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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:

  1. Attractive post-operative transsexuals
  2. Attractive full-time pre-operative transsexuals
  3. Passing (but not conventionally attractive) post-operative transsexuals
  4. Passing (but not conventionally attractive) full-time pre-operative transsexuals
  5. Attractive full-time non-operative transsexuals
  6. Passing full-time non-operative transsexuals
  7. Passing full-time transgendered people
  8. Pre-transition transsexuals
  9. Other non-passing transsexuals
  10. Cross dressers
  11. 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.


5 thoughts on “To Pass or Not To Pass? Is That the Question?”

  1. Thanks for the thoughts, I am sure your experiences are quite common, I have seen that sort of thing all over the place and with many minority groups.

    In my own experience; I have some internalised trouble of a similar nature. I can see other girls in my group being quite jealous/fixated on how cute I am. I wish they wouldn’t recognize me for that, its hard to be humble when I am already vain…We create this caste-like system together!

  2. I knew about some of the layers in this system, but I did not know they were so catty. Too bad. It’s really ironic that those who are instantly discriminated against outside of their circles would discriminate against each other within them. Why can’t we simply be recognized as who we are … human! Sexuality is a continuum. Deal with it.

    As for women in tech … good. But if you are already there, you should modify that to Americans in tech. We are importing way too many people.

  3. I cant say I’ve seen this in action and perhaps I’m part of the problem. When I first started going out as me I tried Trans spaces and found them full of crossdressers or men who wanted to have sex with trans women of various shades – my favourite being the greasy smelly short guy who started a conversation with “I’ve always wanted to go with a she male”. It immediately made me avoid largely trans spaces and although I fully respect whatever choices they make about who they are and what they like, I don’t feel comfortable in Trans spaces other than support groups. Conversations with Crossdressers have confirmed this. So generally I stick tolesbian and women only spaces ad feel really comfortable there. Perhaps I’m just going to the wrong places?

  4. I know how you feel about the Trans Heirachy, I find a little odd to see and experience and feel dissapointed that it occurs [seeing an attractive Transwoman struting up and down Canal Street about 3-4 times looking completely aloof in August at Sparkle 2014 in Manchester U.K]; I’m Transwoman who stopped trying to prove to everyone that I am, I gave the massive amount of makeup and dresses, heels, wigs and full on ‘girl, the world accept me’ after being slammed really hard for it by close friends and I was sick to death of strangers giving crap in the street. I found my own way to be Transwoman I am, I not the most attractive woman, but I like make an effort I feel better that [after looking what works for me, Black Pre op Trans Goth with a fauhawk 🙂 ] I’m looked at instead stared, laughed and insulted constantly for trying too hard to pass.

    I have a old friend who strictly a ‘Woman’ and will not entertain the fact that she is a Post Trans Woman also, shuns all things Trans with a steely passion, to which I say I’m Trans and always will be and I proud of that…her response was [when we have our odd debates of opinion] “that it’s liken to being piegon holded”, which I replied “I’m Black and see all that the black culture is, some of it is not good…I’m not piegon holded by it” which ended the debate and made her think, and I will continue to have that stance because belligerence just doesn’t work.

    I enjoy the small group of friends I have within the Trans community, though small is good and makes for better connections I would love to meet more chilled and like minded Trans Men and Women, we [mates] all know each other and have gone beyond looks and status, we’re are good people I don’t care if they’re CD or Pretty/Non pretty guy or gals, Post or Pre and neither do they, hell we bitch about each other, but that’s because were not perfect and piss each off now and again but were good to each other as whole…which what is lacking in the Trans community, some stick the hierarchy too rigidly instead of just chatting to each other, too judgemental and it’s a shame and could do with changing.

  5. I myself, am pre op mtf full time living as a female, I find i recieve either other t girls just beginning or further in transition to be very complimentary sometimes envious I am passable and considered attractive I pass in the mall on a weekday straight bar w friends if out normally thought of as cis in a gay club where not known I like the compliments but there are also those that are caddy mean two faced I treat all of us w respect regardless our passability we all have the same struggles. For some reason most drag performers have never liked me I have a few friends who perform but I do feel that looking like I do creates jealousy and people to be unfriendly to me. I’m one of the friendliest people I know what also I don’t understand and bothers me is how gay men can be about trans ppl seem ashamed to be “grouped” into a category w us I’ve known since 3 yo my body was wrong I was a teen when Ellen came out that’s the year I came out as gay, only bc my gay friends made fun of the “trannys” I wanted to “fit” somewhere for once so I pushed the real me back more bc of the ” community ” I’m not a gay man pretended but failed when I got so depressed finally that I tried ending my life I said enough running we must love ourselves and each other no matter our differences this journey is hard but worth it and better than the alternative I for once love myself tho losing my immediate family and my life finally began I guess I’m technically 2 years old that’s how long I’ve been full time I’m pre op but post is very near in my future. YOU HAVE ONE LIFE, LIVE IT, LOVE IT, BE HAPPY!!! sorry for the rambling lol.


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