Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Body Language and Passing

Passing is complicated

Personally I hate the idea of needing to pass to feel accepted but I understand it and at times I just want to feel and been seen as just another girl in the crowd, simply put, I want to pass. This blog has a few articles about passing (unfortunately mostly mtf related) including articles on walking and posture and helping to find clothes that fit and flatter your shape but either way, while important, these things are only part of a bigger picture. The realtity is that while clothing and behavior do not make the man or woman, they are the first clues others have about your identity when they do not know you. As such they are both important to passing. Ultimately to pass we have to fit in and that includes accepting and internalizing social and behavioral norms to some extent.

Now if you don't care if you pass then there is not need to read on. I also want to point out that you should not feel like you need to pass. I have a post about my feeling towards the belief some people have that trans people need to pass but basically I look at it this way, there is no test or bar to be reached. Still passing is important and a vast majority of trans people just want to live their lives as normal as possible. To that end this article is simply some advice from one silly trans woman to those who are interested.

Body language is important. 

We say a lot about who we are and even how we feel without speaking a word. This can be a double edged sword for those of us trying to blend in and pass in our identified gender roles. First we need to unlearn one set of gender "appropriate" behaviors and take a crash course in the other because when someone's body language is different than what is expected for their perceived gender then that person will almost always draw attention to themselves. Second, being nervous, ashamed, embarrassed... all things that are easy to experience when out in public and just coming out all can trigger subtle behaviors that are easily noticed and picked up on again drawing attention to you.

This doesn't mean give up and stay home! Simple you need to recognize you are learning and no one expects you to suddenly master everything there is to know about the gender role you are transition to. Social engineering is hard to undo and is equally hard to fast forward through. Be patient and take your time. Also, recognizing the body language that will increase your odds of being read as trans is important to helping you avoid those behaviors and feel more comfortable when out enjoying a coffee or getting a drink with friends. Lastly, learning to slowly integrate gender appropriate body language can help you transition and feel more comfortable with your friends, family and strangers alike.

What to look for

Below is hardly an exhaustive list but it is stuff that has been pointed out to me or that I have read about elsewhere, or stuff I've learned on my own. Please don't read this and think I am trying to give you a one way to live type instruction guide. I am writing this from the perspective of someone wanting to pass and simply be free to be who they are without others reading them as trans. The number one thing is that you are comfortable in your skin. Personally at the moment I am an masculine female identified bisexual who is more conformable in jeans, a t-shirt and little to no makeup and could care less if I pass most of the time; but that is me and like everything that fluctuates.

Anyway, here are some tips I have come up with for you:

  • Fidgeting - It can be hard to not feel self conscience when going out but the behaviors we instinctively do when feeling this way can have unintended consequences! Fidgeting draws attention, it conveys a lack of self confidence. Contently adjusting clothes, wigs, makeup, etc. will start to get people to look at those very things and more importantly you. Likewise constantly shaking your legs, tapping your fingers, checking phones, moving from place to place for no real reason all draw attention! If something needs adjusting use the restroom or find somewhere private to do so. If not be your natural and beautiful self!
  • Avoid hyper feminine / masculine / serialized body language (and clothing) - One of the biggest tells for many trans people is that they try very hard to look and act feminine or masculine and often go a bit over the top. When we start our transition it isn't uncommon (I think more so for trans women then men) to swing into a hyper feminine or masculine persona. I know I did this to some extent! While there isn't anything wrong with a person being very feminine or masculine it can draw attention, particularly if it is very sexualized as well. This can including clothing, mannerisms, walking... almost everything.
  • Avoid non-appropriate gender specific body language - In addition to the advice above about fidgeting it is important to talk about how men and women behave in very different ways socially. Some of these behaviors are hard to unlearn, and often when we think about them to much we either exaggerate them, or exaggerate our attempts at avoiding them. The list below is small on purpose as most things are more complex than simply men do this, women do that. This being said here is a short list:
    • Some typical masculine body language includes:
      • Slouching and leaning forward while seated, walking and eating
      • Sitting with ones legs spread
      • Clinching ones fist
      • Resting your chin on your fist
    • Some typical feminine body language includes:
      • Using more gestures when speaking or showing enthusiasm
      • Sitting with ones legs together or crossed
      • I hate that I need to put this here but women are expected socially to smile more

Other things to consider through observation

The items below are very contextual and can best be observed rather than explained but here are some things to look for:
    • How do men and women face each other and act when talking in groups, children, each other, pets, coworkers, other LGBT people? 
    • When and how do men and women nod their heads?
    • When do we touch others? Ourselves?

Again, there is a LOT to consider and it may seem overwhelming but if you watch others and take things slow you will catch on. The important thing is to be yourself and explore what that means.

As always comments and advice to our fellow readers is always welcome below in the comment section.

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