By Amanda J.
Last time, I tantalised you (or filled you with dread depending on your view of my ramblings) with the prospect of two posts about being seen as ‘her’ in the outside world and true to my promise (or threat!), this is the first in which I want to deal with what is probably the single biggest fear that ‘newbies’ have when they think about stepping into the outside world – the fear that someone will realise that under all of their feminine finery, they’re a guy or, to use common parlance, they won’t ‘pass’.
I’m going to be a unashamedly self-obsessed for a few moments. Though I say it myself, I look pretty good in a dress & heels with my makeup done nicely; in fact, I’d go as far as to say that female me is just the sort of person that male me would like to have dated. And I’m not alone with those thoughts as several guys, including one young enough to be my grandson, have enquired about my dating status! I’ve been on the receiving end of all manner of compliments from other girls and told, amongst other things, that I was born to be a woman and transition is inevitable. So I have no need to ask the ‘do I pass?’ question because I already know the answer!
And that answer is an emphatic ‘NO!’. There are no circumstances whatsoever where I could ever be taken to be a genetic female. My ‘provenance’ is never in doubt and whilst I admit that I have photographs of myself, including the one accompanying my profile on the Contributors page here, which could be seen as photos of a genetic female by some (and I will stress that it’s only by some, not everyone), I have many more that leave no doubt as to my biological sex. And every single person who has ever given me positive feedback has firstly done it on the strength of a two dimensional photograph, carefully chosen by myself to show me in the best possible light and secondly is biased, either because they’re also a CDer and understand the lengths we all have to go through to transform ourselves or because they are an ‘admirer’ who is particularly attracted to the idea of guys becoming women. So whilst a two dimensional photograph taken from just the right angle with just the right lighting may convince some, three dimensional me has no such place to hide!
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. What exactly does ‘passing’ mean?
Within the MTF CD/TG community, its meaning is a bit fluid but is generally taken to mean that a person is indistinguishable from a genetic female. But there is a sting in the tale because there is an unspoken parameter of attractiveness applied to that assessment. Perhaps there’s an air of inevitability about that given that the assessment is normally undertaken either by other CDers who tend to be heterosexual males or ‘admirers’ who again tend to be heterosexual males (and attracted to the display of femininity rather than they underlying guy presenting it). And whether we like it or not, the fact is that more often than not, an attractive photo will attract gushing reassurance that passing isn’t a problem whereas an unattractive one will be on the receiving end of suggestions that hormones & surgery will work wonders (if the questioner indicates that they are contemplating transition) – which is just a long winded way of saying ‘no’ – or silence leaving the questioner to draw their own negative conclusions.
Clearly, for those contemplating transition, having a fighting chance of being able to be recognised as their acquired gender has some importance but even the CDing community, who value and wish to preserve their male status, often obsess about their passability as a female and do whatever they can to avoid being seen as a ‘bloke in a dress’. And when we’re starting out, that obsession can paralyse us with fear if we don’t feel we measure up to the community ‘stars’ who share photos of their idyllic life on social media. But this is the 21st century and the reality is that even if someone does guess our little secret, it almost always doesn’t matter. And while we’re at it, let’s remember that only the lucky few genetic women are naturally beautiful. The rest come in all shapes & sizes, dress in a wide range of different styles and some have facial features that some would describe as masculine. If they can all live a full life and still be recognised as female, we really have nothing to worry about at all.
Of course, if you’ve been slavishly following this series, you could justifiably accuse me of contradicting myself. At the outset, I declared that I was going to focus on that sector of the CDing community which concentrates on the transformation of themselves into the most convincing female possible but now I’m saying that it doesn’t matter if the results fall short in some way. Whilst I will concede that there’s some merit in that accusation, we need to remember that we are our own harshest judges. When we judge our own transformations, we have a reference point – our male identity – and will scrutinise the results of our labours using that as a basis. Others who see us do not have this reference point; theirs is what they see – someone in female apparel – and are far less likely to notice our male features than we are for the pure and simple reason that, unlike ourselves, they have no reason to look for them.
Now, at this point I need to diffuse a potential point of contention. In recent times, the whole question of ‘passing’ has been debated in the comments sections of other posts here. It is a fact of life that some males will be born with a facial structure, body size & shape and, voice characteristics that give them a head start in the transformation stakes. Some people they encounter will not realise their secret, others may wonder and others may realise but say nothing. That premise will be important as this post unfolds but even the most accomplished CDer will admit that there will always be someone who realises. In the end, society always notices things that are out of the ordinary and the fact is that there are many traits that give the game away no matter how proficient with the makeup brush we may be. And if we’re applying a rigid definition to ‘passing’ then it only takes one exception to disprove anyone’s assertion that they pass. And the sad reality is that, as newbies, we just don’t yet have the expertise to get anywhere close.
But let’s for a moment move the goalposts. Rather than striving for something that is ultimately beyond our reach, let’s instead settle for something that we know we can deliver. Every single one of us can pass 100% of the time as a trans person. To me, and I’m sure to many others who’ve been able to undergo that paradigm shift, it was the key to being able to spread my feminine wings.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we don’t stop striving for excellence but merely to capitalise on the changing attitudes of society.
