Monday, July 03, 2006

if you should chance to pass this way

I got she'd twice in the past two days, but it didn't bother me too much. Both times I just ignored it, even though it was in front of other people. Though now that I think about it, I don't know if I'm more or less likely to say something if pronoun slippage happens in front of others. It's more embarrassing when other folks have to hear it, but it's also a bit harder to say something when there are witnesses around...Some part of me doesn't want to make a scene, or something. Anyway, it wasn't a very big deal in either case- once was from a woman in Human Resources who filed my paperwork when I was hired, and assumed from my name and documents that I was a girl, and once was from a person who hasn't interacted with me since I've transitioned, and so probably isn't quite used to calling me he yet.

The incidents were partly remarkable for the way that they were unexpected and surprising. A new realization came to light- namely, that I haven't been she'd by a stranger in weeks. With my voice dropping and my body masculinizing, I'm being very consistently read as male. Even this weekend, when I was at a friend's house, his parents called me he without question even though they don't have a particularly stellar track record with trans folks, and I wasn't binding very well. I think I'm really being seen as male by the world at large 90% of the time these days.

Which is great! And also leads me to another thought. I'm very deliberately not using the term "passing," although that is the word that enjoys general usage in the trans community...Most guys say that they're "passing" or not, and I've used the term plenty of times myself. Lately, though, it's been rankling me in ways that I'm still trying to unpack.

I think my main issue with it is the connotation of falsehood that it carries with it. It's coming from a historical context where it meant someone who was one thing (black or female) successfully pretending to be something they're not (white or male). That's what gets to me. When I say that I'm not being she'd by strangers anymore, I don't want to say that I'm passing- I'm not fooling anyone. I'm just finally being accurately assessed by people who don't know me.

There's another term that's often used in the trans community that gets to me in somewhat similar ways, and that's when guys who aren't out as trans are described as being "stealth." I have fewer issues with that term, because in some ways it is accurate...There are things about my past which are not typical of most folks who have similar gender presentations, and so my trans history is something that can be thought of as hidden, that I'm being stealthy about.

But I'll never be totally comfortable with that term- it sounds too much like I'm lying to the world, or deliberately being sneaky, rather than just choosing when to talk about my past. It puts the onus on me as being someone who's "hiding" something, who's got a Deep Dark Secret. I used to feel like my gender issues were a deep dark secret, and it wasn't a good feeling. Now that I've addressed them, I don't want to feel like I'm still hiding something.

And it's got too much in common with the uncomfortable part of the terminology of "passing." That is, an assumption that I'm secretly really NOT a guy, I'm only passing as one.

Here we get into slightly trickier territory, of trying to decide what 'is' a guy, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't have an uncomplicated relationship to being a guy. I'm not a typical guy, and I wasn't always a guy. (That last piece being the trickiest...I need to really unpack what it means that I haven't always identified as a girl, particularly in light of issues brought up by the dyke march. I used to call myself a dyke, but was I really a dyke, or was I just pre-trans? What does it mean to be really a dyke, anyway? Was I a guy back then, because I'm a guy now? Am I still partly a dyke now, because I was a dyke back then? Whew! It's like messing with the space-time continuum on Star Trek.)

So in a sense, there is some ring of truth to "passing" in that I'm usually (outside of queer/trans spaces) being read as a 'normal' or non-trans guy, which I'm not. But I am still a guy now, and I want to be acknowledged as a guy, and now that I am being consistently acknowledged as a guy, I don't want to undermine that with language that evokes the historical shame and invalidation pressed onto transfolks.


This brings up a lot more thoughts that we were talking about in group the other day, about disclosure, and when and how to disclose. Also, about being caught in the balance of wanting some privacy, but also being unable to have it. The tension of wanting to be out, be in the vanguard of the gender revolution, and also being exhausted and angry from constantly having to bear the burden of carving out space for oneself. The responsibility one has to one's community or family to be a role model and be helpful, but also being tired of doing Trans 101 all the time. Very interesting situation.


Last but not least, an amusing anecdote- one of my friends was apparently telling one of her friends the other day something about me being underage, but still being able to get into some bars, partly because I act and dress very maturely, and so can get away with joking about my youthful appearance to the bouncer and can sometimes talk my way in. Discussing how this works in queer spaces, the friend who didn't know me said "Oh, so he passes for a tranny boy?"

Clearly, she was thinking about the phenomenon of trans guys often looking a LOT younger than they actually are, and are often given the benefit of the doubt with regards to their age- she must have thought that I was a non-trans guy who just looked youthful and could take advantage of that situation.

Beyond the initial "Ha!" reaction to the irony of that statement, there could be some deeper twists to it...I don't identify as a "tranny boy" first of all. I actually pretty much hate that particular term- to me, it evokes condescension and fetishization. I know, too, that there are plenty of guys who happily and easily use that term (and what I think of as its counterpoint, "boi") to describe themselves. Power to 'em. But I think it's funny that just as there is a model of hegemonic masculinity that I can "pass" as belonging to, there's also starting to be an archetype of FTM that I don't necessarily fit in with any better, and so could also "pass" as belonging to.


Julian's Mom said...

I always had issues with the term "passing" in this context as well, given the negative context in which I am accustomed to hearing it, being a mixed race woman. I'm glad you brought it up, and I agree, you can't "pass" as something you already are.

That being said, in life, we consciously and unconsiously "pass" all the time to make things more comfortable or less awkward for ourselves and others. Like maybe when you don't correct people about your pronoun and regret it later, or when I lie and say this is my first baby and end up feeling like shit for days.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Very pretty site! Keep working. thnx!