A few months ago, life was sweet.
My new found life in London was going great. In most respects, it still is. I’m finding it easy to get work, my bank account is healthy, I have friends and maybe even a potential partner (who doesn’t live in London, but does work at Alton Towers). But I seem to be losing an ability that I unexpectedly gained when I moved to the city; one that’s incredibly important and effects every part of my life.
I seem to be passing less and less.
I remember my first week working for a financial firm in Tower Hill. After work, a few colleagues and myself went for dinner at Nandos (because prior to London I was a loser that didn’t know the beauty of Nandos). Whilst waiting for the food to arrive, I got talking to one of the girls, and casually mentioned how annoying my medication is. When she asked what it was for, I told her it’s because I’m trans. I turned away to get something out of my bag, but when I looked back her face was stuck in a state of surprise. Turns out she had no idea I was trans.
Thankfully she was completely ok with it (she explained that her Christian belief taught her to be accepting of everyone, no matter the difference – highly refreshing from the anti-LGBT rhetoric I had come to expect from religious people), but the experience taught me that maybe I finally had the most sought-after ability of any self respecting transwoman – the power of passing.
This fact was further solidified after a night out I had with the contestants of last year’s Big Brother, after I was invited by personal friend and winner Luke Anderson. We were joined at the Cavendish Square club by Paris Lees and a friend of hers, Gay Times writer Jack Cullen. Speaking with them both, I finally realised that maybe I was doing better than I thought; Jack told me that he had no idea I was trans, and Paris was impressed by how much of an impact that hormones had on my body (I was pre-HRT when we last met in person).
But speaking with Paris towards the end of the night got interesting. She congratulated me on being able to pass, but did come with a warning: some day in the future, it would be inevitable that there would be moments where I wouldn’t pass, and it would be hard not to take it personally. At the time I almost laughed it off – I was used to not passing so many times that I thought it silly that I would even get upset by the notion. But spending so much time actually being referred to by your true gender, in ways where people have no idea about your history, has a softening effect. And when you finally don’t pass to someone…it hurts. And that’s the only way to put it.
I first became aware that I was losing my passing ability after a night out with some old work colleagues. After having a few drinks, I went outside to have a cigarette with one of the girls and we started taking. As the topics we talked about changed, she mentioned how hard things must be for me. Having a feeling as to what she was referring to, but dreading the answer, I asked her what she meant. I knew what she was thinking, but she didn’t say until I did. And as I was drunk, and an occasionally proud transwoman, I told her. It then came out that she knew already – as did everyone I worked with. Even people I hadn’t met knew I was trans – even some girl I had no idea existed knew all about me!
There were no issues with people knowing – I was still treated the same as I always had been. It also transpired that it took them a while to figure it out, but then this would mean there had been a lot of ‘is she/isn’t she’ talk behind my back. I’m fairly used to having people discuss my gender identity when I’m not around, but these are groups of people who knew all about me anyway – childhood friends back in Buckley, or people in university witnessing my transition first hand. So these kind of talks are really nothing new. But what was upsetting was that I thought all this was in the past. I thought I could actually leave all this behind, and delve into the real world of passing without having my history discussed by those who had no learned knowledge.
But then, I’ve been told this is what’s experienced by the vast majority of trans people all too often. Even those I’ve thought looked immaculate years before starting hormones would occasionally face issues.
In a way, it’s virtually inevitable. Testosterone has such a destructive effect on the body that it’s all but impossible to remove the traces without resorting to surgery. As I’ve only spent money on laser hair removal, and cannot afford a nose job or facial feminisation, I’m almost lucky to be otherwise inconspicuous to all who don’t spend a few days in my constant presence. Especially since moving to London, I’ve met transwomen who have been living full time for years, and had all the surgeries and every procedure going, yet I feel like I pass better than they do (I’d like to state I’m trying not to be egotistical here). I have it good, and things will only get better.
But the sting is still there. Being identified by your past hurts, especially if it’s picked upon by those who didn’t know the ‘old you’. It makes you question everything you do, bringing up old habits you took up when you first came out to make life feel more comfortable. It’s not nice, but it happens to everyone. Even people prettier than me.