Imagine that I was not a contributor here so you’d never seen me before but one day, while out and about, you walked past me in the street. Straight away, you’d probably realise, or as a minimum strongly suspect, that I was biologically male but you would have no idea whether I was a post-operative transwoman, preoperative transwoman, non-operative full-timer or an occasional CDer. And, in the overall scheme of things, you would be no better off knowing that information. And my concern is not whether you’ve worked out exactly where on the CD/TG spectrum I may sit but whether you accept me on the basis that I’m seeking to be accepted. And taking nothing for granted, when I was at home preparing for our chance encounter, you can be certain that I was doing everything in my power to ensure that I was worthy of your acceptance and the acceptance of everyone else I walked past on that day.
But as I checked my makeup and outfit in the mirror before I left the house, I was not worrying whether or not I looked indistinguishable from a genetic female; I’ve already declared that, as far as I am concerned, that’s a lost cause. But what I was doing was validating myself – was my outfit in keeping with what one would expect to see other women wearing in the locality I was visiting, was my makeup sufficient to cover the worst excesses of maleness but not excessive to the degree that I’d stand out for the wrong reasons and, if I had an out of body experience and walked past myself in the street, would I stop and stare or just carry on walking, oblivious to the person I’d just passed?
The sad fact about all of this is that society has determined that women only dress in the way many of us like to – dresses, heels and striking makeup – for special occasions; special occasions that if we’re invited to, we’re expected to ‘man up’ for! We dream of being out in our heels looking a million dollars (or in my case a million pounds!) but the reality is that, on a day to day basis, most other women just don’t do that and, by doing so, we’d stand out rather than blend in.
And that’s an important point to make. I was recently at an event (unrelated to CDing and I was in drab), where I counted over 10 CD/TG visitors. Most were easy to spot but one was particularly memorable because her trans status wasn’t immediately obvious and it was ultimately only her voice that confirmed my suspicions. And the fact that she was memorable is a paradox in itself because she wore little makeup and nondescript clothes; in other words, she looked like every other non-trans female visitor and I will guarantee that the vast majority of people who walked past her that day did not give her a second glance.
But did she ‘pass’? In a literal sense, clearly not as I realised her trans status and given that I’ve already declared that her voice gave her away, probably so did everyone else who she interacted with at that event. But her long blonde hair, very light makeup and outfit choice were sufficient to give out the message ‘nothing to see here’ and most people there seemed to receive that message loud & clear, amply proven by the fact that no one else seemed to be noticing her.
As I’ve already said, women come in all shapes and sizes and as long as we ‘read the room’ and follow suit we’re generally going to be fine. And if someone guesses our secret, so what? We can live our lives with a sense of shame that we are breaking society’s taboos or with a sense of pride that we’re doing everything we can to prove to others that whilst we may not be female in the truest sense, we understand and respect the expectations of those who are and try to do everything in our power to uphold them.
And the strange thing is that when we do get it right, we’re not going to be given a medal, silver trophy or see our name in lights. Quite the opposite in fact because the vast majority of people we encounter will not even notice us. And those that do will treat us with exactly the same respect that they’d give to anyone else.
But to conclude, consider this. Imagine that you’re out and a sales assistant gives you the biggest smile, a knowing smile that you realise is far more than she’s given every other customer she served before you. Or someone you’ve never met before comes over to you and says ‘you know? You look really good!’ and you realise that only politeness has prevented her from adding ‘for a guy’ on the end of her compliment. Or a stranger walking past you in the street makes eye contact and smiles for no apparent reason. You realise that in each one of those cases, the reaction you’ve received is solely because, far from being indistinguishable from a genetic female, your male status is blindingly obvious. In other words, you’ve failed.
Except you haven’t. In fact you’ve passed with flying colours because each one of those small gestures is a genuine sign of approval & acceptance and that is worth far more than any number of empty compliments on the back of a carefully chosen and app enhanced photograph.
As always, here are five takeaways from this post.
1.. Much though we wish otherwise, we can never fully ‘pass’ as there will always be something that gives the game away to someone we encounter. If we must think in terms of ‘passing’ then every single one of us can pass 100% of the time as a trans person.
2. We are our own harshest critics and almost everyone you may encounter will view you far more favourably than you view yourself.
3. Even if someone realises that you may not be what you seem, they have no way of knowing where you sit on the trans spectrum and rather than trying to work it out, they’ll invariably just accept you for who you are.
4. By concentrating on blending in to your surroundings – choosing outfits, makeup etc. that are in keeping with how other women present – most people will not notice you even though you may feel that without the dress, heels, hairdo and makeup you are somehow less feminine.
5. Take every single time that you think someone has ‘rumbled’ you as a positive, particularly if they’re obviously going out of their way to be nice to you as a result. Those are the real signs that you’ve ‘passed’ and should be savoured, not dreaded.
And with the preparations in place, next time we really will leave the confines of the closet and get out and about.