This month, I’d like to talk about the subject of passing. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, passing refers to convincing the people around you that you were born as the gender you are presenting. The opposite of passing is to be clocked, meaning that someone has figured out your ‘secret.’ For many crossdressers the concern of ‘not being passable’ is the primary reason they do not express their feminine side in public. Important Note: In this post I will be speaking specifically to crossdressers. While the subject of passing is relevant to trans women as well as trans men, I have not lived that experience. As such, I cannot presume to understand the subject from the perspective of living full-time or while dealing with dysphoria.
Okay, let us now get back to the subject of a narcissist named Julie. If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll likely know that I get out pretty regularly — once or twice a month — and I go to a lot of mainstream places; shopping, restaurants, museums, live music, plays, burlesque shows, giant art and music festivals, frequently take public transportation (CTA) and I’ve even flown pretty, although just once. Now, some of you might be thinking, “Look at her! She’s totally passable — if I was that passable, I would be doing all that mainstream stuff too.”
First of all, thank you for the passable compliment — every compliment is nice, but that one in particular makes my heart soar. However, let me assure you that I am nowhere near passable. How do I know? I know because I’ve asked people — “When did you first figure it out?” Invariably the answer is: Immediately! Some of you might be disheartened by this fact — “If she’s not passable, then what hope do I have?” However, I see it completely differently. Think about what this says about every person I’ve interacted with — a couple hundred in conversation and probably thousands in passing on the street. All of these people have known, or suspected, that I was Assigned Male At Birth (AMAB). In spite of that, all have been completely accepting, regardless of my obvious and maybe incongruent presentation as female; no pointing and laughing, no calling out ‘hey dude, where’d ya get that dress.’ Everyone I’ve interacted with has been at the very least polite. But, more often than not, people are rather interested and frequently excited to meet Julie — actually she is quite a bit more popular than the older, balding and rather boring looking guy that usually walks the streets of Chicago.
Before we get too far into this celebration of trans acceptance, let me backup a bit and tell you that this mindset of assuming I do not pass is actually what got me out the door my first time out and is the foundation of my confidence every time since. If I worried about being passable and perpetually wondering if this person or that person was clocking me, I would be a total wreck and would not enjoy even a single minute of my Julie time. Since I assume they already know — which is not far from the truth — I am free to go about my business of just being me out in the world enjoying life. Here’s the funny part — by assuming I don’t pass, I actually become more passable. The reason is that it allows me to be more comfortable in my own skin and just be a friendly engaging person. People like that and generally react poorly to a person that seems overly nervous (what sort of no good are they up to?) Now, I’m not saying I’m never nervous — my first time out I was a total wreck. But, knowing that people were seeing a crossdresser (or more likely a trans woman) and still not reacting with scorn, has made everything so much easier.
Of course, there’s a very important detail that must not be overlooked. I might be able to convince you that others will be, for the most part, accepting. However, this knowledge will not help you, if you yourself are not self-accepting. I think that at our core, this lack of self-acceptance is the fundamental reason we put so much emphasis on passing — if I don’t pass, then I’ll have to experience the shame of people seeing me as a crossdresser. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this is likely why it took me so long to go out for the first time, not until I was 47. To be able to get out there and truly enjoy our feminine side, we must turn that narrative around. Say it with me: “I am proud to be a crossdresser, so it doesn’t matter if I pass.” Do you see the difference? This is the power of self-acceptance. Also, in the rare occasion that we might run into an immature asshat, this mantra will be your armor — the inner confidence that will allow you to stay silent as you look such a person in the eye until they realize that your pride is so much stronger than their cowardice.
If you’re now thinking about going out for the first time, here’s a little bit of Julie advice:
- First and foremost, don’t lurk in the shadows. I know that walking around the neighborhood, late at night, when nobody’s around, seems like a good and convenient plan. But, it’s actually just unsafe for you and if anyone does see you, it gives the impression that crossdressers are just creepy dudes hiding in the bushes. A late night drive is certainly a thrill, but it doesn’t really get us any closer to the goal of learning to interact with other people. And no, stopping for gas at 2 a.m. doesn’t count as interacting with people.
