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Justifying my gender… or not

January 27, 2011

I used to think that “passing” –being perceived as the gender I presented– was about people seeing me as male, a cisgender male. At some point, I realized that I didn’t care if people read me as trans or cis, as long as they respected me as a guy. Admittedly, though, it’s hard to be perceived as a trans man at first glance — people usually see a cis butch woman or a cis man. In any case, one can usually only pass as cis (although some people are perceived as trans women, whether they are or not).

Back when I started passing as male some of the time, I saw it as something completely out of my control — if someone perceived me as female, I was stuck with that label unless I wanted to come out. And even if I came out, the other person held the power to respect me or not, and I’d have to justify my own gender in a way rarely demanded of cis people.

But there was one time where I reacted differently. I went to a small used clothing store, looking for a jacket, and the owner started pulling out lots of tight-fitting, feminine items to show me. I was confused because I hadn’t even thought about passing for months –I was usually read as male at that point– and blurted out “But… I’m not a girl!” After a stunned second, she apologized and offered an explanation for the misunderstanding (“I know you’re not a girl, but, uh, boys these days wear all sorts of clothes…”). I had asserted myself with such emphasis that, for once, the roles were reversed: someone else had to justify themselves for misgendering me, instead of me acting apologetic for asking for the right pronouns.

The passing tip I hear most often is “be confident”, and it kinda annoys me because confidence can’t make people see you as you wish (and that tip almost blames your attitude if you don’t have passing privilege). But sometimes, in safe situations, confidence can help you have your gender respected, even if people haven’t immediately seen you as a cis person of your target gender. Maybe they weren’t even sure what to call you, and made their best guess, and would be happy to correct themselves. In my story, I don’t know if the store owner ended up seeing me as a cis boy or a trans man, but in that situation it didn’t matter. I just wanted to find the right clothes, and she was glad to help me with that.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Myles Liam permalink
    January 28, 2011 3:40 pm

    I read the link you included about “cisgender”, but still don’t really get it. Can you explain at least your interpretation of it?

  2. February 5, 2011 4:49 pm

    “After a stunned second, she apologized and offered an explanation for the misunderstanding (“I know you’re not a girl, but, uh, boys these days wear all sorts of clothes…”). I had asserted myself with such emphasis that, for once, the roles were reversed: someone else had to justify themselves for misgendering me, instead of me acting apologetic for asking for the right pronouns.”

    Love it.

  3. genderkid permalink*
    February 5, 2011 8:47 pm

    Myles: to put it simply, cisgender means not transgender. Most people in the world are cisgender.

    It gets more complicated if you use “transgender” as an umbrella term encompassing people like drag kings and queens, because these people usually are happy with their assigned gender –the gender on their birth certificate– so they would be cisgender. Like any binary, the boundaries are blurry!

    South Carolina Boy: Thanks! I saw on your blog that you just read Trans Liberation; it’s quite something, isn’t it?

  4. February 7, 2011 3:40 pm

    I loved Trans Liberation. Some powerful messages when I needed them. I still have Drag King Dreams I aim to read soon.

  5. February 20, 2011 12:47 pm

    “The passing tip I hear most often is “be confident”, and it kinda annoys me because confidence can’t make people see you as you wish (and that tip almost blames your attitude if you don’t have passing privilege).”

    I’d remove the “almost”, actually. If you read of someone who’s going on about how he has visible big breasts etc. and yet gets adressed as male because he wears flannel shirts and acts Confident with a capital c, what else would be to blame if you can NOT manage the same result? Only your own (lacking) attitude. And it annoys me to no end because I’m a shy and somewhat socially anxious guy who has difficulties acting confident at the best of times. When someone tells me “to walk into the room like it was yours” I don’t even know what they mean. Sure, acting self-assured is nice, and it can bring results, but the way some advice is being written it actually takes pressure away from the cis people and puts it on trans people instead (the implication being that people would have no reason to gender you correctly if you are too shy or insecure, so if you’re an anxious person you’re shit out of luck and that’s that — correct pronouns are only for the strong-willed).

  6. February 27, 2011 12:56 am

    That’s a really good point, Dingsi.

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