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.
"SOCIETY AUTOMATICALLY WOODWORKS PEOPLE INTO THE CORE ASSUMPTIONS IT MAKES ABOUT EVERYONE WITHIN A CULTURE."
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.
“TRANS RIGHTS INCLUDE THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY, AND THAT INCLUDES THEIR RIGHT TO DISCLOSE."
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!