Passing Distance

Subject: Passing Distance
Date: Fri 03 Jul 1998 - 14:36:02 BST

I have always remembered the words of Joan Collins when being photographed for
Rolling Stone: "Three feet! I need three feet! You have to stay three feet
away from me with that camera!" Joan knew that she had to keep some distance
between herself and her fans, especially when that fan was the prying eye of
the camera

Every transperson has a passing distance. That's the distance people have to
be away from us to assume that we are normative.

For some of us, we keep that passing distance real far out. We don't want to
pass, we want you to know that we are in a costume, so we use lots of tells
that reminid you that we are not really what we appear. In many ways, we work
to continue to pass as the gender assigned at birth, to stay rooted in
expectations, even as we dress-up -- just like the SSS philosophy calls for
trans males to stay men

For some of us, that passing distance is real close. You can get right up
close to us and still not see our biology or our history, still assume that we
have a normative body and normative history. Some of us get that close passing
distance though the luck of the draw -- our body size, features, whatever --
or though hard work -- both the work of changing our biology though medical
intervention and the work of changing our history.

No matter how we cut down that passing distance, though, it's never 0. At
some point, if we let people get close enough to us, they wll see our biology
and our history and know we weren't raised as the sex assigned to the gender
we are performing.

This notion that we each have a passing distance can be really distressing to
those transsexuals who really want a stealth life. They want to be normative,
not queer and transgressive, and being normative requires being seen as not

The challenge for these people is how to maintain the distance they need to
stay in focus, how to keep people at passing distance. I know one transwoman,
5' 6", tiny, with her own hair and a cherubic face, who believed she would
never have to tell anyone that she was queer, never have to be outed, never
have to break that passing distance. This dream was shattered when she was in
a relationship with a man who wanted sex, and with SRS at least eight months
off, she was in no position to give it to him without letting him inside her
passing distance.

She is prone to agruing that she has no need to disclose, that lies by
omission don't count. I wonder what lies of omission by a partner she would
be distressed by -- doesn't she want some disclosure and honesty? In
addition, having lived as a man for 40 some-odd years, she has fathered three
children. Is she willing to abandon them to maintain a close passing
distance, or does she want to teach them to lie for her?

While most people love the idea of passing, just being normative, they also
love the idea of intimacy, that there are people we feel safe enough with to
be naked, naked on a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level. In this
case, when we touch skin to skin, heart to heart, mind to mind and soul to
soul, there is no space to keep a passing distance, no room for the illusions
we create around our body and our history.

At some point, if we want to be truly open with someone else, we have to let
them inside our passing distance, let them see the truth of our queerness, the
truth of our heart. It is a this point we have to deal with the consquences
of not passing -- both the terror of being naked and the joy of really being

We all have a passing distance, a distance we have to keep people at to pass
as the gender assigned at birth or to pass as the gender we choose for
ourselves. Having a passing distance means, though, that letting people close
enough to see us means not passing, means being seen as queer and trusting
that they will still love us, still see our heart.



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