The perils of passing

Given that passing is allegedly the holy grail of all transition,it might come as a surprise when i admit that it has me thoroughly floored.

For twice, now, in the space of 48 hours, being accepted as who i am has had me in a tizz, wondering whether i ought not to out myself “just in case”.

The “problem” arose while travelling with the boy. Down to Bristol Pride on friday, back again sunday evening. Both times, on a crowded train: both times we struck up conversation with fellow passengers.

And both conversations took off in a decidedly nervous direction, prompted, perhaps, by the fact that the boy, in public, tends to address me as “Jane” – neither “mum” nor “dad” quite fitting his sense of youthful propriety.

On Friday, the man i was speaking to – an elderly slightly old-worldly gentleman – looked quizzically over at me and “you’re not his mum, then?”

I, er….



“Its complicated”, was the best i could do, feeling rude and shifty and not at all sure what i should have said. But that seemed to keep him happy as i worked out that he had been trying to sort out for himself whether i was mum or grandmum.

Then same, or similar, on Sunday, as my observant fellow-passenger – a lovely retired lady en route to Lincoln – blurted “You’re not his mum, then? Nanny?”

Since we were chatting fairly closely by that point and had shared more than a few confidences, i opened up to her.

Still,its a weird place to be for always believed “passing” was something that happened to others and is therefore just a little unprepared for this sort of thing.

Its nice. Something i very much enjoy. But what i am not prepared for is the slight frisson that accompanies such encounters. On my own, day-to-day, i remain unsure of how genuine the “passing experience” is: because i never expected it, never believed it. So i rationalise: its just political correctness. They’re just being nice.

Until encounters like these, where it is obvious beyond excuse that this is real…not niceness, not pc-gone-mad.

And that leaves me with very different feelings. Glad, yes:but, not being used to it, fear of sudden outing. What if…what if the nice guy trying to work out whether i’m a mum or a grandmum suddenly works out i’m not technically either – and decides i’ve “deceived” him.

Its all, i guess,like one of those interminable computer games the boy plays at. No sooner have you laid waste to the demons on one level than you are booted up to the next, there to face an entirely different set of issues and challenges.

Early days are long past. And the transition is done, sort of. But it never finishes – and now, i find, i must cope with another level, another load of questions. Since i do pass, i shall. Now, all i need to do is to adjust my mindset…get used to that fact – and stop apologising for it.

Is there anywhere, ever, an endgame?

jane xx


19 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    ParisLees said,

    Don’t get too used to it! It might be 6 months, it might be 6 years, but someone, somewhere, will pick up on your history. It happens sometimes. The thing to remember is, it doesn’t mean “I don’t pass anymore!” – it means that one person read you a certain way. It’s easy to think that everyone is thinking what the last rude (or polite) person said to you, but I don’t think that’s helpful. I’m sure you will find passing becomes more and more frequent now as you relax into it. Just try not to be devastated if someone reads you in future, because it happens to us all, sister. (Friendly advice from someone who has been deeply upset many times because I believed myself to be completely “out of the danger” zone” and therefore had more of a shock when shit happened!) xx

    • 2

      janefae said,

      mebbe…though i am coming at this from a different angle. It was something i didn’t believe possible or likely…so having now to deal with it happening as opposed to it NOT happening….and if the pattern continues, then in time i’ll have to learn to deal, too, with the issue you raise.

      jane xx

  2. 3

    ParisLees said,

    PS – good for you though, obviously! x

  3. 4

    Rebecca Ashling said,

    I pass more often these days but I generally assume that I will be read by most people. Passing is an odd phenomenon though, as cis women can also be read as trans if they don’t fit whatever construction of femininity is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. 5

    QRG said,

    I passed as sane. – Adrian Mitchell

  5. 6

    Shirley Anne said,

    It is good to know that you do pass of course and perhaps put all the doubts in the bin. You could have replied I am his aunt or friend of the family but thinking you had to come out for whatever reason I think is a sign of insecurity in being the woman you are. If you come across guys who find you attractive tell them you have a partner (which isn’t a lie is it?). If in doubt as to their suppositions just walk away. I’m sure you know all these things anyhow.

    Shirley Anne x

  6. 7

    Jill said,

    I don’t know if there is ever an endgame, but the answer is simple – you are the boy’s parent. You’re not an aunt, or a friend of the family. You are biologically his parent, be proud of that 😉

    • 8

      janefae said,

      yeah…but its the out and about stuff. Npot so much my relationship to him…but nerviness of being seen as “deceiving”, which is a concern i never thought i would have. Hang on for the next post, though…he had a fun timeat the weekend…almost “take your son to work day” as i took him out to Bristol Pride and then chatted to police about the EDL demo that went down at the same time.

      I think it sunk in properly for the first time that being a journo can mean exciting stuff like talking to police, being “almost on the news”, as he excitedly put it, and having to leave an area quite swiftly to avoid being kettled. He was under strict instructions NOT to inform his class teacher (inaccurately) that i had nearly been arrested.

