The "Passing" Argument

Passing is a term many in the transgender community have come to debate.  Wikipedia defines passing as "In the context of gender, passing or blending refers to someone, typically either a transgender person or crossdresser, who is perceived as the gender they wish to present as. (For example, a trans woman who is correctly gendered by a store employee who calls her "ma'am".)".

A huffington post article states: "Passing refers to a transgender person’s ability to be correctly perceived as the gender they identify as and beyond that, to not be perceived as transgender.  You’ll frequently hear conversations around “passing privilege” and there’s a good reason for that. Trans people who aren’t perceived as being transgender experience significantly less harassment than trans people who are visibly trans."

There is a history in this that many people don't know for the transgender community.  Up until 3-4 years ago (less/more depending on state legislature), as a precursor for going on hormone replacement therapy, you were required to dress/appear as the "gender you are changing to" (notice the quotes, and not something I agree with AT ALL) for a minimum of one year.  This is the very reason that the bathroom bills exploded - transgendered persons, especially trans-women who wanted to pursue HRT were made to create the very moniker of our disdain because of outdated requirements from the 1960s and 70s.  I was fortunate to transition medically recently where this was no longer a requirement.  

There were even several varying movies and series that indirectly highlighted passing privilege and status.  All of them being white/caucasian persons.  

Boy Meets Girl (Movie)

Jazz Jennings "I am Jazz"

The Danish Girl (Movie)

It of course comes as no surprise that hollywood and the media push the passing agenda expectation on.  The split between identifying the stereotypical "scary trans woman" from Lost in Transition who decides to embrace her true self later in life destroys her marriage and is divorced, while those who society allowed to evolve into more cis-appearing females like Jazz Jennings and the female protagonist in Boy Meets Girl experience at the very least less amounts of harassment or suffering and are rewarded with status.

So, we have a current model that rewards trans-persons for appearing cisgender and punishes those who don't with humiliation, exclusion and harassment.  This is predominantly pushed by our culture and society's media and higher elite (mostly of course being white/caucasian themselves).  This part however is more obvious than the next series of problems that arise.


This has brought up within the trans-community however an additional challenge that I feel creates a disparaging split within the community itself.  This has been expressed in the movement of validity - most often stated that "you are all valid".  It is an effort to stymie the intense pressure that the cisgender world (and its influence) inflicts on the trans-community for the need to pass (and maintain their non-acceptance in mainstream culture). 


This is not a new tactic.  It has been used on marginalized communities for ages.  If you can convince a marginalized community that there are haves and have-nots, it will create despair and division within that community. It is the model of feudalism which is our evolved American capitalism model.  The rich live in their castles and the peasants work the land.  Now, the rich live in their corporate skyscrapers and the retail workers work minimum wage.  The only difference is now we don't have people in carts being shuttled from the black plague.


The transgender community now has a split, (most commonly discussed and visible within the trans-female population) with a pass and non-passing variant.  The validity movement (I call it) pushes that all expressions of identity are worthy of acknowledgment.  No argument here.  Yet this movement would not have ever been necessary without the external pressure of "needing" to pass (and byproduct therefore be accepted).  What's even worse though, is that it has created alienation of both aspects - perhaps the goal of our oppressors in the media and TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) - that those who don't appear typically cis-gender feminine/masculine (etc.) are despised by those who either can't do this or choose not to because they don't resonate with it.  The validity movement then -in my opinion- is a broken band-aid to be replaced and slapped back again and again on as our community continues to bleed from this ignorant demand upon us.

What I caution most however in my short span in activism and being a part of my community here in Iowa, is that we do not allow the process of this demand to create an engine of conflict between us.  Those who are the most vulnerable and oppressed can be put into a mindset of "I have nothing else to lose" and fight back and indirectly inflict harm against other members of their community.  This further perpetuates the very division and status of being marginalized.  It then becomes the responsibility even more so of those who have the ability to operate within the "norms of society" - essentially stepping into an archetype of a role of the very issue presented to use that power, that very privilege to alter the system for everyone's benefit.  This personally comes to me with the "OMG you're trans?!" situation discussed here.

In a place and time where our community has been targeted for discrimination, loss of rights, employment challenges, pain and humiliation - it is critical that we do not allow the oppressors to gain more footing.  To me - it makes more sense to use the abilities of influence we have to change things then to tear one another down and create more strife.  

This however requires trust.  Trust from our allies, those leaders we do have in various arenas of life and our networks of social justice.  I trust it is possible to go forward.  Let's do it.

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