Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How To Go Full Time When You Don't Pass


As a woman we need to pass out in the light of day
I've heard from a few ladies who struggle with this. There is a deep longing inside them to express their feminine side, to live as themselves, to begin their transition. But there is an equally strong fear - fear of embarrassment, of rejection, of having others stare at them and mock them. Sometimes this fear is born of a dire imagination run wild, but other times it's hard earned through experience. Regardless of the source, this fear holds them back, and turns what should be the joy of blossoming into their new life into tragedy and heart ache.

How can one hope to go full time when you don't pass in public? When walking in public puts your safety in jeopardy, and using the restroom threatens to incite violence from those who share it with you?

I'm blessed that I've never had much trouble passing in public, but that doesn't mean I haven't had my own demons to slay, or had occasions when I failed to make the necessary grade. Today I'd like to share with you four strategies for ladies who feel trapped. If you're feeling trapped by passability, read on.

Arm Yourself With a Smile
I remember an occasion where my birth assigned gender was discovered while I was out in public. I was with another trans-woman, at a restaurant in Portland. She's a lovely woman, but both of us are quite tall, and two tall woman together are bound to draw attention regardless of what they look like. On her way out the restaurant a lady looked over at us with a look of disbelieving incredulity. And she kept looked, perhaps bend on starting through our clothes to verify the truth for herself.

When I noticed her I turned to her and gave her the biggest smile my face could hold, and after a few seconds she started smiling back.

Now, at no point did she seem intent on making a fuss, and she was more perplexed than threatening. Yet it is amazing how much difference a smile made - her whole countenance changed, and I'd be willing to bet that she walked out of the restaurant with a better impression of transgender women.

There is nothing as disarming as a smile - this should be the first weapon in your arsenal of public acceptance.

Walk Like A Girl
Before going full time there's likely not a lot you can do about your appearance. Facial surgery is a drastic step without the certainty of full time. Hormones and weight loss are both valuable tools to use in passing, but neither will put you over the edge if you move like a caveman coming home from killing a wild animal.

No matter how tall or stocky you are, feminine movement will make the difference between instantly being outed and being given the benefit of the doubt. This is also something that you can practice in the privacy of your own home while you build up confidence for going full time. I highly recommend Denae Doyl's feminine image DVDs - they're a bit pricey, but well worth it. I find that she errs on the side of being overly feminine, but that's exactly what you need when starting out.

Talk Like A Girl
If your eyes are a window to the soul, your voice is the door. If you've managed to keep composure and pass in passing, a deep masculine voice will undo all your hard work in an instant. I remember an occasion early on, before I'd begun voice training, when I walked into the bank to deposit some money. Before I spoke everything was fine, and when I opened my mouth the teller reacted with such shock you'd think I had slapped her. Clearly I had passed up until the point I opened my mouth, and clearly I no longer did. It wasn't the end of the world, but both she and I felt quite uncomfortable for a few minutes.

I still stress about my voice, but after 18 months of hard work I'm to the point where I'm hardly ever misgendered because of my voice, even on the phone where that's the only clue they have to my gender. If you live in the Seattle area I can't recommend Sandy Hirsch enough - she's not only a sweetheart but a very accomplished speech pathologist. If you'd rather do a self study course, Kathy Perez has a very solid set of training CDs to get you started.

There is No Pass or Fail
If you're spending every moment in public wondering whether you pass I have news for you - you're doing it wrong. At the end of the day it's not about whether you pass. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

Do your best to blend in, and then be satisfied with your effort. Accept yourself as you are, and others are more likely to accept you. I know I still need to work on this area of acceptance - I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times, but I'm trying to head the advice of some good friends who tell me that I'm doing fine, and I shouldn't stress about it.

It can be daunting to go full time, but try to have fun.

Good luck ladies!

---
P.S. Follow me on Google+ for great discussion about transgender news and issues. If you don't have an invite, you can get a free invite to Google+ here.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude

24 comments:

  1. So true Vanessa, I'd endorse all that. Another useful saying: "It's none of my business what other people think of me". So don't think about it.

    But "the eyes have it": always smile with your eyes wherever you go. It saves male creases around your chin, draws attention to your makeup, looks sweet and confident, and when people look back and smile at you, it's your eyes they look at. Don't be shy!

    Walk well, work on your looks and voice, but above all, be completely confident that you have found your true self. It speaks volumes.

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  2. Hehe, well said hon. Confidence speaks louder than just about anything you could say.

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  3. I too am blessed with passability, but as an older woman, so I don't get the critical assessments that younger women do. But when I went fulltime almost two years ago, I did so in the full knowledge and awareness that it was a one-way trip. No matter how I felt, there could be no possible going back, no being scared out of it. If I got read, the only way to deal with it was to go through it - immediately. There could be no running crying, abandoning my groceries at the checkout to cower shaking in my car. Just had to hold my head up, smile - with the whole face, not just the eyes - and carry on with life.

    And strangely, it was often my reader who was felt wondering if they'd made a mistake.

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  4. Hey Stephanie, yes - something very important to consider is that it is a one-way trip. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

    Hehe, I'll bet it must've felt good that even when you're read they're in doubt, not you :)

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  5. Once I went out with another woman who does not pass very well. Many of the people we passed on the street looked at us both out of the corners of their eyes. When I walk lovey-dovey with my beloved we get similar looks, as a displaying lesbian couple. Believe me, people may accept that lesbians exist, but they aren't used to PDAs (Public Display of Affection).

    From these types of situations, I have learned when I am attracting certain kinds of attention. I don't like that - especially around gender - and from the beginning of my life full-time I was mostly able to avoid it. And now I never get those kinds of looks. I mean, someone might look at me, and I don't know what they're thinking, but I don't get a large percent of people looking at me out of the corners of their eyes.

