Passing - Part II

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #096, Winter 2001.

In this and the next issue, we feature responses to essays by Holly Boswell and Jessica Xavier, which appeared in Transgender Tapestry #95. Our authors are Dr. Becky Allison, Marsha Botzer, Jamison Green, Bill Henkin, Alison Laing, Judy Osborne, and myself.

The issue of passing is a crucial one for transgendered and transsexual people, for two reasons. First, it is personal; we each have our own history of passing?or not?and our own feeling about its importance as it applies to us. Second is the political; passing goes to very core of who we are. When we pass as a nontransgendered person, are we passing as ourselves, or as the very opposite of who we are? If there is deception, is it in our early lives, when we pass as transgendered, or after transition?or both? To be true to ourselves, must we or should we do our best not to pass, even when the changes we?ve made in our bodies cause us pass naturally and without artifice? Finally, must we all rage against the binary gender system? Is the system inherently evil, or is the real evil the lack of freedom to choose one?s role within the system?

The essays which follow speak to some, but not necessarily all, of these issues. We invite our readers to send us their thoughts?Ed.

? 2001 by Becky Allison. All rights reserved.

Passing Points of View

by Becky Allison, M.D.

Have you heard this one?

Tell us, Senator, what is your opinion of alcohol?

?Well, if by alcohol you mean that hearty spirit which brings laughter and livelihood to social gatherings, which lubricates the gears of business transactions, which makes life?s hardships easier to bear, then I say hurrah for it, and I support its legal sale and consumption.

?However, if by alcohol you mean that evil essence which robs the family budget, which is a toxin to the body and the mind, which causes men to assault one another and to fail in their professions, then I say fie on it, and I will work with all my power to prevent its sale and consumption.?

So, Dr. Becky, what is your opinion of passing?

Well, if by passing we mean the process by which we blend into society, living and working without attracting unfavorable attention, so that persons who later learn our past history will still view us as the normal human beings we are, then I believe passing is beneficial for us as individuals and for the greater world of transgendered persons.

But if by passing we mean a complete rearranging of life?s priorities, going beyond the need for blending in, striving for beauty beyond our reach, creating resentment in our peers, denying to the point of falsehood the life from whence we came, then I have great concern that we are harming ourselves, our relationships, and those who follow our path.

In modern society, our appearance sends visual cues to those who observe us. An unwashed, poorly groomed person with patched clothing sends a cue regarding economic status. Wrongly perhaps, but predictably, we prejudge that person and form an opinion, which will be difficult to change later, even if it proves wrong.

There?s nothing inherently wrong with passing. To say it?s ?a lie? is a generalization and an overstatement. If we continue logically with that thought, we could say it?s a lie for a chemotherapy patient to wear a wig, or for an amputee to have a custom-fitted prosthesis.

There are indeed some instances where passing might be considered a deception, and I will discuss those circumstances. But for the most part, passing is a tool, nothing more, and tools are inherently neither good nor evil.

To succeed in transition, we must go outside our homes to work and interact with society. These interactions are more comfortable if we don?t scare the horses and little children. If we pass, our anxiety level is reduced and we are more likely to succeed in the workplace. Passing increases our opportunities for success in business and in social relationships.

One myth about passing is that it is an elitist goal, attainable only by those with extensive financial resources, requiring many cosmetic surgical procedures. This is not the case. Only a small number of transsexual people undergo such procedures. Clearly, many more of us blend into society than the few who have such surgery. Of the majority who do not, most have felt comfortable enough in their chosen role that they adopt an attitude of passability which overcomes many physical disadvantages.

For many of us, the greatest moment in transition is the day we begin living 24 and 7 in our true gender role. The affected mannerisms of a lifetime trying to conform to the birth gender are discarded more easily than we expected, and our voice, our gestures, our behavior begin sending the correct cues. Early in transition there are rough edges, and sometimes some awkward encounters, but soon we find we are so comfortable in our new role that we cannot imagine living any other way. Passing becomes natural and unforced.

Under what circumstances, then, is passing detrimental? When is it a lie? I would answer this by introducing another definition.

Let?s define ?stealth? as the attempt to create an entirely new identity, wiping out all traces of the old identity, so no one in the person?s new circle of friends and acquaintances is given any knowledge of the person?s past. Living in deep stealth results in an intense fear of being discovered.