      Oh. And he also got to meet the Lord Mayor of Bristol, which i think he considered rather less exciting than helping a juggler the next day with his knife act. 🙂

      jane xx

  7. 9

    I have lesbian friends who will explain that their adopted children have two mums. They can’t call you both Mum, you know.

    My children call me Dad, unless in a situation where it might cause a problem, in which case I’m Tess. It seems to work. I’ve done a lot of kayak coaching with Guide groups this year with one of my sons helping.

    I don’t get the “deceiving” bit. Who on earth are you deceiving? No-one who has a right to know. Even in my case, with the guides, there is no deception. Post op my name IS Tess and there is nothing about my body to suggest I don’t belong in the changing room.

    • 10

      janefae said,

      i’ve said this in answer to another post, but i’ll make the same point here. Its not so much that i feel i am committing any great deception,as the awareness that the perception of doing so can have consequences – in some cases, quite violent ones.

      Throw into the pot that i had never believed i was likely to pass for more than a few seconds at a time – and am now having to get used to the fact that actually, i seem to, more and more…the fact that that was not a reality i was prepared for…and the sensitivity of being out and about with my son who i did not wish to contradict publically without having first got his take on language he was comfortable with…and that’s the kick-off point for this post.

      jane xx

  8. 11

    eclectic chicken said,

    I think the important thing to do is ask the boy…. and go not with what you want… but what he feels comfortable with as I’d hate to think he picks up on the message that being his ‘dad’ is necessarily a thing to be ashamed of for some reason as you’ve always said dad is not a gender its a role.

    The social discomfort of being outed to someone on a train (not like being outed to a piss head at 5 am) is of little importance…. what the boy thinks is of huge importance.

    be proud of who you are… you are a woman of trans history and a dad (or at a pinch as Jill says above.. the answer to ‘are you the boys mother?’ is a nod and ‘yes, i’m one of the boys parents’)

    • 12

      janefae said,

      think that’s been my start point throughout…which is to go with what the boy wants. There are simply two added complications to the train-type situation that i hadn’t anticipated.

      The first is…the boy is not slow to make his own voice heard. So i am/was reluctant to say yay or nay to anything that i’m not sure he would buy into. That is easioly sorted for the future,cause he and i talk and this will be a topic to kick around at some point in the next week or two.

      The second is the wider point around “deception” and while i don’t see myself as deceiving (but see reply below to another post) its the fear of being PERCEIVED as deceiving that gives me pause. And that’s complicated. I can go a month or, as recently, several months without a smidgeon of an upset – and then the pisshead incident on KX station leaves me physically shaken and, yes,fearful of far worse consequences than,eventually, there were.

      jane xx

  9. 13

    Anonymous said,

    “I had never believed i was likely to pass for more than a few seconds at a time….that was not a reality i was prepared for”.

    What were you prepared for? What was ‘the plan’? To be forever read/clocked as ‘trans’?

  10. 15

    Anonymous said,

    To each their own. And…you are correct. I do not do “improv”. I leave that to others to provide comic relief.

  11. 16

    emma said,

    “Is there anywhere, ever, an endgame?”

    Only if & when there is a general understanding that preconceived ideas leading to discrimination of gender identity on the basis of sex benefit nobody.

    • 17

      janefae said,


      Tnhough here, i think, i meant simply:does the change process ever end? Which was a rhetorical question to which i am beginning to suspect the answer is never.

      Because while others may see transition as something with a beginning, middle and end, my own take is that it just continues to deepen, month after month, year after year.

      jane xx

      • 18

        emma said,

        “does the change process ever end? Which was a rhetorical question to which i am beginning to suspect the answer is never”.

        Yes, so long as we are open minded, so open to evolution (ie alive…) ;o)

  12. 19

    BeaGrimbly said,

    I really empathise with your experiences. The biggest thing I had to get over when I started coming out was the idea of passing. I thought I would never, could never, pass. When I accepted that, when I accepted myself as trans* and whatever others would make of that, I was able to go out with a little confidence and begin to actually enjoy myself.

    Deep down, I still don’t really believe that I pass for more than the odd glance. But this year I have met people who didn’t read me at all, who were surprised when I told them, even complimenting me on my appearance (not patronisingly) all of which I found quite unexpected and both validating and oddly unsettling at the same time.

    Last weekend I was at a festival and letting loose on a dance floor and had a very, erm, friendly dance with a lovely looking guy. I don’t know if he read me or not but after a few minutes dancing with him (which was wonderful) I became very self-conscious that maybe he hadn’t and would then become upset if he realised I was actually trans.

    Of course, as far as I know this was all just happening in my head. He was never anything but friendly and respectful.

    In other situations where guys have been staring I’ve been convinced they were reading me and my (cis) friends were equally convinced they were checking me out! How does one tell?!

    Sorry for rambling on – it’s just you have beautifully articulated something I’ve found very hard to explain to my friends.

    Bea x

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