I always figured that I would eventually write an entry on the subject of “passing.” It is probably the issue that many TGs worry most about and is one that I struggled with for a long time (and still do from time to time). It is a topic that I will probably return to in future blogs.
When I first starting going out appearing as I wanted to be, I spent endless energy wondering if the person who looked my way was looking at me or not. I wondered how long a look was “okay” versus a signal that I had been read. Was it one second, two seconds, or 5 seconds? Was that a “second glance” and if so what did it mean? Where they looking at me or at my outfit? If the person did not look at me, was that a sign they were avoiding me or that they did not notice anything wrong? Was the “can I help you” from the clerk a sign that I was welcome or were they telling me I had been read and thus trying get rid of me? Were the giggling high schools girls laughing at me or at some private joke? Was the smile from the greeter real or not?
I am sure that many of you know the wonderings and fears. I often got to the point where I was almost afraid to go outside. At the same time I often was confounded to discover that I could go lots of places and generate no obvious responses from anyone. Often times it was like I did not exist. How could people so be so oblivious? Hey folks, tranny over here! It was gradually making me crazy, trying to guess what other people thought by reading their body language.
Two insights helped me get over these worries. The first was to realize that most people have more pressing worries than wondering about what gender I was. In the few seconds most people spend looking at one another, most people will go with the obvious. If a person looks more or less like a woman, then they are probably a woman. If something is really “wrong”, they may become more curious but for the most part, they are not really interested. Avoiding the “wrong” is a something one may or may not be able to do anything about, but of course one should always do your best. Working with folks like Denae can do wonders in avoiding the “wrong.”
The other insight was that beyond a certain point, it was almost impossible to know if I passed or not, especially in casual situations. Unless someone laughed out loud, pointed at me, or stared at me, I really could not know if I passed or not and worrying too much about it was really fruitless. Unless you asked them, I could never really know. Furthermore if I did ask them, I would probably completely give myself away since it is not a question anyone but a TG would ask. The very act of asking would define the answer.
Eventually I began to realize that was what most important was that I was treated with respect and decency no matter what they happened to think. If I was treated well, that was okay. If I was not treated well, then I was concerned. Along the way I sort of created a set of reactions.
Reaction 1 is the worst reaction. The person knows, does not like it, and responds in an actively negative manner. They might say something loud, laugh, point, or perhaps even physically attack you. This is probably the outcome most TGs worry most about but is fortunately relatively rare. I have never had a reaction like this. One can avoid such reactions by staying out of places where such folks tend to gather, such as bars filled with drunk guys or dark streets.
Reaction 2 is that the person knows and does not approve but their reaction is more restrained. They might frown, respond coldly or rudely, say something like “can I help you SIR?”, etc.. They make it clear they know and don’t approve but that is the extent of their reaction. These reactions are more common and can be disheartening.
Reaction 3 is that the person knows and does not really care. They have their own worries and concerns and don’t really care how you are dressed or appear to be. If you are polite to them, they will be polite to you. They may think you strange or weird but don’t really care enough to respond one way or another. One may get a vague sense of disapproval but that is it. They may avoid using any pronoun with you or indicating their feelings toward you in any way but that is the extent of their reaction.
Reaction 4 is that the person knows and okay with it. They will treat you politely and in a friendly way as they would any other person of your presented gender. They will call you “ma’am”, ask how your day is, etc. You sort of get the same treatment any other woman would get. I think this is the most common situation.
Reaction 5 is that the person knows and is actively supportive. They may think you interesting, brave, sensitive, etc.. I have met store clerks who seemed to know but still called me “ma’am” and went out their way to chat, wish me a good day, urge me to come back to their store, etc. These people are usually women. I think this is the best we can hope for in most situations. It actually makes me feel really good.
Reaction 6 is the person who does not know and treats you as they would any other woman. This is sort of the dream response for most TGs but I suspect it occurs less often that we think or want. Most of the time that I get this response, it is from guys as they are often less perceptive (“boobs, hair, makeup – it is a woman”).
These are somewhat artificial and do blur together, especially once one gets past actively disapproval (reactions 1 and 2). Likewise it is really sort of hard to tell what is going on with reactions 4-6 as one cannot really know what the other person is thinking. Maybe they are just having a bad day and are treating everyone rudely! Alternatively maybe you are having a great day with just the right outfit, makeup, voice, and attitude and so everyone around you senses “woman” and responds accordingly.
Finally, I have also found that being friendly and open goes a long way in helping one be treated as one wants. If you act like you are ashamed of yourself, are doing something furtive, are being a “weirdo”, then you will tend to get negative reactions. Smiling, asking about how others are, sharing your feelings, will go a long way in being treated as you wish to be. In some sense feminine behavior is almost more important than feminine appearance in being accepted as a woman (there is a whole column in that thought).