Don?t misunderstand: I am not advocating disclosure to everyone we meet. There?s no need for the great majority of our acquaintances to be familiar with the intimate details of our lives. This is true for everyone, not just transsexual people. We just don?t need to know most of the time. But the stealth individual may withhold the truth even from persons who do have a right to know, especially a person who may become a life partner. I can imagine the anguish a lover might feel, learning later the partner misrepresented the truth in such an intimate area of life. Even if the partner can deal with the transsexual history, he or she may not be able to overcome the sense of betrayal.

It must be terribly difficult to sustain that stealth life, always expecting the worst, always expecting discovery. I would liken it to going back into the closet, living in denial and fear.

For me, at least, deep stealth is an unacceptable alternative. It sends the message that I am ashamed of who I am and where I?ve been. That message doesn?t help me or those who follow this path after me. It?s also unacceptable to disavow any attempt at passing. After successful transition, it?s simply not possible not to conduct myself as the person I have become.

I would suggest a healthier approach: to be able to pass, to have a normal social and business life, and to choose to live without fear of disclosure. When someone does learn those facts, they will already know the person, and they may have an enlightened opinion of the individual and of similar others. Passing, and living unafraid of the truth, can change our world.

Dr. Becky Allison, M.D. is a cardiologist who has previously written for this magazine. Readers can visit her website at


? 2001 by William A. Henkin. All rights reserved.

The Passing Revolution

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

pass v, intransitive. 1. To move on or ahead; proceed.

2. To run; extend: The river passes through our land.

3. To gain passage despite obstacles: pass through difficult years. 9. To undergo transition from one condition, form, quality, or characteristic to another.

11. To cease to exist; die. 13. To be allowed to happen without notice or challenge. 14. To undergo an examination or trial with favorable results. 15. To be approved or adopted.

v, transitive. 1. To go by without stopping. 2.a. To go by without paying attention to; let go unmentioned.

3. To go beyond; exceed. 4. To go across; go through. 5.a. To undergo (a trial or examination) with favorable results. 9.c. To circulate fraudulently.

revolution, n. 1.a. Orbital motion about a point.

2. A sudden or momentous change in any situation. 3.b. Activities directed toward bringing about basic changes in the socioeconomic structure, as of a minority or cultural segment of the population.

transition, n. 1. Passage from one form, state, style, or place to another. 2.a. Passage from one subject to another in discourse. b. A word, phrase, sentence, or series of sentences connecting one part of a discourse to another. 3. Music. a. A modulation, especially a brief one. b. A passage connecting two themes.

?American Heritage Dictionary


The verb ?to pass? has lots of denotative meanings, only some of which I?ve listed here, and nearly all of which apply or have been applied to people whose very lives challenge traditional views of gender roles and identity. But the way the word is used connotatively regarding the same population?the way nuance freights it with implication and innuendo?frequently conveys many or even most of its formal definitions all at once, and gives the term a resonance far surpassing its six Scrabble points.

For some people I have known, especially but not exclusively at the start of transition, the idea of passing is almost holy. It connotes the possibility that others will finally see me externally as I have long seen myself internally. For others I?ve known, especially but not exclusively among people who believe that in general they will never pass, passing even becomes anathema at some point. It connotes the possibility that others will never see me for all of who I am, and that fulfilling someone else?s ideal of what I ought to be can only result in my being inauthentically me. Between these poles, I?ve known people to occupy every significant position I can imagine; not infrequently, a single individual may occupy different positions at different times.

Sometimes I think the boldest differences among people in the transgender communities are based in age. In the early days of hormones and surgery, particularly among those who transitioned MTF, passing was all. An oft-spoken ideal was to complete transition in secret and then assume a new identity and a new life, the way even just 50 years ago women who became pregnant out of wedlock routinely would disappear on holiday or visit a sick aunt far away for the necessary weeks or months of secrecy. In those years, some gender therapists and educators would abet or encourage this deception in hopes it would provide a maximum of what both the individual and her counselors assumed she wanted, and some people in transition learned to hide their pasts from everyone, including those who became their husbands and wives. One downside to this stealthy process was that people who transitioned successfully had secrets they couldn?t share with anyone, which made important levels of interpersonal intimacy impossible. Another was that some people who would obviously never pass were denied the medical interventions they sought. More than one transsexual woman of a certain age has told me that when she was younger a doctor refused her treatment because he could not imagine that after transition he would find her an adequately attractive specimen of feminine pulchritude.

