Trans Survival Guide: Passing vs Androgyny

Trans Survival Guide: Passing vs Androgyny

When I first started to transition, I had a lot of trouble finding resources online that would be even a little helpful to me. That’s one of the reasons I started blogging about stuff here, just so there’d be a place where this sort of thing gets talked about. Today, I wanna write something a little more specific, a sort of survival guide for trans women in the early days of their transition, when passing either isn’t an option, or isn’t something they can do reliably.

During the early days of my transition, I was frequently faced with a difficult decision: do I go out dressed like a girl, or a boy? If I went out as a boy, I would feel weird, like I was wearing somebody else’s clothes, somebody else’s skin. It felt dishonest, not just to the people around me, but to myself. On the other hand, if I went out as a girl, I was taking the risk of not passing, and therefore being read as a man in woman’s clothing, as a freak, as someone to harass.

Basically, the choice was feeling exceedingly uncomfortable, or feeling extremely unsafe. I frequently opted to just not leave the house. Not everyone wants to live the life of a hermit, though, and even I wanted to go out sometimes.

When I did, I fell into a pattern that allowed me to feel somewhat comfortable, and at least a little safer. An androgynous appearance let me look a little closer to the way I wanted to look, without the endless tide of stress about how people might react to it. At least, to an extent.

In case androgyny is one of those concepts I assume everyone knows just because I know it, lemme break it down for you. Androgyny is, at least for the purposes of this post, looking somewhere between stereotypically male or female. Ideally, right in the middle, so an observer would have difficulty putting you in one box or another.

For me, androgyny was pretty natural, and honestly, pretty easy. For reference, here are some photos of me before my transition, which is to say, before I was actively trying to look feminine.


395847_10150557713862425_208897017_n2090_60054027175_3987_n348_39163227175_1736_nDon’t ask me why all my photos are taken at the same angle. It’s just a law of the universe.

So it wasn’t exactly difficult for me. Maybe I didn’t look like a girl, but I didn’t look much like a boy, either. Once I began my transition, I started actively working towards specific looks.

First off, clothing. I couldn’t exactly go out in a dress, not if I wanted to stay safe. What I could wear was skinny jeans, women’s t-shirts, cardigans, jackets and jumpers. I felt feminine, but I didn’t look like a cross-dresser. At ‘worst’, I looked like an effeminate, probably gay male. Basically, clothes that wouldn’t look immediately ‘wrong’ on a guy were safe to wear. It took me a while to work out that balance perfectly, but for trans women looking to feel safe without sacrificing femininity, I definitely recommend honing that sense.

Next, make-up. Obviously, make-up is considered extremely feminine. Just the hint that you might be wearing some (if you’re perceived as male) is met with confusion, often revulsion, always judgement. So you’d think it would be best just to avoid it. Not so! Well, not necessarily. See, I learned something pretty early on. Women are far more likely to notice than men are. Women are also far less likely to react negatively to it.

So here’s what you do. Learn to wield that eyeliner pencil like an artist. Practice makes perfect. You wanna put on just a little, enough to draw attention to your eyes without making it obvious you’re wearing any. If possible, a darker shade of brown looks less obvious than black (though I’ve always been partial to black). You can almost always get away with mascara, but pretty much never eyeshadow.

Learn to shave! If you’re using an electric razor (how I learned) throw that shit away. Find a disposable razor, best you can afford, because trust me, that shit is worth it. You’ll get a way closer shave, and stubble is one of the key gender identifiers people use.

Foundation will help give your skin a more even tone, and make it look smoother, which will help it look more feminine. Also, consider exfoliating and moisturising, that’ll help too!

Nail polish is up to your own discretion. If you have the confidence, you can shrug it off with all but the most narrow-minded of observers, but you’ll do better with black than any particularly ‘girly’ colour. But hey, Seal wears yellow nail polish all the time, when in doubt, point to that. You can probably find one or two other examples, too.

For some people, androgyny is an identity, a way of life, something deeply important to them. For me, it was a stepping stone, a way to express myself in a safe way. Over time, hormone replacement has changed my body and my face, and it’s not uncommon for me to pass even without make-up or dressing in a particularly feminine fashion. That took a long time, though.

Even now, sometimes it’s a choice I have to make. It’s been almost 8 months, and I still feel nervous leaving the house in a skirt, or an outfit that makes it very clear that I have boobs. So I tend to be somewhat conservative, though in fairness, that is also my style. I’ve never been hyper-femme, and probably never will.

Next, I’m gonna follow this up with a passing guide, some tips based around actually passing, a bunch of things I wish I hadn’t had to learn for myself. Obviously, most of my audience are not trans women. Hopefully you can enjoy this post, and next week’s, as insight into the way I’ve had to think and adapt to live my life comfortably, and the ways I continue to have to work harder than any cis woman to achieve the same confidence in my gender presentation.

But if you do know any trans women, or just someone who might be interested, point them this way. They might learn something! Maybe they’ll find it interesting. Who knows?


PS here’s a more recent photo, so you can see what a difference eight months can make:

2013-07-16 16.45.33

3 thoughts on “Trans Survival Guide: Passing vs Androgyny

  1. I understand how important it is to pass with strangers, because in some ways, it’s largely a matter of safety. But, I hope that you let people know about yourself when in the context of dating. I say this because sexuality is not just about gender, but also about sex, so it’s important to make sure that someone’s orientation is aligned to you. I know that your biology isn’t something you chose, but neither is someone’s orientation. It’s so important to make sure someone’s orientation properly aligns with who you are, not just for the sake of the integrity of your own relationship, but also for the sake of how the trans community appears to the population at-large. A lot of bad blood has been created from people passing with lovers who weren’t oriented towards them and felt betrayed by the experience.

    Just some perspective. I mean it with respect. Take it for what it’s worth.

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