To Pass or Not To Pass? Is That the Question?
For years I’ve avoided trans spaces because transfolk are often so hung up on the passing issue. You’ve probably noticed this, but it’s not uncommon for hierarchies to be established based on appearance and the perceived “seriousness” of the trans person. For example, in a large trans support group, I’ve observed that the hierarchy usually goes something like this:
- Attractive post-operative transsexuals
- Attractive full-time pre-operative transsexuals
- Passing (but not conventionally attractive) post-operative transsexuals
- Passing (but not conventionally attractive) full-time pre-operative transsexuals
- Attractive full-time non-operative transsexuals
- Passing full-time non-operative transsexuals
- Passing full-time transgendered people
- Pre-transition transsexuals
- Other non-passing transsexuals
- Cross dressers
- Fetishist cross dressers
In a lot of situations it’s almost like a caste system. You’re not allowed to associate with people who are significantly lower in the hierarchy than you, and this is enforced with a penalty of social ostracism. I used to be mocked for hanging out with my friends who were cross dressers because… well, I dunno, maybe because it would rub off on me and I would get cross dresser cooties or something?
I have always hated these hierarchies, and ignored them as much as I could. I have a hell of a lot more in common with an SM dyke who likes to put on chaps and a leather vest and be called “Jack” than I do with a post-op transsexual woman who does not acknowledge that she is trans.
It’s easy enough to criticize this sort of attitude because most people with a political consciousness about inclusion and marginalization realize how stupid it is. What I’m also noticing, though, is that over the last few months I’m feeling excluded from radical trans spaces because I do place some stock in and build at least part of my identity upon the fact that I’m a woman. A trans woman, yes, no doubt, and that fact is fundamental to who I am. But sometimes I just want to be me, ya know? I don’t want to have to make a political statement with everything I do. I don’t want to have to out myself to every single person I meet in every single situation. Do other dykes have to meet people on the street and say, “hi, I’m Julie, and I’m a lesbian?” Of course not. It’s rough enough to out myslf to other dykes and have them immediately become totally disinterested in me. Why in the world would I subject myself to that if I didn’t feel up to it?
I am an activist. Trans Health is one of my activist forums, but it’s not the only one. I am also a vigorous supporter of queer rights, economic equality, feminist causes, and an advocate for women in technology. I kinda feel like I’ve paid my dues and that I should at least sometimes be given the benefit of the doubt.
I’m interested to hear what Trans Health readers have experienced in these areas. I think the most important thing we can do is get this stuff out in the open so we can learn from it and figure out how to respect the differences in people rather than judging and excluding them for them.