As time went on either desires or standards, or both, changed. Certainly, transition became increasingly available for people who wanted it, even if today it still remains far beyond the reach of many; and, progressively, the people who sought transition were less and less often looking for lives as June or Ward Cleaver, even if they were not yet looking for a life as Eldridge, either.

Perhaps the defining event in this reconfiguration of passing came out of the 1991 Michigan Womyn?s Music Festival, where Nancy Burkholder was discovered, confronted, outed, and ousted. As a transsexual woman, she had believed herself an appropriate participant in the women-only event she had attended without incident the previous year, but in the eyes of some of the event?s organizers she was a male who had gone to great lengths to infiltrate the sanctity of what later became known as Womyn Born Womyn Only womyn?s space.

If it had not already done so, from this time forward the importance of passing diminished for many people who were contemplating transgender issues simply because other, more compelling questions came to the fore. Those issues had never been absent, of course, but Burkholder?s ejection abruptly directed community attention toward them. Workshops at transgender conferences did not stop teaching voice modulation or 101 Ways to Tie a Scarf, but they also started to ask: ?What exactly constitutes a woman? A man? A female? A male? What constitutes masculinity? Femininity? Even if we think we can measure sex, how do we start to measure gender? What does gender really mean, and to whom? Who passes? To what end?? If purpose replaced the possibility of passing as a question in some transgender circles, the very relevance of passing began to seem rather quaint, retro, and even counter-revolutionary in others.

Now?s it?s 2001. Most of my clients who have transgender concerns were born during or after the Vietnam War. In San Francisco, where I practice, third and multiple gender options receive serious consideration from transgender-savvy therapists, educators, physicians, and consultants, as well as from people who are questioning, exploring, or altering their own anatomical sexes, gender roles, or identities. People sometimes elect to live in alternate, complementary, opposite, and/or various genders with or without hormones, with or without surgery. Passing does not necessarily follow, but it?s not necessarily expected to follow. In fact, almost no one I know who is more than passingly familiar with transgender identity issues recognizes passing as the only or even necessarily the critical option.

Yet among the people who consult with me about transition, passing is still more often than not a preferred option. Two reasons seem to predominate. First, as ever, most of my clients still want to be congruent: they want to be consistently seen by others as they feel themselves to be, and despite some measure of internal conflict most still say they feel happier as either female or male than both, neither, other, all, or none of the above. Second, they want to live as comfortably outside the relatively sheltering walls of the transgender communities as they do inside; and if they do not pass, there is as yet almost nowhere in the post-colonial, post-industrial, post-modernist, or even post-surgical world they can really expect treatment from most people equal to the treatment most people grant to others of their kind who do not appear to them, on the most fleeting of cosmetic glances, as if they are trying to be what they are not.


However you define it, revolution is about change. So is transition. And change does not happen without some kind of acknowledgment, somewhere, by someone or something. In the gay-les-bi communities, among people in the BDSM and fetish worlds, and among those who find or feel themselves transgendered, I have sometimes heard how coming out particularly works as an acknowledgment. For example, coming out demands that someone become aware of you, and, whether happily or unhappily, that awareness enhances the sharing of self that is a precursor to intimacy; coming out requires some sort of break with the past and therefore lays a claim to the present; coming out asserts a political right in ways that stealth cannot, and in those ways it also denies or defies the privilege people automatically assume who claim they have nothing to come out about.

As a psychotherapist especially serving those communities I just mentioned, the most important place I see to come out is to oneself, because self-awareness and its concomitant integrity precede any really free behavior. And the most important reason I see to come out to oneself is that doing so can be a radically fulfilling step in the process of moving from a false, incomplete, inaccurate, dystonic, conflicted sense of self to a truer, more complete, more accurate, more euphoric, less conflicted sense of self. This is exactly what passing is supposed, in its rosiest projections, to enable: passing is what is supposed to happen after the revolution, when transition is complete.

But what if the revolution is never over? What if transition is never complete? Like everything else in the heavens and on Earth, we are all constantly in a state of change. Life doesn?t permit us to be static: our bodies are decomposing even now; already other people are altering their memories of who we were, and so are we. If to transition once meant to disappear, as if death had claimed a portion of a person?s life, that is no longer usually so. Few people now feel a need to make their former selves vanish altogether, and whether a person passes or not, families, friends, and colleagues often see them straight through. The meaning of transition, too, has changed, and sometimes it has changed most unexpectedly.

