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What is The Most Telling?

We will continue revisiting our rich library of Contributor posts often.

By Lisa P.

A recent column 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!


16 Responses

  1. For me , I think it’s my voice. I have given up trying to disguise it. I have been going out for a long time and have gotten to the point of not worrying if I get read and just enjoy the experience.

  2. Terri,

    The voice is a tough one. After years of working on it, I have been told that my voice passes, but I strongly suspect the phrase “much of the time” is implied! Good for you for not letting it hold you back. I didn’t, although I must admit to staying silent all too often — I should not have worried so much about that.


  3. I’m doing a continuing revisit to posts from the past, and responding to those that touch on something that resonate with me. For more than a dozen years now, I have been dealing with telling aspects of fitting a GM into a female presentation. Prior to that time, I just assumed my stature (6’2”, muscular build) simply made it impossible. But for whatever reason, curiosity or some deeper need, I began to experiment…and I had an epiphany… a moment when I looked into a mirror (after some rudimentary makeup, a bit of shareware and some clothes that fit). Suddenly, I thought: “I can do this!” I may have even said it aloud.

    It wasn’t that I thought I could pass, but that I could see past the individual tells. I couldn’t make the tells go away, but like you, I could mitigate their effect and feel happy with the end result.

    1. Kim,

      Thank you for commenting. I love it, because it shows that 99% of the time we just need to say, like you, “I can do this!” It is terrifying at first for many of us, but the thrill of expressing who we are is so powerful that few want to put that genie back in the bottle when she is allowed to escape.

      I am so glad that you are happy and enjoying your experiences. I should add that with a little more age you will shrink, like me, eventually eliminating one more tell!


  4. Lisa,
    This is a great reread. I really like your analysis of your feminine physique pros and cons.

    I am less analytical of my female attributes, or lack thereof. I just do what seems right regarding makeup and clothes. I’m too tall, with big feet and no hips, to easily fit the female profile. But I enjoy presenting my TG self to the world. And I strongly agree with you that aging helps minimize some male features.

    I don’t know, and simply don’t care if I “pass”. I’m me, and I think I look OK as a woman.


    1. Joycelyn,

      I loved your statement “[I] don’t care if I pass”. We have every right to be who we are and present in the way that we enjoy. When we show confidence in ourselves, people accept.

      There is no better way to honor the transgender day of visibility, than to keep that thought in our hearts.


  5. Lisa,
    My world was tipped upside down much earlier as my T kicked in before I was 10 and just before starting an all boys secondary school . Attracting an audience when leaving the showers because I was the only one with pubic hair wasn’t much fun but as you say on the plus side you were physically stronger than most , so when playing rugby or boxing most people tried to avoid you . The strange thing was as I developed earlier I stopped growing earlier which meant by my mid teens I had been overtaken , so my frame suited female clothes better , the downside was a deepish voice and body hair .

    When we discuss telltales they are a pain even if we remain in the closet but stepping out the door becomes the real challenge . Passing becomes a more important question , we have to decide where we are on the spectrum , what does the dressing really mean to us ? Social groups are a great way of helping to answer some of those questions , we can assess are own dressing abilities with others , when we think someone else looks good what are seeing in her that passes ? We see her telltales but why do we forgive some but not others ?

    So being fulltime and getting very good acceptance what are my possible telltales ? My voice is a little broken now so I raise it as much as I can , I still need to shave everyday so need concealer , my hands a on the large size but no more than some women , I find nail polish does distract people . I don’t go OTT with my manerisms , just try and keep a lighter touch , clothes have to be thought through carefully , make a splash sometimes and other times blend in . One point I realsied was not to go looking for compliments , not to receive them is the biggest compliment you can get because it means you are being accepted without question .
    Sometimes appearance isn’t the biggest telltale , I now have to be very careful what I say , I can talk about children and grandchildren but never about a wife (ex) . I also have to take care when discussing school days because of attending an all boy’s school especially if it’s with a person from my home town as they would expect me to have known people from the same girl’s school .

    Telltales or not I’ve booked two holidays this year and next year I’m taking a cruise but if I’m questioned now at least I have a passport that has a female name with a female gender marker .

    1. Teresa,

      Your comment is spot on for me. I originally wrote this post before I started on hormone therapy. Since that time, my body has changed and some of the tells that I highlighted in the post are not very prominent anymore. But I would be a fool to think that I still don’t have them.

      As you say, acceptance is the key. I have two strong social groups with women in them, and I am readily accepted in both. Being able to attend those groups regularly helps tremendously with my need to express my gender identity. Thankfully, my wife understands how important they are to my psychological well-being and is almost (not quite) encouraging. Of course I have exactly the same issues as you. I can talk about my kids, but I can’t talk about childbirth. I can talk about my parents and siblings, but I can’t talk about my wife. Twice in the past two weeks I have mentioned to women I am enjoying a meal with that I have been married for 42 years. I still haven’t resolved in my head what I will say if I get the question, “tell me about him.” My wife is in a quintessentially female profession, unfortunately. So I can’t easily talk about what she does for a living.

      I could go on and on, but there’s so many things in what you say that resonate with me. Thank you as always for your comment.


  6. 1 reply mentioned AGE and it is spot on. Not only do we sort of soften up but people pay us a lot less attention.
    The other day in a night club a guy asked me if I was an actress i.e. Patricia Neal . I looked her up and he was somewhat accurate. Of course she has been dead over 10 years but I don’t want to go there!

  7. My “tells” are my voice and lack of hips. Other than those two things there’s nothing else I have to be concerned with so I consider myself very fortunate.

  8. Emily,

    Love that story! Yes, we blend so much better over time. Of course, I would rather be a live CD/TG woman than a dead actress (and the other way around works too)!


  9. Hi Lisa,
    My tells are not a whole bunch but enough for me. Like most men I don’t have female hips and the usual bigger hands that females don’t have. I used to have a female voice down pat when I was younger but I guess as I aged my vocal cords changed and I had to really work on getting it back and am slowly getting there. Aging though has had it’s benefits the biggest one being I’ve gone from 5′-101/2″ to 5′-8″ and still shrinking. also most of my facial hair is now white which is very easy to cover up. Also the other tells like a bigger space from the top lip to the underside of the nose can be somewhat removed by colouring outside the lines when you put on lip liner. I don’t over do it to the point of absurdity but enough to reduce that space somewhat to remove that tell too. If I could have anything I’d like smaller feet. I wear a women’s size 10 usually sometime 11 and I would love to be able to fit into an 8 1/2. A lot of what helps me is good genes from my Mom. She had beautiful shapely legs and I’m seem to have inherited that as well as my facial features from her. I ran across a picture of her in down town Calgary walking down the side walk and I thought wow I look just like her when I’m Trish. Thanks for the post Lisa I really enjoyed it.

    Trish 💖

    1. Trish,

      What I enjoyed most about your reply comment (in addition to your honest telling of your “tells“) was your comment about looking like your mother. Sometimes I will look in the mirror and I’ll see my dear old mum. As she was 100% Cornish, you could never know what she was thinking unless she told you, but she was one classy lady. When I see her In my face or fashion, it always makes me smile, because it means that I am holding on to her memory, not just in my thoughts, but also in my physical self. Something very beautiful! I am cheered to hear you say something similar and I hope some of the other women here have had a similar experience.


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