Page E15 - Cispassing
Association Transgenre Wallonie
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For a transgender person, having excellent passing

avoids a lot of inconvenience and discrimination.


We live in a civilization totally organized on cisnormativity and people who do not correspond to it are very often blacklisted or even completely excluded from normalized society. This has the consequence that in transidentity, passing is very important in order to hope to have a more or less "quiet" life. The fear of bad passing is a rational and frightening fear for many transgender people.

Passing refers to the ability of a transgender person to be perceived at first glance as the cisgender person who perfectly corresponds to the gender expression that they wish to reflect back to society. This implies an association of many elements and in particular gendered physical aspects such as hairstyle, clothing, make-up, ... as well as certain attitudes and certain behaviors that are usually socially associated with a specific gender. For transgender people, this means being perceived in their gender as a cisgender person in the environment in which they find themselves.

But it's not a superpower that transgender people have. It is not an innate gift either because it is possible to have been well spent at the supermarket and then to be misgendered in the hour that follows at the pharmacist. It is therefore constant work and it does not take much for the passing to no longer be excellent. This ability to have an excellent passing must be accompanied by a very great self-confidence, very important not to arouse the suspicion of the most malicious people. Social interactions also play an important role in this area. Thus, passing can be excellent on the street and disastrous on the phone.

It is therefore a whole art that could be related to the faculty of camouflage of certain animals such as the chameleon.

When the passing in the desired gender is unsuccessful, the transgender person is said to be "read", that is to say, they are unmasked.

It is generally accepted that it is much easier to be able to read someone of your own ethnicity because the gender cues of your own ethnicity are more easily detected and recognized. Some people choose to leave their country of origin, because these gender indices can vary considerably from one country to another. Vocal range, physical build, hairline, facial shape and structure, attitude, and clothing styles may be some of the reasons given.

Throughout the transition period, transgender people experience an “in-between” phase that varies from a few months to sometimes several years. This is a very difficult period during which the trans identity of many transgender people is easily identifiable and these people are therefore at risk of aggression and violence. After a few years, experience and habit make passing become more believable, although we can never know in advance whether our passing is good or bad.

Passing matters more than physical appearance because, just as there is a spectrum of differences for the same gender (height, bone structure, having or not having an Adam's apple), the mind does not not just based on looks. Even more important are mannerisms and vocabulary. The mind captures any inconsistencies or notes certain aspects, to "validate" the appearance of a person (passing) or not (in the process of "reading"). The way a person is dressed, the choice of their clothes, in an inappropriate context, will attract attention. In a supermarket, even for a cisgender woman, wearing a mini-skirt, mink coat and knee-high boots will draw attention to her, possibly giving way to new, more focused observations.

The term stealth ("infiltration") is used to refer to a person who spends all the time in the desired gender, and who has cut off all contact with people who know his assigned gender. Thus, if no one is aware of their history, the person blends in perfectly with the population of their claimed gender. In order to live in discretion, a person must be perfectly "passable". People may also choose to be "undercover" during certain periods of their life, or depending on the environment (for example, "undercover" at work, but openly transgender among friends).

In modern times, efforts to try to pass are most often practiced by trans people, or more occasionally transvestites.

Transgender people who do not describe themselves as transvestites may have different attitudes towards passing. For example, they may not try to pass at all, engage in genderfuck (consciously sending mixed signals), or be able to pass but not mask the fact of being transgender. Personal views on passing and the desire, or need, to pass are independent of any medical treatment or legal gender reassignment.

In trans and transvestite communities, people who don't have good passing can sometimes envy those who do. Because of this, there may be a tendency for some people passing to avoid those that are easy to read. Also due to the fact that being with a person who is easily read can raise doubts about the condition of those around him.

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Depending on a person's presentation, anyone may be able to read it. Rather than knowing whether a person is read or not, it is the reaction of others to this “reading” that matters. Some researchers have suggested that many trans people who think they are "passing" are actually read by many observers, but, in the absence of confrontation, the trans person is unaware that they may have been" read" (read). It should be noted that the fact of being "read" can take on an insulting connotation in a certain context and in particular in competitions where transgender people are in contention with cisgender people. Very often, the fact of being read refers to a bad passing; which is likely to greatly affect the morale of the “outed” transgender person.