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My Thoughts On Passing

October 11, 2021

10/9/2021

Recently, Sue Richmond and Susan Miller wrote posts about passing. “Passing” is what a crossdresser or transgender person calls it when they go out in public and someone perceives them to be a woman. Used in a sentence: “The transgender person successfully passed herself off as a woman.” Basically, to someone who is trying to present a different gender than their biological gender, passing is the report card. Since I present male when I wear women’s clothes, yet I still go out in public, I have an uncommon perspective on this topic. After reading Sue’s and Susan’s excellent posts, I decided, “I should weigh in on the topic as well.”

The Importance of Passing

I would relate the importance of passing to a non-crossdresser like this: Imagine that an alien came down to Earth. The alien grabbed you and said, “We have the power to go through time. We are going to go to some point in your life and force you to go out naked in public. However, YOU get to choose at which stage of your life this will occur.” Which stage of your life would you choose for being SEEN? Perhaps you would prefer to be seen naked at the age in which you were the skinniest and most fit. It is that kind of thinking that makes passing important. “I want to look my best.” Not passing is like BEING SEEN in the wrong state.

I have grown to believe that the importance of passing to an individual is influenced separately by multiple factors:

  • Culture: When I was younger, crossdressers were seldom seen in public, there was a cultural reason to hide. Now, there is a general acceptance that people cross gender lines. I see a corresponding acceptance in the CD/TG communities that it is acceptable to not pass perfectly. “People know what is going on, but they treat me like the lady I am presenting.” (I believe that when there is less reason to fear being treated rudely, there is less reason to hide the deeper truths.)
  • Age: I am becoming an old dude. I do not care NEARLY as much what people think about me as I did when I was in school. I see this in older crossdressers. I guess we come to terms with the fact that people “will know”, but we care less about being found out than we care about having the colors in our outfit match.
  • Personality: How much does a person’s personality care what others think? Perhaps the age topic is just a matter of our personalities changing with time. Anyhow, the girl (with the beard) who won Eurovision has a strong personality to allow such a masculine characteristic to show while she was presenting female on stage in a high-profile international competition. I believe that we fall on a gradient of “how much do I care what others think about me?” Some worry, others are relaxed, and yet others intentionally create confrontational situations. (My opinion: Gay people and trans people who came out publicly decades ago may have gone public because they had a more confrontational personality than most people. Therefore, people who encountered them perceived their communities as having rude, negative attitudes. Simply because only the bold, activist types were being seen by the public. The perceived personality of those communities has changed now. Perhaps that is because less controversial people are willing to be seen openly expressing themselves.)
  • I am confident that there are other factors. I am just not studious enough to research them!!

What’s Wrong With Me?

I am a man who likes being a man. I do not behave significantly like a female. (I do not watch sports, own guns, or work on cars. I do watch chick-flicks with my wife. But I also like adventure movies, playing sports, and over-explaining things.) I am a guy. I like to wear women’s clothes. But, why do I go out in public dressed this way? Why does passing not matter to me?

In truth, I think it does.

When I was young, I would wear women’s clothes stealthily. I would wear women’s shorts, sneakers, and skin-toned pantyhose around other people. It was stressful. I was trying to blend in and “pass” as not doing anything unusual.

When I wanted to wear a skirt, I thought that I needed to look female in order to be able to wear the outfit. So, there were times where I would try to pass my quite non-feminine body off as female. I had to stay away from other people to do this. Since I never felt like a girl, I never grew these skills. This was attempted only a few times. (It was too much trouble!)

I worry “a lot” about what I wear. Perhaps you look at my pictures and think, “You don’t worry enough about what you wear!” But, shopping is complicated. I do not want to wear skirts that are short because I have seen pictures of crossdressers who so very often go short and look kind of tacky. I do not want to wear floral patterns, or lace, or bell sleeves because I am not that feminine. I have tried some of that stuff on. I feel like I have to dress masculine enough to “match” my head.

There are other fashion decisions that I make that are more technical. I do not wear low-cut tops or open backs. (I am too hairy.) I do not wear sleeveless tops or tops with cap sleeves. (I have hairy armpits, too much muscle, and a farmer’s tan.) I do not wear sheer fabrics for similar reasons. I do not wear spandex outer garments or those beautiful sweater dresses. (I do not have the curves to make it look right and I am not young).

So, I do care a lot about what I look like. I feel like I am asking too frequently, “Does this outfit look OK?” Yet, I still go out in public. Am I confrontational? THAT is an interesting question for me… I do say things that are controversial (such as here, or here). I do tend to dislike following the crowd. I want to believe that I am not crossdressing in public because I want to stir up trouble. I normally crossdress because I am craving it. I do not think, “Where can I rock the boat this time?” However, I do think, “I wonder if I can be brave enough to go there.”

Bottom Line

I try to “pass” myself off as normal. I want to be seen as a guy who would be a good employee or friend. I want to be seen as a good husband and father. I do not want to be seen as fetishistic. I want to be seen as fashionable and not tacky. I do not want to look pathetic. I do not want to be seen as weird. I would like to leave a situation where people say, “The fact that he was wearing a dress really did not matter.”

That is passing for me.

One More Thought

Do non-trans people have their own version of “passing”?

