By Lisa P.
Julie’s column on 19 February brought me back to my reflections (I reflect a lot!) on “passing,” but with a focus on the “tells” that I mentioned in my comment to her post. In particular, what are those aspects of my feminine presentation that tell the world that I am TG? As you read this post, I would ask you to consider your own tells. I have always thought that with recognition comes acceptance of an issue as well as (potentially) the ability to address the issue. So, here goes with my own confessional on this subject.
Like most of Kandi’s readers, I suffered from a significant injection of testosterone into my system starting (for me) about the age of 14. While puberty was hard, I am the sort of person who accepts things the way they are and I didn’t fight back too hard against it – it simply was what it was, even though I was already secretly emulating and admiring and being envious of women and I recognized that my physical changes were not helpful in that respect.
But, I digress. The first noticeable effect of testosterone on me was a deepening of my voice (down to the basso profundo range), which was an advantage in being accepted into choirs and giving me an excuse for not playing on male-dominated sports teams (I naturally veered toward sports that included both girls and boys, like swimming and tennis), but has not been helpful in terms of my feminine voice. Other changes that have created long-term “tells” included developing a broad chest, thick calves, an Adam’s Apple and a big head (that last one, however, simply may be due to the development of my ego). I told my Gender Psychiatrist that the muscle development was cool at the time, because when I ran (and especially when I sprinted) I felt fast and powerful and I really enjoyed that feeling. It was amazing to run like the wind! I have heard similarly rhapsodic comments from TG men who first get on testosterone; it truly is a performance-enhancing hormone! I also spent years as a teen trying to fit in with “the guys” (although I have always hated men’s locker rooms and toilets – yuck). I tried to dominate my space, be more assertive, slouch, back-slap, etc. – you know, act “normal” even if it didn’t feel natural to me.
Which brings me to the present day. I am now in my 60’s and I have 30 years of experience living/presenting as a woman as often as I can (given the limitations placed on me by family and career). During that time, I have battled gender dysphoria, transphobia, and all the fears that go along with being in the closet. But, when I am able to minimize one of the “tells” caused by puberty, it has given me a mental lift, and I hope that you have experienced something similar. The main “tells” for me are (from top to bottom) the size of my head, the length of my forehead (four finger widths, instead of the typical female three), very noticeable brow bossing, a wide space between my nose and my upper lip, thin lips, a square jaw, a thick neck, broad shoulders, no hips and big calves. Pretty typical.
But, there is hope for us brutes. While I have not been able to change any of those characteristics, I have learned to dress, apply makeup and use hairstyles that tend to turn the eye away from them and focus the eye on my more feminine traits.
What, you may ask, are those? Again, starting from the top, I am just under 5’9” tall (short for the modern male), my eyebrows are not thick (and I never had a “unibrow” problem), my nose is rather cute if I don’t say so myself (my wife says I have a “button nose” – I am not sure what that means except it isn’t fat), I have a slight frame (which I work hard to keep as thin as reasonably possible through exercise), a narrow waist (my female waist, just under my ribs is just over 30 inches), and small hands and feet (I wear a women’s size 8-1/2 wide in shoes, which is such a blessing), and I also tend to have significant hair only on top. You can see that the list is noticeably shorter than the male “tells” list, but I try to emphasize and/or take advantage of each one of these characteristics to the extent that I can.
I have found that age has been as much of a friend as an enemy, as long as I am conscious of what is happening. For example, people pay little attention to older women, so it is easier to simply be one of the girls. I started moisturizing in earnest (morning and night) more than a decade ago (something I implore all readers to do while they are still young), and it has definitely made a difference in the quality of my skin. My hair is now “extreme blonde” (i.e. very gray) and there is even less of it on my face, arms and legs to shave. So, I don’t need beard cover – I can go for a full day without worrying about having beard hair stick out from my makeup. That is absolutely huge for me and I have welcomed that change. Plus, with age has come a bit of extra fat around my breasts, allowing me to have better cleavage with a bra.
You will notice that I haven’t addressed deportment, style and attitude and other important issues which Kandi so well exemplifies. I won’t go into detail here, but I will say that I have been a student of women my entire life and I have spent the past thirty years working on the applied engineering aspects of my gender presentation – in other words, I don’t just observe the differences — I constantly work to put them into practice.
All in all, I can say that the people I encounter generally fall into one of four categories: (i) some people pay me no mind and don’t seem to notice the tells (because I have minimized them, their mind is elsewhere or they haven’t had enough time to catalogue them all), (ii) some people notice some of the tells, but don’t seem to be able to make up their mind whether I am simply a masculine female or a feminine male, (iii) some people notice one or two tells and look for more – they are the ones who seem to have the “ah-hah” moment gleam in their eye – I especially enjoy it when they do that and then smile in acceptance and (iv) a very small number of people immediately recognize a TG person and love it (such as the lovely lady who spotted me wearing a cute rainbow sun dress from her canal boat along the Regents Canal in London and yelled, “you go girl!”). That last group are my favorites, for obvious reasons, even if it is clear they could “tell” immediately that I was TG.
All in all, I would have to say that as long as people let me be me, I am pretty satisfied with the outcome regardless of my tells.
May you find joy as well seeing the world in a more nuanced fashion than most folks. Be brave and “tell” the world who you are!