Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What are the chances of passing for a man or a woman somewhere in Andromeda (M31)?

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Passing thoughts on blending for the transgender M to F person

The practical matters involved in "passing" often challenge persons formally diagnosed as TS, those who may believe they are TS, and a certain subset of transgender individuals generally. This paper is a springboard for thoughts on this important and sometimes difficult to discuss topic.

The list, including a dash of humor, was composed by a client I saw in therapy some years ago. I offer it here, in her words, with some minor editing and with her permission:

“The following suggestions may be helpful to you if you get turned off (and not turned on) by being "read" in public settings. If you feel any of these ideas are silly or plain stupid, just sigh deeply and move on to the next one, or propose an alternative way of looking at things.

To begin then:

1. Effective passing is a workable combination of the correct or appropriate behavior and appearance for the situation, i.e., actions, clothing, makeup, etc. Your ability to relax, feel good about yourself, and blend with your environment is especially important. Attitude helps a lot!

A person who sees or meets you for the first time wants to be able to quickly classify you as M or F. If you’re ambiguous or present conflicting cues expect to make people curious and/or anxious. If a person can't quickly and comfortably classify you into one of these two categories they’ll spend extra time searching your “image” until they’re able to come up with enough cues to make a classification and reduce their discomfort, satisfy their curiosity, etc. They may even ask for assistance in identifying you from someone who is with them. Once they know your gender (they’ll probably think of it as “sex,” but you’ll be wearing clothes, right? So they won’t really know your sex.) then they'll know how to respond to you, e.g., whether to flirt or not to flirt! The worse thing that could happen would be for someone not to precisely know your gender and then make an error in relating to you. This could summon their deepest homosexual fears and send them into a tizzy, perhaps, creating some kind of scene on the very spot, pronto. Maybe they’ll have a seizure, or hemorrhage, or something worse. Spare the public this potential trauma. Find the right cues to feed them!

2. If passing is your goal you must first deal effectively with any distracting hair problems you may have, especially facial and other head hair problems. That may mean electrolysis and a good quality hair piece or wig—or moving to Iran and wearing a veil.

3. You may do best (and learn a lot about styles and how they change, too) if you strive to match "the average woman" in dressing and behavior for your location, age, size, etc. I know you're above average, but you'll just have to pretend! You may pass better dressing-down as compared to dressing-up.

4. It's better to err on the conservative side in clothing, shoes, and makeup. For example, skirts or dresses, knee length or longer will attract less attention. Leave the tight skirts to Tina Turner unless you've got the legs, hips, and butt to fill one—and you're prepared to handle the attention a tight or short skirt generates! Nice slacks or jeans may also work well if you have a butt…or are willing to get one.

5. Conservative, but “in-style,” footwear will work best. Comfortable footwear makes a natural, gender appropriate walk easier. A shoe color that matches or blends with your hose and fits your overall outfit will draw less attention to your feet. Sandals can be quite comfortable, stylish, and make for easy walking. They also have a long season especially here in California.

6. Avoid heavy, especially dark, eye makeup, e.g., black eye liner on your lower lids, gloppy mascara, etc. Ok, go ahead, if it helps you get into your streetwalker fantasy—for your safety and health, though, let's hope it's just a fantasy and nothing more. Don't expect heavy eye makeup to go over real dandy at your local mall unless, maybe, you're a fourteen year old or fixing to catch yourself a man. And yes, some men you’ll catch you’ll want to throw back in the pond, I bet.

7. Easy does it on jewelry—a few pieces of good or better quality jewelry may work best for you. Stay away from cheap costume jewelry unless you want to be a girl clown. Get dressed up, look the situation over, and then take a piece off (maybe, two pieces for you, Laverne).

8. Pierced earrings or clip-ons that imitate pierced ears will help create the needed effect. Drop or dangling earrings don’t look good with glasses (unless you're in Oklahoma!)—stick to studs or button earrings. Not wearing earrings is almost as serious as not carrying a purse—or not having a Visa card!

9. Shorter hair styles tend to be preferred by women as they mature. Few professional women over 40 wear their hair below their shoulders. But as you know almost all men like long hair on women. You may want to avoid the “big hair” look, too.

10. Tall women typically look best in longer hairstyles, e.g., shoulder length. Short hair will make a tall woman look even taller. Conversely, short women look shorter with long hair and taller with short hair. And remember, no hair will make a woman look like Yul Brenner or just plain bald!

11. Avoid garish clothing combinations. Learn to put an outfit together. Learn what styles and colors work best for you. One of the neat things about a nice dress is you don’t have to find a skirt and blouse combination that works—unless you’re one of those folks who wear several outfits at the same time! If you want to look like a caricature of a woman or a clown go to a drag party or waddle off and join a circus.

12. Mind your own business when in public. Avoid unnecessary eye contact. If you're tall, learn to recognize the difference between attracting attention because you're tall, and visually striking, verses getting read because your dress and/or behavior is not congruent with others’ expectations. If you make nervous, wasteful eye contact you may make yourself and others anxious and, perhaps, suspicious. If you make a lot of nervous eye gestures while in a store you might feel you’re being read because others are watching you, especially clerks, while actually they may be checking you out, to see if you’re a shoplifter. On the other hand, make eye contact with salespeople, when appropriate and needed.

