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Passing and credibility

You don’t have to hang around the trans world very long to encounter a message like “passability is overrated.” Many people go further and argue that passing should not be a goal. Yes, passing is overrated, and it means nothing in itself. But it does have value for other goals, and right now I want to focus on one goal in particular: credibility.

20140927_152708Activism needs credibility. Activism is all about convincing people. We want the public to believe that we deserve respect, that we deserve protection from discrimination and hate crimes, that we deserve access to bathrooms and medical care.

We also need credibility in our personal lives. Those of us who transition need others to believe in their transitions, to treat them as their desired gender. Those of us who don’t transition need others to believe that we can still be responsible members of society, that we should still be loved, and even that we don’t need to transition.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that attractive people have more success at convincing others. People pay more attention to attractive people (and here I don’t mean just sexually attractive). They also pay more attention to people who look “like us.” Maybe you think that’s not fair, it’s not the way things should be, and you’re probably right. We should work to make the world a more tolerant place. But there’s no point in ignoring the way that the world currently works.

The uncanny valley also turns people off. That’s the area where people have difficulty processing an image as a person or a thing, or a person or an animal. It’s also where people have difficulty deciding whether someone is a man or a woman, or “one of us” or one of them. The squirming depicted in Julia Sweeney’s “It’s Pat” sketches is a real-life occurrence. Again, maybe that’s not the way the world should be, and maybe we should change it. But we can’t ignore that the world is that way right now.

This is one reason why charismatic, attractive, passable people like Janet Mock and Chaz Bono are so popular as spokespeople for transgender activism. It’s also why such people are more readily accepted as members of their target gender. Again, that’s not the way it should be, but it is.

1 Comment

  1. I think a reason why this is confusing is cisgender females wearing pants and other “masculine” clothing. I remember when (the 60s and 70s) this was such a huge deal. The girls/women didn’t want or need to look like men. They didn’t want to be men. They just wanted to add pants and such to their clothing choices, for fun and for practicality.

    Now if we turn that around to MTF transwomen, or at least me, I am not merely wanting to wear a dress in public, with little other change. When I’m wearing a dress I want to be feminine and pretty. In fact, I want to be female.

    That said, perhaps simply getting society to accept men wearing female clothing without any other trappings such as wigs or make up would be a great step. There is a mayor of a small town in Oregon who does just that. He’s so confident in himself that the town just accepts and doesn’t notice.

    I suppose that’s the ideal.


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