Is There “Passing Privilege”?

| Jun 20, 2016
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By Elizabeth Jenkins, President of Louisiana Trans Advocates

“Passing privilege” has become an overused phrase in our trans community, plus it has become a concept that causes so many people within our community so much grief. We often have huge differences of opinion, sometimes causing us to start disliking each other.

But really, it does exist.

I think of it — “passing privilege” — on at least three levels (1) a person’s core identity (2) physical characteristics, things such as age, family characteristics people inherit, and reactions to HRT (if used) and (3) self confidence and attitude. How each trans person approaches these affects their “passing privilege.”

That is really making it simpler than it is, but it is a good start toward understanding this complicated subject.

Core identity: Not everyone WANTS to “pass” and consider “passing” a cop out to the binary gender system. Others want the flexibility of being whatever they feel they are at any given time. And then there are some of us that want to leave one gender and assume the other permanently because we feel we were born wrongly gendered.

The is no wrong path — in the trans community everyone is what they are.

Physical characteristics: Something we have little control over — something many of us address through props and accessories such as wigs, binders, breast forms, STPs and the like. Sometimes we depend on using gender defining clothing and accessories (some MIX all that at their pleasure). Or we modify our bodies — musculature, and weight; facial, head and body hair; body motion and presentation, and the like. Finally, many resort to HRT or expensive surgeries. This is done with different results — from excellent to poor — from “passing” to not passing.

Attitude: What I think is the most important part of having “passing privilege.” People pick up that you are are or are not secure and reflect it back at you. For the MtF person remember the Walmart test. Half the women in Walmart would not pass the standards trans women place on themselves. For FtM, there is a good chance of being seen as one of a million types of guys that exist naturally.

So what is the point? If you are you people quickly pick up on how to gender you. (I mean people that are worthy of being your friends.)

And if you are a type of person who uses non-standard pronouns, those pronouns that are not so obvious, then tell people what you want to hear.

Just be aware that “transgender” is new to modern society (although we have existed since the beginning of time) and we in the trans community are — unfortunately — on the cutting edge of educating people about what we are — human beings who are dealing with gender dysphoria — or as some trans people say, the breaking down of the binary gender model..

And I prefer the term “successfully presenting as yourself” rather than “passing.”

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Opinion


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  1. carlaroberts carlaroberts says:

    This is so appropriate and timely. It hits on a talk I have given at my church, ( a very welcoming congregation) about being authentic, and how even in a safe and friendly environment, we sometime feel like we are putting “A Square Peg in a Round Hole”. We still feel a bit out of place, even in an environment where we are accepted, for whoever we are.
    I am blessed to have been able to achieve success at all three levels mentioned, so much so that I rarely give a second thought to going out, when and where I please as Carla. My wife says it is not about how I dress or present, but it is about who I am.
    I have to ask myself if being who I am, has given me so much comfort that have I become “Comfortably Numb” Remember the song by Pink Floyd?
    How often have I been in contact or engaged in activities with an unsuspecting “Trans-phoebe” who might have had their horizons widened to to learn that the person they have so enjoyed the company of, might just not be all they seem? I certainly enjoy the comfort of having achieved all three levels, at least to some degree, but lately, I feel moved to sometimes fail the “Walmart test” intentionally, to have the opportunity to see that “Look” you sometimes get when people are processing who and what you are. So far, most of the reactions I have received, are embarrassment, for mis-gendering me. So far, my attempts to expand a stranger’s view of gender identity and expression, have been mixed. Some express support, disbelief, surprise, compassion, Too Much Information (TMI) to name a firewood, but I think it is important to help people understand the Trans community is all around them, and it is not going away, and all we ask is to be who we are, our true selves in the moment whether we pass the “Walmart Test” or not!

  2. CateOMalley CateOMalley says:


    Thank you for posting this.


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