  • I had a friend from another country. He said to me, “When I am in American society, I remind myself that if I do something bad, people will not only judge me, but they will also judge all of my people.” He felt a pressure to live up to some standard in order to bring honor to his race and culture.
  • Some people, when they are around their in-laws, behave differently than they do in their normal life.
  • On a first date with someone, there are more behavioral rules than there will be one year into the relationship.
  • At work, we may behave significantly better than we do at home, and with our friends.
  • Around our church friends, do we leave out any behaviors that we normally exhibit?
  • Is there less laundry piled up on your furniture when company comes over than at other times?
  • There are many middle school children who are cool and tough at school, but sleep with blankets and stuffed animals…

I think that it is possible that this “passing” phenomenon is an anthropological norm. It is something we worry about when we are trying to fit into some part of society.

…or maybe I am wrong. What do I know? 🙂

From → Opinion

7 Comments
  1. Chris D'Orso permalink

    “The fact that he was wearing a dress really did not matter.” THIS. A thousand times this! I’m just me, still me. I love everything about this post.

  2. Marissa in Ohio permalink

    Hello,
    I read your blog posts, essays, often. Prior to this post I have found your approach to crossdressing to be very interesting, distinctive, and atypical. This one is an outstanding essay, blog post, and one that I find extremely interesting. Your well considered thoughtful observations are excellent and put this topic, of ‘passing’, in a good framework.
    I think this post helps readers of your blog to understand your particular line of thinking and approach to this aspect of your life. Crossdressing is a fascinating part of many people’s lives and the approach one person takes can be quite different from that of another. Even so, I believe there is a shared enjoyment of what crossdressing adds to our lives, as varied as such may be. Have a very good day!
    Marissa in Ohio

  3. Alvie permalink

    Joey, I love your courage in cross dressing and so much of what you’ve written about your experiences. Particularly appreciated your comments on the prevalence of the twisted “forced fem” trope in erotic fiction. It’s bizarre that any men who feel themselves ANYWHERE along the trans or CD spectrum should feel they must indulge in the fantasy that women wish to forcibly control and abuse them. It’s as if they are in so much denial about who they are, or what they should like to be, that they must in a way demonize the very gender which they would emulate. It makes no sense. It’s demeans women as well as themselves. Seems like self-hatred, or at the least, deeply conflicted thinking. Your writing is a refreshing change.

    I do want to present a different slant on something above “Gay people and trans people who came out publicly decades ago may have gone public because they had a more confrontational personality than most people. Therefore, people who encountered them perceived their communities as having rude, negative attitudes.” I feel this diminishes the heroism of the CD’s and “queens” who first dared to push back on the constant searing oppression of not only the NYPD at Stonewall Inn. Your freedom to “dress pretty” derives directly from these utterly disrespected and abused people in their own words had lost their families, their homes, their jobs––simply for crossdressing or for whom they loved––they had been repeatedly beaten, arrested and imprisoned. In many cases, like Marsha P. Johnson, who likely initiated the resistance at Stonewall, they were murdered.

    From a position of privilege and relative safety, one may think Marsha was “confrontational,” “negative,” or “rude,” but she along with so many others had been pushed to the brink of survival. The perception of the dominant white Christian culture was almost uniformly––and worse, legally––hostile and punitive to the “sissy,” to the “queer,” and especially to people of color like Marsha. Hers was not a choice to confront but a determination to exist. And she died for it. The rudeness and negativity lay not in her, but in the mainstream culture, which like some ancient village from time out of mind, felt a need to demonize a literal scapegoat, laying all their own sins upon them.
    It was their courage to exist, to be seen, to speak out, to act––things which any privileged person takes for granted and is not attacked for––that got them billy-clubbed, battered, gassed. Until finally so many had stood up, so many had put their names and faces out there, write the songs, screenplays, novels and movies that opened eyes, minds and hearts. The status of difference remains tenuous in America and the world. More needs to be done.

    They opened a space for you. Today, you’re doing your part. Thank you for all you do.

    • It is very easy for me to speak out of ignorance about the world when I was a child and the world of alternative lifestyle people. I apologize for any incorrect ideas I may have expressed.
      You drew my attention to the idea that there may be a second layer to the personalities of people who were the pioneers of being out. Being out and being abused for it could make one become more negative and even confrontational, perhaps.

      Thank you, Alvie.

  4. I loved reading this, it resonated strongly with the way I feel in many ways although we also differ in several ways.

    I thought it should get a wider audience so I have posted the URL and a quoted some of it on https://similarworlds.com, I hope you don’t mind. If you do I will, of course, delete it from there.

  5. I just want to say, “Wow.” I post so many stories about my outings onto my blog and get little to no engagement. Then I post this and then… People! 🙂 Thank you for speaking up everyone!

  6. Alvie permalink

    There are now several great documentaries on those who were crossdressing or openly LGBT in the ’70s. A crucial strategy for them was to organize and go public. So long as people remained in the shadows, they were vulnerable to arbitrary police round-ups, newspaper outings, unjust laws, job loss,confinement in mental hospitals (often with horrific treatments) and the “Lavender Scare,” which swept through the Federal government in the ’50s and ’60s.
    Two excellent recent documentaries are:
    “The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson,” https://www.netflix.com/title/80189623
    and “Cured,” available online through PBS’s Independent Lens series.
    Incredible though it may seem now, there was a time not so long ago when even women could be jailed for crossdressing. Nonetheless, crossdressing by any gender has been going on in almost all cultures since time out of mind, sometimes tolerated, sometimes not. The “P” in Marsha’s assumed name stood for “Pay It No Mind,” her attitude toward any negativity directed her way.

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