We attempt to unpack some of the baggage surrounding the term "Passing" - with the help of my wife Miranda.
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We're ingrained from an early age, at least here in the U S you know, when we're in school, it's very important to pass your tests , right? You pass your classes and what's the opposite of pass? The opposite of pass as well , fail. Passing things as good. Uh , whereas failing things is very bad. And we, I think as a culture for trans people, we need to go beyond, you know, passing.Tananda:
You're listening to transgressive a podcast about gender identity, LGBTQ, and social justice issues.Miranda:
Who cares if you pass the only people that care if you pass are well, the bigots, right? And, and we don't, we don't care about them. They can go get bent. We just need to be ourselves.Tananda:
That's my wife Miranda. And when I first told her this week's topic was going to be the term passing and unpacking some of the baggage surrounding that term. Those were her first thoughts. What I find fascinating is that when I was thinking about the topic, the idea of pass fail, didn't really even occur to me. And it just goes to show that there really are a lot of complicated thoughts around the term. Okay. So first things first, so that we're all on the same page. Passing is a term used in the cross-dressing community to indicate passing as a member of the gender, for which you are presenting. Even within that somewhat narrow context, there are a variety of different meanings. Someone who is a cross-dresser, who has no intention of transitioning socially or legally, or medically might view passing as something they're not really even interested in accomplishing, or they might view passing as something very fleeting as a momentary glance from someone, and they got called ma'am or someone held the door open for them. For someone who is planning on transitioning, passing may take a much more central role into their self-image and their mental health and happiness. Before I continue. I think it's important for me to say a couple of things here. First, that my use of terms such as passing and non passing are not meant in any way to make a value judgment, but merely as descriptive tools in the aim of having this discussion itself. Second, that today's discussion is focusing fairly significantly on binary presentations, male, and female. It is always my intention to be inclusive with this podcast, but I do not have the proper perspective or experience to really speak for or to the non-binary intersex and gender experience. It is my intent and my hope that in future episodes, I will be able to bring in non-binary, intersex and agender voices, and to revisit this and other topics with their perspective mind. Okay, back to the issue at hand. In the late eighties, early nineties, when I transitioned, if your intention was to medically transition, then your care(Providers) and doctors would follow something called the Dr. Harry Benjamin standards of care; Also known as the Benjamin standards. While these standards were incredibly forward-thinking for their time and were a path for many trans people to receive hormones and surgery necessary to their transition, It was common practice to hold off on writing letters, recommending a patient as a good candidate for surgeries, if they didn't pass. And the definition of passing was very arbitrary. Part of my application process to my surgeon included sending photos of myself. Nowadays, there may be a bit less gatekeeping in this regard and the WPATH, which superseded the Benjamin standards of care has a much greater focus on informed consent, and the idea that an adult who persistently has declared their desire to transition should be taken at their word and not subjected to quite such a gauntlet of hoop jumping. Being judged on your passing, by helping professionals and having that used as gatekeeping to potentially prevent you from receiving the care that you want can be detrimental to your well- being. However, passing or not passing actually very directly can relate to your mental well-being . In other ways, just from a social perspective, Miranda related a story about when she was pre-transition, when she was still presenting as a male in her day-to-day life, but would go out in girl mode.Miranda:
One time, I think it was maybe our first or second outing where I was in girl mode. I had to use the bathroom and there was a long line of women for one restroom and no line for the restroom that men were going into. Well, I stood there for a second and started to head into the men's room. One of the women at the back of the line for the women's room tapped me on the shoulder and said, "no, honey, that's , that's the men's room. You don't want to go in there". Even without benefit of hormones or laser . I was immediately understood to be a woman at that point. And the implications of that hit home after the fact at the end, at the end of the day, I ended up using the men's room and , uh, it was a poor choice. When I went in the men's room, I was threatened , uh, bodily. Uh, my life was threatened. I was sexually threatened. Um, it was not a good time.Tananda:
So by outing herself effectively going into that men's room Miranda actually put herself in additional danger. If she had just used the women's room, although she would have had to wait, she would have been able to go about her business without any harassment or any problem at all, because she passed. The act of walking into the men's room and acknowledging that she was supposed to be there was effectively a danger to her safety. So while one of the problems with the term passing is that it may have the implication that you are passing as something that you are not, that you are pretending to be something you're not. The concept of passing is actually also a really important positive thing in terms of simply being able to go about your life and about your day in the gender role that you're presenting as, without getting hassled or risking some really transphobic person, deciding that they want to make an example out of you.Miranda:
P assing certainly affords you a fair amount of safety. There is no instance where you're safer being a trans person than you w ould h ave been. If you were a CIS person. The fact of the matter is a trans person going into a bathroom has a much higher chance of being assaulted than any C IS person does e ver.Tananda:
Those practical safety concerns are really paramount, but it doesn't stop the term passing from also having those connotations of someone pretending to be something they're not. The common misperception that trans people are pretending; that the goal is to trick others is really harmful. It leads to self doubt and things like imposter syndrome. And this is actually why many trans people don't like to even think about the term passing and yet passing or not passing can directly affect our safety, our mental well- being and various aspects of our lives.Miranda:
With a very good friend of mine. I was one of her bridesmaids. It was the morning after her , uh, her bachelorette party. And , uh, we were all a little bit hung over and feeling kind of ragged, but it was time to go pick up her dress, and she wanted me to go with her. There was no makeup. I was wearing somebody else's, I think it was her husband's sweat pants, and an old t-shirt because the dress I had was, was totally trash. I wasn't feeling particularly feminine at that point. We went in and nobody ever mis-gendered me, nobody ever mistook me for a guy, everybody that I spoke with and interacted with completely thought that I was nothing more than what I was, which is a woman. And that was surprising to me. That was the very first time that I made no attempt to look feminine. And yet everybody totally thought this is a girl. This is somebody who is feminine. So yeah, it felt really good after the fact and went on to go to my friend's wedding. And it was marvelous because everybody just thought I looked fantastic.Tananda:
The process of transition is actually a very awkward time. For most every human being going through puberty is already an awkward time and a trans person having to go through a second puberty and go through a period where they are working to achieve whatever goal of presentation they want often will include a period of time where they neither pass fully for the gender they are presenting as, nor do they entirely pass properly for the gender they were assigned at birth. It can take a real emotional toll when you're going through that, not to mention the physical danger as mentioned. However, there's a whole other aspect here, which is that with the past understandings in the trans community, that passing was paramount, but nowadays with non-binary and agender identities as well, and just plain, a more nuanced understanding of gender as a spectrum, it's very important to point out that non passing trans people are still absolutely valid. That passing in no way should be seen as a pass/fail dynamic. That instead, each person should be free to decide what their presentation means to them. Like so very many aspects of a trans person's life it's complicated. This episode has really only scratched the surface on this topic. The concept of passing has so many implications on so many parts of the trans experience that we will be revisiting this issue directly, as well as indirectly in future episodes. Our website is www.transgressive.net. You can reach out to us at [email protected] We can also be reached at Twitter @transgressive21. Please consider leaving a five star review on your favorite podcast platform. Normally I'd fade out the music at this point, but before I go, I just want to take a moment to ask you to consider listening to our sister podcast, Transposed Podcast. If transgressive gives you the sort of NPR news style vibe, then the Transpose Podcast should give you the morning drive time radio, and they're really worth a listen, Robin and Stephanie are great fun, and they're good friends of our show. You can find them at transposed.podbean.com and other podcast delivery services. Check them out at Twitter @transposedpod. I will put a link in the show notes. Again, this is Tananda, and you've been listening to transgressive.