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The Problem with Passing

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

I pass as a heterosexual cis-female and I hate that.

I have always passed (well, more or less) regardless of what I wear, my hair, binders, softees, make-up on and off… I pass. Sure, there have been periods of time when I have worked really hard to not pass and yes, I get mistaken for a man a lot. But by and large people see me and think I’m just another heterosexual cis-female.

The older I get, the more I pass. I put on weight in my 30s and strapping down DDs is a lot trickier than small Cs. My hips filled out and it is no longer easy to pass as a guy from behind. The more I pass, the more dysmorphia and depression creep into my world.

Now, I still get the occasional “Hello Sir,” and “How can I help you Sir,” but it has gone from happening a couple times a week to just a couple of times a month. Not that passing as a man, gay or straight is much better than passing as a hetero female. For those who know me, I have become “just Bec”- no tribe, no affiliation, because I can’t fit into any box.

I know hating the ability to pass is not a common complaint. I know many people who wish to pass as male or female, as hetero, and as cis. I support them in their quest to fit their public and cultural image with how they feel authentically. There is nothing wrong with passing or wanting to pass. I just personally don’t like passing.

The problem with passing it is makes it necessary to come out over, and over, and over again. Every time I meet someone new, every time I get on stage, every time I do an interview I have to come out as bisexual, agender, and queer. Its exhausting.

Passing also means that every time I come out, I have to “prove” my queerness. I have never been accepted flat-out as part of the queer community. As recently as two months ago a group of burlesque dancers insisted vehemently in a public forum that there was no possible way for a bisexual to be “queer AF.” For all intents and purposes, they believed that as someone who could pass for straight and who is currently dating a man, I will, in their words “Just pick up the ball and go home,” rather than fight for my community. Bisexuality, to them, means I will be a traitor to my queer brethren.

Passing as cis means that every time a conversation comes up about gender I have to come out as agender. This identity is not understood by 99 percent of people I meet. Since I am not trans and not trying to pass as a man, I am relegated to the feminine pronoun always. I could insist on “they” but the non-binary pronoun option is used by people who still connect with their gender (be it a non-binary one) rather than exist in the absence of gender so I don’t really have a pronoun which fits. I just go with the misgendered female pronouns since there is literally no option in English for me.

Being agender also means I generally lack allies. I have met about a half-dozen people who identify as non-binary but not trans. There is no public discourse about those of us who are agender and what it means to live in a world where everything is gendered and that is a concept you cannot emotionally connect with. It also means that both cis and trans folks place me on the very edge of their community.

Finally, I believe visibility of different genders and sexualities is critical. When I was discovering who I was in relation to gender and sexual orientation, there were very few visible bisexuals and no visible agender folks (there wasn’t even a word for my gender at the time). I had to create my own identity and do it without a support network of like-minded people.

I have tried very hard to not pass. I have altered hair, make-up, clothing, walk, voice and more. Living in a world where the binary was the only option for more than three decades meant that in the end, most people just assume I am a cis, hetero woman until I let them know otherwise.

Of course, coming out then means I face an onslaught of questions to prove that I am legitimately queer, agender, and even after that, I am seen as someone who will betray my fellow queers when the going gets tough.

I have been in this culture too long to believe that most people will ever break out of their binary worlds. I figure if I vent a bit about the problem of passing a few of the kindred spirits who read this blog will feel a little less alone.

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