The day I started to write this piece a cashier in a grocery store I frequent told me it would be her last day on the job: she was quitting to move to another city where she could work full-time on preparing an autobiographical play about her own gender experience. In our very brief conversation, while my goods were being bagged, I mentioned Patrick Califia-Rice?s Sex Changes, in part because I liked the book, in part because I wanted to signal my own familiarity with a subject so important in her life, and in part because I thought the way Califia-Rice?s title reads two and more ways might speak to her on the eve of her important move. My acquaintance surprised me by saying only that she had never had much respect for Califia-Rice until he started transition, because ?you can never know what it?s like until you live 24/7/365.? My checker now respected Patrick?s experience: his coming out gave his transition validity for her. She never even mentioned passing.

The conversation left me musing. As he makes extremely clear at the beginning of his book, one premise that underlay writing Sex Changes is precisely that Califia-Rice had explored his transgender options long, long ago: probably before my cashier friend was even born, when transitioning was a very different experience than it is today, and long before the writer formerly known as Pat Califia was important as a spokesperson for leatherdyke and other sexual minority rights. Did my cashier mean that Califia-Rice had no right to address trans issues before he started taking hormones? Was his experience before that first hit of T irrelevant to his discussion about the subject? Was it not an integral part of his transition? How does anyone grow thoughtful about anything without exploring what it means to her? Without putting on a costume of the life, as it were, how can we gauge how well it fits? Who among us did not learn about transition, and find revolutionary what we learned?

In our own revolutions, who we were informs who we are; and whether we transition from sex to sex, from gender role to gender role, or only from life to death, we are always passing. Passing for myself, coming out to myself as myself, is the state of perpetual transition that keeps me intimate with myself, permits me intimacy with others, lends integrity to the lives I lead both inside and out of myself. It constitutes the internal revolution, the revolution in spirit, without which any other revolution is cosmetic: a revolution in form alone. This internal revolution is the one I see over and over again in my office, and not just among those who question their sexes or sexualities or genders. I see it as people transform their souls, their spirits, their daily lives. This perpetual transition begins when I start to recognize my inner need to know who I am. Eventually, whatever my gender or genders may be, it may allow me to be, as well as to appear to be, authentic.

When our human relationships take priority over sex, or gender, or race, class, or rhetoric, inside the consulting room or out, on both or even all sides of the conversation, then I think we will be able to say we pass: then we will have transitioned indeed, and that, I think, will be the real revolution.

Bill Henkin is a therapist who practices in San Francisco.


? 2001 by Jamison Green. All rights reserved.


by Jamison Green

I read both Ms. Boswell and Ms. Xavier?s pieces with great interest, and I must say at the outset that I have great respect, admiration, and love for each of them, their ideas and their work. In general, I agree with the basic premises of both pieces, yet I have some specific disagreements, and I?m grateful for this opportunity to express some additional ideas their separate pieces bring to mind. Their two pieces are very different in style and focus, but they both are intent on acknowledging the harm that is couched within the seductive lure of passing and the emptiness of the privilege with which passing tempts us.

Ms. Boswell quotes Leslie Feinberg: ?It is passing that?s historically new. Passing means hiding. Passing means invisibility. Transgendered people should be able to live and express their gender without criticism or threats of violence....? I must disagree with the premise that passing is historically new. This is an unprovable statement, and there is considerable anthropological and historical evidence to the contrary. The statement is a rhetorical device intended to invoke compassion for those who cannot or do not pass, and to charge those transpeople who do pass to step out of the closet. In addition, I also think that passing does not unequivocally mean hiding or invisibility. Everyone has some aspect of his or her life that is hidden, that they might fear vilification for if that aspect were common knowledge in certain circles. This condition is not unique to gender-variant or sexual minority people. Further, I understand that many trans people are terrified of not passing, and that this is a horrible fear to live with. What we need to be working toward, on the political as well as social front, is freedom to realize ?a greater sense of congruity between our inner and outer being,? regardless of what this looks like to others!

I don?t agree, either, that ?Passing inevitably reinforces sex-role stereotyping, sexism, and gender duality.? Why? Why is this inevitable? Women who pass as women have been quite successful at breaking down sex stereotyping, sexism and gender duality in the feminist movement. Men who pass as men can do the same thing with respect to breaking down sex-role stereotypes, and many have been working hard to do just that. You don?t have to look gender-different or be gender-variant to understand and speak up for freedom of gender expression. Holly is right, though, that many transpeople ?who pass report new forms of disconnection,? and we have to work to ameliorate that situation. Our ability to hide and assimilate is not new, though, and it is not difficult to understand why, facing the reactions of those who oppose and ridicule us, so few transpeople out themselves or demand dignity and equality in spite of our difference.

