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?
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.