By Monica M
The whole subject of passing is a pretty fraught one and I don't pretend to have a consistent answer to the question. Emotionally I want to pass – I want to pass as well as I possibly can given the constraints. I realize that it is unrealistic to think that one will pass 100% of the time and yet, that is my goal emotionally.
Rationally, I can see the other side. I can see that focusing on passing well is only upholding society's artificial binary gender preference. If somebody does not stand up against the binary gender preference, then it will continue! Yes, but does it have to be me who stands up against it? If not me, then who?
To find a path through this philosophical swamp, I fall back on my definition of success and that is, to have a group of supportive female friends who accept me for the woman I am. Hence, I try to pass as best I can as because in my opinion, that is what will get me closest to my goal.
To find what one's definition of success is, one needs to be in touch with one's body. Those of us who have been socialised as men find it hard to get in touch with our bodies, but I have found a body of work which helped me greatly in this. It is called The Art of Feminine Presence; more about that later.
There is a fine line between passing and parody and the line is probably different for everybody who sees you. If you fall into the parody category, then you will not be taken seriously and may well become the butt of derision, sarcasm and even violence. Hence, it is better to be well on the other side of that line. In truth, you cannot pass too well.
It gives me comfort that even people like Jenny Boylan (who is post-op, on hormones, though she may have come off recently and has lived as a woman for many years) worries about passing. My take is that no matter how good you are (even if you are in stealth), worrying about passing is part and parcel of being us.
Passing is part art and part science, as far as I am concerned. The science bit breaks down into four elements: voice, movement, presentation (clothes, makeup, etc.) and internal operating system (how you see things and talk to yourself). The art comes in blending these four components into a believable/acceptable female. Of these four elements, the most important one for me is my confidence and internal monologue. Passing is also one of these infinite recursive loops. The better you feel, the more confident you are, the better you pass, the better you feel, etc.
To pass well, in my experience, you have to know what kind of woman you are and really own that. My friends jokingly call me “Synagogue Mom!” You also have to accept that you are a trans person and be happy to own that. For many, that is harder than it might seem and takes practice and introspection.
If you get read, you need two strategies. One, for how you handle your own disappointment and two, for how you handle the person reading you. When I get read, I just give a big smile to the person reading me. There is nothing more feminine and tension relieving than a big smile and usually people just smile back at you. If you have the courage (I have not tried this), you could also wink at them!
Getting read is very bad for the ego. It reminds me of the old saying, “It is not reality that hurts: it is the difference between your perception of reality and reality that hurts.” This is so true for passing and being read can ruin your whole day.
On my first day out en femme, I just about got to the lobby of the hotel before I got read… and did I get read! It was probably the most embarrassing incident of my life. But more about that later.
The way I have learned to tackle being read is to keep telling myself that I cannot be responsible for the reader's reaction. I am doing nothing wrong. I am a transgender person and this is how transgender people dress, move, etc. We are 0.1% of the population and we are entitled to respect. If I do not ground myself quickly, I can just go into my head and lose the plot completely and that leads to panic and fear and more lack of confidence and being read even more.
A good exercise from The Art of Feminine Presence is to ground yourself in your lower belly and don't let the thoughts go into the head. Then imagine a light globe sitting in that place (we call it the “womb space” – I like that! – in martial arts and Tai Chi it is called the “Dan Tien”) radiating a protective light from there. You are bathed in that light out to an arm’s length from your body and nothing can come through this light to harm you. Then feel your body as it moves. Staying attentive to your body and enjoying your body movement helps you move even more like a woman! Then put on a big smile.
This sounds long-winded, but with practice, you can do it all in an instant. This stops the thoughts from going to the head and staring the long chains of “what ifs” that lead to fear, lack of confidence, embarrassment, and humiliation.
(Part 5 of One Person’s Journey to Womanhood appeared here yesterday.)
Wearing Cotton Addiction (sweater).