Being a Successful Trans Woman in Public without Passing

Gabrielle Walking 2 2014-07-06

Passing without passing
The photo above shows me walking through a local mall carrying my bag of goods. That’s how I look to most people – just another random woman shopping in the mall. Until, that is, someone looks directly at me from 20 meters or closer. Contrary to the carefully chosen photos I post publicly, I don’t pass – not in person. Most people read me as trans without missing a beat. More importantly, most people treat me very well.

The right attitude goes a long way
Years ago, when venturing out into public I’d get laughed at every time. Getting laughed at, disparaged, and called names by homophobic/transphobic cowards made me self-conscious and fearful of going out. In retrospect, I understand the difficulties I used to experience.

Other trans women frequently told me, “It’s more about attitude than passing.” How can attitude affect how one is viewed by others? It took me a few years to figure out. Having the right attitude in public can be the difference between having an amazingly positive and enjoyable experience, or not. It’s a little like a magic trick, but it’s not magic. There’s something more powerful at work, and it’s not just attitude, either.

Believe and feel it
What you believe and/or fear, is probably what you’ll get. When I worried about getting laughed at and mocked, that’s often what I got. When I feared being read (as trans) and treated poorly, that’s how things tended to play out.

The universe attempts to provide people with experiences that match their feelings. In many ways, we’re like radio stations. The signal broadcast out into the universe is the vibration or frequency of what we’re feeling. It doesn’t matter what the desired experience is – in general, the feelings bring forth the experience. This is a reality I failed to learn or understand until I was 41 (just over two years ago, as I write this). I hope it doesn’t take as long for you. Even if you’re older, it’s never too late to turn things around.

Keep in mind that you can’t “trick the universe” by telling yourself you feel one way, but actually feeling (or worrying about, etc.) another way. You can’t fool the universe because you’re a part of the universe and it knows what you know. “Fake it ’till you make it” can certainly help to start, but you can’t just fake it all the time and expect that to change everything. You have to believe and feel it.

No one has power over you unless you give it to them
One of the biggest things that helped me become truly comfortable being out in public was simply not caring what anyone else thought of me, period. If you honestly don’t care what anyone thinks, no one has the power to make you feel bad. Without fear of what others think, one becomes empowered to live fully and enjoy the moment.

Just to be clear, not caring what others think of you is not the same as acting like a snob or as if you’re better than anyone. The key is to be proud of who you are, not care what anyone else things, AND be humble. Putting out the “I’m better than you” vibe is an invitation for someone to challenge that notion. Don’t invite drama into your life. Invite love and respect by being kind, humble, and nonjudgemental of others.

When you’re confident and enjoying yourself, people notice
On this particular shopping venture, I received a couple of unexpected compliments from strangers. One woman approached me at Forever 21 and said, “Excuse me. I just had to tell you how beautiful you are. When I first saw you, I thought you were a mannequin until I saw you move. You’re very tall and pretty.” I thanked her for the beautiful compliment and joked with her, explaining that, “Even us mannequins need to get out and shop a little.” I’m about 6′ 2″ in the shoes I wore, btw.

While waiting in line to pay for my merchandise, two younger women complimented me on my hair. Again, I graciously thanked them for the compliment, and complimented one of the girls on her eye makeup.

Getting asked for proof of ID when presenting my charge card
My legal name is still the male name I was assigned at birth. My driver’s license photo is the same, including a photo of me in my “male” form. I won’t be seeking a legal name change until I’m closer to the point where I can work in my true form (as Gabrielle), which is still a ways off.

My charge card has my name as “Gabrielle Hermosa” on it. All I had to do was ask the bank to issue another card with this name on it, which I explained as a “house guest” to keep things simple. It gets billed to the same account under my legal name, and allows me to shop with a little dignity using my real (if not yet legal) name.

The cashier at Forever 21 asked for proof of ID when I went to pay with my charge card. Remaining cool and calm, I explained that I didn’t have a legal ID to show, and presented my iPhone that had been pre-loaded to my website. “I’m a transgender advocate and public speaker and this is my website. You can see that’s my photo at the top, and on the side…” She smiled and said, “Yep, that’s definitely you!” Having a website isn’t legal proof of ID, but it was enough to make her comfortable allowing the charge. To my surprise, she outted herself as “gay” to me. Always a pleasure to run into other LGBTQ folks out in the wild. On a side note, she was gorgeous and I complimented her on the attractive necklace she was wearing (which they no longer sold, I had to ask).

Simply being cool, kind, humble and using a little bit of humor has worked very well when asked for proof of ID. To date, I’ve never been refused service for anything that requires ID. Had I gotten upset or attempted arguing with people instead of remaining calm and cool-headed, things may have gone very different.

I stopped at Hot Topic and another store before I was through. They didn’t ask for my ID at the other stores. This may be because I charged over $100 at Forever 21 and under $100 at both of the other stores, and/or general policy differences.