13. Practice walking a little slower than you might ordinarily walk. Keep your feet and knees reasonably close together. Walk by placing one foot in front of the other. Point your toes—avoid a duck or pigeon walk. You don't have to walk exactly like a fashion model, but an approximation to that style and less of a walk like a lumberjack or chimpanzee may help.

14. If your hands tend to be on the large side, rings, nail polish, vampire nails, etc. will draw attention to them. So be careful. You don't want a stake through your heart, especially while shopping at Nordstrom's or Bloomingdales! Also, if you do have large hands, carry a large purse.

15. If your legs are still muscular from your days on the Celtics (or was it the Lakers?) wear darker colored hose, i.e., blacks, grays, or the darker flesh tones. Some people may want to wear two pairs. (I'm not talking about four legged folks here.) Also, black shoes generally go best with black hose. Stay away from black hose and those white or red pumps that light-up your feet!

16. Some clothing is almost always in-style, for almost anyone, e.g., a nice medium length skirt. On the other hand, certain other clothes are currently out-of-style or don't look good for some reason, e.g., a mini skirt on most 35+ year old women. Remember if you wear, e.g., 50's or 60's, etc. style clothing in 2006 you may attract attention you don't want. So determine what you want and find out what works best for you.

17. If you need or want plastic surgery you may want to use your money and time for something that will more immediately help you pass, e.g., a nose or jaw job or apple shave rather than breast implants. On the other hand, if implants will help you feel significantly better about yourself and raise your self-esteem, they're probably worth it. Ask lots of questions. Check around, talk to others who have had the procedure, and get the best surgeon you can.

18. You’ve noticed women typically talk more than men. Hence, work on your voice if you intend to talk to people. Practice with a tape recorder, shadow women talking on radio and T.V., get an evaluation and recommendations from a speech and voice specialist. Call 800 numbers for free practice talking to people on the phone. If your work involves lots of talking on the phone with clients, business associates, etc, you'll want to get your phone voice together real quick. If you don't intend to talk to people you might want to consider moving to another planet or hop in you time machine and be a silent movie actress.

In addition, don't forget to work on your nonverbal behavior, e.g., eye contact, posture, hand and facial expressions, etc. which is very important in communicating your gender in face-to-face conversations. If you can learn to feel comfortable talking to a person one-to-one it can be the basis on which future relationships are built. This face-to-face relating to another person can often be developed as you work with a good therapist in building your presentation as a woman or man over a period of months or even several years.

19. Exercise, workout. You'll be healthier, look better in your clothes, and feel better about yourself. Regular exercise can help reduce stress and depression, too.

20. You may be fat, short, tall, or not particularly beautiful, but you may still pass if you work at the essentials and have enough time and money (for electrolysis, etc.) to take the steps that becoming a woman (or man) involves. Looking like a Bozo is much easier than building a passing image or presentation. It's trite but true; women and men come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. There may very well be a look that will work for you. Search for it.

21. Practice will produce improvement. Socialize and grow. You’ll get better with experience. Stay at home and stay where you are! Set small achievable goals for yourself. Be patient. Go slow. Be realistic. Be kind to yourself. Revise plans as needed. Always have a Plan A and a Plan B.

22. If you look as good as you can, or reasonably close to it, and feel good about yourself, you'll enhance your chances of doing well in public. A licensed therapist, well experienced in the gender area, might be able to help you understand yourself, assess your motivation, and assist you in formulating goals and developing plans. Ask yourself: Given what I've got, and what's possible for me, what do I need to do to develop my potential and maximize my image? You may find that you can fit in and, in the process, build yourself a better life.

23. When things go well for you say something nice to yourself, give yourself a word or two of praise, produce a positive thought. Give yourself compliments and avoid destructive forms of self-criticism. Occasionally, give yourself some sort of treat, maybe even buy yourself something! Work at reducing those negative or critical thoughts. You've probably already had much more than your share of negative or critical comments in your life from others, who don't understand you. Don't add to them. Spend time with people who treat you well and appreciate you. If things don’t go as well as you would like, learn from your mistakes, then produce positive change. Talk things over with friends. Setbacks occur for everyone. Bounce back, get on track.

24. You might want to learn to practice meditation at home as another way to help you relax and reduce stress when you're out in public. Use a phrase that includes your name as your mantra, e.g., “Relax Rhonda,” (of course, if your name is Ruby Begonia, just say “Relax Ruby”). Then repeat that phrase to yourself when you're in a public setting and you feel a little tense or anxious. You'll relax, feel a lot better, and gain even more control of your life.”

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Notice the author uses the words “pass” or “passing” in the list above. How do you feel about this? Is it better to think of striving to “blend” with other women or men? What’s the difference between “passing” and “blending?” What do these two words mean to you?

I'd love to have you add to this list. The preceding is just a start. Share your experience and creativity! I'm confident people ranging from beginners to those living full time in their preferred gender roles for years all have something to add. I'll bet this list could be hundreds of items long and wonderfully helpful for those changing gender roles.

In addition, what would a list exclusively devoted to FTM spectrum persons be like?