Trans people are often ambivalent about passing. Just because someone is courteous, does not mean that you pass- it could mean that they were not transphobic! If you pass, you may be worried that someone will read you, your secret will be out and you will never be seen the same again. So we pay out vast amounts for facial feminisation, for surgeons to grind away our foreheads and shape our noses, or perhaps masculinisation. The thought of a surgical scar across the top of the head, even if covered by hair (mine wouldn’t be, but by a wig) was enough to put me off.
The term used by autistic people, masking, gives a different view of the matter. Why should we (or they) pretend to be normal, just so normal people are not discomposed? This account of an autistic breakdown is a good example:
To be autistic is to live in a world where everything is too loud, too smelly and too bright, populated by people who say one thing and get angry when you fail to realise that they really meant something different. At the same time, your brain is struggling to keep track of and process the stimuli constantly bombarding it. Your brain and body then shut down and go into overdrive at the same time. Adrenaline courses through your veins. You are swallowed in a cloud of panic and cannot help but scream and sometimes lash out at others or even yourself.
That’s a clear example of the social model of disability. The autistic person does not melt down because of autism, but because of the need to mask her or his condition. Ideally, before meltdown, the autistic person would be able to reduce the sensory overload in some way, perhaps by withdrawing. Either other people nearby would notice and take care of them, or they would notice that it was getting too much. It seems the shame and exhaustion afterwards are socially enforced rather than natural. You have tried to mask too long, and that is exhausting. So, of course you have a meltdown. It should be nothing to be ashamed of.
Masking. You are different, and you hide that, because you know mockery or worse will ensue when your difference is discovered.
Autistic people devote energy to masking, to pretending to be normal so as not to disconcert the neurotypicals, when stimming or other ways of relieving the pressure would enable them to use their gifts far more productively. That we NTs demand the “normal” behaviour rather than being kind and accepting of their weaknesses, so their gifts may shine, is our loss as well as theirs.
If only we could just be people! There is no need to pass, and you would not be judged according to how well you conform. I could enjoy looking striking, without fearing the second glance that read me as Trans therefore Bad. I could be myself more, not wanting to conform so much (not that I want to conform, particularly).
Masking makes you safe. Masking avoids perturbing the neurotypicals, or the cis-het folk. We will all want to mask sometimes, even if only to go places where we would be less safe when read. But masking is a burden we take on, for no-one’s benefit really, from the stultifying social pressure to conform. If people could reveal their diversity more easily, everyone would be happier.
Everyone moderates their behaviour, in order to fit in, to a greater or lesser degree. If only we were freed from that burden!