A few months ago my ladyfriend, Anne, and I were cuddling and saying cute things to each other. You would’ve vomited from the cuteness if you were there because it was so over the top. It was a wonderful afternoon and, in the middle of it, Anne said, “thank you for letting me in.” I was confused because, well, I don’t consider myself a very closed-off person. If anything, I’m an open book that people want to close a little bit.
I asked Anne what she meant and she said that I am “always on” when it comes to what’s known as passing. Passing is a term that originated in the Biracial community that also applies to the transgender community. In my case, it refers to the ability to be perceived as the woman I’m transitioning into. Passing in society can be things as small as getting called “ma’am” instead of “sir” and as big as not getting murdered for being transgender.
The more I thought about what Anne told me, the more I realized that she is totally right. From the moment I start getting dressed for work to the moment I get home and take off my wig, I am expending mental energy on acting and appearing more feminine. I raise my voice higher when I interact with customers at work. I remind myself to swing my arms differently when I walk. I adjust my bangs on my wig to hide the forehead ridge that testosterone gave me. I curl my fingers a little to make my hands look smaller. You get the idea. There’s a mental checklist I run all day long.
There’s also the constant assessment of people around me. Who is staring? Who looks a little too long? Who glares? Who does a double take? Are these reactions normal or are any of them escalating to a place where I have to worry about violence? So, when I’m walking with my girlfriend at a park and we’re holding hands as we circle a lake, I’m never fully enjoying the moment. My eyes are always searching the faces of people around me. My ears are always listening to the reactions that happen behind us (people usually laugh or ridicule once I walk past them).
I’ve done all of these things for so long now that I don’t even think about them. I just go through my day with about 10% of my mental energy dedicated to passing. Then this awesome lady comes into my life and reminds me that I’m wasting a lot of my intellectual and emotional resources on a regular basis. I’m not sure how I feel about that constant alertness. I asked some of the transwomen I work with and they all agree that it’s just what we have to do in order to exist.
I guess my goal is that I’m not that way with my girlfriend, my kids, my friends, and my family? I stopped wearing my wigs as much when I’m home with Anne. I stopped putting on makeup for a lazy day at home with her. She says that she sees a beautiful woman even when I don’t have the wig on or the makeup hiding my stubble, so I keep intentionally leaving my guard down around her. Thankfully, it’s becoming less intentional and more normal the longer we’re together.