I’m Not Even Going to Try to Pass

I walked into the activist meeting feeling good. I had on my short shorts over tights and my makeup was good. I took my seat next to a stranger, a transwoman.

“Are you in transition?” she asked me. Like, within thirty seconds. I genuinely think this was the first thing she said to me after maybe telling me her name.

“Well, I, uh…” I stammered.

“Have you started hormones yet?”

I stammered some more.

I get it. She was new to the group and excited to see another transfeminine face in the crowd. But goddam is that some personal shit to ask a girl within a minute of meeting her.

I didn’t really answer her in the moment, but let me answer her first question more concretely now: I am “in transition” in the same way that I used to be a baby and one day I’ll be dead.

I am “in transition” in the same way that I used to be a baby and one day I’ll be dead.

Until I got asked questions that assumed I’m not yet where I ought to be, I’d been feeling good about how I looked as I was, right then. I didn’t need to look more like a ciswoman. Who cares about a little bit of beard shadow? Until I save up what I need to get it lasered off, it helps define my jawline and compliments dark makeup well.

Maybe one day I’ll “pass” as a ciswoman. I doubt it. That can’t be my goal. That goal would destroy me.

Society doesn’t care if I pass, I don’t think. What they care about is that I look like I’m trying. Which leaves me two options: pass or fail.

I don’t want to play that game at all.

* * *

An acquaintance of mine, who was loved dearly by people I love, was a transwoman named Feral Pines. She died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland last December. She died doing something I also do: playing electronic music in a weirdo DIY venue. Sometimes, when people you know die, you selfishly think about your own mortality.

A few evenings later, the night before my 34th birthday, I was thinking about Feral’s death and life. It was the last night of my early thirties. I’m getting older. All I could think was: “Oh god, I don’t want to die a boy.”

I came out to friends and family the next day.

* * *

A pretty common conversation I’ve had over the years, as I’ve publicly mused about transitioning (there’s that word again; I guess I use it myself), goes like this:

“Margaret, you shouldn’t transition, because you’re a handsome man but you’d make a kind of ugly woman, no offense.”

Sometimes I have that same conversation with myself.

Sometimes I have it with myself daily for months and I stress eat and mope and think unpleasant thoughts. Then I remember that I am what I am and dammit isn’t the point of punk to not give a fuck about what society expects me to look like, to act like, to consider beautiful?

To quote the CrimethInc poster, “Beauty must be defined as what we are, or else the concept itself is our enemy.”

* * *

It was easy to come out to my friends. I can filter my friends by their reactions. Anyone who has trouble with me as a transwoman isn’t my friend. It’s that simple.

Around my friends, in both anarchist and science fiction spaces, being a non-passing trans person scarcely even marks me as different. I might be the only one at any given party — though I doubt it — and I’m sure it colors people’s reactions to me to some degree, but overall it’s a non-issue. I’m fairly certain I’m known more as Margaret-who-writes-sci-fi or Margaret-who-almost-never-comes-to-meetings-and-when-she-does-she’s-sort-of-grumpy and not as Margaret-the-trans-girl-who-doesn’t-pass-for-shit.

It was harder to come out to my family.

I want to be clear: while it’s not the easiest thing they’ve ever dealt with, my family has been supportive.

But it’s with them that I feel the most pressure to look like I’m trying to pass. This pressure is almost entirely in my own head; my family doesn’t ask me when I’m going to start hormones or anything like that. But there’s really only one trans narrative that has broken into mainstream understanding — that of the person trapped in the wrong body, who needs to physically transition — and I find myself wanting to be legible to the people that I love. I want to be dealing with something that they can understand. I want them to be able to talk to their friends and have their friends get it.

That probably won’t happen.

* * *

For the first several months after I came out, I was a wreck. My self-esteem was through the floor. As soon as I judged myself by feminine beauty standards, everything went to shit.

Cisfeminine people deal with this too, of course. I find myself thinking “my shoulders are too broad” or “my waist is too square with my hips” or “my stomach isn’t flat” and those thoughts — or comparable ones — have run through the mind of every woman I know. Feminine beauty standards are absurd. It’s just that I’m newer to dealing with them.

