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What 'Passing' In The Transgender Community Really Means

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If you look up the word 'passing' it doesn't lead to many positive statements. Rather, it alludes to something fleeting, something superficial, something only lasting a short time. But in the community to which I lovingly belong, 'passing' as a thing is desired sometimes above all else. Passing in the transgender community means to be able to walk down the street and pass for cis (non trans). It means to blend and in many cases to have apparent safety.

I have some hair on my chin which won't go away despite electrolysis, laser, plucking, waxing - I don't pass

I have quite big shoulders and in a bikini you notice the shape that years of testosterone has left me with - I don't pass

I need to pluck my eyebrows because they accentuate my heavy brow - I don't pass

I like my original voice, but over the phone - I don't pass

My small tits are set really wide apart and only add to the width of my shoulders - I don't pass

My life, my past is all over the internet, easy to find - I don't pass

I don't want a GRC [Gender Recognition Certificate], I don't want to rewrite my birth so in certain situations - I don't pass
My sister once told me that I eat too quickly for a woman - I don't pass

My friend once told me that women (and I can't remember which it was) move their hips or was it shoulders when they walk - I don't pass

I don't have hips - I don't pass

I get hairs around my nipples - I don't pass

My vagina is tough to penetrate, it's painful - I don't pass

This list can go on and on and for some it becomes paralysing, destroying, isolating. It's an issue of safety, an issue of being seen as a success. It's all consuming and most of the above can apply to all women, not just trans women.

The whole process of state owned and privately provided transitioning and our fragmented history just adds to it; voice coaching, facial feminisation surgery, authentic labia (inner and outer), hair removal (hair addition), tattoo removal, breasts, bigger breasts, even bigger breasts. The history of transitioning has been the movement from one supposed binary to another. Historically, take a 'male body' and make it pass for 'female'. Even as I write that I can feel the punishing regime inherent within but before any trolls wave banners in the hope that I am aligning myself with you, I'm not. Clear and simple. Your attacks on me and my community are spiteful, simplistic and retrograde. I am not deconstructing our journey, merely questioning the binary way in which our narrative has been set and perceived.

After I wrote my piece on motherhood, I (and Refinery29) had hundreds of spiteful attacks about my being a "man and not a woman" and my being "mentally deranged in thinking about being a mother." I will say this once and once only: you are not going to stop us from developing our community in a beautiful, proud and coherent way however spiteful you get. You are water off my back, you are history.

I do question, however, the notion that passing provides safety because like being 'beautiful' passing is subjective, fleeting and ever changing.

Passing is always owned by the viewer, passing is at best fragile, passing is a product of misogyny and sexism and it should be a trans feminist goal to rid ourselves of its suffocating grip. As long term goals go, ridding ourselves of having to pass opens up a great big vibrant plateau of choices, directions and confidences. Some of which can still be incredibly binary if that's the right resting place – but look at the media tipping point, the 'trans is beautiful' straps and you will see cisnormative, heteronormative examples held up as examples of success and safety. 'Blend with beauty and you'll not only be safe but you'll succeed' doesn't address the issues faced by us all on a daily basis, the punishing regime of upholding 'passing'. Even the beautiful have to work to pass, it makes sense otherwise we wouldn't still have the poor structural systems we have and the lack of choice. Funnelling hundreds of thousands of people through the 'binary eye-of-a-needle' creates structural systemic issues (lack of services and a paucity of meaningful data) as well as huge issues of mental wellbeing and happiness.

I'm not beautiful = I don't pass = I'm not safe = I'm not worthy.

Some of us, maybe many of us, will never pass and some of us aren't interested in passing. I am proudly queer, proudly trans, and for me being trans has been utterly freeing, rewarding, and has allowed me to question the space I occupy in ways I could never have imagined years before, say when a friend told me people would laugh at me because 'I'd be an ugly woman.' I'm happy to reply now, all these years later sitting under my olive tree in the sun, that in fact I'm beautifully trans. I'm apparently and often unavoidably trans and gleefully so.
If we view passing as part of the existing 'beauty myth' we can begin to see how it sits firmly as our enemy and not as our friend. It's not a safe space; although its current capital seems to offer safety, it's really a house with a roof held up by termite infested beams. Quite literally, the space we occupy when we pass never belongs to us, it's often constructed from an outdated model of femininity and is more often than not controlled by men. That's not to demonise men but our space is based on a model of a woman looking just like a woman and actually although that may sound reasonable it's not, it's cruel, simplistic and punishing. It's the same model that says women should be thin, and that fat is always lazy. The same model that has young girls in primary schools checking the contents of their lunch boxes because they are already aware that they should watch what they eat. Girls as young as eight being aware of the word diet. People have often told me and others that to be safe we must try harder to become 'invisibly-woman', eat slower, sway more, talk higher, laugh with a lilt.

Trans-sisters: we have to be present in this fight against sexist standards of beauty. We have to stand up and claim a space based on our own standards of comfort and occupy-ability. We have fought for so long to do this thing called transition – let's fight to transition to a loving space.

We can and should aim for a space in which we explore, shape and define our bodies, our desires, our feminism and our futures. A space in which a trans body, in all of its uniqueness and difference is enough – more than enough. A space in which having a birth certificate with a different allocated gender is seen as a thing of great humanity and bravery, a thing that denotes a life lived well.

I don't want to seem like a 'bad trans' or an 'ungrateful trans', I'm happy for all of the cis support; media, political, LGB, charitable, but I want to help to create a space in which young trans folk can feel like they don't have to make grand gestures when just the simple words 'I am' will do. We should help them by rallying against the insidious cocoon that is 'passing', it's our feminist obligation, it's our trans duty.

@justjuno1
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