Why Passing Matters

Apologies for the clickbait title, but let’s be real: this topic remains a preoccupation for most non-cis-gendered folk whenever leaving the house is a consideration. The prevailing wisdom these days generally stresses the importance of “you doing you” and not giving a rat’s ass what the rest of the world thinks…easier said than done, I say.

I hear and understand all the arguments for just getting your girl on and getting out of the house, as I’m sure many of us do, and I’ve tried valiantly to steel myself for anything. But the fact remains that when I walk out that door, I want the world to see me as female. Indulge me here for a moment while my inner psyche spills her thoughts out onto the page to explore this phenomenon with a tad more depth.

First and foremost, my perspective is based on the fact that I’ve only recently started going out as Lexi in broad daylight – shopping, to the library, whatever. Largely, I found the courage to attempt this because local indoor mask mandates give me an extra layer of “protection” from suspicion. Of course, this feeds directly into my need to pass as female. So the question remains – why does it matter? For some, it’s fear of physical harm – that being recognized as a genetic male in female attire will lead to violence. And though this is absolutely a concern, my sense is that the risk of coming to physical harm, if one is careful, is perhaps not as great as one might fear.

Exceptional Voice

A very common fear is just a general embarrassment. Typically, this is where the advice to just not worry about what people think comes into play. People may recognize you, most likely won’t say anything though, and as long as you’re feeling confident, who cares what other people think? Let them think whatever they want, you’re fabulous!

And yet…and yet…I still care if I pass as female. In the handful of times I’ve been out, I’ve been misgendered (based on how I felt I was presenting) twice. I’m not going to lie, it stung. Not because I was embarrassed (I wasn’t, really), and not because I was scared (just a store clerk, both times, who were probably more confused than anything). It stung because I put a lot of time and effort into trying to put forth the most convincing female image possible.

If I didn’t care what the world thought, I would just stay indoors, where I can take pictures and pose in front of the mirror, content in my own little fantasy world. Why take the risk otherwise? But inevitably, the better and more confident I feel in my look, the more overwhelming the urge to get out and be seen. At a certain point, if it’s practical, leaving the house is almost a foregone conclusion. So after all this effort and build-up, you’re out there in the real world, being the woman you want to be, and some idiot calls you “sir.” How can that not be a buzzkill?

In the grand scheme of things, if the worst thing that happens is someone slips up because your gender presentation confuses them, we should be grateful. Many have had to deal with far worse consequences. But there’s no substitute for the validating euphoria of being acknowledged as female. On my most recent outing, I crossed the parking lot of the local strip mall and was addressed as “ma’am” by the solicitor trying to sell candy bars outside the Gap Outlet – something that under normal circumstances would irritate me instead became a wonderful, affirming experience. One simple word was all it took.

Does passing as a female in public matter? When all is said and done, I submit that it’s up to the individual. In reality, for many non-gender-conforming individuals, it may not matter at all. But it does to me because this is how I want the world to see me. However, I am a realist and acknowledging the likelihood that I may be read as a genetic male will always be there. For me, that simply means that even though I may not always “pass”, I won’t let that be a deterrent from exploring the world in my chosen gender.

Ultimately, when I’m out in public, and I catch a glimpse in a mirror, if I see the woman I know I am reflected there, then that will have to be enough. I know that I can’t control how the world sees me, but that doesn’t change how I want to be seen.

How you want to be seen does matter. Just don’t let the fact that others may not see you that way deter you either. You are beautiful.

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23 Comments
  1. ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
    Patricia Allen 6 days ago

    Passing is a losing game. However, a big part of passing is inside you. Not in the outfit your wearing, not in the hairstyle you’re sporting nor in the immaculate make up you have applied. It’s in the ability to look and feel like you belong where ever you are.

    In the last house I rented before I bought the one I’m in now, I used to go to the same grocery store in drab and en femme. I never gave it any thought as to whether any of the checkers realized the my drab presentation and my en femme were the same person or not. Nor did I care. If my wife needed me to pick up something for dinner that night I’d stop by and get it wearing my company uniform (I was a truck driver). But one day, I got home and as I was changing into a dress she told me that she meant to call me to have me pick up something. I’d been to the store many a times in a dress or skirt and blouse, so I grabbed my purse and went. As I was checking out, the assistant manager was my checker. She asked me if I’d had the day off. When I told her no, she said that she was curious because she’d never seen me at that time of day out of my uniform.

    She obviously knew who I was no mater how I was dressed but had never said anything before. And she obviously didn’t care.

