Ask Matt: Correcting Pronouns on Someone Else’s Behalf
September 19, 2013
Creating a world without fear
September 23, 2013

On “Passing” As A Woman

Right up front I will tell you that I cringe when I hear passing as a woman in relation to a trans woman. What this really means is passing as a cisgender woman. A real woman, right?

We see this all of the time in trans* related support forums where trans* women give advice to other trans* women on how to look like a woman. It is all based on the oppressive sex stereotype of what a woman is supposed to look like.  This is what makes the patriarchy happy. They want all women to meet certain stereotypical criteria which includes how you look, smell, walk, talk, etc.  We should never tell our sisters that they must meet this criteria to be a woman.

Even though you may think you are trying to help this person you may actually be causing damage to them. For instance, there are some trans* women who have physical male characteristics that will never allow them to meet the passing criteria.  I am one of those women. If I had listened to a lot of advice from trans* women on being a woman, I am not sure where I would be today. It is difficult enough to come out and try to be who you are than to have all these other requirements put on you. This can cause some trans* women who are not out yet to never come out thinking there is no way they could pass. And we all know what that could lead to. We are painfully aware of the attempted suicide statistics in our community.

A woman is a woman who makes her own choices on how she wants to look, dress, smell or anything else that has to do with her own body. If she wants to follow the stereotypical concept of being a woman, she should be free to do so.

What we need to do is this. With the help of our allies, educate the public on what being trans* means and to make transphobia and transmisogyny as unacceptable as being racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. We need serious help from feminists and womanist groups to make this happen. One group of feminists have done just that and I must share this.  Feminists Fighting Transphobia has written an article about feminism being trans*-inclusive. This was in response to the comical The TERF Empire Declares War Against Trans People where an organization that doesn’t really exist wrote a letter telling trans* women how icky they are and had a small number of supposed feminists and academics sign it.  The Feminists Fighting Transphobia article has received close to 700 signatures and is still growing. They can barely keep up with the new signatures.

We need our cis allies to call out transphobia and transmisogyny when they see it, contact media outlets for the same and also to listen to us when we are talking about our own experiences. To those allies who are doing this now, thank you. Thank you THANK YOU!

And to trans* support groups, please think before you help someone transition. Ask them how they feel about themselves and how they want to express themselves.

Also, please take a look at 30 examples of cis privilege minus the one that shames sex workers.

In closing I would like to say I am a woman and i will look and act the way I fucking want to.

Dana Taylor

Plug for new website to stop online abuse
http://stopabuseonline.org/

Current petition to address Ask.FM abuse.

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  • Rachel Richardson

    <3

  • J. D.

    Thank you for writing this. “Passing” is a concept that always felt so wrong to me. Being honest about who we are is what forms the foundation of self-acceptance, self-confidence, and honest relationships with others. None of us choose our sexuality, our sex, our gender, or even what qualities we’re attracted to in other people. These things are just built in to who we are. So having people “pass” and enter into relationships with people who may not have been open to having a relationship with a trans person, ends up creating a lot of bad blood. — And for a community already subject to so much intolerance, violence, and cruelty, this just makes matters worse.

    I support people who are trans, and would gladly be an ally and friend to anyone from the trans community, but “passing” is where I draw the line. As a homosexual, I understand the need to be reserved about certain details of yourself with strangers (for safety reasons), but that sort of thing is never acceptable if one expects to be close to another human being. You literally can’t be close to someone unless you let who you are show, and like it or not, that is part of who you are. We all have circumstances and life experiences that we’re not happy about, but it’s through sharing them with others that our relationships can become deeper and more meaningful. Leaving them out is a sure way never to be judged, but it’s also a sure way never to be known for who we are.

    I really hope that people will stop trying to “pass” — not just for the gender stereotypes and patriarchal reasons you mentioned, but because acceptance can’t happen if you’re not really seen for who you are. I mean, if someone looks at you and thinks they see a cis person and accepts that, what they’re accepting is just an illusion. On the other hand, if they look at you, see a man or woman, and know that you’re trans deep down, when they accept you, they’ll be accepting all of who you are, and not just an appearance. Perhaps when more people take this chance and reach out to people who will love them as they are, we won’t have so many trans people becoming depressed and ending their lives. Everyone deserves to be seen, known, and loved for who they are. But, sometimes, it does take others giving us that chance for it to happen.

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  • Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you writing this post and
    the rest of the site is very good.

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  • Kelly

    I’m a cis feminist and really appreciate this article. I can respect people wanting to “pass” as a stereotypical female because that is their right but people need to understand that femaleness is broad and we don’t all, cis and trans, fit or want to fit gender stereotypes.

  • I am a cis female, never identified as feminist, but never played the roles society assigned to me either. I just want to say that I support you all, I speak up if I hear ignorance, and I see you as being the same as me. I know you face different challenges, but don’t we all? Its not a contest, its not a race to a finish line. Being a woman is hard enough. I openly embrace you as someone who knows and shares the strangely beautiful struggle, comical in its worst moments and solid in the face of weakness, struggle as a female.

    • <3

      • I’m glad you write articles like this, don’t ever stop. I want to know how people feel and what is respect vs what isn’t. I have had personal trauma that makes me sensitive to certain words and things too, I get that. I am so thankful for the women who spoke for me because I never could have done that.

