Pasupatidasi's Blog

thoughts, poetry, life as it is…

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rites of passing vs rights of personhood

there are alot of words that have specific meaning to those who are transgender. like ‘passing’ and ‘disclosure’. i dislike both of these words. as the parent of a transgender daughter, and the long time friend to a couple of transwomen, the import and impact of these words is clear to me.

passing means being judged to be ‘feminine’ enough in appearance to have some modicum of acceptance as female. unfortunately, this ‘modicum’ is not the same as real acceptance as a woman, but only a grudging allowance that one looks ‘good enough’ to be deemed feminine.

the rites of passing for transgender women are very detailed. there must be a ‘feminine’ voice, no visible ‘adam’s apple’, a feminine walk and poise, make-up and clothing. in addition, in order to be thought ‘passing’ validation must be awarded by the cis-gender, male-dominated societal norms that dictate and oppress cis-gender women as well.

the rituals and necessities to achieve ‘feminine appearance’ are time-consuming and expensive. as every cis-woman knows, in order to be deemed ‘feminine’ the body must be ridded of hair, smooth as a pre-pubescent girl. one must attend to details such as applying mascara and lipstick, and learn to negotiate one’s surroundings in shoes that are uncomfortable and unhealthy, while donning ‘appropriate’ gender-specific attire. i wont go into all the particulars of poise and composure here, as i presume that my readers are familiar with western patriarchal paradigms for acceptible female behaviour and appearance.

for transgender women all these rituals must be accomplished without the slightest error in order to be judged by others as ‘passing’. and then, should a girl be particularly good at ‘passing’, she had better also be very good at knowing the unwritten rules about disclosure, lest she be deemed ‘deceitful’ or blamed for her own attack or rape. in other words ‘passing’ results in responsibility to ‘disclose’. but not ‘passing’ is unacceptable…it’s a trap either way.

as a cis-woman, despite my unconventional appearance, my non-traditional way of dressing, my habit of neither shaving my body hair nor applying make-up, i ‘pass’. there’s no judgment of my personhood as a woman, although it may be decided that i’m not ‘feminine’. a transgender woman who affected a similar self-expression would not be considered ‘passing’, would be denied personhood on her terms and not accepted as a woman.

the terms masculine and feminine are by-products of a binary mindset. they are the result of a long history of patriarchal values imposed upon society. they say much about what the dominant culture thinks of women and their place in relation to men but do little to define actual persons. they are masks given each to wear dependent upon one’s genital presentation at birth. terms such as these are meant to put us each in our place, in much the same way that other assignations lock one into their proper ‘class’ or race.

where in all of this can the ‘rights of personhood’ be found? how can it be that in the 21st century society is fraught with ways by which it can deny self-definition and self-determination to its members? how can we begin to extend rights of personhood when there is so much of judgment and reluctance to accept what is deemed as ‘strange’ or ‘other than’.

the vice-president recently made comments that subject of ‘transgender rights’ is the civil rights issue of today. no doubt this is true, because whereas lgbt rights movements have made many gains for the other folk represented by the letters of that acronym, the T folk continue to struggle for the most basic rights of personhood.

i have no answers.

my daughter doesn’t seem to be anymore interested in wearing make-up or jewelry than am i. she doesn’t like to wear frilly attire, isn’t afraid of spiders and wants to marry a woman someday. i would like to imagine a world wherein she wont be denied her right to personhood simply because she rejects (as do i) the parameters of what it means to be feminine, a world wherein ‘rites of passing’ are inconsequential to her being accepted as the girl she’s always been.


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.