It’s quite an exciting time for me. Sometime in the past two or so weeks, my face has become feminine enough that I am no longer bothered on the street at all for being transsexual. I am also “passing” even when people interact with me more up close and for long periods of time – I know not every single time but more than half of the time for sure. And I’m thinking quite a lot more than half the time.
I am rather ridiculously proud and happy every time I realise I’ve been passing. I even have a tinge of happiness about otherwise unpleasant circumstances, such as instances of sexual harassment (which I fully realise is fucked up and would love to never have to experience it, but I’m glad I’m experiencing it instead of trans-related harassment).
When I’m interacting with someone I didn’t know before, I take it as an opportunity to test my passing. If I mention my trans-ness in some relevant way to the conversation, I can hopefully catch a glimpse of any surprised reactions.
I’m pretty sure some people gloss over their reactions and still others have found out previously through mutual acquaintances, stealing my fun. But still, not long ago I got a perfect response: wide open eyes and a gushing, “I had no idea!”
Another time, I got up on stage to do a comedy improv performance. (Before you get too impressed, my skills are moderate at best – but I have fun).
Someone later told a friend of mine, “I thought she was a man for a moment, then I realised she was a woman.” This realisation held up through about ten minutes of stage time, even though I was forced to use what I thought was a somewhat male voice in order to project the sound well enough. At one point I was screaming, “I don’t care that the world is ending, I need you to help me with my stomach ache!!” in a breaking falsetto. Somehow that voice quality didn’t take away from my female impression, at least not for this person.
It’s also cool to notice how I’m passing in the way people respond to me differently. The man I bought avocadoes from in the Boqueria market called me “darling” and “sweetheart” repeatedly enough to sound almost a little absurd. Another man in a pharmacy spoke to me with a voice like some use for talking to little children, while simultaneously smiling a lot at me and seeming to care very much about making sure I got everything I needed. (I’m guessing he didn’t think too hard about why I needed estrogen and testosterone blockers).
Or subtler things, like the way someone looked at me after I chugged half a litre of water and then gasped loudly for breath. Or the look the greengrocer gave me, a kind of disbelieving respect, when I snapped the leafy bit off a pineapple in one sharp tug and handed it back to him. (He said even he wasn’t strong enough to do such a move. Maybe he wasn’t, but I don’t think anyone would have commented on my physical strength in this situation when I appeared to be a man).
In general, my recent trip to Spain this last week (where all of these things happened) was a good experiment for me. Spanish people are a lot more overt than German people. Before hormones I would have expected people to bother me on the street in Spain 1-3 times a day. Stuff like a guy shouting to his friends, “IT’S A DUDE!!!”, or an old lady looking at me and muttering, “Madre mia,” without any apparent interest in being discreet.
This time, I got none of that. Absolutely none. I did get a couple of looks which I thought might have been people trying to work out if I was trans, both of them when I was wading through a crowd of thousands of people in the Mercè festival. But even they didn’t dare to say anything; they were clearly not that sure.
I’m slowly letting my guard down now; I’m no longer avoiding strangers’ gazes so desperately, no longer so tense around groups of boys and young men, no longer paranoid whenever a stranger laughs or calls something out in my direction that they might be speaking to or about me. Women’s bathrooms are no longer a source of stress. I’m finally starting to really relax in public, and that feels amazing.
Well, instead of Spanish trans-related harassment, I’ve been “enjoying” the other consequence of Spanish extroversion I know well: sexual harassment. In one week in Spain, I’ve had two instances of men thinking they had the right to stare at me like I was a painting on their wall. One instance of a man sitting right next to me in an empty train carriage, too close, almost touching, and looking at me repeatedly in a way that made me uncomfortable. And one instance of a man taking me sitting alone in public as an invitation to come over and start a conversation, which was almost fine until I told him to leave, which he didn’t. He asked me if my request meant I had something against black people, and I replied I had something against being bothered by men I don’t know. Then, despite my pointed silences, he kept trying to converse with me until I finally had to go somewhere else. (“Where are you going??” “Around”).
I say his approach was “almost fine” because in practice this is what street approaches mean to me. I’ve never had a positive experience with street approaches, and I’ve had several degrading ones.
Now I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit flattered by this, and I was also kind of happy because it showed I had passed completely as a woman. But these emotions don’t take away from the real discomfort of the experience, and the lingering feeling that I no longer seemingly have the right to sit alone in a park without being bothered. My time and attention are not my own anymore, it seems.
One more thing I’ve noticed from my recent gender escapades.
I remember once I was experimenting with men before I started my gender transition. I made out with a man on a Spanish metro train once, and that — one of the very few times I’ve been intimate with a man in public — elicited a look from a guy in the train. A demonic look, a look which communicated in no uncertain terms, “I’d like to smash your head in.”
Another time, after I’d started wearing female clothes but before hormones, I was walking down the street in a smallish town in North Germany holding hands with a man. (The same man in fact). A man and a woman, I guess a couple, stopped in their tracks to stare at us for minutes on end, pretty much until we turned the corner out of sight.
As I said, I have been intimate with a man in public very few times, and in those few times I got these reactions, the sort of reactions I’d expect more from a Nazi rally than from any normal setting.
I just wanted to compare this to now. Bisexual as I am, I get intimate with women in public too, and I’m sure that I must have passed for female a lot of those times, especially more recently. Well, I have never ever had any comment or look or insult hurled my way for my lesbian expressions.
And in a more subtle way, I feel that among people who know I’m trans I am still more judged for being with men than for being with women. I notice it in subtle signs of discomfort when I express my attraction to men. Well, after all, homophobes are the sort of people who also refuse to see me as anything but a man, so it shouldn’t be surprising that my attraction to men makes them uncomfortable.
I guess I’ll let you take what you will from those experiences, but in general I do think that male homosexuality is very much more frowned on than female homosexuality, just as trans women are attacked and harassed far more than trans men. Why is this? Who knows, but I think it’s good to be aware of it.