Why Passing is Bullshit

Trying to understand my identities was like trying to piece together jigsaw puzzle pieces without a picture. I didn't know that the things I was experiencing were signs of being asexual, or transgender.

By David Zeleznikow‐Johnston (From Minus18’s OMG I’m Trans)

People often see transitioning as ‘you were one gender, and now you’re passing as another’ but that’s not really how it works.

‘Passing’ is a term to describe when a trans person is recognised by people around them as the gender they identify as. In theory it’s a pretty good thing, but the idea of ‘passing’ also has a few big downsides.

It sort of reinforces the idea that there’s a ‘right’ way to be male, female, or any other gender, and that’s actually a bad thing.

Consider a young trans girl who’s just come out as an example. Anyone, absolutely anyone can ‘look like a girl’, regardless of what you wear and how you style yourself.

Being a girl doesn’t mean having long hair, wearing skirts and eating fruity yoghurt while rocking out to Taylor Swift and it certainly doesn’t mean having a vagina. Gender is an identity not a physicality. There’s no one true way to be a girl, boy or anything else.

When a person comes out as trans, it often means that now that they’re out they can finally express themselves however they want. The choices in hair, makeup, clothes and anything else external are all types of expression, and often can be a tool to help project to people around you an expression of your gender identity. This is what’s known as ‘gender expression’.

What’s important to note is there’s no strict rules here. Wearing certain clothes that traditionally signal ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ is okay, but it’s not something you should feel pressured to do unless you want to.

Some trans and gender‐diverse people might feel most comfortable meeting expectations, while others might prefer to break out of the boxes, and both are totally valid.

Skirts, suits, hair, makeup, and any other form of gender expression won’t necessarily reflect a person’s gender, but some people use them to better project ‘girl’ or ‘boy’. This is because we still live in a society with expectations around those identities.

Not everyone is ready or able to break down gender norms, and not everyone should have to either. Your only responsibility is to wear what you want, express how you want, and be yourself in the way you feel most comfortable.

Let’s be real though – there can be times where it feels tough to present how you want, especially in a society so fixed on rigid ideas of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’. When I was younger I felt like I needed to act more masculine. I remember trying to deepen my voice and sound more ‘like a boy’ even though the way I talked was perfectly natural. Later when I started to express myself in a more typically feminine way I felt guilt that I wasn’t shaving my legs or wearing enough makeup.

But as I saw friends dressing and acting how they wanted without a care if they were ‘passing’ or conforming to expectations, I grew more confident and felt more able to express myself the way I wanted.

In the end I learned that I’m happiest when I’m presenting myself to the world in a way that best reflects how I act naturally, not necessarily how others want me to act.

You can be non‐binary and refuse to ever put on a dress. You can be a girl obsessed with everything pink or a boy who spends all his time playing soccer and baking. Your identity might not give an indication of how you act or dress yourself, but all of those aspects of yourself are significant and real.

Whether you strongly identify male, female, non‐binary, or don’t have a need for labels at all, the most important thing is to do what feels best for you.