Passing is a curious concept in the trans world. The term refers to the ability to be perceived as a member of one’s non-birth sex. If you look around a room and are able to spot someone as a transsexual or crossdresser, you have just identified someone who is not passing. If you look around the room and there don’t appear to be any trans people in it, that might simply mean some trans person within the room is successfully passing. In some ways this is the “holy grail” of transition – the ability to be perceived as a “normal” person of the sex you have always felt yourself to be.
Given the crushing amount of effort it takes for most trans people to succeed in this endeavor, why do we do it? Why not just look for a tolerant community where being trans is not a stigma? A couple of reasons.
The first is that no such community exists… not one large enough to live ones entire life within, anyway. Even communities in which people pride themselves on tolerance are pretty marginal when it comes to treating trans people with basic dignity and respect. Anecdotally, transsexuals who successfully pass are treated quite a bit better than their non-passing counterparts, even within ostensibly tolerant communities where such things are not supposed to matter.
The second reason – and this is a big one for some of us – is that transsexuals don’t want to be seen as “transsexual.” Yes, we live in a kind of “between-genders” state a good deal of our lives, but this is not by choice. What most of us want is to finally get to live the normal life we feel we’ve been deprived of.
We know we can’t have a normal life if we try to conform our lives to our physical birth sex, because we’ve already tried that and failed. Our inner gender identity has stubbornly shown that it’s not changeable like that. So our only alternative is to try to get our external appearance to match who we feel we are inside. Inside we don’t feel like we’re our birth sex, some third sex, or some alternative to sexual identity. We feel like we’re the “opposite” sex from that of our physical bodies at birth, and it would go a long way toward the feeling of normality if other people treated us as such. The only way this can truly happen is if other people can erase the “transsexual” label from their mind or, quite a bit more easily, if the “transsexual” label never enters their mind when dealing with us in the first place. And the way to achieve this is to pass.
But in a strange way, we can never actually pass when it comes to anyone other than strangers, and that’s my latest quandry. The people I know, no matter how they take my transition, can’t simply erase their memories of me from before. I don’t blame them for this, but I so wish they could. I know that in my mind I am me – and I always have been, no matter how I once presented myself. But my former presentation formed others’ vision of who I was. And I can’t take it back.
I want there to be a way to pass in front of people who know better. Is that really such an oxymoron?