Maddie at xoros.net recently wrote a post, Passing Fallacy, on the idea of passing. That is, being perceived as the gender you are presenting as, rather than your assigned-at-birth gender. I really like where she takes her definition, though:
[passing] is a struggle to over ride what others impose and imprint on you in order to win the right to assert one’s self image, one’s self. It’s trying to win the right not to be made to feel like a failure, an othered, degendered oddity. It is trying to be “convincing” enough (read – meet enough of their stereotypes) that people are prepared to accept what you say. Rather than just listening to what you say.
That idea, of passing being an issue of whose reality ‘wins,’ is the main reason I try to say “perceived as a woman” rather than “passing as a woman.” Because it turns around passing and makes it about what it really is: a problem created by the gaze-er, not the gaze-ee.
I thought you all might enjoy a few clips from my recent solo performance, Trans Form. This is two pieces, from separate parts of the show, that deal with The Little Mermaid and the idea of Ariel passing.
A lot of the material from this video came from this post. I’m still working on getting the rest of the video in some semblance of order… Would people be interested in seeing the whole thing (I’d need to break it up) or is a ‘best of’ clip video acceptable?
I think also some of my mixed feelings [on passing] are to do with how I dislike the idea of passing politically. It is so loaded with ideas of deceit and dishonesty. I would far rather consider the time I spent appearing to be male as passing – as I was indeed then seeming to be something I was not.
I really like that as a concept, and I’m not sure it’s something I’ve heard expressed before so clearly. I don’t have any further thoughts right now, although I’d like to expand upon this idea at some point in the future. I just wanted to highlight the comment, for those who may have missed it.
I hate it, every single time. Name, sorted. Then… clunk. Sex – M or F. Sod.
It seems like an easy question, right? For most people it is. For me, it should be an easy question. I live and identify unequivocally as female. I’m not a genderqueer person for whom the very either/or question is wrong. So why the rising sense of panic?
The problem is this, my birth certificate says I am male, my gender presentation is female. They do not match. Until I can afford expensive genital surgery, I cannot change the marker on my birth certificate. No matter what I put, in a cissexist world, I am situated as a liar.
Now imagine what you do in a Customs line when you enter a country. Imagine you’ve heard from acquaintances who’ve been turned away by the US, or that worst-case-scenario lurking at the back of your head about Homeland Security issuing a memo about “cross-dressed terrorists.” What do you put then? What do you wear then? How do you present?
Imagine how vulnerable you feel. Driving (what if a cop pulls me over). At the bank (what if they think I’m trying to scam my own money). At the doctors. At school. At work. At anywhere they want a piece of ID, anywhere they want you to tick a box that divides humanity into two. Anywhere they want you to fill out a form. Confess, little tranny girl, confess. Tell them what in their minds what you “really” are. Or else. And they’ll get you anyway.
I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing all week, because I’m flying to DC tonight, and Queen Emily’s post sort of sums up what I’ve been worrying about. And, unfortunately, I would say it’s not entirely unreasonable that I’m stressed.
I linked to some information at Lynn Conway’s page in a recent comment and wanted to take a moment to talk about her site. She’s in the EE/CS department at University of Michigan and has gathered a lot of information in an effort to “illuminate and normalize the issues of gender identity and the processes of gender transition.” I have no doubts about her good intentions, and she has succeeded in compiling a very useful resource that comes up on Google when searching for a number of trans-related topics.
But… (and you knew there had to be a ‘but’ coming…)
Some random thoughts for this beautiful Sunday evening…
First, I was at the beach today for a friend’s picnic birthday party and, when nature called, went to the disgusting port-a-pottys. The Surgery has been occupying my mind lately but, all sorts of deep and philosophical body-image and personhood discussion aside, peeing standing up rocks. Those port-a-pottys were absolutely inhuman in their filth and I could barely manage to stand in them for the thirty seconds it took to pee. Had I needed to sit down, I would have held it (like the cis girl who did try to use ’em and instantly gave up upon opening the door).
Second, I had another round of laser on my legs this weekend (and need to go back because they only booked me for an hour when I said it would take an hour and a half…grrrrr…). The woman performing the laser, who I’ve known since I started going to this place four or five years ago, is really nice and we were chatting about this and that. She obviously knows I’m trans, since I’ve been going there since before I started transitioning, and has been really sweet about it. Well, yesterday she also had someone in training in the room, and we were all chatting. One of the two women was complimenting me on my skin, and I said something about how estrogen helps it. The woman-in-training said, “Oh, are you on birth control?” Score one for passing! (I said, very simply, “No, I’m trans and am on lots of hormones,” and she responded, “Oh, ok.”)
So, as I mentioned, I was groped at a work event last weekend by someone, D, who was volunteering (and sometimes worked for us). I talked about it with my coworkers and my bosses, all of whom agreed it was super-creepy, totally unacceptable, and needed some sort of response from the organization.
Well, today the special events director, RW called the guy who did it. She started the conversation something along the lines of, “So I wanted to discuss the…incident…that happened this past weekend at the benefit. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
At that point, D responded, “Wait, are you joking? You mean when I grabbed [male name]’s fake boob?”
…that rehearsal can be going really well (we got out super-early tonight because our run was so successful), the show (well, the process) was written up really positively in Time Out Chicagoand The Reader’s theatre blog, but two kids – at least ten years younger than I am – giving me a funny look and then glancing at each other with knowing eyes can totaly deflate me and remove all that positive energy?
(Circus Sidenote: the show was good, but I was a little disapointed. I only learned later that it was intentionally acrobatic- and clown-focused, which is awesome, but I feel a little spoiled working at a circus organization. Cirque’s performers were undeniably top-notch, but I sort of feel like the difference between a very good aerialist and an amazing aerialist is larger than the difference between a very good juggler and an amazing juggler (or magician or contortionist). I did, inevitably, see one thing – a crazy trapeze acrobatics act – that I’d love to try with a mechanized winch and a gooood safety harness.)
On the El ride back up north (the long El ride back up north; gods is the United Center public-transit-inaccessible) I ended up being the last person from the group on the train with two of the facilitators. As I’ve said before, I like them a lot, so was kind of interested to see how they behaved in a more informal setting, as by that point we were all too tired to really be in ‘groupleader/groupmember’ mentalities. Likewise, as I’m one of the older memebrs of the group so sometimes feel more alligned with the facilitators than the other group members anyway.
So we were sitting and chatting, and T started talking to V about how someone at the last station had come up to her and someone else and said to the other woman, “You look fine,” but then turned to T and said, “Man, why you dress that way?” T continued, talking about how shit like that really hurts her confidence and makes her doubt herself. Now I’ve been very jealous of how both T and V look and how they hold and carry themselves, so it was interesting to hear someone I look up to express such worry over what other people are thinking of themselves. I think in some ways it was good, in that it made her seem more approachable and understandable, but in another way it was disapointing to see anyway – especially someone I’m looking up to – brough down like that.