‘Passing’ it is a term I see almost daily on the internet. On Facebook groups, questions of ‘do I pass?’ appear every day and each day I see the same posts calling for the ‘do I pass’ posts to be banned. I don’t think there is a lot inherently wrong with asking if you pass, the thing I have issue with is the idea of passing. Today I want to talk about what the term means, why it is damaging, and what can be done.
I asked the question. I put photos of myself online and asked, ‘do I pass?’ I waited for tips, for advice, but mostly got compliments as I was lucky enough to ‘pass’ quite well as male pre-T. I was and still am in a very privileged position.
The idea of ‘passing’ means that you are seen as your correct gender by society. For a trans man this may mean being seen as a male, with no question, and a trans woman as a female with no question. Where this becomes more patchy is non-binary circles. I have had numerous discussions about passing with non-binary persons, and it has been said many times that we are not in a position to be able to ‘pass’ with the current society.
I present predominantly masculine which means that down to my looks I ‘pass’ as male. However as someone who identifies as non-binary, I am misgendered daily by society as, at present, the likelihood someone will look at me and assume my pronouns are ‘they’ are next to none. The society we live in is incredibly binary and therefore people try to judge you the moment they see you to decide what gender you are. They try to fit you in a box of either male or female and if they can’t, they get confused. It is a horrible situation to be in, especially as someone outside of the binary.
Passing privilege is something that exists very strongly in trans circles. This applies predominantly to trans men, as society finds it a lot easier to assume someone with slightly femme features that presents masculine is male, whereas someone with masculine features to them, regardless of presentation, is clearly male too (which we know to be absolutely false). As a non-binary person, it is debatable as to whether passing privilege exists. I have heard both sides of the argument, myself I believe I have passing privilege because I am okay with being seen as male most of the time, it is something I have resigned myself to knowing will be the case for my life unless society radically changes. However, a lot of people argue (and I understand and agree with this) that as non-binary people we will never have passing privilege and this is something we have to understand as do others around us.
‘Passing’ is a damaging term on its own, assuming that people have to look a certain way to be read a certain way is very problematic. The ideas of masculinity and femininity are so deeply rooted in society that it is hard sometimes to distance ourselves from it. I believe it is common knowledge now that wearing pink does not make someone any less of a man, and wearing jeans over dresses doesn’t make anyone any less of a woman, yet jokes are still made, men are still unable to wear dresses in society without someone taking a crack at their manhood, nail polish is forbidden. Women can’t chose to never wear dresses without someone saying they are butch, that they aren’t ‘woman enough’. It is atrocious. If this feels bad for cis people, imagine it for a trans or non-binary person.
The most important thing I think is to make sure we don’t uphold these horrible standards of assuming someone has to look or act a certain way to be a certain thing. Just because a trans guy is gay, and very camp, doesn’t make him any less of a guy, just because a trans woman is a lesbian and identifies as butch, doesn’t make her any less of a woman. Our presentation has little to do with our gender identity, and everyone needs to remember that. A non-binary person is no less non-binary if they present as anything other than androgynous, they are not suddenly ‘making up their mind’.
As trans and non-binary people we are criticised daily for wanting to be ourselves, don’t add to this horrible stigma by forcing us to act a certain way – we’ve largely done that for years.
I hope this post has been a good read, and hopefully educational for some. I have really been enjoying writing my posts for this months A-Z Challenge, thank you to everyone who has been reading, I hope you’ll continue for the next week and a bit and hopefully keep reading past that! See you soon!