By Starla, Femulate Contributing Editor
Passing. One of the first "jargon" terms a novice crossdresser learns.
One thing that many misunderstand is that "passing" does not necessarily equal "pretty." Old chestnut proverbs like "Pretty is as pretty does" and "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" are more than just trite aphorisms. There's some truth there, yes, but it ain't quite that simple. (Nothing ever is.)
This is a tale of two friends from my support group days.
Gurl #1 was an older, not very educated soul from what some would call "the wrong side of the tracks." She lived in perpetual poverty and want, scraping by on her wits and the kindness of others. Not too bright, she was nonetheless a very kind person. And she was, in her own homespun words, "as ugly as a mud fence." Her assessment, not mine, though admittedly by society's standards, she wouldn't be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon.
But... she was believable. Let's face it, many genetic women don't exactly have that "Cover Girl" look either. And my friend, even when attired in grubbies with minimal (or non-existent) makeup passed in public. She went anywhere, did anything, with nary an askance glance. Her femininity, rough and homespun as it was, along with her confidence, carried the day for her.
There's an object lesson there. One which was integral to a M*A*S*H rerun I recently saw. In it, Radar orders some "elevator shoes," tired of being made fun of for his short stature. He finds to his chagrin that it doesn't really help, and turns to his ersatz "Big Brother" Hawkeye for advice. "You know, there's height that many never see," Hawkeye tells him. "Some guys are six feet tall inside, and their body just never caught up with it."
Likewise, when it comes to "passing," what's inside can trump the package it comes wrapped in.
In my active femulating years, there were times (not often, but often enough) when I was not sartorially en femme, and felt that I looked nothing like a female, yet would get "ma'amed" without a trace of irony. I'd look in the mirror and see this creature who was wearing baggy, unisex sweats, no makeup, nothing to prop up my gynecomastic man boobs into Wonderbra glory, natural hair unkempt with a severe case of "hairline retreat," and, if one looked closely enough, needed a shave. And still, I got the occasional "ma'am." I can only assume that some inner essence of femininity was overpowering the thrift store threads and George Costanza hairdo.
It's just not always about the details of appearance. I always think of my female boss at one of the jobs I worked en femme back in the day. This woman was taller than me, had even smaller boobs than me, and a decidedly deeper voice than me. But no one looked at her and thought, "That's a guy!!"
Gurl #2 was a cop who lived and worked in the Florida Keys. As a man, this dude was 6'5" and built like a middle linebacker. And, by his/her own admission, "wouldn't pass as a woman at 3 AM on a moonless night with a blind man."
And yet...and yet, when en femme, she was beautiful. Impeccable hair, perfect makeup, designer outfits ― she was stunning, and heads would immediately turn when she entered a room. Followed a microsecond later by the inescapable realization that this person had an "outie" and not an "innie." But her carriage, personality, confidence and self-deprecating humor won over the majority of those she encountered.
"When all else is said and done," she would tell them, "I'm just a guy in a dress. What's the big deal? There's plenty of more important things to worry about in this world." And she would talk up the football season, crack dirty jokes, and in a straight bar, people would buy her drinks and compliment her on her fashion taste.
Homely, yet passing. Beautiful, yet non-passing. And every spot on the scales. In every case, it's the girl inside that will carry the day.
One other aspect of the whole preoccupation with passing or being read...
Conventional wisdom about cultural context is often faulty. Many feel that things have never been better for us. But there are some who have the experience, and not just theory, to assert that passing (or not) knows no season.
When I first started to venture into the TG world, I spent a lot of time on the Tri-Ess BBS. (If you had to look up "BBS," you're obviously a young whippersnapper. Go back to your i-whatever gadgets...and get off my lawn!) Despite the name, this board was not an "official" Tri-Ess service (though they gave it their approval), and trans folk of all stripes (not just married non-op, non-TS crossdressers) hung there.
One older member had been publicly femulating since the early 1960's. Wow, we exclaimed, that must have been difficult and nerve-wracking! Not at all, she responded ― in fact, I think it was easier to pass back then than it is now.
What!?! Chaos ensued. You would have thought she had just told us that she had two heads. Are you insane, we demanded? We have bulletin boards, magazines, support groups. We have conferences and public outings. We're on Donahue, Sally, Geraldo ― all the talk shows. How can you say it was easier to pass back in the dark ages of the early 60's?
"Simple," she wrote. "We didn't have all the things you mentioned then, but they are a two-edged sword. You see, back then, if you were even remotely feminine, as long as your overall appearance was halfway womanly, even if you had big hands, or a deep voice, or were 6-foot-2 , the default assumption was that you must be a woman, because no man would be caught dead dressed like that. They had no awareness, no concept, no understanding of our existence."
"But now," she went on, "we're everywhere. And more and more, the general public has learned we exist. And when they see CD'ers on talk shows and such, and then see that tall, broad-shouldered woman walking a bit awkwardly in her high heels, it's a different light bulb that goes off. I mean, take our monthly meetings [in Atlanta]. You know that big mall right next to the hotel? The one that is a 'standard attraction' for us gurls exercising our God-given right to shop 'til we drop? Well, on weekends, there are countless local high school kids that frequent that mall. And they know we meet next door, and many of them play 'Spot the Crossdressers' as they hang with their friends. Oh, they don't mean anything by it, and it's just a game to them ― I've had several delightful conversations with these kids."
"So, don't think for a minute that you are necessarily passing. You probably aren't, at least with the younger set. They're savvy, and reading us like a cheap novel. Twenty years ago, I could have probably walked through that mall and attracted hardly a glance. But now... well, we're as out as can be, and people know it. Fortunately, most people just don't care, and take it in stride, because all the publicity has somewhat educated them. But don't think for a second that just because hell doesn't break loose at your presence that you're passing. You're probably not, and that can be a good thing if you have the confidence to accept it."
(And all this was back in the 80's and early 90's. Now, everyone knows about us. Maybe there are a few remote Amazon tribes that are unaware of us, but that's about it. And we have even begun to encounter some negative backlash. Hey, when wackadoo politicians spend time trying to pass laws to make us check our bladders at the restroom door, you know we've really arrived. [sigh] Back in the day, I used ladies' rooms all the time with no hassle. If I were still publicly femulating ― illness and disability keep me homebound, not lack of desire ― I would seriously consider holding it until I got home. Or wear Depends. 'Cause now, they're watching for us. Dammit, maybe it was easier to pass way back when.)
Anyway, that 30-year old BBS posting is one woman's experience ― your mileage may vary. But certainly food for thought.
So, if you think you know everything there is to know about passing, you don't. Neither do I. But there are more important things to worry about. Whether you pass or get read, enjoy the experience of having the freedom and confidence to be yourself, and look others in the eye with a smile.
|Daniel Diges and Jose Luis imitate Natalia and Melocos |
on Spanish television's Tu Cara Me Suena.