5 Ways to Support Trans People Who Don’t “Pass” for Cis

by Princess Harmony Rodriguez


Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 12.03.21 PM“I couldn’t even tell you were born male!”


“You should get (insert surgery) which will help you pass!!”


At some point in trans people’s lives, we may hear one of these two sentences. Or possibly both. I know I’ve heard both. People will either try to compliment me by complimenting my “passability” or they insult me by suggesting a surgery that – apparently – they think I’ve never heard of. Because there are times where I don’t “pass”, I learned to recognize passing as a privilege that – consistent or not – shields us from most of the violence that trans women are known to receive. Trans people, particularly trans women of color, who don’t “pass” for cis deserve protection and support. Here are a few ways that you can support trans people who don’t pass.


1. Stop measuring trans people’s value as humans according to how well we “pass”.


Trans people, whether we pass or not, don’t have our humanity respected. But this goes doubly so for those who don’t pass because non-passing trans people, even more so than trans people in general, are used as punchlines in violent and unfunny “jokes”. As more and more of those sorts of “jokes” are made, it gets easier for some people to see the target of the jokes as less than human. If you want to support trans people, particularly trans people who don’t pass, it’s cis people’s duty to call out those jokes and educate people on why they’re not okay. Using “passing” as a means to invalidate trans people’s experiences when they can’t pass is a form of violence. Don’t do it.


2. Recognize that a trans person’s gender is not determined by their ability to pass


People often conditionally grant trans people recognition of their gender. This conditional respect can come from different things, but most commonly it comes from appearances. First, this sort of conditional respect is violence. Whether someone is trans or not, extending them respect of who they are on an arbitrary basis and then rescinding it is emotionally abusive. Secondly, people’s physical appearance does not determine their gender. Not much more really needs to be said. Whether a person is trans or cis, how they look doesn’t determine who or what they are.


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3. Stop using white patriarchal standards of beauty to measure our appearance, whether we pass or not


People of color in general are viewed through a white patriarchal lens that often, if not always, erases our beauty. Trans people of color who don’t pass are, without question, erased by this lens. The very few trans people of color who are seen through this lens and recognized as beautiful are the ones who conform to its standards of beauty. While there’s nothing wrong with conforming to its standards, because in a war zone camouflage can save your life, there is no benefit for trans people who don’t pass to be viewed through that lens, and it can often make things worse for them.


4. View “trans glamour” with a critical eye and acknowledge passing privilege as trans people who do pass


While trans glamour is a revolutionary act, because we are claiming our appearance for ourselves and by ourselves, we as trans people have a tendency to forget who exactly gets recognition by society for being glamorous. As stated earlier, the people who are often seen as beautiful and glamorous are the ones who conform to white patriarchal standards of beauty. Trans people who do pass, if they have an interest in helping and uplifting those who don’t, need to recognize that being able to be viewed as beautiful by white society is a privilege that grants them safety above those who aren’t viewed that way.


5. Boost the voices of non-passing trans people in trans dialogues


Trans community dialogues are usually dominated by (white) trans people who can pass. Trans people who can’t pass are often ignored and erased in the mad dash to have these sorts of dialogues. If you know your trans social circles, classes, or spaces have these trans people or could have these trans people in them, boost their voices and allow them to speak. They have a valuable story to add.


With these five points, you’re well on your way to supporting the entire trans community and not just those who “pass”! There may be other, even better, ways to support everyone in the community, but these are starting points and definitely can go a long way in the lives of trans people you know and trans people in general.


HarmonyPrincess Harmony is a trans feminine afrolatina who enjoys food, anime, and video games. Her favorite foods are potato balls and empanadas, her favorite anime is Robotics;Notes, and her favorite game is Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. Follow her on Twitter at @harmonysamiruhh




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