Ms. Xavier?s piece discusses how passing privilege for gay men, lesbians, and bisexual people has dumbed down the identity politics of the GLB movement, reducing it to the ?We?re just like you, we just do something different in the privacy of our own bedrooms? argument, and perhaps passing transpeople have fallen prey to the same rhetoric, trying hard to believe that the privacy of their genital difference should be glossed over politically and they should have equal rights, too, just leave their bodies covered, thank you. Well, that isn?t going to work for transpeople. Our collective variance is much greater than that, and if we are truly to achieve social justice, we cannot fight only for the ones who look ?nice.? We have to fight for everyone, because our issues are more pervasive throughout our lives than just who we have sex with in private. And many GLB people have the same social issues we do, even if they don?t regard themselves as trans, and whether they pass or not!

I?m grateful for Ms. Xavier?s observation that (she estimates) ?90% of transsexual men eventually gain passing privilege [but that] spending half lives developing queer consciousness within their lesbian communities, many transsexual men are not only aware of but also ambivalent about their passing privilege.? Although I don?t think she meant this exactly, I feel compelled to point out to readers of this journal that there is no statistical proof that a majority of transmen have had prior lesbian experience. Ms. Xavier?s text also implies that most FTMs are straight (attracted to women post-transition); this is also not statistically verifiable. My exposure to transmen causes me to estimate that only 60% have had any lesbian experience or connection to queer culture, and that roughly 30% of FTMs identify as gay men, whether they had exposure to queer culture prior to transition or not. I wouldn?t make the generalization that exposure to queer culture prior to transition predisposes one?s post- transition sexual orientation toward homosexuality. I would generalize that most of the few transmen who are politically active and most willing to be publicly out have been through the political mill in queer culture, have had their consciousness raised, and bring to their trans-activism considerable organizing experience. Some of us, though we may be new to the trans scene, have been doing political activism around sexism, racism and homophobia for decades. If we are the only transmen that are visible, it?s not surprising that Jessica and others would draw conclusions like these, but I ask you to reserve judgment because I assure you transmen are more diverse than that. We have our sexist pigs and homophobes and transphobes too.

As Ms. Xavier points out, ?We will never be nontranssexual? (or non-transgendered) whether we pass or not. When our sense of congruity between our inner and outer being is stronger and we feel more at home in our bodies, regardless of the shape or sex of those bodies, and we no longer have to fear having our difference discovered, then we can rest. Until then, whether we talk about passing as if it?s either ?important/necessary to pass? or ?politically incorrect to pass because it?s bad to look good,? all that does is continue to make everyone feel bad. We need to be talking about passing as if it doesn?t matter, as if it?s not what is important. Because what is important is that for all of us the goal is freedom to be who we are, regardless of our difference or variance, regardless of what we look like or what gender we identify with for what part of the day, so long as we are not harming another person. What our genitals look like, or whom we love, or how we need to change our bodies (or not change them) should not matter with respect to our ability to live safe, productive, rewarding lives as full members of society.

I?m glad to see both of these pieces, and I hope they will stimulate further discussion throughout our community on the dangers of invisibility.

Jamison Green is a writer, public speaker, and internationally respected advocate for the civil rights of all trans people. He serves on the board of Gender Education & Advocacy (GEA), is an honorary board member of IFGE, and is the past president of FTM International. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where he was born in 1948. Please visit his web site at .


? 2001 by Marsha Botzer. All rights reserved.

Passing and its Discontents

by Marsha Botzer

My first duty in making these comments about the work of Holly Boswell and Jessica Xavier is to say this: Thank you both. My appreciation is not a simple gesture of collegial courtesy; I mean it in a close-to-my-heart way; you are carrying us beyond survival and into understanding. Gender identity discussion is well served by these essays.

At the time of my founding Ingersoll Gender Center in 1977, the height of theoretical understanding was often simply to survive. When clients and friends moved to one the three groups Holly Boswell mentions, the crossdressers, transsexuals and drag artists, that move was a profound act of self-identification. In most instances that act of identity courage was the thing itself: theory, being, and survival in one movement. There was little time to worry out the ripples surrounding the action.

