Are you pregnant? And other passing questions
Last week I got my second covid jab and the nurse asked if I was pregnant. Not the first time, and probably will not be the last. I said something along the lines of my girlfriend may have something to say about that, then answered no. I was a little surreal, though as the nurse was simply doing her job it was just one of those things. Yet, as a post-op trans woman it was strangely validated, and at no point did I feel the need to out that side of myself during the conversation. This, for me, is a sign of my own passing privilege, and especially now after losing all my hair it had an oddly satisfying ring to it. We all assume that passing is done in the shouts not thrown at us, the partners we attract, and the million and one other things society assumes women or men should do, but it is in these small questions that I think the real passing is done.
There is, of course, a whole other conversation to be had about passing, especially if passing is such a good thing. I want to park that at the door because for me personally it does not matter if passing is an inherently positive or negative concept as it is a deeply personal opinion that changes with every non-cis person you speak to. Failing is not the antonym to passing; rather, passing is a spectrum of reactions that due to the nature of being trans means that non-cis folk are often a lot harder on themselves than wider society. To pass as your chosen gender is to almost glide through the society you live in, but this brings with it a whole host of other assumptions that can be equally positive or negative.
For me passing as female is a weird notion because I see myself as innately female rather than the facsimile of a woman. This is where the language of passing becomes an issue, because it assumes that the person who “passes” is in someway innately trying to pass themselves off as their internal gender without ever truly belonging in that sphere. I am a woman sans trans or assigned malehood is probably my current mindset, not needing to pass to achieve my own personal validation. Being asked questions of periods and pregnancy, or being around women who simply assume you must share those experiences, is for me more about the ease of which I inhabit my womanhood than me “passing” as an approximation of female.
This notion of passing raises the question as to who created the language in the first place. “Real” womanhood is couched in male dominated assumptions — domesticity, passive behaviour, submission, beauty, bottom. Feminists have challenged these assumptions, yet within the trans female vocabulary to pass is to pretty much buy into all of those and more. If you are butch, masculine, eschew female beauty standards and are dominatingly sexual then the argument goes the pitchforks will come for you. Of course this is nonsense, as the vast majority of women would fail such a purity test. When one gets asked how was your last period that is probably more a sign of passing than lipstick and dresses.
That is why I have probably been so circumspect about my hair loss. I made a conscious decision not to chase the hair dragon, folding the whole thing into reforged identity that sees my womanhood bald not somehow lacking. That is my womanhood, the passing so to speak, the self-forged self, confident in my own innateness. I have been mis-gendered a fair few times since my hair went, yet at no point do I feel that it detracts from this woman I am. Did I somehow fail to pass, in some books yes, but ultimately those misgendering were strangers, rushed, and made social assumptions that we all need to tackle. No harm done.
In an ideal world we would all sit down and introspectively challenge our own gender notions. Affirming one’s gender is as much a cis issue as it is for those who explore the gender hinterland. The policing of gender standards, passing for the epitome of said gender, impacts everyone. Ideally, we should all be free to gender express in whatever manner fancies us. Gender police, be it literal or marketing, harms everyone. By using passing language trans folk help mitigate the worst excesses of that gender policing, though at the same time that language can be a prison within which one can feel trapped. I said I was parking the passing genie at the door, but in reality any conversation needs to at least touch on it.
Ultimately because passing is such a personal thing we all find validation in individual and different things. For me it was a question about pregnancy, for others it could be an admiring glance, for others compliments on a manicure. Whether you like the concept of passing it currently an innate part of non-cis, even cis, lives, and to eschew the whole concept takes a radical mindset that I fear I do not yet have. I think the whole “is passing right or wrong” is misplaced, for in the deeply personal world of gender only you can make that judgement for yourself.