Passing Privilege Out in Public


Passing Privilege Out in Public

by Karen Thompson

How do I deal with the stares and confusion from strangers when my daughter and I are out in public? She went through male puberty, so she doesn’t “pass” as well as other trans girls who went on puberty blockers. Does it ever get easier?
— Anonymous

Karen Says:

Yes, it does get easier, but it’s because you change, not because she changes. Many people deal with feeling like they are being stared at or judged in public for many different reasons. I know from experience, though, that a trans girl who doesn’t “pass” in public brings with it the added dimension of shame: shame deep in our bones because we are taught that this is wrong, a sign of weakness. That uncomfortable feeling is multiplied by the expressions of pity or disgust on other peoples’ faces, especially if we have any tiny remnants of those emotions running around in our own hearts.

I had a huge problem with this when my transgender daughter dressed as a girl in public. I would beg her to wear at least something androgynous so I didn’t feel like we were on everyone’s radar at Walmart. I felt so embarrassed. (“Yes, she was assigned male at birth; yes, I know this is weird; no, I have no control over what she wears; yes, we’re going to hell in a handbasket; thank you for subtly letting me know I’ve failed as a parent.”) Eventually, she refused to dress the way I wanted her to, so I had to deal with it and learn to publicly accept my daughter for who she was. Looking back, I can’t imagine the feeling of being asked to hide who you are every single day because it made other people uncomfortable. That is not a stellar mom-memory for me.

When we went out together in public, I would talk with her just as I would any other time. Lucie and I had the best conversations. She could make me laugh like no one else. When I did this, I started to relax a little. My focus was on what a funny kid I had (unless we were fighting) and how much I enjoyed being with her, not so much on what other people were thinking. Sometimes I even forgot to notice the pitchforks. We talked about movies, whatever trashy shows we were watching (don’t judge me) and the books we were reading.

In my opinion, changing my own focus may have helped the people we encountered in public to see her through my mom eyes. She was my brave, funny, loud kid. They could judge her or not, but she would continue to be my brave, funny, loud kid. I would be her mom. We knew what we were doing was right for her and soul-changing for me. I had to get comfortable with people not agreeing with me, with us.

As for “passing,” the transgender people I have talked to feel like this is a loaded word. It conveys a kind of privilege given to the “pretty” people. The corollary to that is if you can’t be pretty, why transition at all? Because, that’s all there is, right? What’s the point if people keep thinking you’re a boy in a dress?

…The point is: no one gets to tell us what girls (or boys or people) need to look like. People come in all shapes and colors, and that includes trans people. We’re so accustomed to fitting everyone into that preformed slot in our heads that we still goggle at anyone who doesn’t fit. The transgender people I know have decided that since they don’t fit anyone’s preconceived notions, they’re going to bust all of those suckers wide open. That includes your daughter. She’s unbelievably brave, and so are you. Every time you brave the public, you’re teaching people about us. Now go forth and SHOP.

Karen Thompson currently serves on the board of Lucie’s Place, an organization dealing with LGBT youth homelessness in Arkansas, and as Vice President of the Little Rock, AR chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Karen is also a member of the Center of Artistic Revolution, an LGBT youth-centered organization in Arkansas. Karen works in loving memory of her daughter, a force of nature, Lucille Marie Hamilton–the one who taught her everything (1988-2009).

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