WHEN PEOPLE KNOW
HOW WE FOOL OURSELVES
HOW WE HURT OURSELVES
PASSING IS A LONG-TERM TRAP
STEALTH LIVING CAN HELP SHORT-TERM
THE YOUNG LADY WITH CAITLYN JENNER
Below are some patterns I’ve noticed in how people interact with trans people—things they don’t mention to us—that I think help give an indication of when we’re “passing” or not. Let me say at the outset I’m not a fan of trying to pass. If it happens, fine. But the more important element in our lives is being valued for who we really are, which means being who we really are.
I’ve been at this since 1977, SRS in 1981. As a social worker/psychotherapist and just as a person, I’ve worked with/met/talked with countless other trans people for decades in our homes, doctors’ offices, and in public. Stealth for 31 of those years, married to a conservative icon, I’ve “penetrated deep behind enemy lines,” as some put it, and I’ve developed a few thoughts about passing patterns.
The need to BE is strong in us, yet being T-anything is stigmatized, so we try to deal with it and wind up living half in denial. Time and again, I see people who do not pass but who cannot see that, themselves. How can we tell? How can we know? The brief answer is that we can’t and we don’t. People rarely tell us to our face, “You don’t pass,” or “I can see you’re trans-something.” Unless they admit it, outright, it’s interpretation, guesswork, or patterns which are likely not yet obvious to someone with only a decade or two in role. Some of these may not apply, yet others may.
WHEN PEOPLE KNOW
Conscious: A muggle can see we are transgender, transsexual, non-binary, fluid, neutrois, agender or as you are. It’s clear. They almost never actually say and may appear friendly, but this is not passing.
Subconscious: A muggle may not realize it but pick up on signals and respond to them, anyway. People usually don’t like it when they’re in this state. They don’t like not knowing, feeling there’s something they can’t put their finger on. It gives them the feeling something’s wrong or that we’re hiding something. They almost never say and may appear friendly, but this is not passing.
Time and Distance: More time and less distance increase the chance of being read and decrease the likelihood of passing. Being in a crowd is easiest, and “sidewalk passing,” briefly walking by, is easier than when people see us repeatedly at work or in the neighborhood, on a date, or at gatherings, and passing for a day or week is easier than passing for years.
Spotlight: Anything that highlights us can draw the attention, and that’s when things get noticed.
People can usually tell, are highly tuned to sex and gender differences, just as we do easily see the difference between an apple and a tomato. But people can also almost always tell if we don’t want transition discussed and will usually go along with that. NOTE: Sometimes when a trans issue is disclosed, the other may smile and say, “Oh! I had no idea,” but that’s more likely to cover tracks for acting like they didn’t know than to indicate they really didn’t know.
In better cases, years and familiarity help. Caitlyn Jenner brought quite a beautiful young adult lady in a mini-dress by my hangar once, out at the airport. We both fly, and her hangar is near mine. We chatted for a bit. Cait didn’t tell me anything about the other gal. The the other gal was lovely, petite, great hands—possibly some hormonal intersex issue that helped—but I got the impression she was trying to pass, and I didn’t want to set her up for future embarrassments by colluding with that, so within about two seconds, I asked with a smile, “How long have you been in role?” See the end of this article for how that went.
People don’t usually say outright when they’re aware of us as transsexual or transgender, and even though the transgender paradigm tries to conceal that most transgenders don’t want the genitalia of the other sex, they’re growing aware of that, too.
Curiosity as a Phase: People who are “friends” for a few months or a year and then distance. Sure, anyone may feel they’re not into being friends. Doesn’t mean you’re not passing. But this is also something a lot of people will do to satisfy curiosity or show they’re not prejudiced, then distance in time because they really don’t enjoy.
Not Invite You to Things: At times, particularly with a new person, you’re invited to group events, then that fades over time in a way that is not seen with most others. You’re the one left out… You don’t learn of parties until after they happen. People may seem happy to see you, though, so it doesn’t make sense. If you’re not open with yourself, you can’t ask.
Not Set You Up for Dates: It seems to happen that your friends don’t set you up for a date with other people in your circle.
Restricted Engagement: Someone seems interested in you, but doesn’t seem to bring you into his or her broader social group, family, etc. At other times, it may be that something like Christmas they share with you always seems to be separate from the main Christmas they share with others. It can take years for that pattern to be seen.
Inconsistencies: When people seem to respond to things in your life that don’t make sense—avoid you for no reason, or misunderstand things about you, seem to feel you have done some things you didn’t do, terminate a conversation sooner than one would think, ascribe hateful intent where none existed. This can be an indication of gossip that has been withheld.
HOW WE FOOL OURSELVES
We fool ourselves into believing we pass because we have a strong need to exist which creates a bias in our perception of self. We easily perceive many muggles around us don’t want us here, that we’re stigmatized, so many of us will intrapsychically shut down the effects of that pressure and live partially in denial.
