Nonbinary identity & “passing” politics

Passing: In the context of gender, passing refers to a person’s ability to be regarded at a glance to be either a cisgender man or a cisgender woman.

This is SUCH a fraught topic. Passing helps binary trans people (FTMs and MTFs) with dysphoria and in terms of safety, especially for trans women and, more especially, for trans women of colour. 

But even within the binary community, passing is fraught, as not all trans women and trans men CAN pass (being unable to afford or access gender-affirming healthcare – hormones or surgery), and not all binary trans people WANT to pass. 

Focusing on passing within the trans community is therefore problematic, as it excludes many binary trans people’s experiences, identities, and narratives.

Another sector of the trans community that is excluded is the nonbinary community. 

Not all nonbinary people want to go on hormones and access surgery; some want hormones and no surgery; and others have surgery without wanting hormones. 

Some nonbinary people want to pass as either male or female, and others prefer their androgyny as it best expresses their genderlessness/genderfluidity/nonbinariness, our queerness. (Queer is a catchall phrase for anyone who does not relate to the hetero and/or cisgender norms of patriarchal society. Heterosexual cisgender people and homo/bi/pansexual cisgender people are included in the label ‘queer’ if they do not conform to normative patriarchal roles of gender, including gender roles, and sexuality). 

For me as nonbinary, passing is so problematic, as being read as a cis male is as uncomfortable as being read as cis female… 

This journey is all about being SEEN for who we are, but hormones and/or surgeries, as much as they ease dysphoria, also erase our queerness, which results in invisibility yet again. 

Once I get top surgery, which I desperately need to ease dysphoria, I will need to rely on being visibly trans in other ways – online, which is easier to do; and in person, by expressing my femininity with clothing, etc. But then I’ll be read as a gay cis man, which while affirming of queerness, is not affirming of MY queerness.  

I’ve discussed this with many queer and trans people, and it seems to be a struggle which never fully resolves itself, but it is one in which we can constantly negotiate and compromise in terms of having spaces where we are celebrated for being queer, and spaces in which we are read as cisgender. The balance of these two seems to be the important thing.


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