Not passing

He wore a multicoloured skirt, in a light shiny fabric with narrow pleats, mid calf length, under various more androgynous layers. He had a beard. It took me some time to think when a woman might wear such a skirt- on holiday in high summer, perhaps, five hundred miles south of wherever you normally live, on the sunniest days. Some might just possibly think it evening wear. There he was, bold as brass, shameless, striding over the Millennium Bridge.

He. They, possibly. Ridiculous solipsistic man, wanting to be looked at and only inspiring disgust. Or, wonderful, inspiring and courageous person, subverting gender rules and rules about aesthetic expression- you can’t wear something so beautiful on a mid-September afternoon in London. At most a silk tie or scarf, if you are particularly raffish, rather than a silk skirt.

His choice. Some think him “inappropriate” (imagine that little moue of disapproval in the word. It’s whispered, scarcely audible, though filled with venom) and some heroic, and he does what he does.

Others will create lines, and I can’t. Each woman reading this will have experienced, probably in the last 24 hours, being shut up, talked over, interrupted or simply ignored by a man. I get ignored or patronised by both sexes, and women’s anger is coming out more and more. Trans women who pass, whose face, figure, mannerisms, voice, hair, dress sense, do not give them away, are accepted as women. Those of us who don’t may be accepted as trans women, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I would like to draw a line just below me in the hierarchy, and it’s a hierarchy and I am better than them or at least more deserving- I’m making an effort and they’re not. My voice sometimes has masculine harmonics in it, and that’s alright, surely? I’ve completed facial electrolysis and so that should be a minimum requirement: a beard is deeply inappropriate. For trans women at least, gender non-conforming or non-binary people have different rules. So I should be accepted in the women’s spaces, where I usually don’t speak, but if you haven’t completed hair removal it should be among your highest priorities. And a GNC man or non-binary AMAB should not be in women’s spaces. I can’t produce a line. The only rationally defensible line is of Stealth, which places a burden on trans folk- too great a burden, I say, because I can’t bear it. Or, perhaps, absolutely anything goes.

Women are drawing lines. Some who feel free to state their needs without apology demand women-only space, and see me as a man. I was eleven, the first time someone shouted at me out of a car window. I won’t repeat the comment here. But I will say that I did not start to heal from the years of those kind of interactions until I found women only space.

I don’t feel able to ignore that pain, and yet it makes a demand on me which I find too great to bear. It is a conflict, not a problem. Problems have solutions, but conflicts have outcomes. My hope is that the situation is in flux. It is with that man in a skirt, an eyecatching, ridiculous, glorious skirt, shifting gender norms, and with other non-binary folk, finding more or less subtle ways to subvert gender norms. And with female anger at other targets, such as handsy or cat-calling men, which might also change society.

Meanwhile I will do what I want, unable to rely on a rule that I can because there is no such rule, hoping I will be alright.

10 thoughts on “Not passing

  1. Two statements speak to me:
    wonderful, inspiring and courageous person, subverting gender rules and rules about aesthetic expression
    It is with that man in a skirt, an eyecatching, ridiculous, glorious skirt, shifting gender norms, and with other non-binary folk, finding more or less subtle ways to subvert gender norms

    I wish I had the courage of that man on the Millennium Bridge. I discovered a long time ago, that appearing gender non-conforming was a social taboo. I would like to think it has improved in the last 50 years, but I’m not prepared to risk it. There was a time in the 1970s where I could wear somewhat colourful and androgynous clothing and sport long hair, and no-one thought much about it. But even such attire today I think would be frowned on.

    One of the downsides of being autistic is that I am extremely sensitive to fabric texture, and most fabric deemed suitable men are unpleasant when they move against the skin. This is especially so when it comes to trousers. At home I now wear thobes, but in today’s climate, even wearing these needs to be done with caution. I’m comfortable wearing them in public in my neighbourhood, but not where I’m not known.

    I wear a beard, not as a symbol of masculinity, but because I find shaving a very unpleasant experience, and because it results in too many in-grown hairs. If, I thought that I would not bring too much attention to myself, then I can see myself doing precisely what that man was doing.

    I recall an incident some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I had accompanied my parents to a horse race meeting in mid summer. Two men drew the attention of some of the bystanders. They wore what could be described as mini kilts, knee-high socks, ruffled shirts and bolero style vests. I thought they looks rather stylish. Most of the crowd tried to appear not to notice the pair, but there were quite a few who launched insults at the pair, and some would “accidentally” collide into them, even knocking them to the ground. The “collisions” were a way of disguising a physical assault.

    Why it is so memorable to me is my mother (all 4’11” of her), stepping into the fray and loudly reprimanding the six foot tall bullies. I don’t recall precisely what she said, but I do recall her saying that it is only by testing what is acceptable that progress is made. She intimated that if it wasn’t for people like those two, that they’d all still be wearing togas or perhaps loincloths. My mother was full of surprises 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love the story of your mother. I know a man originally from Tasmania, which had a culture narrowly masculine even by Australian standards. I get the impression New Zealand is slightly less up tight than Australia, but am unsure how it compares to the UK. We vary by region.

      I had not heard of thobes before. A cassock might be equally good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The city of Wellington is probably the most liberal and tolerant city when it comes to gender identity. It’s much more conservative where I live. I don’t like drawing attention to myself and around here that seriously limits how I present myself. But then I might be mistaken. After all, one of the country’s most conservative rural communities elected the world’s first openly transgender mayor.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a conflict of interest in such matters, as I applaud suck actions to push against sociates silly noton of gender normes and yet it is people like this that the Transfobics us as fire against the trans community to say we’re just men in skirts and trying to invade women only spaces.
    Non of us will ever be free tell sociaty gives up this foolish noton of gender normes !!!



  3. Hip Hip Hooray! and a round of applause for the well dressed man on the bridge, i too sometimes flirt with my androgeny by wearing facial hair with a lovely evening dress in the middle of the day, what a beautiful feeling to be ME, but, there’s no surer way to meet prejudice and hatred than to confront the norms with such mixed messages, the fuck or fight response gets short wired and they don’t like it one little bit…
    Keep up the good work, a new day will dawn when no more lines can be drawn and we are all who we were meant to be x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved this story. I am awed that wore a beautiful (by your description) skirt out while walking. I am even more impressed by the story about your mother. I am a man who loves wearing skirts at home. I only wish I was strong enough to wear them out around town. Next to my yoga pants skirts are the most comfortable pieces of clothing I own. Going pantless, by wearing a skirt, is wonderful. ☺♥


    • And just to clarify, in case I give off the wrong vibe or something – I am a man who loves skirts and yoga pants. but that is as far as it goes. I think this comes from my years of practicing yoga. Yoga has put me in touch with my feminine side. ☺


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