In the last Lessons Learned I wrote about going out and the need for some self-belief to help make that happen. Listening to trans friends and reflecting on my own experiences, one of the things that can really hammer us is passing. For those not in the know, shall we aim for passing as appearing as your preferred/new gender and not being ‘read’ (spotted/outed/seen) as transgender. It’s not about tricking anyone, it’s often about personal safety, but there’s more than that. (Note: a slight edit to that paragraph. I’m not a huge fan of definitions – I’m more a story person – but I think we need to start somewhere 🙂).
I think passing is a curious thing: an odd blend of that wanting to be safe (as in undetected), feeling right in one’s gender presentation, not wanting to upset others, to the more negative end of ‘not passing’ or not being good enough. There have been many times in my youth where I’d try my best on my femme appearance, only to catch sight of my body or face, and think what I mess I was. Cue the spiral of negativity on failing to meet your own standards – we’ll come back to that in a minute – and thinking you’ll never be good enough. Let’s just put the brakes on that crash cart and step outside of the scene…. 😉
Who’s standards? What’s informing or influencing me on how I think I should look? What is that narrative I’m being told and to what end?
If we take a look at certain aspects of society and the media, there’s seems a very heavy focus towards being young, white, cis, straight, thin, and pretty. Sure, things are changing slowly, however, given the beautiful variety of us as a people – and I mean humanity 🙂 – the range through media is not very diverse. Given many of us swim in this culture, so to speak, it saturates our thoughts and colours our perspective. BTW, if you are young, pretty, thin, and reading this, I’ve absolutely no malice towards you: it’s the system that needs to change a little quicker to benefit everyone. At some point you will start to age and/or your weight will alter. Are you really more valid being a size 8 over a size 14? Should we value you more because you’re twenty-something rather than fifty-something? 🤔
So if the system is pushing an ideal many of us – trans and non-trans (cis) – are unlikely to meet, what do we do? Well, you could turn your back on the whole thing and rock your a look from the street or subculture: alternative, punk, rockabilly, grime, retro, hippy, andro, genderqueer, etc. Lots do and good on them for striking out to something else.
Other than that, how about rejecting the concept of passing? I am aware as a middle class, straight, white man, who is effectively ‘part time’ in the Trans world, I have a certain level of privilege. Hey, you hear that click noise? That was a number of folk just switching off because I used the P word 😉
Jokes aside, and let’s finally get to the main course of this Lesson Leaned, by pushing against my need to feel that I must pass, I started to feel better about myself. I didn’t stop caring about trying to look good, stylish, or even pretty, but it wasn’t about comparing myself to a standard that I would never meet. It wasn’t about deceiving myself, I’m quite aware of my many flaws – physical, mental, and social – but to be a friend to oneself is important. I don’t say things to friends that are cruel or mean, so why should I do that to myself?
So, if you can, give up on passing. Embrace the feeling that you are valid and you are good enough. If you feel you can be more, you are only competing with yourself. Perhaps the destination is acceptance: accepting ourselves for who we are and maybe even for others to accept who we are too.
I think I would take that: to be accepted for all of who I am, rather than passing.