not between my legs has nothing at all to do with who I am. I have chosen to see myself this way, as a woman who was born with a birth defect, but a woman none the less.

    I cannot change anyone but myself and I’m not going to waste my time trying.

    • love the last line especially…we can only change ourselves and it is a waste of time trying! and it is very true that even should one meet the criteria set for feminine in our society, most people sadly, will still make a difference between a trans-woman and a cis-woman…

      unfair and not right!

      my daughter also views her ‘spare parts’ as a birth defect…but she fully intends to undo that defect…for herself tho…she already doesn’t care what society thinks… the lovely little rebel…hope she never loses that!

      thanks for the thought provoking and insight filled comments

  2. I think passing is far more complex than merely conforming to a particular culture’s standards of masculinity or femininity. It seems to be much more important for the MTF than the FTM. That element would appear to match the societal prejudices, but I would say that the need to pass is more than wanting to climb in to another box.
    I share your daughter’s need to correct my body to match my spirit, and I too strive to pass. There would be no greater success for me than to be able to wake up every day and be accepted by the whole world as a woman without qualification.
    I am trying to think of a good metaphor to help those who are not in this place to understand the feelings behind this. Imagine that you are taking a photography class and everybody else in the class has a top of the line digital SLR while all you have is a broken down film camera that you are borrowing from the instructor. You may be a brilliant photographer and you may produce pictures that are as beautiful and artistic as everyone else in the class, but you still want a proper camera.
    It’s something like that. I know who I am on the inside, but humans are social creatures. How we feel on the inside can only take us so far. Ultimately, right or wrong, a large part of our self-esteem is based on the feedback we receive from others.
    Passing isn’t about deceiving others or being what we’re not. It’s all about just being who we are without having to explain ourselves to others. One of the most interesting people I know and my first trans woman friend here tried to explain it to me in terms of her experience. She had been dressing as a woman for years and finally came to the conclusion that she needed to be seen and accepted as a woman by the rest of the world. Her inner perception didn’t change, and in fact, she says that she often sees herself as more male than female.
    This has been a terribly long comment, and I don’t know if I’ve done any more than muck the idea up even worse. Sorry abut that.

    • feedback from others, and mirroring is indeed a part of our self-esteem. given that this is true i hope our society becomes one that is less rigid and false so that those others, those mirrors are kinder.

      i tend to be rampantly non-conformist and anti-social to the max. i learned early on that society wouldn’t accept me…as a person! that it would always require me to squeeze into some labeled box or another, and i knew none would fit or be comfortable did i go along with this.

      my daughter is also anti-social in ways, being autistic, and very strong in her convictions about who she is. she says she’s not the ‘make-up and jewelry wearing type’ of girl. if she had been born in the girl’s body she so needs to have, society would call her a tomboy despite the fact that she wears her hair long and prefers dresses with leggings under them to pants and tops.

      your comment is very nice, insightful and doesn’t muck any thing up…i’m of a mind to believe that the more we openly discuss the oppression inherent in the dominant culture’s paradigm, the better…often a knot seems more tangled just before it is solved!

      so thanks, both for reading and for sharing your thoughts

  3. For me, it’s important to be seen by others as who I am to myself. Being misgendered is a reminder that others see only the shell and the packaging is totally wrong.

    I don’t want to “pass” so much as I want to “be.” I just want to be another guy on the street. It’s hard to explain.

    I know that in some ways, I will never have the body of a natal male. It can be sort of depressing, but I know I can get as close as possible, so that I can be comfortable and so I can be more involved in the world at large.

    Your daughter is very lucky to have a concerned, supportive parent in you.

    Re: Becky’s point about passing being more of a concern for MTF than FTM, I think we have equal desire to be seen as our true selves, but I think the MTF is under more scrutiny because it can be much harder for her to blend. Short men, slightly feminine men, etc. don’t stand out in the same way that a very tall woman or a woman with strong bone structure does. Another element is that when a FTM doesn’t pass, but is just regarded as a butch lesbian, it is still more accepted in society. We don’t face quite the same dangers as MTFs if we don’t pass.

    • lovely points you bring up…and of course, despite the arbitrary measure set upon the notions of what it is to be female or male, one’s desire to be accepted for who they are within the paradigm established is completely understandable.

      as for my daughter being lucky to have a supportive parent, i feel like the one lucky. to have a child who grows me in ways i couldn’t have imagined.

      thanks for reading and leaving your thoughts

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