    Getting it very clear in my mind just what "the look" manifests as has enabled me to move in the world with relative peace and ease. I don't for a moment buy the whole schtick about how "passing doesn't matter." Passing matters a lot.

    Love, Chels

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  6. Yeah, the 'out of the corner of your eyes' look is a dead give away. It's one of the five looks for a crossdresser I wrote about here: http://www.crossdresserheaven.com/is-staring-really-a-compliment/
    I called it 'something strange is afoot' :)

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  7. . If i go out i look like it but im afraid to speak or smile because if I do they might know and awkward you know. Im also blessed with the ability to look like a girl. I wish i had all the tools.

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  8. Oh sweetie, have more faith in yourself - with some practice you can get there, but you need to first smile :)

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  9. haha I will try to smile more but i dont like my smile:(

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  10. I guarantee you that others like it more than the alternative. Besides, you can't have a worse smile than what I had for 6 weeks after facial feminization surgery, where I could barely move my face, and scared myself if I smiled in the mirror :)

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  11. Haha thanks Vanessa im sure you looked fine lol. Im gonna work on that smile and gain some confidence:)

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  12. Above all of the advice and comments made, I find the smile the most useful. I have also reached the conclusion that I will never "pass" as such but just get on with my life and understand that tolerance/acceptance and understanding are far more important. Get out there and enjoy.

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  13. Ha, I have the same problem with smiling. I try to remember, but I think I may suffer from chronic bitchface :)

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  14. Dear Vanessa -- may I translate this one for a German forum? (And localise it where necessary) Best wishes -- Sandra-Isabell

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  15. Certainly Sandra-Isabell, please include a link back to the original article as attribution.

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  16. Link back is set. The translation can be found here: http://transboard.siteboard.eu/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=448&p=2632#p2632 Thanks, Vanessa!

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  17. Good article, Vanessa, and thanks for putting it up. I would add to it by saying: "Don't scan."

    Women always have to be aware of their surroundings, so they can't be oblivious as they walk around. But the average woman doesn't 'scan' people to see what reaction they're getting, either. Scanning gets you noticed.

    It's a natural reaction when you're first out. You want to see how you're doing, and you want to be aware of any threats to your safety.

    With me, I noticed that it had become a habit, and I consciously stopped doing it. I may not pass all the time, but I can certainly 'blend' a lot better that by not scanning.

    I've noticed that the only women I see who DO scan are either young teens, who are self-conscious about their appearance, or older women who are deliberately dressing in a too-young or provocative way. They want to see what kind of reaction they're getting. Us--we don't care.

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  18. Thanks Sandra-Isabell! I think you might just inspire me to license all of Transgender Heaven under creative commons free to use w/ attribution license. I'll ponder for a day or so.

    Good insight Anita - don't scan is one that I hadn't heard of before, but it makes so much sense. And I'm guilty of it on occasion too - I'll take your advice and try not to scan, at least as much :) Most of the time though I'm trying to see if a cute guy is checking me out.

    Strangely a much higher ratio of creepy guys are checking me out than gorgeous guys. I guess that's life :)

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  19. Hi, I have been fulltime for about 5yrs, as passing very well, when I got addicted to meth! OMG...well needless to say everthing went south and me being as vain as I am it was heartbreaking, now i can't go anywhere without people staring and laughing at me. My transition feels like a total failure, I miss being able to walk in a store or talk to the counter person without them being stand-offish or smirkish towards me. I can say that I have messed myself up pretty bad, but I have to move forward. And if anything good has come from this tragedy then that would be, if I ever get to being passable again I SURE AM GOING TO APPRECIATE IT MORE!!!!

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  20. Oh honey! I'm so sorry to hear. Drugs can really do harm to the body. I pray that others who are tempted to use drugs as an escape can heed your warning. They don't solve problems, only make them worse while delaying the realization thereof.

    I hope it works out for you dear! Hugs and blessings

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  21. I live in a state with strong anti-discrimination laws and a proactive anti-violence culture. Legally I have the right to present how I do, good, bad or ridiculous, and that gives backbone for being out in public. I aim for good but often settle for not too ridiculous when dressing - that saves considerable anxiety on my part. Yes, a smile and acting natural and confident are important keys. The legal and cultural climate mean I don't have to stress about passing but most of the time I think I do OK. Changed jobs recently to one that involves a lot of non-visual public address system work. Sometimes I cringe at my voice but it does motivate practice, for me raising the pitch makes a big difference. Consciously being present in my life as a woman is a big difference to erasing vocal habits of my male past.
    Well done with this blog.

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  22. Thanks Julie!

    Great point about the social and cultrural background helping - when you have laws or general society to lean on it can turbo charge confidence. Knowing that the person who does get upset is the exception, or has no legal standing to do anything more is very valuable.

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  23. I have to disagree with this, no amount of confidence will make the general public accept a transwoman as a woman, I am a confident person, don't look out for trouble or think about passing, just get on with life, but regularly get abused by chavs and chavettes, I know many many girls in the same situation too. So many articles appear in the media about hate crime towards LGB & T people, Drew on My Transsexual Summer admitted to her history of abuse, and we even saw one example by some chavs as they passed by her in the street.

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  24. "Do your best to blend in, and then be satisfied with your effort. Accept yourself as you are, and others are more likely to accept you. I know I still need to work on this area of acceptance - I can be a bit of a perfectionist at times, but I'm trying to head the advice of some good friends who tell me that I'm doing fine, and I shouldn't stress about it.

    It can be daunting to go full time, but try to have fun."

    Yes I found that blending in instead worrying about passing is easier. I know that I have been viewed as a male in a dress by the public, but has not stopped me from continuing to go out dressed.

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