in passing

I’ve been struggling lately with the ideas around the subject of “passing.” As I am writing this I stumbled upon this article: Trans people will never internalize ‘passing privilege’.

The opening paragraph states this:

“Trans people who may appear to have the privilege of ‘passing’ in their realigned sex or gender can never expect or take advantage of that privilege since at some time they experienced prejudice due to not passing – a fear that never truly goes away, argues Marilyn Pierce.”

Recently I volunteered at Sienna booth for Louisville Pride and a trans* woman after finding out about my ftm status responded with:

“You’re so lucky. It’s so much easier for you.”

I was taken aback and I’m sure it was incredibly obvious that both of my eyebrows had completely lifted off of their usual position on my forehead and were now hovering well above my faux hawk. After finding some semblance of composure I responded:

“I have good days and really bad ones, there doesn’t seem to be a happy medium.”

That whole situation took me by storm. I wasn’t prepared to be confronted with an underlying sense of hostility from another trans* person. After that the comment stuck with me, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it yet. Not until just recently.

This week I was interviewed for a trans* tv show. One of the questions I was asked to respond to was my thoughts on trans* people and “passing” or as the hostess referred to it “blending.”

My response opened with my own experiences with passing, the conversation at the Pride booth, and that it’s not going well. After committing to being a trans* person full time, I have found that I am being ‘ma’am-ed’ and ‘ladied’ more now than I have my entire life, and it’s infuriating. I continued my response to say that whatever this drive is within us to be another sex or gender, none of the above or even somewhere in between is so strong that we are willing to sacrifice everything, even though we are praying that we won’t have to. That often times the idea of passing is up to the individual’s interpretation, needs and comfort, but it often comes to safety. When you are the abject or other it makes it very easy for you to be a target. People suddenly think it’s “ok” for them to exercise their opinions and fears upon you. So menial tasks like using the restroom or going to the gas station suddenly become hostile war zones. That a person’s safety should always take precedence over anything, and if passing allows you to achieve that then so be it.

I have continued to think about that response and realized that the can of worms that question brings up for me is a box of mixed feelings. Often I have found even though a lot of queer or cis people don’t understand trans* they sure have a lot of assumptions of what it is “supposed” to be. One of the biggest is around the idea of ‘passing.’ We are ridiculed for even daring to cross or throw away the gender lines by communities that fight for the right to celebrate their diverseness but we are expected to hold to the idea of ‘blending in’ and not being seen. People are so hung up on the idea that “seeing is believing” that when someone says “I’m female” or “I’m male” that instead of taking their word for who they are, because only they could ever know that, we impose what we think they should be. Those beliefs are founded on what we think we should and shouldn’t see.

Another issue with trans* and passing comes to another all too painful subject: privilege.

Not every person has the means to afford hormones, surgery, voice lessons, a new wardrobe, make up and anything else you could possibly contain in your Trans*-Bat[person] utility belt of misunderstood needs. Then again, not every trans person even desires to go through those things.

Privilege is given, whether you did or did not earn it. Passing is a trans* privilege, one we have not always had the fortune of having. I have met several trans* people recently that I feel “[DO] expect and [DO] take advantage of that privilege” and have forgotten where they came from. They have somehow forgotten what it was like to be ridiculed for not passing. They now have that privilege and exercise it upon those that do not have the same. Another example of what I like to refer to as  ‘trans*traitorism’. (I will write about that philosophy another day).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, especially within the trans* community, we need to lift each other up. Judging each other is the worst thing we can do. A community divided is a community that falls. So fucking stop. Seriously, we have become those we fight every day by placing these same standards on one another. My message to those not in the trans* community is fucking stop. Seriously, I don’t tell you you aren’t good enough because your penis or breasts are too small, I don’t tell you aren’t good enough because you can’t afford $300 shirts and $3000 handbags.

Two great points, by two amazing people were addressed this past weekend at the Trans Ohio conference I attended. The Keynote presenter talked about how we can keep change and activism going, mentioned that we strive so hard to find that which makes us different, that we forget there are far more things that make us the same. In recognizing those commonalities, we can achieve so much more. Another presenter talked about the ways in which performance art affirms and is a necessity in queer spaces, shared a personal story of a time when he performed and audience members were uncomfortable because they saw him and he presented male, but through the course of the performance as he began removing/revealing clothing they realized he had breasts. He was delighted at their discomfort and stated:

“if you are uncomfortable because you don’t know what I am, what does that say about you? You can’t even recognize your own kind,  A HUMAN BEING.”

We are ALL human. We ALL shit, piss, fuck (however that is accomplished for you), eat, love, and fear. We ALL experience loss, pain and joy. We ALL have wants, needs and desires. We ALL have that relative [at whatever holiday you want to insert here] we don’t want to be cornered into a conversation with. We ALL have bills to pay. We ALL want something better for ourselves and our future legacies. I can go on and on, I know I’ve done it.

