The problem with “passing”

I hate the whole concept of “passing”.

There are plenty of trans people that strive for it, and I’m one of them. I don’t blame anyone for it, but the whole concept brings to mind this concept of inherent cis superiority. I mean, if your goal is to “pass” as a cis person, it feels disingenuous. You’re not working to be pretty or handsome or [insert look here], but rather, you are working to emulate a physical persona that you aren’t.

This comes about because “looking trans” is considered an inherently negative thing in the majority of societies across the world right now, including from the view point of a lot of trans people.


This is part of the problem.

So… what does “looking cis” and “looking trans” mean?

From what I can gather, to look cis, or “pass”, means to be within a socially acceptable range of visual femininity…

old lady
Now dear, that’s not what a lady wears.

…or masculinity.


You better dress like a man, boy.

There is no mixing it, there is no real acceptable deviation from it, I mean, even any sort of ambiguity or androgyny is not looked very highly upon, so if you are a trans woman with a more masculine frame, society makes it a whole lot harder to not feel like shit about yourself.

This consideration of cisgender normativity also leads to rather frustrating statements from well meaning people. “Wow, you look really good as a woman!” “I totally could never tell you were trans!” “Really?! I thought you were really a girl.” “You’re really pretty for being trans.”

Cis allies out there, I love you’re help, and I get what you are going for, but please, please, think about what you are saying! We’re not acting, we’re not “trying to be” anything.

I. Am. A. Woman. End of story. If you’re confused, see more here (and yes, I am fluent in smart ass).

This whole concept of “passing” also works very well to exclude those outside the male/female dichotomy. There are plenty of people who are enigmatic in one form or another, and they have nowhere to fit within our society. It sets up this whole thing where if you identify toward male, but look visually feminine, fuck you. If you identify towards female, but are visually toward male, fuck you, but hey, upgrade!

It leaves very limited, mostly negative, spaces for these individuals, though I’m not getting too far into gender ambiguity, as I honestly don’t know a whole hell of a lot about it. I am absolutely female identified with a tiny touch of androgyny.

Then there’s “looking trans” which is usually embodied by statements like “I can tell when someone is trans.” “She’s nice but… she looks like a dude.” and every fucking “dude in a dress” bullshit, bass ackwards, fucking horrible trope ever. (did I mention I don’t like that?)

The embodiment of looking trans generally come in more negative connotations, at least when you’re talking about direct references, but, if you jump right back up to “looking cis”, look again at those well meaning statements… There’s an inherent underlying point that looking trans is bad. These things can be wrapped up as one, and can not be separated. If “passing” is celebrated as the de facto way to go, then… that means that hiding yourself is the most respectable thing you can do. Going under the radar, staying stealth, this is what you are supposed to aim for, and if you are okay with not looking like a “normal” woman or man, well… You are definitely wrong, and I’m sorry you don’t look good.

It’s fucked up, it really is. This whole concept of passing and visual acceptability is horrible. It makes it more difficult to gain acceptability for trans people (not to mention naturally masculine looking cis women and feminine looking cis men).

Try to keep in mind the things that you say when you are trying to be an ally. I know you mean well, but some things are still mean and degrading whether you know it or not. I love you all, have a beautiful day sunshines.


13 thoughts on “The problem with “passing”

  1. I struggle with the concept of “passing” as well. One big issue I have is that I can’t figure out how a “manly” looking woman, one who does nothing to accentuate femininity and may be “big-boned” can cruise through a supermarket with hardly a glance from anybody. But I have had surgery and take meticulous care to PASS, accentuating, highlighting, etc etc – yet people stop and stare. When I look in the mirror, even in my most critical moments, I am very happy with where I am and especially where I am headed.

    But rude people with absolutely NO class can knock me on my ass with a stare.

    I should add that my ultimate goal is to go well beyond calling myself “transgender.” I am a woman, transgender is just a phase I’m going through on my way to authenticity. There are many other ways to view yourself along the gender/transition spectrum, and none of them is “wrong”. But for me, passing is close to my personal nirvana.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment sunshine! It can definitely be incredibly difficult, even if you are happy with where you are at. I know that a single sideways stare can fuck my whole day up, even 7 years later, and I’m trying really hard to get better about that.
      As for myself, I have come to the conclusion that it is important for me to own my trans identity, but rather than being a trans woman, I’m a woman who happens to be trans. It’s certainly not central to my identity, but it’s a facet I don’t want to try to ignore anymore.
      I wish you the absolute best in your endeavors sunshine, and thank you kindly for stopping by!
      Have a beautiful day, and take gentle care of yourself ^.^


  2. You know, I don’t think I know any trans individuals in ‘real life’. I mean, if I do, I don’t know they ARE trans, if you get what I mean.

    I can almost relate, in a completely non-similar way, to your sentiment here. Society likes to put us all in our tiny boxes, and we are punished for trying to act outside the constraints of our box.

    You’re physically female? Get with the hairstyles and the makeup. That is what girls do. If you don’t do it, you are weird and wrong and should be ashamed. (For the record, even though I am cis female, I kept my hair in a male regulation haircut while I was in the military and was constantly told that I looked like a butch lesbian, because Hollywood, I guess). Because I failed to keep in line with the gender norms society tried handing me, I got labeled with all sorts of behavior that, while not abhorrent to me, was not true. And it made me pissed off on behalf of everyone who gets this kind of treatment, because it’s crap.

