Stepping Into the Light Again and Again

Clara Barnhurst

I’ve always been slightly embarrassed by my passing privilege. It’s a thing that gets me further in the world than those that lack it, and I did nothing to get it. It’s upsetting that I happen to tick some boxes and it translates into an easy life, but I also accept that the whole world is like this. Maybe in some distant future we can get around it? I hope so, but for now my choice to remain visible creates an interesting dynamic in my life.

I am constantly fighting society. People assume everyone they see is cisgender unless certain stereotypes, also thought of as tells, are displayed. My visibility requires me to challenge that cisgender assumption and effectively reject cisgender privilege.

That rejection creates dissonance, but it doesn’t come in the form of wearing a sign around my neck (usually). While I have been known to wear my testosterone poisoning shirt, usually my transgender status is made clear by saying I’m a writer.

“Oh yeah? Cool! What do you write?”

“Articles on transgender issues, personal reflection and memoir, bit of fiction.”


Ah. Yes. The moment of discovery. I mean, just because I write about transgender issues doesn’t necessarily prove I’m transgender. It does, however, make for a very strong case. From there, it becomes safe to talk about transgender issues because they know I’m a columnist on the subject. And I’ll also make jokes about my drunken lecture at a cabbie on gender and sexuality - it’s pretty obvious.

And I don’t mind! The whole point is to stay visible. I’ve said before: in a world where people refuse to believe that transgender people exist, being visibly transgender is a political act. It’s my way of showing the world that actually we’re all here. It’s the least I can do, and it’s handy that visibility suits my personality.


I understand how people end up becoming invisible. Society automatically woodworks people into the core assumptions it makes about everyone within a culture. Usually, that means everyone is cisgender, heterosexual until proven otherwise. A friend told me once that trans people often misread being checked out for being clocked, and I can see that. We see a second glance and we assume the worst, but a second glance more often than not means being looked over.

The general guide I was given early on is that if someone isn’t treating you horribly, people either don’t know or don’t care. I make sure they know if they talk to me for any length of time, which means I just have to assume they don’t care. It also means I never get a true ‘clock’ reading - maybe that’s why I do it? If I’m out to everyone, I don’t have the stress of being clocked or wondering whether I’ve been clocked.

So perhaps that’s where this stems from. The constant process of coming out is a challenge to the world, but it’s also relieving a different kind of stress - I’m trading one stress for another. I don’t have to worry about people clocking me, but I also have to make life a little bit more dangerous. As long as my personal reasons keep me coming out, I may as well make it work for everyone, I feel.

“Well I’m a people watcher.”

“Oh, well I thought you were different.”

“Something about your hands.”

Awkward answers to the question I really shouldn’t be asking, given my choices, but I can’t help it: “So I know I’m out and open but did you notice?” Silly question. I will never get a real answer to that because the moment I’ve come out to someone, my status changes and memory has a habit of reframing association on the basis of new information. I know mine has: my personal story is now understood in my mind from a female context, even though I know full well I only acquired that role a year and a half ago.

But what surprises me is that others also place my stories in a female context, even the memoir bits, even knowing I didn’t always have that role in society. That suits me just fine: I keep saying I was never a boy, and now that hormones have taken away my ability to recall accurately my emotional context of before, I don’t really know how to process someone reading my stories from a male context. It’d be too weird. But that runs counter to my choice to be visible and, actually, one would think the opposite would be true.


While visibility works for me, I don’t believe everyone should feel they do the same thing. Trans rights include the right to privacy, and that includes their right to disclose. Not disclosing, allowing oneself to be woodworked, or deliberately fading into stealth is a perfectly valid choice. One thing I’ve discovered as I interact with ladies who are living in stealth is how apologetic they often are. Or at least they communicate their status with a level of contrition; it usually comes with an explanation that isn’t asked for. They seem to have an expectation of us visible folk: we’re going to be unhappy about their decisions, even if sometimes it’s not even an active decision on their part.

