Thoughts about “Passing”

Hey they, girlfriends.  It’s great to be with you again.  Happy Christmas season to you.  You are all beautiful heroes.  Never forget that.

I’ve read many stories, posts, forums and articles here about “passing”, and I wanted to add my 3 cents worth (everything costs more, now, thanks to COVID).  I have begun to wonder about exactly what “passing” means to our community.  So, bear with me as I explore my labyrinth of thoughts.

“Passing” as a Goal

The desire to appear as a naturally feminine person seems to be a rather universal goal for us.  when our goal is to pass, our lives become enriched in many ways.  My own experience shows me that I have drastically improved in my own self care.  I have learned many new skills in caring for my skin, hair, hands, feet, nails….you name it.  I learn a new make up twist each time I sit at my mirror.  I continue to mine the internet to develop different hair styles, fashions, and (previously) esoteric feminine skills.   With each passing day, I enjoy greater satisfaction in what I have accomplished, as well as notice ‘just one more thing’ that I want to improve.  So, the goal of “passing” had become a vehicle for self confidence, personal empowement, and a sense of accomplishment.

“Passing” for others

 Exactly how many times have I wondered if anyone will mark me as transgender?  And what will happen to me if they do?  And how many times have I avoided going out because of what others will think or say or do?  I have spent the vast majority of my paltry 68 years hiding from my true self, and trying to act such a way that nobody will ever, EVER suspect who In really am.  Of course, I never want to be the focus of adverse or negative attention…who does?  I want to be my natural self without a lot of stress and anxiety.  DUH!  But the thought of being clocked is a powerful deterrent.  Anxiety, nervousness, fear, hyper-vigilance, body and emotional tension, and awkward behaviors in public are the result.  So I wonder if that result is more noticeable to others than the way I dress?  I think that we are lead down a harmful path if we concern ourselves with how others will receive us.  While I fully admit that I want to appear as a natural woman, I also want to be healthy and comfortable in myself.  So I’m not going to overlook the everyday common sense idea of knowing where you are, just like visiting any strange location– don’t venture far into unfamiliar territory and stay in the safe zones.

“Passing” for self

Ah, here is where I get disoriented in my thought corridors.  Exactly WHO am I trying to impress by “passing”?  Could it be that I am projecting my own insecurities and dysphoria onto others with efforts to pass in their eyes? Just what is it that prevents me from being okay with myself just as I am?  After all, 5 years ago, I never gave thought to what somebody might think.  Some people just like me,  and take me as I am.  Some people just don’t   It has always been that way.  In the past, I chose to associate with likes and to be politely distant from the don’t likes.  What is so different now?

Well, I can’t overlook the terrible attacks on members of our community just for being real.  I would be foolish to ignore the possibility in my life. But in the final analysis, is that danger really much different that the odds of being mugged in a park or city street?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I didn’t let It interfere with my life in the past.

What I conclude is that my real aim in “passing” is to pass in my own eyes.  It becomes my own evaluation of how I’m doing, an academic grade, if you please.  I work hard to be excellent in what I do,m and when I judge myself as having that excellence, I have passed the course.  I think I am a very good parent. I think I am very good at my job. I think I am very accomplished as a musician.  I don’t really mind if you think I could be better; I’m satisfied with my abilities.  Sure, I welcome critical feedback and use it to my benefit if I see fit. I can always improve.  “Passing”, to me, means developing the same sense of competence and self approval in my current adventure.  I am working toward being passable for myself.

“Passing” as anacronism

Hmmm!  Is that a light up ahead in this maze of thoughts?  I wonder if the concept of “passing” is a remnant of my early life conditioning about gender, male and female roles, sexuality and sexual stereotypes, etc?  I the past few years, I have observed an obvious increase in the presence of our community in society at large.  Just look at YouTube, television, media, politics, even just this site and our sister site, CDH.  We’re everywhere!  Where were you way back then?!  There is an entire generation that is growing up with gender issues as a relatively common thread.  Very young folks don’t even bat an eye at us, unless to gain our attention and conversation.  Jazz, Laverne, “Drag Race”, some elected officials, vastly improved services specializing in our needs and issues….we are not so slowly becoming mainstream.

 

For those of us who grew up without the digital world, we were only exposed to socially edited and censored information about how to behave in public and in private.  Conform to the norm or be outcast.  That conditioning runs deep, affecting our thoughts and self concept to the core.  I was conditioned to respect others, and I just can’t bring myself to neglect that conditioning to this day.  It may be so regarding my early conditioning about gender issues.  But, the bright side is that I am not required to act on that conditioning, or accept it as being my reality.

As I work my way through my adventure, I find that I am working to please myself.  All I really need to do is be confident in passing for myself.  And it isn’t even “passing” any more.  It’s about being confident, and competent, and strong, beautiful and genuinely me.  And, as I progress, the quotation marks disappear;  the spelling changes, the idea loses power, and I can blossom into the rose I really am.  I don’t need to pass.  I only need to be me.