Passing or not, I am who I believe I am. You are who you believe you are. Don’t ever let any one allow you to believe anything different.

I’m sure in this moment I was a firefighter, and considering my vigilance in fire safety, the fire safety training I am writing and conducting for work, and that I have run into a burning building in an attempt to help someone, I still am.

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About Lucian D. Grey

I'll try anything once, maybe twice if I wasn't convinced I hated it the first time. I'm open for interpretation and you'll never get to the center of this Tootsie Pop. Otherwise just ask. View all posts by Lucian D. Grey

8 responses to “in passing

  • Cari H.

    All I have to say is wow….I truly admire your way of making one think. As a female myself and struggling with my sexuality, really finding and being okay with who I am, my biggest hurdle is wanting to be excepted. Being raised in the church hasn’t really taught me to be very open minded….*shocking I know*… After reading this, I feel empowered. I will pass this along to some other friends. I hope you don’t mind:) Thanks Again

  • freerosestudio

    Reasons aside, I firmly believe that only you can let yourself feel unwelcome, uncomfortable or uninvited. Yes-others can project this onto you, but that only creates the opportunity for you to decide “Will I let them make me feel unwelcome?” I know it’s easier said than done, and it’s not going to always work. But, damn-it’s such a liberating feeling!!

    And this is totally not meant to minimize your battles at all, just something that reading your post reminded me of. You were talking about-or maybe I just read it this way?-being sort of vulnerable to others by announcing yourself to them. It’s funny looking back now, but I had moments when I was pregnant where I hated going out in public, because I hated that being pregnant was an obvious sign that I “put out.” Like there was no mystery to me anymore, and once this child came out it would be further proof to the world that…I had sex. It’s in no way as huge, but I felt the way you felt when you talk about people questioning if you’ve had surgery, etc. Like all of a sudden your physical traits are revealing WAY more to the world than you want them too!! GAH it sucks!!!

  • Lucian D. Grey

    This was a post from Amy left on my FB: It is hard to be human & we all struggle with it but I can’t imagine how difficult your life has been and how exausting it must be sometimes to do (seemingly) simple things. It is an interesting, and common, character flaw that the people who expect the world to change are unable to change themselves. I wholeheartedly endorse any use of the word ‘fucking’ in response to the willfully blind. I love the picture of little Lucian!

    • Lucian D. Grey

      Also from Amy: I personally dislike the word ‘passing’ and all the baggage that it carries. Why can’t we all simply be who we are without having to give it a name? Why do you have to quantify or justify your struggle and if, you indeed, do have it eaiser than someone else, does that mean your pain isn’t real or important?

  • AJ

    loved it. esp the “eyebrows above my hawk” line… 🙂

    As for the content, I am still processing it but think (like you, i think, if I read this right) that passing isn’t/shouldn’t be the ONLY goal for trans* people.

    I wonder though about the privilege part…. can we (the proverbial we, not you and I) ever EARN a privilege? I’m still puzzling over this one. In my understanding though, privilege (in a social justice context) is never earned, just given by those that have it to others they want to have it. Yes, no, maybe? I got stuck on that part of the post for some reason. I’m really interested to hear what you have to say on trans*traitorism!

    Also, I’m stealing the JAC quote. ‘Cause I love it. That’s why.

    • Lucian D. Grey

      LOL! The JAC quote was definitely amazing!

      As for the privilege part; “We” can gain privilege, as you said “privilege (in a social justice context) is never earned, just given by those that have it to others they want to have it.”

      My concern isn’t whether or not privilege is bestowed upon you, it’s what you do with it. Recognizing you have it is one thing, acting upon it to negatively impact others is where I draw the line. If you “use your powers for good,” and help those that do not have the same privileges then that is paying it forward, which is exactly what I feel should be done.

  • Lucian D. Grey

    Honnie: I agree that we should all support each other and we do have a lot of evolving to do. That’s part of the reason that I decided to do this blog, I am constantly learning something that changes my perception everyday. I purposely and inadvertently surround myself with people that will help me to learn and grow as an individual. I wish more people were open to do the same.

    As for that article, I know I learned about it through Jess and I think she posted on her FB at one point in time… otherwise who knows!

  • Honnie

    I am going to start by saying that is a very cute picture of you as a child! I came across this article through someone.. I can’t remember who.. it may have been you or Jess or maybe someone else who was pregnant. http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/05/25/toronto-parents-hide-childs-gender-in-bid-to-for-neutral-treatment/ and though it is slightly off topic maybe if the world exercised this concept, we will begin to see people as humans and not try to categorize by gender… but unfortunately a majority of the world can’t even get past what we can initially see (skin color, eye shape, etc.) let alone what we can’t (genitalia). The human species has a lot of social evolving to do. there is a saying that there is a place in hell for women who don’t support other women… I believe that the pronoun is interchangeable.. Maybe it should be “There is a place in hell for people who don’t support people” .. but.. i guess if that were true… hell needs a lot of real estate.

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