Just to be super clear: if you are gender queer or “don’t pass” there is nothing wrong with you. Being “binary” is not the ultimately goal for everyone and nor should it be. The idea that everyone should fit into some pre-conceived idea of gendered social norms based on looks is absolute rubbish.
Passing/ Being accepted.
What is passing, what is being accepted?
For many transgender people (but not all) the ultimate goal is to “pass” 95-100% of the time as a binary male/ female gender. Passing is having no one be able to “tell” you are transgender. Being accepted is something completely different. Here you either pass at a glance or on first meeting but (some/ most) people can “tell” but they accept you anyway as your gender. When people think of being transgender they mainly think “not passable man in a dress” BUT this is not true. Loads of transgender people “pass” extremely well.
So “being accepted” and “passing” are two different things. AND it’s not something everyone wants or can relate too. Everyone wants to be accepted for the gender they are BUT that may not be a binary. It could be gender queer, queer, binary female/ male, androgenous….. whatever. And that is ok. Being accepted and respected for who you want to be is your ultimate goal. But that is not what this post is about. This is mainly about gender binary male/ female.
For transgender people who care about becoming part of the main stream gender binary and presenting 100% female (for MtF) whether they “pass” or are “accepted” is extremely important. Some people “pass” and some people don’t. The question ‘Are you “passable” or are you “accepted” must be talked about with a partner. If your partner will never pass how would that make you feel?
But let’s go back to some basics…..
First of all passing as a female is not about acting. It is not about wearing frilly dresses and never jeans. It is about a combination of factors all inter-playing to give you 100% social acceptance and passability. 50% of it is about what you wear or how you look and the other 50% is about your personality, voice etc. It is different for everybody and there is not one answer. The older you are the less likely you will be able to pass well. But it is not impossible. Don’t give up!
Let’s look at what is means to “pass” , “be accepted” and “not passing…. ever”.
*I’m passable…. 95-100% of people don’t know I am trans. There is no mean mocking in subtle undertones on public transport, there is no “oh you look really good (for someone dressed up as a woman)”, no faux and strained expression, no confusion and correction between gender. Almost no one can tell and no one would suspect. People would be surprised to learn about your past. This….. this is what most people aim for. This a big question when starting transition: “Will I make it?… will I be passable?”
*I’m accepted means that people “don’t judge”. If people can tell they may choose to acknowledge you are “different” and treat you like that (or they may not). They don’t treat you like the “old” you… they treat you like “you”…. the non passable you…the one with the deep male voice… or the bad clothing… or the one they have known since high-school no matter how “passable you are”…the one who “isn’t quite right”. It can subtle. Strange looks, a mis-gendered slip here and there. Perhaps slight social exclusion with people unfamiliar. The occasional odd question. The subtle “weirded out” look from someone when you first meet them.
*Not passing ever. This is hard. Harder than anyone could ever acknowledge. Mis-gendered, “man in a dress”, bad voice, no social cues or awareness. Worst case scenario for some.
Think about the above (broad) categories. If you were out with your partner where would you want your partner to be? If your partner is not passable or you do not live in an accepting area you (and your children) may be subjected to any sort of unfair and uncalled for ridiculing that your partner is subjected to. Stares, name calling, and people assuming that you two are not going out with each other. Or perhaps other people won’t care and they will be understanding. Very few people in the general public openly heckle trans people. It is more subtle than that. Perhaps you don’t care and you will always want to be with your partner no matter what.
BUT would you personally be embarrassed to be with someone who doesn’t pass? You may not care, BUT do you care that society may care? Think about it honestly. Can you handle a stare almost every time you go out?
Not all partners care about passability. They realise that all there is to do is to try, but that’s it. They can’t move town, don’t have money for surgery, they can’t get younger and look “more passable” but they can “get on with life and try and be happy” no matter what. Here is acceptance. This is not “passing”. There is nothing wrong with it so long as you are OK and HAPPY with this. As long as you are both happy with this. If your partner will feel bad about not passing and will get depressed and consider it a failed transition. BIG FLAGS. No matter how much you love your partner if they are not happy with their passibility, are depressed after transition and will not do something about it then you can not make them happy.
That being said: Passing 100% will not necessarily make your partner happy either. There is a thing called “post transition blues”. You put all this energy into transition, you pass you go out, no one knows… at work… socially, no one can “tell”. You are someone who unquestionably fits into the “woman” category”. Then after all this anticipation and making it work you just have to live life as a woman. And if you have not put in the social structures whilst transitioning it can be hard to adjust.
For some people a successful transition is all about whether you pass or not. Age and good genetics can make a break a transition and there is not really much you can do about that.
So what can you do about it as a partner? Be honest. If your partner needs to dress better, lose weight, wear more/ less make-up, stop talking about cars, voice, electrolysis, annoying male social mannerisms…. whatever it is. But being a female shouldn’t be an act. It should be a reflection of the female self.
I would like to give some examples about what passing is so you have an idea……
Example A) Let’s start with my partner. She is tall (6ft) but still wears heels. She wears dresses and nice stuff and conforms to the gender binary. Her skin is a bit bad cos she needs to finish electrolysis. But has been genetically blessed with great hair, has a good voice, good female social mannerisms and surgery. She “passes”. And we pass as a couple. (And yes I understand I could be bias in her passibility but she has tried to pass as her old self to close bank accounts and stuff and it doesn’t work). She will never pass for a man again.
Example B) A woman who passes extremely well who went for the “butch dyke look”. She does not conform to the medical binary idea of trans MtF and had a hard time convincing Drs she was trans because she wanted to wear jeans and have short hair and keep working in her male dominated profession. Why did it work for her? Voice (great voice), good feminine social mannerisms (not stupid ‘boy jokes’, jock mannerisms, blokey bloke attitude) very straight up and down. Serious. Suited her personality. She naturally had a good body type (bigger bottom).
Example c) Older woman (70+) who has not transitioned properly because of her wife. She does not pass because of her age, height…. a whole bunch of reasons. Her wife does not want the social embarrassment of having a partner who does not “pass” and has asked for this side to be kept hidden. It is not normal or acceptable in their social circle although close friends are accepting and she is welcome there.
Example D) Again, older couple. Partner has had SRS, socially female but does not pass physically. They live in small country town where people are bigoted but accepting. The couple love each other more than anything and want to stay together. They hand out a lot together and do quiet things (fishing, hiking, gardening).
Example E) A couple I haven’t seen in a long time but partner was in mid transition. They had children and the partner was living a split life male for work and some social situations/ female at other time. Not passing because of the duality but completely accepted in the wider social community when “she” went out. The wife was completely accepting and they were working towards full passibility. Were recognised socially as a couple. Why will it work? Wife “looks” lesbian (yes, how you look will affect your partner’s ability to pass!!!), partner blessed with good genetics, not overly “male” mannerisms and attitudes to begin with. Excellent self awareness. Good communication as a couple.
Example F) Partner transitioned and mostly passable. BUT this is couple that had been in the media so people knew. The media attention meant that the couple could never “move on” and the partner was always going to be “transgender” no matter whether she passed or not. Wife had a very difficult time and didn’t care how her partner looked. She just wanted her partner to be happy and the partner never was. Often they were not treated as a couple socially.