I got the idea to write a post about saying “fuck” to passing from reading Rachel Ann Williams’ chapter: “Learning to say ‘fuck’ to passing” in her book Transgressive (for my review of this book see – A Review of a Transgender Book). As I now remember little about the specifics of this chapter or another chapter, “Is the very concept of ‘passing’ problematic?” (both of these will be explored together in this post), I will be not speaking to what Ms. Williams wrote in these chapters. They were just the catalyst for writing this post. I will approach writing this post by weaving the two notions together, and I will be coming at you from my own personal struggle with passing and my own views on why passing should not be an issue other than our (transgender women) own views of ourselves, not others. I have “our” and “ourselves” in the last sentence, but do not believe that my experience should be that of any other transgender woman. But, I do believe I am not the only one that struggles with passing and saying “fuck” to it.
What’s the big deal about passing? It feels really good when someone sees me as the gender I identify as. This could mean they see me as a ciswoman. Should being seen as a ciswoman matter? Yes and no. Yes, because it means that my looks and mannerisms and voice are matching the presentation I am going for. No, because I am a transgender woman, and I am proud of who I am.
The main criticism is the whole notion that woman should present in certain ways. That way, although mistaken, includes the way a woman is supposed to appear—the ever present ideal image of beauty or as close to it as you can get. The problem is it is a societal view, brought about by many influences. Today it can even be in hyper-mode because of media of all sorts. Magazines, TV, movies, the World Wide Web, and the tons of sites. Woman who fit the ideal model are rampantly present to us everywhere.
And who do you think is behind this bullshit. It is a male privilege society. If you want love, you need to be able to submit to this view. That is what is presented over and over again. Of course, this is the mainstream influence we are given, but it does not mean all men expect this from women they get involved with. There are even some men that are attracted to different body images for women. But, there is no denying that this view of the way women should look and how it is presented to them is the dominant view.
This male privilege and expectations go beyond just looks. It is still a very common view that a woman should be compliant with their male partners. This is almost sacrosanct in fundamental religious circles. Even in more enlightened relationships, somehow a lot of women have to do the majority of housework and child care. There are truly equal relationships out there, but statistics don’t lie if they are produced with scientific significance. So this state of affairs need not be set in stone.
Women are also payed less than men for the same job. So, it is not a matter of just added time and effort to do the household chores, but having to face economic inequality. This maybe made even worse because “beautiful” women often have better paying jobs. Women with lower or no income are often left with no perceived escape from abusive relationships because of this inequality. It is long pass time to fix this, but as males still control most of the elected government seats, passing bills with teeth, is being fought, and especially by the conservative right who are influence by fundamentalist beliefs. Despite great gains over the years, there is, unfortunately, a long way to go. Not that it should be necessary, but an equal rights amendment for women (and transgender women) should be reintroduce to Congress and passed and ratified by the states. Even so, it does not guarantee equality, look the the 14th and 15th amendments. Black persons are far from enjoying equality with white persons.
I digress to show what woman and transgender woman face. The transgender woman faces a good deal more pressure to present as the supposed ideal, while they probably face less of the household responsibilities only because they share far less households with male partners. The economic situation is also more difficult for transgender women. This affects their ability to buy well fitting clothes and beauty products to more effectively socially transition, let alone being able to obtain medical insurance, or pay out of pocket for medical transitioning, which can help a great deal with appearing feminine.
So, transgender woman have it worse off than ciswoman. If they don’t appear feminine they face discrimination. And looks matter—a passing transgender woman is far less likely to have issues with using the woman’s room, being misgendered, or experience more life affecting discrimination with housing, health care, school, and work. Non-passing transgender women also face greater risk of sexual and physical assault, and this goes up dramatically if you are a transgender woman of color. Transgender woman of color are also more likely to be involved in sex work.†
So, passing matters, and can matter a lot as discussed above. But it also matters emotionally. What happens when we look in the mirror. For a lot of us we are not pleased or totally pleased. We dip into that uncomfortable but familiar dysphoria over our bodies. Granted, not all go through this. Even with the full effects of hrt the mirror will not be our greatest friend. For those dysphoric over their private zone of a sex organ that is not welcomed, it can be hell to have to look at, let alone to touch it. Touch is also a sense, and like vision can cause dysphoria. Again, some transgender woman don’t have this kind of dysphoria about their downstairs furniture. But for those that do, we have to face the fact that we cannot pass to a potential sex partner. Bottom surgery is needed to alleviate this kind of dysphoria.
