advocate.com – Aiden James Koscieszamay May 20 2015
To paraphrase Janet Mock: Trans people aren’t ‘passing’ as men or women. We’re being.”
Out of all the words in the transgender lexicon, “passing” is the one I hate most. And that’s no small feat.
In our rapidly evolving digital world, language is changing faster than ever. Words that seemed to be standard terminology as little as four years ago are now out of fashion, or even taboo. When I began my gender transition in 2011, for example, I called myself a “transsexual,” a word I no longer use because of its implied connection between gender identity and sexuality. Yet as words like “tranny” slink out of circulation, “passing” remains frustratingly well-used, even among the trans* community.
The term “passing,” when applied to transgender people, means being perceived as cisgender while presenting as one’s authentic gender identity. There’s a lot of power in that. When people meet me and assume that I am a cisgender man, I am afforded the privilege of choosing whether I disclose my transgender identity, and when. Many trans* folks pursue this power through clothing choices, hormones, surgery, voice training, or even etiquette lessons, and I’m all for that.
For many of us, the goal of transition is equally balanced between feeling comfortable in our own skin and showing the world who we really are. The problem is that when trans* people use the word “passing” for what we’ve achieved, it diminishes everything that we’re fighting for.