I don’t understand that, personally, for the reasons above: we do the best we can with what we have. Sometimes invisibility is the best option given one’s circumstances. Sometimes one is made invisible due to setting or association. Sometimes people get tired of being out. In some of my darker moments I regret being out. I have my days where I want to withdraw from the community and just be that girl at the pub with the funny accent. But then I consider that my funny accent is more stressful than being that transgender barmaid. If I can keep my funny accent, then probably being out and stepping out to everyone around me is still OK.

But whatever your choice, know that it will affect life in interesting and unexpected ways. Whatever happens, do not apologise: your life is yours and it’s your right to choose if, when, and how you share your information. Whatever happens, it’ll be an interesting ride that’s full of discovery!

Comments (5)
No. 1-5
Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


Thanks so much for sharing Victoria!

I love hearing people's experiences - it provides contrast and some quite interesting follow up material. I recognise your pic from FB - I'll look you up :)

I also really appreciate you registering with the site to comment - it really helps us here at TU to get proper metrics on who's reading what, and besides, now folks can share and see that we're not alone.

Take care of yourself!


I did not mean to submit that yet but now you have it as raw copy that I did not have chance to proofread first with all my punctuation and grammar mistakes. lol. I also wanted to mention that I saw a post from you re some T photo project and if it is not too late, I would like to be considered for inclusion. I will attach a recent pic here. Please respond to me on Fb. If the pic is not available to you here please see me as Tori Clay on Fb. Thanks. Ciao!


Hi Clara! I just had to send kudos for this piece after reading it. We are so simpatico that I could have written it myself. I am a writer too. I inferred from the way you spoke about working in a pub that you can "do a voice". That is beyond me right now so I am frequently outing myself on the phone. We even have both lived our truth for about the same length of time. I saw the link to the post on FB. My sitch differs a bit as when I came out about 21 months ago, I did it with essays on my personal and professional pages on Fb. I came out as transgender female, a hoarder, an involuntary mental patient, suicides survivor, reluctant loner and more. My pro page is used for what was a fairly accomplished career as an entertainer, primarily a union actor whereon I went from being Vic Clay, a moderately successful union actor with a long a varied resume, to being Tori Clay as it now says on my SAGAFTRA card. I have auditioned for some cisgender female roles but I still have this voice which is incongruent to my feminine presentation so I really don't even have a choice. Yet I still, like you, receive the privilege afforded cisgender women frequently due the luck of living in Boston, where it is no big deal and by being fortunate enough to be short and thin with long hair and cheekbones with the added fillip of being able to employ my considerable acting skills to "pass" in any situation I desire to. I call my transition a Cinderella one because I have not lost a friend or alienated a family member and I actually have more of each now. The single negative has been the loss of my acting career. My agent dropped me and I can not even get background work any more, and there is a lot of it to be had here in Boston. I had one glorious month on stage last summer acting in some award winning theatre but that is pretty much it. Like you I have yet to respond to anyone that gives me a second look as I find it impossible to discern the difference being checked out and being clocked. I have enjoyed the chivalry of men holding doors with a smile and I posted a short story on Fb about an incident at a DD where a young and handsome gent reached over my shoulder with his cc , with a " I got this hon" when he got the impression that I was unable to pay for my coffee. After a feeble protest, my offer of gratitude was met with a "don't worry about it, its my pleasure hon" even with my voice. I can't recall if I was wearing a V neck then or not as my hrt has done a good job so far giving me new curves. My first negative may have happened this past weekend when I was in a store and had my purse stolen with my phone and cc's and etc., as while I was in panic mode, the store employees seemed so nonplused and nonchalant and seemingly had no empathy at all. I will never know it was because I am an out transwoman. Since my first day out, I have gone where I want, when I want and wearing what I want although looking the way I want means hiding the bit of facial hair that remains and never presenting as anything less than at the polar end of the gender spectrum.

Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


I’ve written a bit about how often I would challenge people who would give that second look etc. These days I don’t grace it with a response.

My work at the pub is the highest risk area, but when I’m working it’s my bar and I have told customers that if they carry on they will be asked to leave or barred. They usually have the good sense to shut their mouths and go at that point.


Hello i am a post opp MtoF. I live in a totally visable life. If some one wants to look at me and say something negative i simply replie.. thank you for asking now would you like to hear about it. If not do not assume what you your thoughts about me are. Listen to me i will tell you.

TU Articles