Browse any transgender focused support forum on the web and you’ll see countless threads with various questions and advice about “passing”. First, let me say, I hate that term as it applies to the transgender person. “Passing” is, of course, the idea that we can move through public spaces presenting as our authentic selves and be believed to be someone who was born into the gender we are presenting as. The problem is, the word “passing” suggest that we are “passing” ourselves off as something other than what we are. I believe this term originated this way in the cross dressing community where the goal of the activity is to appear as something they’re not for a limited time before returning to their typical life.
When it comes to being transgender, the point of going out in public, presenting as a gender that is consistent with the gender we identify with has a very different purpose. It is us choosing to present ourselves authentically, to be seen for who we are, to be comfortable that our appearance matches our gender. We are not passing ourselves off as something we’re not but instead finally showing the world who we truly are. I won’t pretend for a moment that the idea of being perceived by others as someone who was born into the gender we’re presenting isn’t important. There are logistical and safety-related reasons no doubt. There is also the affirmation of our social transition that we’re finally being recognized as our true gender. These are all super important factors. However, this is why I tend to use the term blending. It suggests that we’re fitting in. We’re presenting in away that gets us treated just like the rest of our cis-gender siblings. We’re not doing things that make us stand out from the other folks who share our gender. So blending is important for many, if not all of us, but just how important?
Now bear with me, the setup for this story is a little long. I recently had the opportunity to take a vacation and hang out in person with a very dear trans friend that I had met in an online support forum. I got to do a lot of self-discovery on this trip as well as just have very frank and open conversations with her about aspects of transitioning, body image, etc. I was going to Florida to meet her, where she has a gorgeous pool and she makes regular trips to walk on the beach. She suggested I bring a bathing suit. “Holy Crap!!” was the first thought that came to mind. I’m only a few months into hormones and I don’t even have a bathing suit, can I even get away with this? That was a mantra that played in my head over and over again. For two long months, I hemmed and hawed over what type of swimsuit to get. I wanted desperately to wear a bikini but my own concerns over body image kept pushing that idea away. Finally, about 2 weeks before the trip, I finally decided to take the plunge (very punny, I know, sorry) and bought a skirted bikini with a halter-top. “Oh, I’ll just wear this at her house in her pool, I’m not going to a public beach in this. I’ll just wear shorts and stay out of the water there”, was how I reconciled this in my brain.
Fast forward a couple weeks and indeed we did go swimming in her pool. We were both wearing bikinis and given the relative seclusion of her backyard, I was very comfortable. She, being 16 months on hormones, looked amazing in hers but her unconditional acceptance of my less than perfect image gave me confidence too. So mission accomplished right? Well so I thought, but things would soon change. Unfortunately, except for a stop on a quick tour she gave me of the town, I hadn’t been to the beach at all because of uncooperative weather (rainy season in Southern Florida ya know). So I made plans that on my last day in town, I was going to go to the beach for an early morning walk. That night I laid out a pair of short shorts and a top that I planned to wear to the beach, set an alarm and went to bed.
I woke up the next morning 3 hours before my alarm. I began thinking about conversations I’d had with my friend the night before. About how she would love to wear heels but doesn’t because she’s already 6 feet tall and worries it would get her clocked (discovered as trans, not a cis-woman). She also was lamenting how she looked in this gorgeous dress she bought because she felt people could see her imperfect belly. I laid there thinking about how absurd this was. She’s gorgeous. She has a phenomenal body that many women would kill to have. She looked better in that dress than the majority of the population would. Other women have told her they’d kill to have her height and her legs. So why was she so afraid to wear what she really enjoyed? Well it was then that my thoughts turned to myself.
Girl, you’re about to go to the beach. You want more than anything to be able to wear a bikini in public, so what is stopping you. I realized it was the same fear that was stopping my friend. A fear of standing out. A fear of being seen as different, not fitting the mold. A fear of not living up to the standards that society has set for how I should look as a woman. WAIT!! WHAT?!?!?! That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for 39 years. Trying to live up to society’s expectations of what I should be as a man. Trying to be a proper masculine man when I knew deep down that wasn’t who I was.
So it brought me to this. Why am I transitioning? Why do transgender people all over the world make the decision to transition? In large part is it not because we’re tired of putting on an act? Haven’t we reached a point in our lives where we can no longer hide who we truly are and we just want to live authentically as ourselves? So why then would we trade the shackles of society’s expectations of our assigned gender just to struggle with trying to put on an act consistent with society’s expectations of our authentic gender? This is the 21 century. More than ever before, women are demonstrating their capability to break out of social molds, to eschew those expectations and assert their ability to be their own person. Isn’t that the kind of woman I strive to be, I asked myself.
Suddenly, I was filled with confidence. I sprung up from my bed, got dressed in my bikini and a mesh cover-up, put on some waterproof makeup and went off to the beach before I had a chance to let any doubts creep into my mind. I went to the beach and walked a few miles, I went swimming in the ocean and took lots of selfies, I even for the first time setup a live feed on my Facebook profile to document the experience and my raw feelings. It was amazing! I felt great. I paid little attention to the others on the beach as they passed by other than exchanging an occasional smile or greeting. The sands did not open up and swallow me, I was not a focus of ridicule and shame, I was simply left to live my life as those around me chose to simply live theirs.
As I look back on this and on the road forward, I’m left to wonder, how important is it that we blend? At what point do our efforts to blend start to impact our ability to live truly authentically? If my natural inclinations are to look a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way, etc. and I compromise those because I want to fit in, have I really accomplished anything in my transition? I’m transitioning because I want to be the real me, not the me that society says I should be so that I fit into one of their convenient buckets of genders X or Y. I started down the transition path so that I could be free of living a lie, not trade one lie for another.
I don’t mean to suggest that there is a clear and firm line here. It’s a balancing act for sure. While I want to live a completely authentic and true existence, I do also want to be perceived as a woman and not be treated as some pseudo-female persona. So I need to temper my desires at times. But my advice to my transgender siblings out there is that you make sure it’s the right balance. Don’t give up the things that are truly a part of who you are simply to fit into another of society’s defined roles. So wear those heels, even if they make you 6 foot 4. You’ll be in good company with the likes of Victoria Silvstedt, Elle Macpherson, Maria Sharapova and many other gorgeous women who share your gift of height. If you want to wear a bikini or that tight dress, do it!! Quit worrying about those broad shoulders or that little pooch belly, I can find you many photos of cis-women with bigger bellies and broader shoulders who aren’t afraid to rock the 2-piece. Ultimately, please just be true to yourself, the transition road it hard enough as it is.