Opinion

The Invisible Struggle of Not ‘Passing’

Written by Jessi Quinn Alperin

Illustrated by Monica Lauren

NB: This article will be discussing non-binary themes under the larger umbrella term “trans” or “T” in LGBTQ+.

The invisibility of living in the T of LGBTQ+ comes with the territory. We’re less palatable, and for obvious reasons. You won’t find us in the Daily Mail under headlines which read: “Trans people? They’re just like us!”.

While I don’t see myself as a B-film villain, I identify far more with Rocky Horror’s Sweet Transvestites than I ever will with the likes of vanilla protagonists Percy Jackson or Bella Swan.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show “Sweet Transvestite”


When it comes to being trans, you’re either invisible or a villain, only a lucky few blend in enough to be considered palatable by the cis standard. That is, by the standard of those who feel no difference between their sex at birth and the gender they identify as now.

Directors of Pretty Little Liars were slammed when they revealed their psychotic murdering villain was a trans woman (Source: Yahoo)


With the binary that surrounds us in fiction, either evil or non-existent, it feels as though the choice to make ourselves palatable in everyday life is too often not our own.

Do you need to be masculine for yourself to be comfortable or for them to be comfortable?

The trans men I know say the desire to be palatable or “to pass” is brought on by fear of the cis.

But they also say they “don’t worry as much as trans women” because they probably won’t be “physically harmed for not passing.”

Just at the beginning of this year, a trans woman was assaulted at a bar in North Carolina. Her wig was pulled, she was groped, and she was asked if she had a penis. Her assailants were arrested and charged with second-degree kidnapping and battery.

But she’s just one of thousands of us. How can we forget, they found Marsha P. Johnson floating in the Hudson with a passive headwound.

Gay American self-identified drag queen Martha P. Johnson (Source: I.D)


I wake up in the morning and I throw clothes on because I can’t brave the elements without them. I throw on makeup because it’s my safety net. Only then do I walk out into the world.

Aesthetically, I’m feminine. Internally and socially, I’m masculine. I traverse the world with a genderless gap at the center of my soul.

Jessi on Instagram

So for those of us who want “to pass”, to blend in like me, what can we do to convince the staring world?

How do we pass when we can’t afford a new wardrobe? How do we pass when we’ve already spent £8,000 on a breast reduction but that’s not enough to stop the gawping?

A friend of mine, a transmasculine god, has been on testosterone for over a year now. He says hormone replacement therapy was necessary for him to be respected by his cis peers, be them queer and straight.

For him, dysphoria came with the territory of being distinctly aware of the difference between how he saw himself and how the rest of the world saw him.

Ultimately it seems there are no answers to the question: “How do I pass?”. That’s probably the worst part.

But then this question is usually too little too late when I’ve already left the house, dressed in acrylic reds, eyeshadow, lipstick, and whatever flowy feminine top I picked up when I rolled out of bed.

Some days I try to fight against the muscle memory bringing the foundation brush to my skin again and again because I’m used to being told in glances, sighs, or snide comments that my face isn’t quite right.

I can feel my skin squirming because I know the boys glance away with full disinterest: “That’s just a girl.”

If my natural litmus is feminine and I’m AFAB (assigned female at birth), then as a trans person, I’m completely invisible. Who I am is mythic: internally masculine and externally female.

This can be impossible for the cis mind to comprehend, which is why I’m often made to feel like it’s my own fault I’m being misgendered.

My lack of conformity to classical binary existence might be my own fatal flaw. But how much of my comfort do I have to strip down and pack away to be the person I am without judgement, especially when that person is invisible? If I spend all my time focusing on “passing”, I’ll be stripped down to a skeletal mimicry of masculinity.

After all, there is no “me” if it’s just an impression.


The Author

Jessi is a poet, a YouTuber and a photographer. They also review queer books, speak out about mental health and have attended protests on international issues such as gun law in the US.

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