I am a man, who happens to be trans. I feel fortunate that I can choose if/when and whom to disclose this piece of information to. I “pass”.
But I have always been quite uncomfortable with this term.
Let me explain. Here are three versions of what people often say when I tell them I’m trans. To many cis people, these are variations of the same sentiment. But how I hear them, is vastly different.
Version one: “You make such a convincing guy!”
My usual response to this, if it’s from a guy is to light heartedly say “Thanks! So do you.” Or, from a girl “Thanks! And you make a very convincing girl also.” This is usually enough to get them to hear this comment for how it might sound to me.
Version two: “You pass really well!”
My response to this is again, to thank them and then explain to them that the term passing makes me uncomfortable because the very word suggests there is some inherent deception or pretense going on. I am not pretending to be a man. I am a man. Albeit one with a fairly unusual past. Passing in my mind, should be reserved for things like gender swap parties on Halloween. I am not playing dress ups, though dress ups can be a lot of fun and maybe, one day, I will dress up as a girl and see if I could pass. I doubt it.
Version three. “I never would have guessed.”
This is by far the one that sits the most comfortably with me. In the same way, when I tell people, I’m actually German, even though I sound very much like an Australian, the same response is warranted. “I never would have guessed.” It does not imply that I am trying to convince or deceive anyone. It’s just a “who woulda thunk it.” Unexpected for sure, but that’s about it.”
Though the term passing can certainly have its place in the right context, I think there are better word choices out there. Personally I like “read”. I am read as a man, as are most men. This does not “other” me in any way.
I also get that this is a prickly topic for many trans people who are not always read as the gender they are presenting as, and that there’s many shades of gender presentation beyond the binary. I understand that it’s often more difficult, especially for trans women and non binary people to be read correctly, but perhaps for the latter the semantics are even more relevant. How would the term “passing” even fit into the reality of a non binary person in the broader context of society? You can certainly be read as androgynous, gender fluid or ambiguous, but passing simply doesn’t seem to apply.
Anyway, it’s all just food for thought… Drop a comment if you have your own thoughts to add.