We do not see this. Part of denial is not being aware of it, so we may take it as confirmation of passing if someone refers us to the ladies room on asking, mentions we’re a woman, asks about how something was when we were a girl, etc.—and worse, some people, not knowing how they can set us up for future embarrassments, may even be more clear and mention a uterus or period in our regard. These things do not necessarily mean we’re passing.
HOW WE HURT OURSELVES
People usually read us. They know, will learn, or will suspect something they can’t define, depending.
Interacting with cisnatal people as if we, too, are same-as-born tends to discredit us. Later they may hear a trans woman assertion of “I am a woman,” and combine that with an apparent effort to hide a present or biological “inconsistent” sex, and wonder to themselves, in effect, “…she wants me to ignore something I think is real and believe something I think is not real.” The deception, itself, casts doubt on other things we assert.
It takes time to see this, but it’s real, and that brings us to owning our own real sexuality. I’ve made a point of how hiding hurts us all. I’ve listed 7 ways we can hurt ourselves as trans people by not owning our true selves.
Most cisnatal people read us, and when we act cis in front of them, they can usually see that, too. Decades later can come an awakening when long-term denial fades, and we sometimes then see how we’ve embarrassed ourselves without even knowing it, possibly even humiliated ourselves—making our life harder than it needed to be. The lack of emotional strength to own our real self, the fact that we’re transsexual or transgender and that our sexuality is female or male, can complicate an already hard life.
We’re doing this to ourselves.
THE YOUNG LADY WITH CAIT
I’m not identifying the gal; I don’t even know who she was. It wasn’t because she was with Cait that I read her; all persons I’d seen with Cait to date had been cisnatal friends and family.
She was beautiful, so how did I know? I could see it; it was her, same as the apple and tomato above. But to share, I’ll try a few larger points.: (1) She was posturing, tending to hold a pose. When trying to pass, some newer Ts will take a pose that they feel is confirming. (2) Body proportions were slightly indicative of an MtF conversion, legs to torso/head. (3) She wasn’t speaking. When trying to pass, MtF Ts sometimes try not to speak much when the voice is a tell.
To pass better, the gal could have not hung out with Ts… Ugh. Okay. Given that—she was there—should have not tried to be beautiful, not worn a mini-dress to the back lot of an airport—both stand out—not worn a mini-dress at all because her legs/knees were a tell… Okay, not working. Lemme try again. Given being there, shoulda worn jeans: fit the scene. With her (not me) she could get away with no sleeves on a blouse, but just ordinary sneakers, hair should have been a bit of a mess because it was the back lot of an airport. Not postured, given herself something to do that I don’t care about because you don’t want a spotlight if you’re trying to pass, and said something to me in greeting—but her voice would have given her away…
No, wasn’t going to pass with me. Best guise would have been to be in jeans, nobody important, no spotlight, not interested in what Cait and I are discussing, half-gazing at something else, texting to someone.
PASSING IS A LONG-TERM TRAP
We are who we are; modern science is not advanced enough in the area of sex or gender change to modify us enough so we can “pass” successfully, most of the time. We see ourselves from the inside out; other see us from the outside—not even in. Bone structure largely isn’t changed, so body proportions, height, size of limbs, hips…, for MtFs voice usually doesn’t change much; musculature changes somewhat but not enough; trunk size doesn’t change much because of rib cage and abdominal organs…on and on.
Given these things, passing is most successful with decreased exposure, less spotlighting, less time and greater distance. That means if passing is the primary goal, we’re distant and dull, no one of notice—and that’s no way to live life. It leads to alienation, loneliness, dejection, depression, and long-term puts us at risk to suicidality later on.
We sabotage our own life by not embracing ourselves. Like I told her Cait after her book came out that didn’t have her real sexual status in it, how can you wait your life complaining you need to be yourself, switch, then still not be yourself?
STEALTH LIVING CAN HELP SHORT-TERM
The one time where stealth living, or trying to pass, can be helpful is when living in prior role was traumatic. It was for me (see Chapter 4). In such an extreme case it can be helpful to repair the nightmare. To disregard it for a time, to embrace this side of herself that had been hidden for so long, to go immersive, to delve deeply into the new role and shun anything about a prior life can help with the trauma.
If the trans person—acting cisnatal when people know she’s transnatal—socially sets herself up for present or later embarrassments, that could be a serious complicating factor, and if stealth-mode living continued more than 5-10 years in any case, I’d worry.
What is the point of transition? To be ourselves.
I urge people to read two books about stealth living, passing or trying to pass, and what we’re trying to do.
1. My memoir Shadow Life: Aerospace, Love, and Secrets (2016). It’s not like Cait’s book that sells the transgender paradigm. It’s not like Janet Mock’s that has a rosy it’s-all-great view. It’s a much much longer view over decades that shares (1) why a conservative man like Joe would love someone like me, and (2) the way I complicated our marriage and my life by not owning myself. I was so interested it my transsexuality not being an issue, I wouldn’t even go to the police.
2. Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights (Yoshino, 2007). It relates the social evolution of women and minorities including gays as they have sought equality in a marginalizing world. Trans people spend a lot of time covering for stigmata, also. We are our own hidden assault on our own civil rights.