December 5, 2008

Passing

Posted in transgender at 8:34 pm by Michael

It’s not a four letter word.

I thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal. It actually kind of is.

Fitting in turns out to be even more important, and probably the most critical element to passing. What do I mean by fitting in?

The next time you are in a public place – look around. Look for the person – man, woman, doesn’t matter – who is the outlier. In Miami Beach, look for the dude w/the rad chest hair, and the shirt unbuttoned down to his navel. At Microsoft on campus, being overdressed is the exception. Jeans is the official uniform of your average ‘Softie. Even wearing shorts in January won’t get you noticed. In Washington, DC, not being dressed in business clothes (professional suit) will get you noticed.

Over the past year, I’ve learned (slowly) how to dress to not get noticed, no matter the circumstance. I try hard to not stand out with my clothes. Hey, being 6-2 gets me noticed anyway, so the last thing I need is a big frigging beacon over my head.

Now, just a few words on being remembered. One thing that Anh and I have noticed is that the “Mean-time-to-being-remembered” is now 1.5 visits to a given place. (It used to be much higher than that.) At least half the time on our second visit to a restaurant, the staff remembers me and greets us warmly. It’s a good thing we tip well.

Anyway, trying to dress appropriately, and even a little modestly has helped make my transition a smoother one. People have even commented on that. Basically: “If you showed up with tons of makeup, a dress, stockings and high heels this would have been harder.”

What’s the line between being true to yourself and fitting in? Can you do both?

I think you can, and I think that we all do it, all the time.

Every circumstance has its own dress code. Sure, you can go outside the lines, or even push them. I know and have met perfectly well adjusted people who dress well outside of those lines. I’m not suggesting it’s not ok.

What I’m suggesting is that if you are going through a gender transition, attemping to do that, and also not carefully considering the social norms of appearance for your newly presenting gender may just create more challenges that could otherwise be avoided.

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4 Comments »

  1. KarynM said,

    This was a very good blog with some very good points.

    When I went full time at work I think people were assuming that I’d be coming to work donning makeup, flashy jewelry and dresses. In fact in the job that I do, jeans a t-shirt are the required wear. I wear a shop shirt over the top anyway.

    I’ve had people wonder when the changes were going to take affect and to some degree they are referring to clothes. It’s tough to draw a line between mens and womens jeans other than womens jeans fit me better.

    I think what makes people uneasy when they hear about transitions is their preconceived notions of what we will look like. Funny enough they didn’t notice the little changes over 2 years, they are more focused on clothes and cosmetics. By staying in the normal parameters for my job and the people around me I think it has made this a little easier on people, it isn’t so “in your face” but more subtle ..

    ~K~

  2. Samantha said,

    You know, this is exactly the same kind of advice I give to women who are just starting out. “Passing” is so much more than being one’s true gender, it’s about looking like you belong. Having spent decades in tech related professional environments, jeans and a top are the rule of the day, day in, day out. Doesn’t matter what gender you are. Too many people forget that. I’m glad you mentioned it here!

    Rock on Megan!

    Sam

  3. brian said,

    I spent a fair amount of mental energy learning to be okay with not looking like everyone else. It took me awhile to figure out that I had an issue with looking different as much as an issue with gender. That can be tough when you’re a “rules follower” and / or trans. Nobody wants to step outside looking stupid. For me, it was / is very helpful to separate the two.

    After all of my exploring (and therapy sessions!) I am not convinced that a gender presentation that pushes the boundaries isn’t exclusive to from how people want to be viewed. . . to be taken as genuine, credible, and a good person. The problem is, there are very few precedents to acquire “the rules” to learn how to do it.

    I have found that going through the process. . . learning what rules work for me, is closer to “being true to myself” than striving to arrive at some static place in the future – no matter what the subject may be.

    -Brian

  4. Samantha said,

    It’s really funny how when you tell people that your transitioning they immediately think your going to show up one day dressed for a gala ball even if it’s at work or the local restaurant. For me transitioning has been a gradual process having come out a couple of months back to everyone. I did not nor currently dress much differently than I use to with the exception of now wearing woman’s jeans and conservative tops. The real changes thanks to hormones and hair removal have taken place from the neck up. Add a little makeup and I find that I am finally “fitting in” with no undue attention to myself. Why would anyone draw that kind of attention to themselves? (Megan, I like the beacon on your head analogy) Passing to me is very important to me as to any other transsexual. But to be passing requires you to study your environment and notice how others dress of your transitioning gender and follow their same pattern. Just like at Microsoft the women that work as programmers at my corporate IT center usually wears jeans – so I do the same. Also I’ll glad to report that after one year of actual transitioning I have stopped hearing that dreaded “Sir” so what I’m doing seems to be working.


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