The passing problem

One of the things that most transgender people will worry about is the question of whether they “pass”. It is an issue that can prevent them from coming out in the first place as they fear being seen as a freak or oddity by others. But this whole concept of passing can mean different things to each individual and can certainly change over time.
When a transgender person starts to talk about possibly transitioning at work many colleagues will also start to worry about that person “passing”. Will they look ridiculous? Will they upset other staff or customers?
But what can passing really amount to? At first there is a temptation to think the trans person must flawlessly look like any other of their chosen gender. Good enough that nobody will ever know that they were not born that way. This is usually not realistic for those transitioning later in life (or any time after the full onset of puberty). There are some who can achieve this sufficiently to go “stealth” so that their past need never be guessed at. But these are a lucky few in reality.
For most of us the most important thing is to fit into the world in such a way that we do not draw undue attention to our differences. How any person appears to others comes from a mixture of visual and other cues. Size, proportion, shape, clothing and hair all play a part. Hair seems to be a very important factor and is noticed very quickly. But other things can actually matter more. How we move, behave and interract with others greatly affect how we are perceived by people we meet. Voice can have an impact too. I know that when speaking to someone in person I can pass but when that voice is taken out of context on the telephone I am often addressed as “Sir”.
I have lost count now of the number of people who tell me I must not have any difficulty passing. This perception by others does not match my own self image in which I see myself as obviously trans. But I do live in the world with confidence and purpose. And confidence seems to be the key to acceptability here.
I have been asked why I dress in a very mainstream female way. I could wear jeans and comfortable shirts more after all, much as I did when presenting as male. this question made me think for a while and then I realised that I had always attempted to dress appropriately to people’s expectations when male too. At work it matters whether you follow the accepted norms for your gender in that place. It makes passing, or at least acceptance, so much easier. To dress with a more individual style would leave me fighting two battles at once and can make passing that much more difficult.
Today many are asking whether transgender people should feel pressure to pass at all. After all why can’t we simply be who we are without this pressure to fit in with a society that was not created to accomodate us. I suppose it depends on what you want from life. For now I will still advise transgender people to look carefully at how other people present, at work or when out and about, and to try to match those standards as much as possible.

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