I’ve been out for years and it’s no secret, but I’m an AFAB (assigned female at birth) nonbinary transgender person. I have long purple hair, a little scruffy beard, have a whole Disney princess sleeve on one arm, and have been on testosterone for a little over a year.
Needless to say, strangers don’t perceive me as a man, and, as time goes on, I get perceived as a woman less and less. Slowly but surely, I’m reaching a point where strangers do a double take every time they see me because they can’t figure out what I was assigned at birth.
And that’s exactly what I want. I’m nonbinary, I’m neither a man nor a woman, and I don’t want to be perceived as either.
I’m also visibly trans. Recently, in the drive-thru at Jack-in-the-Box of all places, the attendant at the window asked if I was trans. It was a strange moment, but an oddly euphoric one when I look back on it (only because the attendant was well-meaning, thank the stars).
It’s not a universal experience, but I love being trans and nonbinary, and I love my trans, nonbinary body. I’m proud of how hard I’ve worked to reach that point in my life.
And I don’t want to pass.
But, first of all, what is “passing”?
In the transgender community, passing refers to someone’s ability to be perceived as the gender in which they identify and, furthermore, to not be perceived as trans.
If someone is AFAB, like me, and they’re trans and/or nonbinary, there’s a misconception both in and outside of the LGBTQ+ community that that must mean I desire to look and be perceived as entirely and completely traditionally male, that I want to be referred to with he/him pronouns, that I am male of center, that I’m transmasculine, etc. The same goes for AMAB (assigned male at birth) trans and/or nonbinary people in the opposite direction, that they all must desire to be perceived as female, and so on.
But people like me exist: I’m AFAB and not masculine at all — or feminine, for that matter. I don’t want to be perceived as male or female as I’m neither. The same can be said for many nonbinary folks regardless of how they were assigned at birth.
The concept of “passing” is problematic in a lot of ways; it tells trans and/or nonbinary people that they are only acceptable if they adhere to an array of strict, arbitrary concepts of masculine or feminine performance, it reinforces a binary that ostracizes people like me who exist entirely outside of it, and it largely serves as a way to appease cisgender people (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) into accepting us only because we look the way they expect us to look based on outdated ideas of gender.
I’m not saying it’s inherently wrong to want to pass. For a lot of trans folks, passing means safety, less harassment, and having access to vital spaces and care. For others, manifesting themselves in accordance to traditional feminine or masculine roles is what feels best for them, and gives them the greatest gender euphoria. That’s great! In no way am I advocating that we shame people who do or want to pass. Being perceived as trans by strangers can be dangerous — sometimes even fatal — depending on the circumstances, so I completely understand why people aim to pass in all environments. I also understand that not all trans people have a choice in the matter because of the present danger; not passing could mean death.
What I am asking for is acknowledging:
a) that there are trans and/or nonbinary people who have no desire to pass
b) that the end goal of every trans and/or nonbinary person isn’t passing
c) that expecting every trans and/or nonbinary person to want to pass as only either male or female is harmful and erases nonbinary people especially
Cis people (and gender binarist trans people, even) should accept nonbinary people because we’re human beings, not because we’re able to fly under their radar due to conforming to a binary that has no room for us to begin with. No nonbinary person should have to present themselves in a way that isn’t authentic to them just so people don’t treat us like garbage.
But Jack, you say, why are you taking testosterone if you don’t want to pass as male?
The answer is simple: testosterone, for me, isn’t about appearing as male. It’s about alleviating dysphoria that estrogen naturally created in my body. My voice, the shape of my face, menstruation, etc. Testosterone helps with all of this and I love it for that, but that doesn’t mean I’m a guy or want to be. It just means that, in my particular case, my dysphoria could be eased by testosterone, so I pursued it. It’s not something I’ll be on forever, lest I get dysphoria coming from the other direction, but that’s a whole post on its own.
I don’t want to pass because I want to live in a world someday where trans and/or nonbinary people can exist looking however they want to look, because I want to be visibly trans and visibly proud and not be afraid that it’s going to get me killed, because I’m happy to be nonbinary and want everyone to know it.
The only thing I want to pass as is a person who deserves respect no matter what I happen to be wearing that day.
The bar is pretty low.