Good company, complicated relationship
Most of my shopping is done on my own these days. My wife, the Fabulous Mrs. H. happened to be with me this time. At some point, I’ll explain our complicated relationship in greater depth. In short, she was comfortable and supportive when I thought I was a crossdresser. When I came out to her, again, in 2013 as a trans woman who intends to transition and live full time as my true, female self, things didn’t go as well. I’m not sure if my marriage will last, and remain hopeful that it will. I was pleasantly surprised when she expressed a desire to go shopping with me.

People still stare, and I don’t care
At one point Mrs. H. noticed two younger girls elbowing each other, pointing at me, whispering and grinning. I was unaware of this activity until she told me afterward. It wouldn’t have bothered me a bit had I witnessed it, though. Had I caught them in the act, so to speak, I may have gone over to them, introduced myself and tried to start a conversation. The quickest way minimize the potential for getting laughed at by people who don’t understand you, is to allow them an opportunity to get to know you as a human being.

At times, I realized people’s eyes were upon me (reading me as trans) and there was no negativity attached. It happens often. I’m used to it and understand why some people stare. Perhaps after getting a good look at me, just being a human being going about my business, just like everyone else, they may be less inclined to stare at the next trans person they find.

Gabrielle in mirror 2014-07-06An enjoyable outting and shopping experience
All in all, it was a beautiful day out, made even better by Mrs. H. joining me. I ended up with a new top, a couple of new belts, a new purse and necklace. In the photo to the right, you can see me modeling one of my new belts and the purse. The photo was taken shortly after getting home.

There’s nothing like getting out and enjoying life. It’s something that most cisgender people take for granted. For those of us who look a little different, it can be complicated due to social expectations. Society is slowly starting to wake up and become more accepting of people’s differences.

Don’t let life pass you by – get out and LIVE it!
It can be scary getting out in public for trans folk at first, especially for those of us who don’t quite pass. It used to be terrifying to me, but not anymore. With a little change in thinking and attitude, being out in public can be very enjoyable and rewarding. Make no apologies for who you are, believe in yourself, and always treat people with kindness, respect, love and gratitude. You’ll be relaxed and enjoying the moment, rather than worried about anything anyone thinks. Fear and worry are interest paid in advance on something you may never own, so just relax, get out there and enjoy yourself.




5 thoughts on “Being a Successful Trans Woman in Public without Passing”

  1. A very good article with lots of good advise. We hear a lot about the transgender spectrum which is essentially a scale of the various sets of feelings that folks with gender issues may have about their own situations. I like your take on the evolving care/do not care about being taken for a T person when out and about. If you are happy and enjoying tghe moment that vibe will prevail.
    There is a time and place for being fearful and each of us has a duty to ourselves to take care of ourselves and to fulfill our duties to others but every encounter you or I have with other people helps to convince that person that we are people too and that we are not freaks or monsters.
    Last week I was out at a primarily LGBT club and spend a lot of time talking with a couple of the patrons. While some of the discussion related to my being a very large and nicely dressed guy most of our talk was on day to day stuff…some of it political. When we left one of the guys commented that I seemed to know more history, geography and current events than anyone he ever knew. In reflecting on the evening I could have had much the samed set of conversations had I been dressed as my regular guy self or as I presented that night with a skirt, tank top, hoes, heels, wig and makeup.


  2. Hi Gabrielle,

    You were so cool to reply to my email and wanted to express how similar the reactions are in public. I visit a local almost every weekend as a crossdresser and have the attitude that I look and feel very confident dressed as a woman and it is humbling when I received a compliment from a stranger about how nice I look, love my outfit and how gorgeous my legs are because I prefer to wear high heel pumps,wedges,platforms and boots so I love it when I see you in boots. Secondly, confidence is so important going out in public and I always wear a dress and as long as my hair, makeup and dress looks right, I feel very comfortable. My bigges. issue is sometimes I wear shorter dresses to acceaccentuate my long legs but I have women encourage me to wear short dresses to show off my legs. I encourage you to keep dressing like you do because you have nice legs too. It`s always helpful to see smiling faces at nail salons for my pedicures, restaurants and make up counters.

    I get inspired reading your stories and seeing your photos so don`t stop what you`re doing!


  3. Many resonances with my experiences there. If anyone pays the slightest bit of attention they will see I’m an overweight middle aged crossdresser rather than an overweight middle aged woman.
    But I realised long ago that what matters is how they behave, not whether they realise. There was a definite moment when this happened: a woman got into the lift in the hotel where I was staying and critically looked me up and down. I could have thought “Oh God, she knows”, but I just felt “How bloody rude”.
    Afterwards I thought about it, and realised that I’d expected her to behave politely and she’d fallen short (in my mind). And, most importantly, I’d done nothing wrong.
    And, as you write, if you expect people to treat you politely and properly, they pick up on this: not that you take a superior approach, but you expect good manners rather than just hoping for them.

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