Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Issue of Passing

Passing...it is a common concept for many who are HBS, transsexual, and even transgender. It is not uncommon, particularly in the early stages of transition, for those who suffer from HBS to speak in terms of "passing," meaning that one is perceived as being a member of their "target sex."

The actual term "passing" seems to have originated in the 1920s in reference to African-Americans who were light-skinned enough to be perceived as Caucasian. It has become something of a sociological term for the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of a combination of social groups other than his or her own.

For those born with HBS, the concept of passing may be a part of the early stages of their transition, but they usually outrgow it quickly as they become more confident. For those who are transgender it either becomes a way of life, or an anathema to be condemned at all costs.

An example of this latter attitude can be seen in the "Autumn" Sandeen's article on Pam's House Blend, "Four-Year Transactivists." One has to remember, Mr. Sandeen identifies as an out, loud, and proud "transgender activist." In the article, he bemoans the fact that many transsexuals come to realize that they are able to be accepted as women, and then decide to stop being out. And, of course. he simply cannot comprehend the simple truth that a woman simply might realize that she has no reason to continue to be seen as a man. As is typical of the gender fascists, Mr Sandeen has to spin this as a negative thing:

Welcome to the reality of how "passing" impacts individuals in the trans community; welcome to the broader concept of how there are individual members of oppressed, minority populations who don't appear to be members of their population(s), and "pass" as members of the unoppressed, majority population.
Like other "transgender" activists, he believes transsexuals are not really women, they are members of an oppressed minority population. He recoils in horror at the idea that one might actually succeed in one's transition and move on with one's life as simply a woman.

Mr. Sandeen goes on to whine about how he is treated:
Personally, I've been called Mr. Sandeen, "Autumn" Sandeen, and called by male pronouns by both people on the religious right and by people who would seem to be my natural allies. To trans people who take the public stage, I tell them "expect to be hit by a lot of lighting" -- similar names to what folk on both sides my transactivist peers are called are what they should expect to also be called.
Sadly, he simply cannot conceive of the glaring error he makes here... He simply cannot, or perhaps refuses to concede, that those who refer to him that way are not at all his natural allies. We are quite opposed to what he is trying to force on people. I share few, if any of his goals. I do not want to see gender "deconstructed." I do not believe that the criteria for being a woman should be that you say you are. I do not believe that women should have penises. (Yes, some of us are born with them, but if you want to keep it, you are not remotely a woman.) I do not believe that people should be able to change their birth certificate without having completed surgery. I do not want to see ENDA passed in a form that would acceptable to Mr. Sandeen. I do not want to be called "transgender." So where this man gets that I am his "natural ally" is beyond me.
In any case, for those of us who are HBS, and not "transgender" do move on from the concept of passing. We realize that to say that we "pass" would be to give in to the silliness of those like Mr. Sandeen who are not, and ever will be women, and who are all too aware of this. I mean, simply put, one cannot pass as what one is.

4 comments:

Stephanie W said...

One part of that post which I find rather objectionable is where Autumn Sandeen says that it takes 2-3 years before you begin to "pass" (speak for yourself, it took me 6 months). And that we all spend that time being active and out in the community. Then she implies that we've taken from the community and abandoned it without giving anything back.

What rot. I've not been involved in any community. I've joined a few online forums over the years - but I never participated in any for more than a few weeks. I've never belonged to a support group or taken part in any activism. My entire dealings with "the community" consist in going to a Christmas party, a couple of picnics, and a dinner organised by one forum. A handful of social occasions. So I don't see how I owe anything to anyone.

Sandeen seems to assume, though, that I've spent my year of transitioning being "stigmatized and discriminated against" - and have relied on community support to get through that. And therefore it would be terrible of me not to out myself at every turn because, somehow, that would help those who are still "oppressed" in the community. It's just not so.

Just Jennifer said...

Stephanie, you raise a good point. Of course, I wonder how Sandeen would know, since Sandeen has been at this for considerably longer and is not remotely passable. When I began, I was being called "ma'am" before I went full time. I had been on hormones for about six weeks the first time it happened. It got really interesting...

When I started, we didn't have the Internet. I went a few times to a support group, but it began to fall apart and I dropped out. Most of my contact after that was as a sort of volunteer counselor for my endocrinologist. His office would call me up and ask if I would be willing to see someone who wanted to talk. I was glad to help out.

I had one incident where I was actually discrminated against. Before I moved west, I looked into going to nursing school. Since the school I would be attending had taken over the junior college I attended years before, and since they would not change my name on my records anyway, I had to out myself. At first I was told it would not be a problem. Then, the next time I went in to talk to them, I was called into the dean's office and told, at first, that I would have to dress as a male, and such. When I protested, they backed down and said I could use my legal name, and present as a female, but that I would have to notify every facility I would be doing clinicals at, and that they would be able to deny my being there. That meant that I might get halfway through and not be able to graduate, so I decided to not attend that school.

Sandeen is an idiot, who can't pass, and who therefore thinks no one else should either.

Katherine said...

I agree. My goal is not to pass although I understand that there are differences in the definition of theword passing, depending how you use it. I am a woman. i am not defined by what is between my legs so I may or may not have surgery. That is my personal choice. I do not think one should just be able to say, "Hey I am a girl so treat me that way!" either... Anyway to stay on my point, I do not wish to simply pass. I want to move on with my life and live as the woman I know I am. To say that one passing as their target sex however does not necessarily contradict this thought. To be a woman, even after surgery does not mean you look like it, and this perception of not being able to look the part (no matter how vain that sounds) definitely has an impact of many facets of a persons transition.

anoldfriend said...

I know this may sound blunt and unforgiving but most realize this after a time;

I've always maintained people who pass are fakes, the rest of us just are.