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.