My friends tell me I have good passing. It's not particularly a compliment. I take it as that, because I know they mean it as that, or, rather, that I look feminine. That is a compliment, especially for someone like me who had little hope of hormones or clothes to do anything.

Passing has never been an ideal. It has been a constant in my thoughts on gender that my goal was never to appear 100% like a cisgender woman to society. That though is, while not as unpleasant as appearing as a man, still fairly unpleasant. I am non-binary, I am not a guy nor am I a woman: I simply refuse the static categorization of one gender in a dull and overdone binary.

At the same time, I recognize that people may want that. We want to look the way we want, which we take from social codes of social roles, and aesthetics we are raised and evolve with. As far as I have thought about it, it does not seem to pose a problem. I view gender presentation like I view taste in ice cream: it's just ice cream. It's clothes. It's jewelry. It's clearer skin, more muscle, or less. Sometimes it's little to no change at all. Sometimes it's changes all the time. It's also about social roles, pronouns, names. It's about creating and shaping a self you are comfortable with, and iterating, whichever way fits.

So when my friends say I have good passing, I take it to mean I am feminine, and yet...

Yet, I also understand what they mean. In their eyes, if they apply a gender test based on what they think cisgender people think, I would end up categorized as a woman. Arguably, perhaps, there is not just this black box function shared by all cisgender folks where they input all social, vocal, behavioral, and aesthetic cues, and output one of two binary genders. Perhaps they don't even really think about what genitals you have (at least not if they gender you without doubt). It is certainly more complex, and varies based on individuals. For the sake of simplicity, I will assume that cis people all unconsciously apply some sort of gender test to strangers, in order to fit them in their social model. As an aside, something we often forget within queer circles is that our gender test has been thoroughly wrecked by the widening of our understanding of gender versus appearance. All of my friends are baffled when a binary trans girl, unrecognizable from herself years before, with an androgynous voice, and conventionally feminine clothes, gets confidently misgendered by a cashier. We scoff, we laugh at each other, trying to shoo away the second hand embarrassment, the crushing cringe, the thought that if it happened to her, it will happen to you too, the fear you've been clocked. We say, "the cis are weird, I don't get them". Yet, we continue to try and judge ourselves by their standards, even if we learned to reject them.

I wish we did not have to, but I recognize that we have to, sometimes. The core observation that motivated me to write this is as follows. Despite not wanting to convincingly look like a woman to the untrained cisgender eyes, I relate with the idea that it is necessary. I get that it is necessary, when I cross paths with the very loud cashier, with the presumably cis woman in the bathroom at work, with the odd trio of somewhat drunk dudes outside on the walkway. In the latter case, even, passing is somewhat vital. When in this situation, I am not faced with a choice, but a trial by their eyes. I will either look mildly dubiously like a woman, or like a feminine guy in a skirt. I could also land on the edge of the coin, and appear confusing. In that case, it depends on the person and situation whether or not they will be adventurous enough to try and make it my problem. All of the situations I mentioned earlier also share something: they suddenly happen to me, without me being able to do much about them.

I do not have to pass as a woman for the untrained cis eye because I am trans, rather, I choose to have an androgynously feminine appearance, and that's fine, like any choice of appearance. Yet, because society around me violently imposes two tightly defined categories of gender, I have to learn to adapt to maximize my own safety in situations where being read as transgressing gender norms would mean I am in danger. I am not writing about anything revolutionary or new, it is a thought often expressed that us trans people learn to pass as a defense mechanism against the cisgender gaze. I also know that people do not like that idea, they want to pass. They want to fit the binary gender, often even integrate silently into society.

This is fine, as long as you do not, in turn, become the cis person who I have to hurriedly pass in front of. It's just not for me.

- Amelia