Okay, so I believe I have reason to say “fuck” to passing, but do I actually do so? First, to me it doesn’t matter if I am seen as a transgender woman; what bothers me is being misgendered, and being gendered as a woman is all I really ask. Whether I am seen as a ciswoman or not, does not worry me. Okay, I admit to feeling good when I pass as one. But I have no plans to go stealth. And, I am actually proud to be a transgender woman as mentioned above. I have done an incredible amount of work, and I acknowledge the hard work and the successes it has led to. Matter of fact, I hope to be an advocate, and at least hold a part-time job, volunteer or not, with a transgender organization, and I will be open to do public speaking. ‡ I am waiting for covid-19 to stop occupying the Transgender Law Center to be assign a job doing telephone intakes for a start. This will be a start to build on.
While going for being gendered properly regardless of being seen as a transgender woman or not, I still fuss and cluck over my appearance. This is not different from other ciswoman, I imagine. But, maybe I do it a bit more being a transgender woman, and who could blame me.
Recently, I have decided that my goal is no longer to look as feminine as I am able (not that I mind that), but to look the best “me.” Hrt is making things easier to appear feminine, and so maybe I sense this, and I feel if I can do the best job as presenting as “me,” I won’t have to worry about passing as feminine. This does not eliminate all my fussing and clucking about my looks, and I didn’t expect this new approach to how I look to change that all that much. It has partially done what it is supposed to be doing at this moment in time—being less dysphoric over my appearance.
I do have less worry and concern over how I am presenting, but this lessoning of my over all body dysphoria is not complete. And, I am not sure I can expect it to. I was assigned male at birth, and went through a typical male puberty, or poisoned by testosterone as an author I like calls it. This basically means my bone structures will not change. My hips will always be male. My shoulders are not so broad, and would not be something someone would notice in a causal encounter. Neither do I have a prominent Adam’s apple. It is only prominent when I swallow. Fortunately, I can affect the pitch of my voice through training I am now doing. So, I do have my strategies for dealing with different aspects of my dysphoria.
What can I claim as to saying “fuck” to passing? It should not be a requirement of society for transgender woman or woman in general. The goal of achieving societies picture of ideal beauty (and it does come from society, just look at different cultures) should be jettisoned from our culture. It does nothing for it, except drive many girls and woman to seek it, even to an unhealthy degrees, some seeking to end their lives, especially transgender woman or girls even more so.
As for my own attitude. It is a work in progress. I am not immune to the influence of the ideal woman. Although I don’t find skinny women attractive, I do feel it is possible to move pass it, but I envision it as finally achieved only when my transitioning is complete. Besides a “work in progress” the ability to ever give it up completely could be questioned. While this could be related to being a transgender woman, I have a hunch that it will at that point just be related to being a woman, period.
† I do not judge someone who is engaged in this type of work. Even those that do it freely for whatever reason, such as the money to support themselves or pay for gender related surgeries. But others feel forced to either by their financial situation or forced to by a person that controls them.
‡ I am going to be doing advocacy as part of a transgender training for staff at the mental health program I attend. This came about after being outed in a group by a group leader there. Why is This Bothering Me So Much? explains the situation.
4 thoughts on “Saying “Fuck” to Passing”
We can only do the best we can with the tools at our disposal.
Beyond that, “fuck it”.
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Such language Tish, hehehe.
Everyone needs to assess and process this aspect of presenting gender. I say “gender” because all can be affected by society’s dos and don’ts of gender presentation.
Thanks for you comment. Always appreciated.