I’m carded almost anytime I get near alcohol. Once I pass over my driver’s license–the photo is over a decade old–the bartender, bouncer, whoever will inevitably quiz me on my zip code or date of birth, or will say, “There’s really no way you’re 5’7″.” Explaining that I used to play basketball, thus padding a few inches, doesn’t always help and backup ID is required. But the other day I got a new test. The bartender held up my ID and said, “Let me see you smile.” I laughed, knew exactly what he wanted, and busted out a smile that nearly revealed my wisdom teeth. “You can’t fake that,” he said, before pouring my drink. I’ve always held onto my eyes as the one physical trait that won’t change on T, and I point this out to those fearful that I may stop being familiar to them. Until I was carded at the bar, I hadn’t thought of the smile, how little that changes. I carry a picture of my brother from around age 4 in my wallet. He has a blond bowl cut; now he has a brown Jewfro. He looks nothing like that childhood picture, except for that crooked lady-killer smirk, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I carry it around. Because some things never change.
Passing vs. Being Seen
I was explaining to a new queer friend that I was “passing” more often lately, using the word “passing” out of laziness, knowing that in our shared lexicon she’d understand this to mean I was being recognized as a guy. “But do you feel like you’re being seen?” she asked. I often tire of identity discussions, of queer polemics that have become their own thoughtless cliches, like “nobody passes.” But my response to her question felt new.
When I’m amongst my friends and my community, those who have known me for years, or those who recognize the infinite possibilities within genders or perhaps recognize the transgender in all of us, I feel fully seen. When strangers or acquaintances or new hires at work recognize me as a man, I don’t feel seen in my entirety; I am actually “passing,” occasionally feeling like an impostor or a fraud, words that although partially accurate hit too close to the transphobic vitriol of the past fifty years. A tourist passing as a local is more appropriate, and the point that I’m attempting to make is that while “being seen” is liberating and allows me to connect with people in a way that had never been possible before, “passing” has its place too.
Passing is new and scary, dangerously exciting; it allows for an exploration from the inside, a cultural education, seamless learning, an induction. I don’t feel fully seen but therein lies the beauty, being in a position where I can shed my history, my baggage of womanhood, absorb all that I’m only now able to because men may look at me and think, You’re one of us–as wrong and right and complicated as that may be.
Mother and Child Reunion
I saw my mother this past weekend for the first time since she was out in San Francisco for my surgery almost a year ago. I was nervous–my chest is flatter than it ever was with a binder; I’ve gained about five pounds, almost all in the muscles in my pecs, shoulders, and arms; my face is more angular; my neck is thicker; I have zits that my friends say I cannot call acne yet; I smell different; I shave my face; my voice is definitely deeper. But then again, it’s me, so I notice everything. My mom, although conceding that my voice sounds “hoarse,” and that maybe my face is bigger, says I don’t appear different to her.
I am torn between feeling a great sense of relief that my mom finds me familiar and frustrated that she cannot see the physical changes that mean so much to me. At one point at the end of the trip, she said, “I just don’t see you as a man. I’m sorry, I don’t.” I wasn’t angry with her, because even if she couldn’t see it, she spent two days acting as if she could (barring her complete inability to remember to call me Nick), referring to me as “mister” instead of “lady,” or pointing me to the men’s room instead of the women’s room. But part of me did want to shout in my mom’s face, HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE ME AS A DUDE? What part of my body, chest, face, anything is reminiscent of female to you?
Her comment made me see that maybe she hasn’t thought of me as having a gender for years. Sure, she placed me on the woman side as a matter of procedure–my birth certificate, biology, and recognition by society said so. But my mom, much like me, sees women as being able to do all the same things men can. And maybe the physical attributes, the change in my chest and face and body don’t signify anything about gender to her. Maybe to her I am genderless. And in that respect, I will never change.