Justifying my gender… or not
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.