    “Oh, so you’re physically male? You have to like football and beer and dick and fart jokes. Get with it, because otherwise you have to go into the nerd box, and we all know the nerds are lame. But wait, that’s not as bad as having your sexuality questioned…”

    “You’re gay? Oh, well everyone knows that gay people are just looking for attention. And you have to act as flamboyant as all the stereotypes in Hollywood, because otherwise you aren’t gay, you’re just trying to be special.”

    “Lesbian? Lesbians only come in two varieties: The butch, man-acting bitch or the waifelike seductress. You can’t be a regular IT tech who takes her kids to the park on Saturdays, there has to be a BLATANT SIGN that you aren’t “normal”.

    “Oh, and I’m sure the ones who get the worst of it, at least where I live, are the trans and the ace. For one thing, asexuals can’t exist because there is no such thing as a non-sexual human. We’re on this earth to have babies! LOTS OF BABIES and YOU HAVE TO WANT IT. No questions. If you say you’re ace, you’re just in denial because of course society knows better than you.”

    Trans people. I feel for you guys, because it sucks to be the butt of all the jokes now that the pool of ‘people it’s okay to pick on’ keeps shrinking, but you’re still in the deep end. Trans people are punchlines because they keep getting portrayed as people who just want to play dressup in the wrong clothes, or as something to be feared because – gasp – they might succeed at looking like a cis person, and then the really hot chick might actually be a guy! Oh noes! You are scorned for failing to pass, and disparaged if you succeed. Because of the gender norms present in society, identifying as female when you had the physical characteristics of a male also means you’re likely to want to engage in the same behaviors, or norms, as cis women. This includes clothing that is never made to fit right (Its not made to fit any of us right, but you get what I mean) and a society that actively despises things that are uniquely feminine in many ways, and people they perceive as ‘male’ who pursue choices that are considered feminine.

    Just the other day, my father-in-law told my eldest son that he screamed like a girl when he was tickled. I turned to him and said, “There is nothing wrong with screaming like a girl. It’s never bothered me.”

    TLDR; Ivy, if I ever meet you in real life, let’s go get a coffee and compare notes on stupid people. It’ll be fun. (sorry for the long, long comment. It didn’t start out like this, but I get prolific when I get fiery.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for the comment Tejay, and please don’t ever apologize for them, regardless of length. You have a pretty good grasp on the whole idea and how it effects trans people, but then, it sounds like you’ve honestly had some similar experiences, because of your hair style. It is difficult, and what makes it worse, is people have such an incredibly hard time trying to wrap their minds around how anybody could be trans, and they want to know why.
      I can’t explain why. Hell if I know WHY I ended up how I am, I just know I did. It drives me nuts too, because I’m very scientifically minded. I would love to know what’s going on, but I can’t. I do have a psychology game that helps people understand though. You get a group of people together and write the opposite gendered name and pronouns on a sticky note. Put the sticky note on your forehead. People are now only allowed to reference you by the sticky note. It helps others understand the mindset a little bit better at least.
      It’s been incredibly difficult for me growing up (much less those before me). I mean, I saw trans people in the media, but it was, well… Jerry Springer. That “style” was about it. I grew up thinking that it would be best just to die, because, well, if that was the future I had, I was screwed anyway. I am glad for the better trans representation, but there’s still a lllooonnnggg way to go. Currently, the focus is still totally on the transition and the surgery, and there’s two problems with that. A. The transition is only one part of our lives, and B. Not everyone wants surgery, and there’s even more of a story to it when people, like myself, can’t even begin to fathom affording it. I’m very glad to see a comment from you sunshine, thank you much and have a beautiful day


      1. You know, I think I recall either reading about or seeing some documentary about the surgery. Honestly, it may have been from a Cracked article, come to think of it. Anyway, the person writing the article mentioned that a lot of people who identify as trans opt not to go for the gender reassignment surgery, even if they have the means to do it, because of the risks involved. That, and doctors that don’t consider their situation ‘real’.

        Question for you, though. Is it hard to identify as a woman, yet have the attributes of a male? As in, without the pressures of society and judging. Just based on your own perception of yourself. I mean, for me, personally, I have always felt more or less comfortable in my own skin and can’t really wrap myself around the feeling that others may have about feeling they should be different than what they are.

        I really hope that question didn’t come out as badly as I think it did. It opens up a lot of opportunity for negativity, and that’s not what I’m trying to get at, you know?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. FtM surgery is a lot more problematic and the guys tend to not get surgery way more than women. The single biggest barrier isn’t success rate for us women, but rather, accessibility. It’s expensive as shit and most insurances still don’t cover it, claiming it is elective, like botox and shit like that, which it’s totally not.
          Though on the flip side there are lots of trans women that don’t get it because they don’t want to. They are happy with the way their bodies are. I just happen to totally not be one of them.
          “Is it hard to identify as a woman, yet have the attributes of a male? As in without the pressures of society and judging” paired with what you said after is confusing me, perhaps you could try to put it another way? I’m sorry, I want to answer your questions, but I’m not quite sure what you’re asking.
          And, I did a post on surgery here:


  3. So much yes.

    I actually recently was told something about my gender appearance that did not imply that cis-ness is superior to trans-ness. The context is probably the most important part. I was telling my sister that I am always really self-conscious about my chest, even though I wear a binder and what if I look weird and people can tell that I have these strange lumps on my chest and I have this bad habit of looking at other people’s chests so I can compare them to mine. And she told me that, honestly, she couldn’t tell the difference. Not a cis-ness is better comment. A “you don’t need to be worrying about that thing you are worrying about” comment.

    Liked by 2 people

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