"Passing"

I would argue that it is the heartfelt desire of most transsexual women to be accepted as female without question or suspicion. However, very few women will ever be able to achieve this most elusive of goals. The concept of "passing" is fraught with all sorts of political implications, and even the term, though commonly used, has a problematic history and questionable future for our community. Embracing the idea of "passing" as a word and concept puts limits on us mentally, I feel, and hinders our ability to gain acceptance and self-respect. I try to avoid using this term, preferring "accepted as female" or possibly "blending" instead of "passing," and "visibly gender variant" instead of "non-passing."

Passing implies a binary of pass or fail. It also implies a deception, as if you're passing yourself off for something you are not. Thinking of ourselves this way is very unhealthy. We are female. We are transsexual women. We must embrace the fact that we are women, as well as the fact that we are transsexual. To think you are inferior to non-TS women is probably the most damaging thing you can think about yourself. We are told this at every turn by society, to the point that some transsexual women believe it, but there will be a day where this is as repugnant to people as thinking that men are superior to women or whites are superior to other races. Sadly, that day is a long way off.

Finally, the idea of "passing" puts the power of determining the validity of our identities in the hands of others. Those who want to deny us our validity should not be given that much power.

Now, having said that, being accepted as female will make a major difference in the quality of your life. This is where it gets complicated, and where theory meets practice. Identity does not exist in a vacuum. Unless you are delusional, if others do not agree with how you identify yourself, it can cause a real strain on your self-identity and self-acceptance.

In the same way that gays who can "act straight" or blacks who can "act white" are able to be accepted by the rest of society more easily, TS women who can be unquestioningly feminine will likely face less harassment, discrimination, and violence. They will also have an easier time finding work, friends and lovers. In the same way that a straight-acting gay person has the choice of when to come out to someone, we have the choice of when to come out if we are accepted as female. This is extremely empowering, believe me. If you are accepted as female and decide to come out to someone about your transsexualism or don't think of it as a shameful secret, you will be immune to attempts by others to hurt you with words and actions meant to make you feel like you're less than female.

Now, on to another important point: Being accepted as female and being beautiful are not the same thing. You might have one, or the other, or both, or neither. Attractiveness has its own set of advantages (and disadvantages), but your best hope for an easy transition is to fall within the parameters of what society deems to be "female." I know several overweight, unattractive TS women who are more accepted as female than the most gorgeous showgirl. These women work, live and date in the regular world and are not relegated to the subculture the showgirls I know inhabit. Don't get me wrong-- the shows and club scene can be fun, but it's not something that lasts long. The longer you're in, the worse it gets. Money and partying might be fun for a while, but it doesn't look good on a resume at 35, when you've got half your life to go, and the club scene spits you out. I've seen that. It's not pretty.

It can be really hard to wait, but the more preparation you do before going full-time, the better you'll do at the moment of truth.

Being accepted as female and being beautiful: a matter of luck, not superiority

There's a point at which I place my own writings in the movement for TG rights, a movement that's emanating from several places at once. My info is something akin to the self-help books that emerged after the first wave of feminism-- these awful "Dress for Success" type books that that were required reading for female executives making inroads into corporate culture in the 1980's. They told you how to dress as a totally asexual drone that mimicked male office attire: frumpy navy blue suits with sensible shoes. Unfortunately, this formula for success was actually necessary at the time and still is to some extent.

Anyway, those books were "elitist" in the sense that they only helped mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly college-educated women. Those women simply lucked into being among the privileged few who had a chance of benefiting from corporate capitalism at the time.

The same is true for anyone who is accepted as women, and especially attractive women. You are not better. You're just lucky.

As with any civil rights movement, some TG people will have to wait to get the acceptance currently enjoyed by those who can assimilate. Does that suck? Yes. But the sad truth is this: right now, it is more likely that someone who can assimilate into mainstream society will be able to enjoy the privileges of mainstream society. Does that make them better? No. Just luckier. Right place, right time.

Send me your thoughts, links, and advice!

Jennifer Reitz has written an excellent essay on "passing" you should read as well: http://transsexual,org/passing.html

If you are lucky enough to pass and/or be attractive, I hope you will consider doing what you can to help the community. If you transitioned in your teens or twenties and have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.