Presentation on “Not Passing”

I gave a presentation on Friday at Algonquin College for the Trans Day of Remembrance on “Not Passing.” You can view the slides here.

It was partially inspired by the Not Trans Enough zine, to which I contributednot-trans-enough. If you’re trans and haven’t read it, I recommend it. It covers an issue which gets very little airtime, and that is how not passing and living outside gender norms elicits very different treatment as compared to binary passing trans people.

It was also inspired by all the times that trans people had made it clear to me that passing was the only acceptable outcome. To them, I could only be pre or post surgery. They gave unsolicited advice about my appearance. They talked down about themselves for not passing.

Those interactions always make me feel a little sad. Because what they’re doing is demonstrating that they internalizing the message that surrounds them: that their body isn’t good enough. That only when they cannot be physically distinguished from a cisgender person is their body satisfactory.

And in the way they talk, it’s clear that they think it’s like this for everyone. They don’t seem to think that the problem is the rest of the world, that we’re fine as we look. That it doesn’t invalidate our gender. That we can create our own communities without people who shit on us for our appearance.

It’s particularly sad because for a lot of them, they won’t ever pass. So what’s in their future is a lot of hate over themselves for something that can’t be changed. I understand it though: that’s what the world is telling them in so many ways.

Our bodies are different and it doesn’t make our gender any less real. The steps we do to have our gender recognized and bring personal relief to us can help, but is no magical cure. And a magical cure wouldn’t be for us to all look cis, it would be for people to accept us as we are.

But the message around us is that we are worthless if we don’t end up indistinguishable from a cis person.. We don’t have the space to say “I’m a woman, I look different than a lot of women out there, and that’s okay.”

Passing is a fucked up concept, but I get it. Hell, if I could pass, I would. I’m tired of being misgendered and be invalidated because I don’t. I have a binary identity though, so as cissexist and messed up as “passing” is, it’s at least applicable to my context. Passing doesn’t make sense in every context though, and expectations around it are most toxic for people who aren’t at any end of the gender spectrum. This society, as intolerant as it is of people who cross this spectrum for defying its notions of gender, is especially cruel to those who eschew these gender norms altogether.

In my presentation, I talked about obstacles that non-passing people face and how gender conformity is pushed on us from the outside.

View the slides here. Use the right & down arrow keys to navigate the slides.