        I am a volunteer full time for a parrot rescue. I work with 2 trans women there. One I could tell, the other I had NO idea until she friended me on FB. I could have been a complete ass if I hadn’t been aware of the issues. I seriously thought of how I could have said something so stupid, like offering a makeover to one or saying “OMG I had no idea!!!!” to the other. I’m just SO SO glad I knew better, thanks to the awareness you and others share. I just never bring it up and treat them like I would any other woman. This thing about passing makes me think of when people would say “she’s a lesbian? but she’s so pretty!” Its the same thing, seems like a compliment to someone who is clueless but its so offensive.

        And I hate putting on make up and doing my hair. I only do that when I need to be professional and I resent it. I do it because I care about making a good impression for the birds I care for, but its a pain. Gives me acne and I feel self-conscious about whether my face matches my neck. Some girls wear this stuff because they like it, but for many of us its because we are afraid that we will look ugly/raggy/non professional/won’t be taken seriously/not look like a woman enough. It sucks!!! I’d never tell another woman what would make her prettier, that includes all women.

        How dare these people blame the victim and try to silence people who are trying to communicate that they’re being hurt. “you’re too sensitive” is something abusive people say. This Lady J is awful, like she only sees other trans people as a reflection of her public personality. “Don’t make me look bad, ladies!” that’s her shitty attitude. That is her lack of confidence, and don’t worry because real people see right through all that!!!!!

    • All women are beautiful unless they are bigots.

  • sabrina lyn

    so true that the world wants us living up to stereotypes, but one thing i always try to tell myself and others is that the ultimate perfection of a person is to be imperfect

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  • Clare Din

    A very well-written article!

  • Oh, Dana, yes. I occasionally check out trans* forums because I long for connection and support from people who might just be able to see me and relate to my experiences, but I don’t stay very long because I invariably find myself defending trans women from other trans women! I always say the same thing: transition to being more and more YOU, whatever that means! Coming out as trans is a coming out to a most authentic part of ourselves that we may have been hiding all our lives, so it hurts so much to see so many women coming out to only to be baraged with with all sorts of outside ideas about how we must look/sound/etc…. and then internalizing them. It adds another layer of despair that’s so not needed…

    It’s subtle body shaming and we need to be doing the opposite of that. I want a community of sisters that can celebrate each other and our bodies no matter what the hell we look like and even if we can’t do that for ourselves…

    There’s so much hatred coming from every which way, and even in places we should belong we have to deal with the subtle hatred of scrutiny and the culture of passing. I went to a trans support group and came away feeling worse than I felt when I went in: I want a discussion about being authentic in the world, about finding our way to a body that reflects us, not passing! (And I didn’t ask for your unsolicited advice on passing, voice training, whatever, thank you very much.) I’m conscious that so many cis women have to deal with others constantly scrutinizing how they look; that how they look is often the first thing that’s commented on; I choose NOT to accept that.

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  • I tell girls all the time, it doesn’t matter whether anyone else thinks you pass or not, it only matters what you think of yourself. Too many girls are worried about what everyone else thinks, when in reality they simply need to have more confidence in themselves. Trans women and GGs come in all shapes and sizes.

    Where ever you go, act like you own the place. This is true whether you’re in the woman’s room, or in a bar, grocery store, in a bikini, etc. Do not be nervous, you have no reason to ever be nervous. You need to act like where ever you are is exactly the place you are supposed to be.

  • Dana looks wonderful… her article is spot on but she really doesn’t have any issues I can see looking typically female. I also checked her FB page. I hate the whole culture of “passing” too yet it can make obstacles more challenging… and I have to say she looks fine to me. Maybe a lot of it is just having confidence and moving forward without excuses to anyone. Anyway, after reading the article I wanted to tell someone what I thought.

    • Those photos were taken by a professional camera and I was wearing makeup and had perfect lighting. I rarely wear makeup and don’t have that awesome camera and light hitting me every day.

      • I used to wear makeup… but these days its eyeliner 95% of the time… lipstick 5% of the time. All the makeup in the world can’t help everyone blend in… my preferred term…. but if you look basically female at some level, nobody sees you anyway… you just are. But you look okay, I don’t schmooze anybody… its cruel… so… be happy,

  • I’ve always hated it when a trans sister would ask me if she “passes.” Not just because I loath the term but also because I am always honest. I would rather bruise someone’s ego than to help induce some false sense of security that may help get them killed.

    Nice job, Dana!

  • Average, or ‘the norm’ is extremely boring to me. Exotic differences or different ways of thinking inspire me. That is the one thing I love about being a trans woman. A cis woman could NEVER be you, nor could offer more in friendship and life experience than a beautiful trans woman. Embrace your differences and the fortunate fact of who you are and where you’ve come. You are special..the third sex. Hold your head high, knowing you are wonderfully different. Celebrate your difference…it’s certain NOTHING to be ashamed of. The ignorant and fearful will challenge anything different, and others will admire and even be drawn to your strength, balls(no pun intended) and beauty. You are strong, beautiful, and desirable both inside and out. Our insecurities are shared by all people, cis or trans…and are similar in life, period. Fat, too tall, big hands/feet, big nose, square jaw, bony face, small boobs, big boobs, skinny legs, small hips, bad hair or lack of it are ALL shared by cis and trans woman. So, let’s stop beating ourselves up unnecessarily and live happy and healthy with what and who we are!

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