Once again, thanks for indulging me.  Each or you are a blessing to me, and I hope I am a blessing to you.

Peace and love.      Carly

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10 Comments
  1. Author
    Carly Holloway 4 weeks ago

    Bingo! So many Bingos. Thanks for the responses, ladies. I’m out there for my own peace of mind, not to accomodate others. And the mlre I appreciate myself for who I am, the easier my life becomes everywhere I go.

  2. Patricia Allen 4 weeks ago

    To pass or not to pass, that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of being who you are, or to take up extreme measures to deceive and perhaps outrage those around you when discovered.

    My apologies to the Bard.

    My point is do we really want to pass or do we really want to be accepted and validated for who we are.

    I first started going out as Patricia in my 30s. (1970 something) I took great pains to try to tick all the boxes of femininity. I bought a good wig, I bucked up my courage and visited Meryl Norman’s for lessons in makeup. I got good at makeup. I learned all about shading and blending contours. I made a study of what women my age wore and how they accessorized. I got it all down. It was a lot of work. When I decided to go out, it took over an hour to do my make up and get dressed. Yet, even at that I was read about 10 to 20 percent of the time.

    I continued until 1990 or so. Then my oldest daughter made an observation that caused me to pause. She said, “When you do all that makeup, it just calls attention to your face.

    Well, I spent so much time on my face because that was my real down fall in feminine looks. My body shape could be made mostly feminine with a good set of prosthetics (breast forms and hip and butt pads). What that didn’t take care of choosing the right clothing to accentuate the good and minimize the bad left a silhouette that, while not particularly attractive, was at least feminine. Yet I worked really hard at my makeup and called attention to my worst feature.

    It was then that I kenned to the axiom, “less is more”. These days I can get out the door in about 15 minutes. Some lipstick, mascara and just a hint of blush. I’ve since grown my hair past my shoulders, down to my bra strap. I simply pull it back at the sides and gather into a barrette at the crown of my head.

    I gave up the idea that I wanted to pass. I determined that if I was seen as a male dressed in women’s clothes… so be it. My attitude changed. Wherever I went, I quit checking to see if anyone noticed me. (I have observed that some of our sisters do that and the constant looking at others is noticeable and makes people take a second look to determine just what’s going on.) Now I just go where I need to go and do what I need to do without caring about what other around me are doing. I’m confident that I belong wherever I go. These days, I’m hardly ever aware whether I pass or not.

    As a result, when I’m out and about and need to use the restroom I can enter the ladies room and be accepted as being in the right restroom. It’s all in the way I carry myself and the confidence I show. If I don’t question my right to be there, it seems that no one else will either. Or at least if they do, they second guess themselves enough to leave it be.

    So what it amounts to is that the less I do to pass and the more I act like I do pass the more accepted I am.

    In my not so humble opinion passing is highly overrated. Give me acceptance and validation for who I am.

    When I try to pass, I run the risk of being read and people being angry that I deceived them. When I go out not caring what they think and allow the chance that I won’t pass, but just act like I belong wherever I am, no problems. I accept myself as me and so do others.

  3. Sophie Bourne 4 weeks ago

    One of those paradoxical things… the more passable we are, the less noticeable. Or the prettier we are, the more noticeable and the less passable.

    Which would you rather be? Pretty or passable? Noticed or ignored? OK, so you want both, right? That’s going to be tougher.

    At one level, “passing” isn’t that hard, and most of us will be able to do it well after a few years of transition, including hormone therapy. It’s about looking just female enough so that the first glance evaluation we get (the first quarter of a second) makes the brain’s gender detector flash “F” rather than “M” or “?”. That first evaluation is based nearly all on body shape and movement, the rest on head hair and obvious facial features (shape, makeup, is there facial hair) and maybe the last 10% on clothing and accessories (one of the reasons I nearly always carry a handbag or wear a clearly visible necklace or bracelet, or a girly scarf in winter).

    But now, imagine you’ve made an effort and look really pretty. Gorgeous dress and hair, loads of makeup, high heels, fashion bag, sequins, the works. Well that’s going to get attention. The first glance lasts longer, or it triggers a second glance. And now with more time and more brain processing, there is going to be noticing of more features (wow – tall, shoulders rather broad, arms a bit long, hands a bit large, lips rather thin, nose too big, jaw too square, traces of stubble and shadow). Perhaps the observer is admiring but then puzzled. Or perhaps if you’re in a big city where people are more used to seeing trans folk out and about, you’re going to get spotted. Or worse, if you’re surrounded by lots of guys who’ve had to much to drink, and have their macho manhood to protect, you might now be in real danger.