    Then again, one day while I was at work where the only outer wear that was woman’s were some plain grey jeans my socks and tennis shoes. I should mention that I always wore my hair in a high ponytail. I was helping load pallets he was buying from us on a Hispanic man’s truck when he asked me my name. I told him “Pat” and he asked “Patricia?” I said, “Patrick”. He smile and gave me a wink as if to say “Yeah suuure you are,” and went back to work.

    So he saw the feminine in me while I was in drab.

    It’s all in how you present yourself, not in how you look. If you act like you belong where ever you are when out en femme, everyone else will too. That includes fitting rooms and restrooms.

  2. ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
    Alex Louise 2 weeks ago

    Yes it does Alexis. Partly because a persons perception of reality is dependent on the interaction between the viewer and the viewed. You are as you are perceived to be by others. Won’t go into the psychology of the ‘self’ and reality but it’s in there. The notion of being yourself whatever others think isn’t possible. Human beings don’t function that way. The balance lies between how many see you as how you see yourself and those who don’t is the point.
    I’m always Alex, out and about or in any situation…I don’t think about it anymore. I ignore misgenders…even though they feel like a dagger in your heart. Sometimes I don’t believe I am Alex? Natural after a lifetime of being seen as male I guess. I went to the garage to pick up my car and thought about acting/dressing ‘male’ so I wouldn’t get treated as a gullible woman haha. Tells me how I see myself I think.
    You have a great figure and looks…I can’t believe you get misgendered often.
    Some people just can’t tell men from women anyway, especially from very different cultures. I got misgendered as a woman often before I even started transition. Just long hair does it for some.
    There’s always a few nice comebacks if you feel you are being insulted. One aspect of my psych I have retained lol.
    Great article.

  3. ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
    Katie Taylor 2 weeks ago

    Beautifully said Alexis.

  4. ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
    JAKe Hatmacher 2 weeks ago

    Lexi,
    You don’t know how much I agree with you!
    I remember the first time I basically said, “the hell with this, this is stupid.” No, I wasn’t referring to my attempting to be a girl. I said this to myself as I was holed up in my hotel room trying on my women’s clothing, putting on my makeup, and trying to attempt feminine vocalization by listening and singing with female recording artists.
    My meaning in what I said to myself expressed my desire to get real with my desire to be myself. Just minutes after I said those words to myself, I stepped out on the landing of my second floor hotel room and didn’t care who saw me! Soon after, I took my first foray to the local Wal-Mart to look for some cheap jewelry, and yes, in female mode. This was 7 years ago. No masks at the time. Was I concerned I might get called out? Yes, but my urge to let myself be free was so overwhelming I just didn’t care. Now, in regard to passing – my desire is to pass. I’ve been perhaps lucky, I think, and when I’m in obvious female mode, no one has verbally called me out. I’ve made numerous cis women friends and I’ve taken to asking if they would like to go out for lunch, and we have quite a few times. I have two dates scheduled for the near future, too. Yes, looking feminine and passing is important to me, too, and yet I also believe it shouldn’t matter how anyone dresses, male, female, or nonbinary. Perhaps if I had been born into a different era where it wouldn’t matter what one wears, it would be different. Who really knows, but I’m living now and I wish to integrate seamlessly into life and society as a woman. I’d like to get to the point in which I question whether I ever was a man!

    • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
      Alexis Moon 2 weeks ago

      The hotel room? Been there, done that! That urge to get out in the world and just be who you are is something that is impossible for cis folks to understand. If it was just a fetish, then yeah – stay behind the locked doors and do your thing…but when you are going through all this effort so that you can be you, you want the world to know.

      But 100% agree that people should be able to dress how they want. I’m so exhausted with the fact that a men wearing something feminine is cause for scorn or ridicule. This isn’t the ’80s anymore!

      • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
        JAKe Hatmacher 2 weeks ago

        Alexis,
        Thanks for commenting. As you have experienced, that urge to let go was overwhelming. I’m at times so close to the overwhelming phase on announcing who I really am to all my wife’s and my own mutual friends. I know it needs to be done, but my wife’s insistence I not do it mitigates the overwhelming urge. Oh, one day!
        Oh, and in regard to dressing as one wishes, male female, or other – as I said earlier, we are still kowtowing to societal norms. Would it be better we were born in a more accepting age, or are we all here now for the purpose to help get to that accepting age?

  5. ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
    Margo Cooper 2 weeks ago

    Hi Crowd,
    I am new here and get every word written. One of my shields when I go out is to have my cis girlfriend go with. That does take a lot of pressure off. But I still feel at risk and vulnerable when I go out alone. Of course feeling vulnerable out alone is not a new experience for a girl.

    • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
      Alexis Moon 2 weeks ago

      One of the beautiful things about being trans or gender fluid is the ability to experience the perspective of the opposite sex. I believe it really does make us much more empathetic.

      • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
        Margo Cooper 2 weeks ago

        Yes, always alert when out. The same mind set for the person who will wish a cis girl harm or a trans girl harm is present.

      • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
        Jessica Alexandria 1 week ago

        Hi Lexi. I must have been doing something wrong but I couldn’t reply to why passing matters so… That article was amazing. You said exactly what I feel. You have a gorgeous figure btw…lol, masked up, I couldn’t see your face but I would feel confident and exhilarated going out looking like you.

        • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
          Alexis Moon 1 week ago

          That’s so sweet…thanks!

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    Carly Holloway 2 weeks ago

    Lexi, you are so spot on. Passing does matter! I want to be seen as female, because I am. I want to be properly addressed and not misgendered. I want to look my best when going out. I, too, am thrilled and affirmed when accept me for who I am. And I acknowledge that genetics simply didn’t cooperate!
    I know that I will never look 100 percent female. I accept that there are goons out there who will go out of their way to be insulting. Not everyone will see me as I really am. But that is their loss, not mine. I’ll continue to be my true self and take care to look my best. I’ll keep on trying to be my most attractive self, and be proud of who I am.
    Do I care about what “they” think? Very much so. But I won’t change the way I am to satisfy them.
    Thank you for your article, girlfriend.

    Carly

    • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
      Alexis Moon 2 weeks ago

      You are welcome, Carly! I’m so glad you liked it – and I admire your conviction.

  7. ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
    Alicia Arballo 2 weeks ago

    Thank you Alexis. I relate so much to your article. I’m nine months into my HRT regimen and I still have issues with passing. When you talk about the amount of time spent to present as female, and then someone calls you “sir,” nothing hurts like that. It’s getting better for me and today I spend 100% of my life living as a female, outside of work, which at the moment doesn’t feel like a safe space.
    Because it feels like I’ve made this shift in my life with regard to living as a female, the misgendering doesn’t hurt as bad, but I will now correct people when they do. I was in a restaurant the other day and a waitress misgendered me, I corrected her, and the rest of the night every time she came to our table she apologized. I didn’t need that, but I also felt it was important to educate.
    Last but not least, I love it when I’m labeled ma’am, yet those feelings are bittersweet because I want to embrace my non-binary self. I’m stuck in a societal construct of wanting to identify as a women and be seen as such, yet struggle to let go of that validation so I can better advocate for my community.
    Thanks for such a great article.

    Alicia

    • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
      Alexis Moon 2 weeks ago

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Alicia. I think you handled the waitress situation perfectly, and I totally agree that the continued apologies weren’t necessary, but at least she acknowledged her mistake…could be worse. I’m sorry your job doesn’t feel like a safe space. My company is launching a huge D&I initiative, and though I’m not out there, it’s good to know that should that day come, I would be supported. I hope things change for you in that regard…

  8. ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
    Tia Tracy 2 weeks ago

    Hi Lexi, the friggin clerk needs glasses as you’re beautiful. This article needed to be written as the newbies are always asking for advis, thank you and I will direct them to it as it tells a very candid story for their own doctrine.. I for one am one of those who goes about my life as I did as a male. I do not look around for approval nor do I appologise for anything. If I am mis-gendered it goes in one ear and out the other as I flip my hair back to allow the person to see my earring or my cleavage. This is advise I give to the newbies and I suggest it to you as well.
    Also, long ago as Covid unfolded I started telling people in the closet to utilize the mask and a pair of cheap sunglasses as a tool for them to go out and get some sunlight as the woman they feel they are. It isn’t as bad as most think? Flaunt it and act normal. Huggz Tia

    • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
      Alexis Moon 2 weeks ago

      Aww….that’s so sweet! Thanks, dear! Mask and cheap sunglasses…I guess ZZ Top had it right all along. But yeah, I’ve definitely used the sunglasses to hide that I’m wearing eye makeup if the neighbors might be around during that day…

      It’s true that it’s really not as big of a deal as we make it out to be, but everyone has to get out there in their own time.

      Cheers!

      • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' />
        Tia Tracy 2 weeks ago

        I assure you of one thing Lexi. Once you slam the closet door behind you, you’ll realize that the time you spent in ther closet was a waste of time. And then you’ll be like me whipping on some sweats, lip stain and tank to go anywhere and everywhere BORED. Take your time.! Your journey, your future. Huggz n much love Tia

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    Rachel Quinlan 3 weeks ago

    Great read to kick off the New Year. I feel everything you said here, I’ve sat in my car for 30 minutes at a convenience store parking lot, just getting the courage to go inside. Thanks for being an excellent writer, I’ll be looking forward to your next article!

    • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
      Alexis Moon 3 weeks ago

      Aww – thanks Rachel! I’m so glad you like the article…and I’m right there with you. Have you ever finally gotten up the courage to step out of the car, walk halfway across the parking lot, and them scamper back to your car? Done that more than once! 😛

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    Andrea Smith 3 weeks ago

    Alexis,

    Thank you so much for writing such an important and thought-provoking article.

    This resonated with me significantly. I spent many years — decades at this point — worrying about passing. Stopping myself from exiting the home because I couldn’t. Very late at night wee hours walks were my limit when the call to be out was present, and it was always just outside the home so I could rapidly escape back to ‘safety.’

    The irony of course for me has been the idea of outrunning anything this inevitable to ‘safety.’ My gender identity is female and it no longer matters if I happen to be presenting as a woman at one given moment or not. I am not “out” and therefore I can be in a room with dozens of people who have no clue that inside, they’re have a great time with a woman.

    For many years I deemed that I could not possibly “go out in public” because I couldn’t pass. I think over the years, a few different things have taken place that has given me the confidence to take those steps out. One is absolutely common to your experience — the mask wearing. The way you described it as an extra layer of “protection” is precisely how I feel. I also believe I have reached a “screw it” stage. I have to be me and to hell with the other person — especially the stranger I don’t know. The people I know is a very different matter.

    The persistent call in my heart and soul to be out — even though it frightens me — something inside keeps saying “you need to be out, you need to be seen.” Interesting since it is the fear element, similar to your description that has stopped me for so long. Be it 20 years ago or today — I do not think I can pass in any way. Yet that call to be out, be seen is louder than ever and has slowly become impossible to ignore.

    I have not had anyone look me directly in the eye and call me “sir” as you have. I am sorry – that must have been very unpleasant. I have kept a bit of ‘distance” to others to have that experience thus far, but I am sure it will come soon enough. Knowing I cannot pass and having it confirmed by someone else — yep — it will surely sting; but there are different ways it will hurt and it depends a little on whether it is coming from a stranger or someone close to you.

    I think if it’s someone you know — in my case my spouse — who says, “I see a man presenting as a woman.” There might be a realism to the statement for the person that has seen me most of our time together as male and has trouble “seeing” anything else. She has said as much. “My viewpoint is not fair because I have known you for decades as a guy,” she will come back with. However, she has also been instrumental — despite her own fears and hesitations about my gender identity and how it impacts her. She has been pressing upon me to be more open, and has helped me feel so much more comfortable as a woman. So much so that despite how she still sees me, she is beginning to change and is beginning to see me more as female than at any other time. Progress and from a loved one, one would hope that once you make your identity clear, they don’t purposefully misgender you for the sake of hurting you.

    When it is the person who is — as in your case — the store clerk; I wonder if it is a downright mean, petty “i got ya” behavior. The intent is to hurt. The miserable sort of person who has to level a shot at another person so the other person can feel as badly as they do is horrible. If we accept that “water seeks its own level” and this clerk is operating on one level — you or I, simply by having the confidence, and courage to present the true self are on a level 10 stories up from this clerk. Allowing him/her to reduce us — screw that!

    Easier said than done, as you correctly point out, but I believe that is the approach we need to take, and I don’t think there is an easy way to do it, and I think we all ‘get there” on our own time, and when we are ready. It seems you and I are both venturing out more and doing so with the idea that we are ready — for the positive aspects of it, and the negative ones. I am holding out hope that as confidence grows, and ownership of self grows, the negative will subside some and roll off of us. The positive is likely the full and complete self ownership of who we are in a central, core sense. That is invaluable.

    • ' class='avatar avatar-100 photo' height='100' width='100' /> Author
      Alexis Moon 3 weeks ago

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andrea! I think our struggles with this are fairly universal, and I think therein lies the obsession with passing: if you knew you could just go out and there’s 100% chance you’d pass, you wouldn’t even hesitate. Unfortunately, this is the real world, and it’s just something we have to deal with. Like you said, we grow in our own confidence – get more comfortable in our own skin – the words and opinions of others will matter less and less…

  11. Lauren Deaver 3 weeks ago

    Amen Lexi💕

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