There’s a specific kind of monstrosity that is the transwoman, though. A passing transwoman is a monster because she’s a deceiver. A non-passing transwoman is a monster because she is a pitiful, shameful being, a lost soul forever trapped in body limbo.

Without even realizing it, I fell into believing that about myself.

I snapped out of it, eventually. I don’t want to look like I’m trying and failing to be something I’m not. I just want to look like myself, whatever “myself” is at any given time.

There are probably steps I’m going to take to feminize my body, but all my money is going straight into my teeth these days, so it’s hard for me to even consider anything that requires financial investment. I think about feminization the same way that I think about future tattoos. I’m not not-myself because I don’t yet have the city of Hronople tattooed on my left thigh. I’m not not-myself because I still grow thick black hair on that same thigh.

* * *

There’s no reason for me to believe that my experience is typical of, or generalizable to, transwomen as a whole. I would never tell you that all transwomen can or should share this attitude about transition. The trans narrative that has broken into the mainstream did so by hard work and spilled blood, and it’s only holding on by the same. I am in complete solidarity with my trans sisters who choose to go whatever route.

* * *

There’s something dangerous but also entertaining about standing in front of a urinal in the men’s room while wearing fishnets and a miniskirt. For the time being, that’s what I’ll be doing, because people don’t tend to read me as trans.

When my friends or family “she” me in front of strangers, it’s going to continue to cause confusion because I don’t often wear the opaque foundation it would take to both hide my beard shadow and tell the world that I am jumping through the proper hoops to be accepted.

Many people are just going to outright not believe or understand me when I refer to myself as a woman. That’s fine. I’m probably not going to bother trying to convince society at large who I am. It’s too much work and it’s too self-destructive. I didn’t live this long iconoclastically to waste my time with shit like that now. My friends know me as “she,” my family knows me as “she.” I get to write my own bios in my books, so I’ll continue to publish as “she.” People will either accept it or they won’t.

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24 thoughts on “I’m Not Even Going to Try to Pass”

  1. Thank you, for sharing this.The more I learn about gender, in general, and individual transpeople in specific, the easier it is to accept that I am not alone in my own journey — the easier it is to just be comfortable with myself as I am, and not worry about attempting to justify who I am, what
    I look like, and what labels I end up wearing on any given day.

  2. ❤️ I’m so proud of you for what you’ve done, who you are now, who you will be ❤️ It’s been such a fantastic journey to be on. I’m so glad we’ve gotten to be queerdo punks together and get to keep fighting the good fight on behalf of gender weirdness and self acceptance by just being who we are.

    1. “Think of it Ellen, a world full of weirdos..”
      “Wouldn’t it be WONDERFUL!!”
      this was my favorite cartoon ever (1978), and I used it for posters, calendars, and advertising hundreds of times in the decades since.
      I truly believe in letting your weird flag fly, as loud or as quiet as you wish, in peace..

  3. Thank you for posting so honest a discussion. ” I just want to look like myself, whatever “myself” is at any given time” — as a tall, not particularly girly woman, I struggled with that all my life. Reaching 40 (the no more fucks to give birthday for many women I know) helped a lot. But as you say, we all backslide on our thinking about ourselves and this entry helped me a lot today.

  4. Love. I am cisgender woman and hetero, but don’t really wear makeup, and certainly do not conform to normal female stereotypes (skateboarding, motorcycles, working on motorcycles, welding…). Be whomever you are at any given moment. Just love.

  5. Thamk you for this, my husband came out to me.. or told me he wants to be feminized. Its very confusing for both of us… ut im hoping tjis helps

  6. Thanks for this. As a transwoman in the bay who is also disinterested in passing, I take heart in this essay/article/experience. I get misgendered constantly and I correct constantly. I have tits for fuck’s sake and estrogen has given me curves so it’s confusing to me when people do it, but the point for me isn’t to be seen as a cis woman- it’s more to be regarded as -absolutely not male-. I love and appreciate all girls who don’t give a fuck about passing whether it’s our voices, hands, shoe size, body frame, hair…. whatever! Like you, I rarely wear opaque foundation. I’m only in the beginning process of having my facial hair lasered away (it fucking hurts) and I honestly can’t be fucking bothered to go through all the effort. As long as my eye makeup is on point, I’m good :-)

  7. Margaret, this is beautiful. Thank you for your strength and generosity in sharing such personal emotions as this. I feel like this will be encouraging to other young people to find and nurture their true selves as you have yours.
    All the love to you, sister.