    This attention effect will also mean that you are always going to be a lot more passable to others than you are to yourself. Stare at yourself in a mirror, take lots of selfies… yep, you’re gonna see those hard to hide / hard to change features more and more. It can get demoralising.

    Take heart from the fact that cis women are doing it too. The prettier they are, the more and harder they’re doing it… the more dissatisfied they’ll be about the things they can’t change. It’s part of the female condition. There’s always someone prettier than you, more feminine than you. If you’re trans, you want to be cis. If you’re cis, you’re envious of younger women. Young women are envious of fashion models. Fashion models of supermodels. If you’re a supermodel, you’re in constant terror of putting on an ounce of fat, getting a wrinkle or too and losing it all.

    All this is one of the reasons that I look rather more passable, relaxed, and happy in jeans, tee and trainers, and less so in a gorgeous dress with high heels and short skirt. Which actually bothered me… as I just LOVE dresses, and love going all out and looking ultra feminine for a night out with the girls. Though that’s the time I’m most likely to get the odd stares and puzzled looks, or the chuckles or knowing smiles.

    OK I got lucky, my body shape is naturally slight and androgynous, and it doesn’t take much padding round the hips and cinching round the waste to fire “F”. With a decent wig, I got a consistent F after a few months, it hasn’t taken years. Back when I had longer, thicker head hair, and less weight (teens and early twenties) I used to get “F” fires even when I was living as male, which was pretty embarrassing at the time, and led me to keep cutting back my hair. Now I just look back and think “you idiot”.

  4. Charee 1 month ago

    Hello sweet soul; I agree whole heartedly Carly, the more “I” learn to “give” acceptance, support and Love to myself for who I am and how I choose to present my body, the less I feel any concern about “getting” that from others out there.
    It’s a beautiful thing really 🙂

    Namaste’ Hon
    n huggles of course
    Char

  5. Jackie D’Lair 1 month ago

    Great article Carly. My goal when I go out and about is not necessarily to “pass” but to look as good as I can and presentable as a female would. I try to be my authentic self and exude confidence. I think most people know I am not a CIS female but that I am putting in the effort and am authentic. I have never had a negative reaction by operating this way. It has served me well.

  6. Julie 1 month ago

    That was lovely Carly! I relate to this entirely and am SO OBSESSED with the idea of passing which gives me no end of stress and anxiety. I think, “What is about me that I think is failing to pass, my face, my height, my voice or something else?”, and, like you, my anxieties and social awkwardness that the fear of passing produces, becomes the thing that most people notice, which, in turn, add to the anxieties like a vicious circle. So thank you for article. It’s reassuring to hear about your experiences and feelings and makes me realise that I’m not on my own. Julie x

  7. Dennis Herdina 1 month ago

    To begin i joined this site as male now live as female. Carly. Referencing your comment…SPOT ON! i am 72. I long ago determined that *passing* was not so much others perceptions but more WHAT I THOUGHT passing was. In that sense once i found that I was liberated. Bear with me here. Passing in the bad old days was always in how others saw us and what they thought a female should be and how to look and dress. This imposed on many a spectrum we most likely could not meet for whatever reason. For example to not wear a girdle was to put yourself in category of a slut or whore. Never mind why we could not you still were perceived that way. Since i have ceased to be concerned about others opinion as to wether I PASS THEIR TEST IS A MATTER OF COMPLETE INDIFFERENCE TO ME. THIS IS NOT TO SAY I AM SLOPPY IN DRESS,ACTIONS, MANNERS OR MAKEUP. i have been told i am attractive by many. I SIMPLY DRESS FOR MYSELF AND WHAT I FIND WORKS FOR ME. What i am trying to say here is rather than dress to pass, wether casual or not, DRESS TO PASS AND PLEASE YOURSELF. You did raise some valid views. I think many of us are *at certain age* where we can pass on an accumulated knowledge and make others road easier than ours was. JinianVictoria

  8. Kim Dahlenbergen 1 month ago

    Carly, thanks for the observations. As a similarly mature transgender person, I probably harbor many of the same insecurities as any from the pre-internet era. And I do think it is constructive to look at one’s presentation as a means of self expression, constructive self criticism and an avenue for personal growth.

    I should also add that my ideal would be to pass when I am in public, but my goal is to blend in comfortably. For me, that means having myself together in terms of my outfit, make up and demeanor. I expect to be read, but I hope to impress the observer as a transwoman who cares about her appearance.

    I think that’s good enough.

    Kim

  9. Author
    Carly Holloway 1 month ago

    Thank you, Dawn. I’ve had so much encouragement and support here since I joined the site, and I hope that I am giving that back to others here. You comment gives me hope that I’m succeeding.
    Peace and love
    Carly

  10. Dawn J 1 month ago

    What a wonderful article, Carly! You really nailed it.

    Dawn

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