Sometimes pass as a boy, other times as girl, and even, to my delight, as an ambiguously gendered person, which is the closest one can get to agender passing. As an introductory prelude, let it remain unspecified as to which one I prefer to pass as, or how I feel about passing in general. I’d just like to point out some mathematical correlations I’ve induced.
Passing as a boy is inversely proportional to the liberalness of the city. That is, the success rate of passing is 1/n, where n=liberal. In English: the more conservative the town, the more I pass as a boy.
This is most often evidenced when I visit my home city in Latin America, Mexico City, aka “el DF” (yes, America is a whole continent and has other countries). As soon as I cross customs, security guards are rushing to interrogate me about my age, to discern whether I’m a minor travelling alone. I can’t even leave the airport with at least a few people questioning me. To them, I look like a 14 year old boy, alone, potentially lost, in a big bad airport. I tell them “I’m old enough,” they only poke deeper; “I’m 24” is my final, truthful response. After this, they either ‘get it’ (that I’m not really a boy), or they say “Wow, how do you do it to look so young?” My brother suggested I respond with something ridiculous, like telling them I use a special face cream with whale sperm that they should check out. They get a good laugh, yet still eye me quizically as I walk away.
To further emphasize the ambiguity, my girlfriend doesn’t look very “adult-like” either; she passes as a teenager as well. And presumably, I’m her younger brother (yes, we’ve received this assumption several times). I also imagine it’s a bit awkward for random onlookers to see what appears to be a teenage sibling pair suddenly become a bit too overly cuddly with each other.
Numerous times I’m stared at, gawked at, whispered at, and even kicked out of women’s bathrooms. Waiters ask me what the “jóven” wants to eat, as my mother rolls her eyes in disapproval, and my dad offers a good-natured correction.
Last time we were visiting, my girlfriend and I took a bus to a neighboring city for a friend’s wedding. This was one of those rare occassions where I was alone, as an adult, in my own country. I realized that being perceived as a lesbian couple is actually kind of dangerous. I found myself constantly wondering if the next scary guy who stared at us would take it to the next level, and then realizing that, fortunately, in their eyes we were not a gay couple, made me breathe a sigh of relief each time. So this time, passing was a blessing. Had it not been for me passing as a boy, I would have honestly been a little fearful for my life.
Now, as soon as we are back in what is oft-dubbed the most liberal city of the US – San Francisco – my boy streak is over. I repeatedly start hearing the “ma’am” and the “ladies.” It does kinda make more sense for a (very cute) dyke to be ordering a sandwich in the middle of the financial district during lunchtime all by herself, than for a 14 year old boy to be doing the same. As further encouragement, in my experience it is impossible to go through a day in this city without seeing more than a couple of gender variant presenting people, including but not limited to trans, dykes, fags, schleppers, and the worst, hipsters.
Passing rates post top surgery have interestingly not undergone any noticeable change, if only a slight shift towards more boy. I guess that binding was successful enough in that area. Hair is likely another confounding factor, as I used to sport the famously ambiguous Justin Bieber look until a few months ago when I cut it considerably shorter. Apparently a girl can have a boyish haircut, but would almost never have super short hair – gender assumption at its best.
Balancing the Equation
Because in a liberal area you are more likely to encounter other gender variant people, everyone is more used to seeing young adults who are girls who look like boys. In a conservative area, gender variance “does not exist” at least in the sense that it’s not visible. In these places, people gender others using different parameters, likely more stereotypical ones, and often not accounting for the possiblity of gender variance, so they default to what seems most obvious to them. That’s why I suspect one of the strongest indicators of passing rate is liberalness vs. conservativeness.
But this is only from my experience. What do you guys think? What has been your experience?