  8. Thank you for this!

    Seven years ago a trans woman is known since the mid 1990s died (of natural causes in her sleep.) It was that wakeup call for me, leading to me finding the final determination to do whatever it took to get through the gauntlet of the gatekeepers (a little more on that in a moment.) I’m sorry for your loss and glad that you are you today.

    My therapist and first few HRT doctors were of that old gatekeeping way that said we had to be Stepford Wives and stealth. I wasn’t and refused to be. I’m a foul mouthed, bawdy, whisky drinking dyke on a bike and proud of it.

    I live in central North Carolina. After HB2 happened I decided that I’d be even more out.

  9. Thank you. This is so interesting, I want to understand and so often feel too scared to ask anything – so thank you – you carry on being you, sounds like you’re rather impressive at it x

  10. Unfortunately passing equals safety. Before heavy electrolysis, hrt etc. I had numerous times where my life was threatened in public. While shopping, or walking home. The bystanders just laughed like it was a Jerry Springer episode. And the couple times I called Sfpd they were indifferent to hostile. It was my fault for being a tranny. In their minds. I transitioned in 2000. And I noticed the street harassment tapered off in the last couple of years thanks to getting electrolysis paid by the city of SF. I’m on Ssi/ssdi so I couldn’t have afforded it on my own.

  11. Wonderful! Sharing revelations of self awareness is not only good for you… it’s good for others to read! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  12. Actually, we might not ever, and don’t really need to, understand. And ‘accept’ might have some negative connotations that I’m uneasy with; what we can and will do is love and support you, unconditionally.

  13. Magpie,

    I did not know you werre having such emotional trouble about gender. I find it hard to realize. I’ve always been a woman who knew she was a woman, albeit queer. I was sixty years old before I realized how lucky I have been to not be “pretty.” The very few times a man found me attractive, I was so irritated and bothered, and I surprised myself that I didn’t realize for most of my life (I am now 73) that not being attractive to men, when I have absolutely no interest in their attentions, is a GIFT. I find most women agree that het-men can never take “no” for an answer, which is a real lack of respect. Women are things, and have no right to deny any man his use of her in any way.

    Now, I’ve come to believe that all the trans-people and gener-queer folk will help our society to finally overcome misogyny and the problem of heterosexual men with frail and confused egos who are so afraid of gays, women, and transfolk. There is no real differece between the genders except anatomy and the degree, horrible soemtimes. of oppression one has to suffer. I do believe that nowdays, at least, trans people and gender-queers have it hardest of all, in terms of gender opprssion. Of course, it is all the worse if a peson in Black. RACISM HAS GOT TO GO!

    Barbara G. Louise

    1. My typing is so ba I am constantly embarrassed. I meant to write: Of course, it is all the worse if a peson IS Black.

  14. Cis here, so apologies if I’m talking shite. Passing means fitting into a box people understand so you don’t confuse them, passing as someone/thing they want you to be, not who you are. Trans is beautiful and magnificent all of its own – I wish society would stop trying to squish it into invisibility. Thanks for sharing, and keep doing you, because your truth is a Good Look :)

  15. :(
    You can never fail at being yourself. You can never fail at existing, and have a right to exist.
    Sometimes other people have boundary issues. You never have to justify yourself, your choices, or simple existence to anyone.

  16. great post! and welcome to being …. ?female? Where what you look like is the first, last, second and third thing we/you all think about, even after decades of growing attitude and confidence….

    even as Assigned Female At Birth, missing the mark still leaves one feeling monstrous, a faker and a sham, a wannabe, a loser, etc….

    and an explorer into what freedom can really be when one works through the crap and stops letting it define one…

    you will find your way thru and be a unique beautiful and inspiring person:)

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