What You Need to Know about Trans Passing

Does your transgender girlfriend pass? What does that even mean?

Here’s all you need to know.

What used to be the aim of the game—passing—is now passé.

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The term “passing” can refer to many situations, but has its own history in the transgender context.

Basically, it means that someone blends in, that they “pass” as a woman, that no one can tell.

While passing as a cis-woman can help transexual people live more safely in eras past or in different countries, today the terminology is associated with stigma. It is not shameful to be trans, so it’s not a secret.

The definition of “pass” is simple: it’s about a person’s ability to blend in as the gender by which they identify.

Historically, some women sought to “pass” as men in order to access certain benefits, not because they identified as male. When education was only allowed to men, many women pretended to be in order to study.

Perhaps it is this connotation of “disguise” that has taken the terminology out of favor. A trans woman is not in disguise and doesn’t have to prove who she is with lipstick or any other external markers. How much or how little she wants to look or act like cis women is up to her.

So when meeting trans women online, don’t ask if she passes. If you are embarrassed or unwilling to date a trans woman because other people might notice, maybe you’re not ready! Or, maybe you’re following your heart and you still need to develop a backbone. Maybe you’re shy and explaining anything to your family is intimidating. Whether or not she “passes” is not the answer, however. Your date is a human being like any other human being, no matter what she looks like, looked like, or will look like. Period.

That said, my friend Belinda freely brags about “passing.” “Trans women and their allies are way too hung up on words. Should I say blend? It means the same thing. I’m not the least bit embarrassed or ashamed of wanting to look like the real woman that I am. If I felt like a man or wanted to look like one, I would still be rocking my moustache and beard. I would not have grown these beautiful breasts.”

She laments that Caitlyn Jenner took a lot of heat for an off the cuff comment she made to the press that suggested trans women should make an effort at presentation. “I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically, kind of, looks and plays the role. If …you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.”

Belinda says Caitlyn was just stating a fact and that pretending otherwise actually denies trans women their voice.

She feels that getting upset over language is petty and reduces her own agency. “The whole point for trans people has always been that we feel like women, identify as women, and want to be seen, as much as is possible, as women. You know, to pass. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the whole point.”

This doesn’t mean you should use outdated words. It does mean we don’t need to see people who can’t keep up with all the rules and regulations as malicious. A trans person can use any words she wants in her experience, and some transexuals are as candid as Belinda; others are more political and as advocates of trans rights and safety are educating people about gender variations. For them, you don’t need to “pass”—there are a million options for gender presentation.

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