- For your first time, I suggest you go to a trans friendly venue. Maybe a trans support group meeting, a CD meetup at a bar or maybe just a gay club, preferably one that has drag shows. You’ll be in an open public place (much safer and less creepy) and you’ll be more confident that the people around you will be accepting. This will be very important for your first time out — to have a positive experience that will build the confidence you will need for future outings. If you don’t know where to go, ask around on this or other trans/CD focused sites.
- Keep those skirts long and necklines high. Yes, try to be sexy (or not), but keep it respectable. Unless you’re at a rather specific late night club, you probably want to error away from the side of the hooker look. You’re already exotic, so there’s no need to go over the top.
- Start with an evening event. I know I said don’t be lurking in the shadows, but it cannot be denied that a little darkness will make you feel less exposed. Also, you’ll likely be over dressed for the daytime, where jeans, sweatshirts and flip flops dominate over skirts and heels.
- If you’re determined to go shopping at the mall for your first time out, the best time is the early hours of a weekday. Lots of families on the weekends and you probably want to avoid the 3-6 p.m. hours on a weekday when groups of teenagers are hanging around. Sales associates are among the most accepting folks around, but they are the most accepting during the doldrum weekday hours.
- Find a more experienced CD to go with you. Definitely a confidence booster to have that support. But, just remember that not everyone is G-rated. Some girls like to mix it up, if you know what I mean. If you’re not into that and they are, that doesn’t mean you cannot hang out. Before you meet in person you should make your intentions clear with a simple private message. Something like: ‘Hey, we’re all G-rated, right?’ It’s not rude and is actually rather common. In fact, the other person with likely be relieved that you said it first. In the end, this simple message will save everyone any unnecessary embarrassment. If possible, I also advise having an in drab meeting (in public of course) before meeting in girly mode. This is not essential, but it will make you more comfortable when you get to the big night. The in drab dynamic between CDs is actually distinct from hanging out en femme — it’s not better or worse, it’s just different.
- Feel free to get a hotel room for changing. This kinda freaked me out at first, but hotel workers like cab/Uber drivers have seen it all and won’t even bat an eye. Personally, I like this more relaxed atmosphere for getting my Julie on. I know that some girls change and do their makeup in the car and that’s fine. Certainly there is a financial trade-off, but if the hold up is being harassed by the hotel staff, that concern is completely unfounded. In fact, such behavior is just asking for a lawsuit, which hotels definitely want to avoid.
- Don’t drink and drive. Aside from the obvious danger of killing someone, the last thing you want is to be in lockup in a dress. Ubers are cheap and as I said, they’ve seen it all. Just be prepared for the driver to drive right past you cuz their looking for a guy named ******. Okay, maybe the one occasion where I’m passable, at least from a distance. Of course, that ends as soon as I get in the car and start talking in my guy voice. “Yes, this is ******, but tonight it’s Julie.”
- Oh yeah, that reminds me. Forget about that girl voice thing. If you can do it easily, fine. But, for me, I figure why waste energy on trying to get my voice right — I have much better things to put my mind to, like “why does this drag club have so few mirrors?”
- Bathrooms? If you’re in an LGBT friendly venue, then there’s no wrong answer. If you’re in a mainstream place try to find a gender neutral bathroom, first and if that fails go with your heart. What you should not do is piss yourself. You have dignity and have the right to relieve yourself. With all the media discussion on this subject, I’ve never had any pushback about using the ladies room. In fact, the publicity has likely made more people who would normally sit on the sidelines become advocates and welcome you in any bathroom you choose. If you feel uncomfortable, as I did initially, just make a beeline to the privacy a stall. Eventually, you’ll get comfortable enough to do some makeup retouches. It takes time to build that confidence, so don’t beat yourself up for getting out of their without washing your hands.
- Finally, don’t forget to smile and have fun — people love to talk to and hang out with people who are having fun. You’re out in the world expressing your femininity because it makes you happy and if you’re like me has been a lifelong dream. And, never forget that being exactly who you are hurts no one and deserves respect from everyone. It couldn’t be any simpler than that.