At one point in my life I was a pretty, not so little, slim, white trans girl with a significant amount of passing privilege. Naïve, isolated, not a clue in the world, and one suicide attempt later. Within the trans* community we perceive passing as a goal for many reasons, including self-satisfaction, societal security, and an ability to shed, for a time, the trans* label we wear. Yet, many of the assumptions made about assimilating towards cishood are predicated on the notion that assimilation is an end goal worthy of obtaining. After losing my hair my assimilation evaporated, and while it would be easy to say that suddenly the world turned on me, the reality is that passing or not I am treated much the same as I was before. So, my short answer is that while assimilation, passing, is something worth having, a more nuanced answer would be that how we societally construct and demark gender is much more complicated.
Being conventionally attractive has its perks. Being a white girl in a society that places aesthetic value on conventional beauty meant that for all my inner issues the world generally respected my gender identity. I could flirt with all genders without recourse, sleep with people without fear of being slain, and generally attract attention when I walked in the room. I never hid my transness from those who knew me, but to strangers I was the woman I projected.
What the artifice hid was the insecurities, the mental health issues, and the inability to fit in with any community I encountered. I was bullied heavily as a kid, and around 15 I got life advice from a friend of a friend to simply be myself and be comfortable in my own skin. It changed me into someone who has become naturally gregarious, yet underneath it all I am still someone who is one faux pas away from curling up and disconnecting. None of this has anything to do with me being trans*, yet once I came out the side of me that is highly emotional and a tad unpredictable flared up whenever I became stressed. Passing or not, pretty white girl or not, I dug myself into a fair few holes that took a lot of time and patience on the part of others to extricate myself from.
My suicide attempt was the result of a drunken night at a local club, and I still remember sitting in A&E with my hands beneath my legs willing myself not to use the defibrillator to make another attempt. Ever since I have been acutely aware of this side of myself, the bits I tamp down, and I made the decision before Christmas not to drink outside the house to stop this darkness coming back. For all the privilege I inhabit, what is inside of me is still a fundamental part of who I am. This is true for all of us, and it is the part left out of most narratives because it is the hardest to put into relatable words.
At 41 I have dealt with these issues as pragmatically as I can because even though my body is no longer conventionally assimilated to the rest of society I still want to live life. Being trans* and radically different to those around you does not make you something other, it is only people’s reactions and treatment of you that others you. I am still awkward, painfully aware of my surroundings, and do put my foot in it, yet the hardest lesson, for me, has been allowing myself to be easy on me and not take everything personally.
I am much more open about being trans* now than I was ten years ago because the people and community around me have allowed this openness. Given my research and work it is not something that I can avoid talking about, yet I always leave pieces of myself behind so that I have bits left for me and no-one else. I suppose this is the flip side of assimilation, where your identity becomes public and dissected by those who do not know. I am often one of, if not the only, trans* person most people will encounter on a personal level, and being open about myself is as much a bridge between trans* lived experiences and their own. Not that I speak for all trans* folk, but the least I can do is foster a spirit of hospitality where none existed before.
I talk openly about these issues because I want to destigmatise them, especially suicide and mental health relating to trans* folk. Being assimilated to society standards of beauty was no cure for depression or anxiety, I was never normal. We all exist within our own perceived realities, and if we cannot see or find people who are going through similar experiences it makes us feel as if we are the only ones in the world experiencing this. Often this is not the case, but finding people in similar situations is hard. I came through my dark moments with the help and support of others, and the least I can do is attempt to be a bridge for other people into a better place.
The pretty white trans* girl of my teens and twenties is now a robust more outwardly androgenous woman confident in her own skin and mind. While I have absolutely lost my passing privilege, what I have gained along the way is a deeper, calmer peace that allows me to temper the darkness and work through the issues I am facing. I still get moments of suicidal ideation at the darkest points, though thankfully those are very few and far between. I am candid about this because it is a personal truth, and if you are going through the same know that you are never alone, you have at least one other person who can empathise and relate to you.
So, yes, assimilate, pass, be your true self, but know that regardless of where you situate your gendered self you are valid and cared for. After 23 years of being me the hardest truth is that I have to live life on my own terms not those dictated by others. No matter how hard it gets I am the one that has to live through it and thrive, yet when things do get hard there is a community out there to support and nourish me. The same is true for all of us. This is a major reason I write this blog, for if I can be the spark that supports and nourishes one person then I have done my job.