Diane Wilson
Search my site:
Diane Wilson -> Gender -> Gianna Israel -> Transition -> Passing Perfect

Gianna Israel Gender Library

*

Self

*

Family

*

Health Care

*

Closets

*

Transition

-

Transition Frustration

-

Late Transition Regrets

-

Pre-Transition Dilemma

-

Post-Op Living

-

Passing Perfect

-

Reversing Transition

-

Starting Transition

-

Former Gender Shame

-

First Romantic Date

-

Hormones? Maybe, Later

-

Remaining Friends

*

Living

*

Community

*

Legal

*

Special Focus

Gianna Israel Gender Library

Passing Perfect

One of the more highly coveted aspects of transgender living which receives a great deal of focus is being able to "pass" while crossdressed or living in a new gender role. Being able to pass has its benefits. For example, people use correct pronouns and terms of reference. Also, a transgender man or woman does not need to worry about receiving second glances and unsolicited comments. Passing simplifies life considerably for the person who only wishes privacy, and it also reduces the risk of being victimized by persons who cannot tolerate difference in others.

There is also, however, a lighter side to the subject of passing. As both a gender specializing counselor and transgender woman, I have the opportunity to hear as well as experience interesting events involving pass or not passing. As a full-time counselor with a primary focus on gender issues, I am also in the unique position of being able to call myself a "transgender spotter." Without any doubts, I can spot the majority of transgender persons, even several blocks away.

This ability introduces a question. What distinguishable characteristics lead me to believe I have spotted a transgender person? First, my ability to do so is greatly assisted by my location. Like other major cities it easy to spot transgender people occasionally as pedestrians. This is particularly so near my office, where within a 4-block radius at least one dozen transgender men and women either reside or work. Transgender persons who live in areas with high numbers of others with gender issues, should note that this makes them more likely to be noticed. For example, in San Francisco I am noticed all the time because people are more aware of transgender issues, yet while visiting New Orleans or Portland people rarely spot my differences.

A combination of a person's physical characteristics, body language, and clothing all play a key role in passing. I call the embodiment of these elements "presentation." One does not simply get dressed, hoping to pass by play- acting a part, one becomes a transgender man or woman. Whether a person lives in the new gender part or full- time, pulling together an consistent presentation greatly increases chances at passing. Furthermore, a consistent presentation is easier for others to understand.

One of the most common concerns transgender persons in the process of coming out have is the concern that one or several physical characteristics may ruin a person's chances of passing. In many cases this fear is unnecessary, particularly since as the individual focuses on pulling together more and more details their presentation will improve. Generally speaking, people do not walk about looking to see if others have big feet, broad shoulders, or are wearing a wig. Thus, if someone's overall presentation is fairly well pulled together, there is a good chance they may pass and not even realize it.

There are a number of details a person can focus on to increase their passibility. This includes learning the art of proportional dressing. For example, it is commonly known that round-shaped women should avoid wearing mini- skirts. However, what may not be known by a person lacking experience dressing as a woman is that wearing a shorter-length skirt may be possible if paired with a longer-length sweater or blazer. Also, remember that large body features can showcase larger-size jewelry.

The art of building a presentation also takes an emotional commitment, which involves self-examination. Does my clothing match my age, social position, and the occasion? Is it OK to dress differently than other transgender men or women? Are my clothing colors conducive to feeling good about myself? If I am spotted, is it OK for others to notice I am a transgender person? Do I always have to dress as others expect me to? Does my appearance match my gender identification?

Making an emotional commitment to one's presentation is a unique and interesting process. It primarily involves giving yourself permission to be who you are and allowing others the right to their own perceptions and beliefs. As a personal example, a few years ago I was approached by a husband and wife from Venezuela. After providing them with directions the husband complimented me in the kindest of tones by stating that I was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. As a transgender woman, I could have overreacted and became offended. However, understanding that this couple may not have ever encountered a transgender person before, I accepted the compliment graciously and explained that I lived as a member of the opposite gender.

Returning to the subject of transgender spotting, what most frequently leads me to believe I have spotted a transgender man or woman is the body language and energy or chemistry a person emits. At times a transgender person may put forth energies which are a mixture of masculine and feminine. This is OK because we are transgendered. I have also noticed that transgender persons put forth a more subtle energy which reflects their experiences. These energies can best be characterized as empowerment, self-confidence, and an ability to survive. Our bodies become the embodiment of our efforts, and our beauty shows when we give it a chance to blossom.

A relatively new dynamic concerning the ability to pass is choosing to be "out" or not making any significant attempts to hide one's transgender identity. This dynamic has become more evident in locations where larger numbers of transgender people live. These people are making a statement of being proud, strong, and transgendered. They welcome people's curiosity, and do not mind answering questions about their apparent differences from others. The nice thing about this approach is that one no longer has to worry about being found out.

In closing, the experience of passing also has a humorous side. Some years ago I was visiting my physician's office and was treated by a substitute doctor. Without warning, this delightful woman suddenly turned into any transsexual's nightmare. She announced that she was immediately stopping my hormone prescription. I gagged! When I calmly asked why, she stated that my medical chart showed no records of having a gynecological exam. Ha-Ha! Keeping my amusement to myself, I gently asked the physician if she could put the chart down and look at me. After she did so, I explained much to her surprise that I was a transgender woman and that a pap smear wasn't necessary. She laughed, and I did as well, since I had assumed that I rarely pass. The lesson is one we all can learn. Sometimes we pass and sometimes we don't.


GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet's most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine <http://www.tgforum.com/>. Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL <Keyword TCF>. Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author's contact information remains unaltered.

GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry's "Ask Gianna" column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at Gianna@counselsuite.com.


Copyright © 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.