A few brilliant minds saw something much more happening when we change ourselves. But to see too deeply into the trailing oppressions of the role and gender systems was to fear placing ammunition into the hands of anyone or any group that opposed gender change, let alone gender rights or gender play. We needed experience and voice to name our own dilemmas.

Holly Boswell notes how we might have an infinite number of genders were it not for the powers of cultural delineation. I cannot disagree, but I can add that the culture, which is our sea around us, is powerful and slow to welcome any move against the norms established in whatever the last great expansion of ideas about gender brought to the table. So it is that in many therapy and consultation rooms the boundary breakers and the pioneers are often honored, but they are not readily followed. Something must go on in the culture that surrounds us before any but the bravest or the wildest of us will venture to the places beyond bipolar models of gender, as an example. There is no shame in this, only the question of how we will actually become these evolved identities.

As Ms. Boswell says so well, some answers are arriving in the acts of those willing to ?customize our personal transformations.? As is proper to such struggle, the participants often move ahead like sleepwalkers or visionaries, calling from ahead with personal demonstration and explanations hard to understand. In societies without accepted histories of gender exploration, what can we do to make the possibilities of a few the available possessions of the many? We have some help from history and its stories of transgressors and transcenders, but what is that to a modern faced with the survival values of hard won passing, especially when those wins are compared to a joyous but vague metaphysics of overcoming gender?s crabbed boundaries?

I found this problem outlined and analyzed with artistic care in Ms. Boswell? s prose. Her lucid description of group participants moving from casual acceptance of passing to anger at the inherent demand found a silent conformation in my memories of a thousand clients and friends. I hear an echo of a thousand more saying yes to the concepts of living without all the changes that are technically possible for us to make. But there are still other voices, voices saying how they have heard and know the arguments expanding gender beyond passing?s demands, yet they still want the things of passing, and wholly believe they in fact are the beings revealed by knife and passing. In these lives I see an unanswered challenge to any expanded idea of transition that avoids ?the tyranny of passing.?

Perhaps understanding this process is simply to say there is room for all to go about transition in private and personal ways?you see how much I do agree with Ms. Boswell; I feel she is right, and at the same time I know how hard it will be to enact the freedom she puts before us. The sea of culture flows against full freedom, and seems to always have done so. Our challenge in the therapy room, the street, the support group, and in ourselves is great. Some of our clients and friends welcome a quest like this one of transcending gender, and many have an honest and true desire to simply move quickly to some form of new stability that allows private life to go on in all its confusion. This condition, this dilemma, may be the way of all profound human change.

Jessica Xavier offers a vigorous examination of some specific problems in the business of passing. This intellectual surgery may be what is needed to carry Ms. Boswell?s concept of doing away with passing into the business of everyday life. Understanding the passage from tyranny to privilege is not so great a step, it seems, when the benefits are linked directly to power and placed within an enveloping culture.

I return to the images of the consulting room and the support group to wonder if by directly calling out talk of power and privilege, Ms. Xavier?s feminist analysis might not be the way to welcome new explorers of gender into a fuller conversation around passing and its conundrums. Again, I remember many individuals who have insisted they thought about the stigmas attached to living a non-passing life and the benefits of a wider understanding of gendered living, and they want none of either stance. They are sure they will be able to turn passing into success, and that success will add, not distract, from the greater good. Indeed, many do perform this feat. Many transgendered bring back stories of how co-workers and family have turned around horribly negative views once they have seen how the transitioned person fits so well into the accepted models available to them. A few of these helpful new allies then join with us in our efforts to change laws and protect transgendered people. Is this price in the guise of privilege an appropriate image for the current western society, worth paying?

As with Holly Boswell, I find I have so much agreement with Ms. Xavier I can only search around in the richness of her work for help in thinking about the meanings inherent in passing. Our emerging allies are all people who hold within themselves some notion of self that does not have the overt approval of culture and society. Many of the gay, lesbian and bisexual folks who are with us now are people who at some point gave great thought to why they feared transgender inclusion, usually at the behest of a transgendered friend. Somewhere in their deliberations came an idea about how support for lesbian, gay and bisexual issues mirrors the request to support transgender. The connection is often made at the level of personal struggle; that is, with what it means to be in the world and to act in the world as an individual. Our common cause appears to me to be in our similar struggle for being. Certainly one way into this conversation is through the medium of analyzing the power and privilege of passing.

Ms. Xavier exposes a troublesome block to full unity among our groups, the ability for some to carry themselves through society in an unknowing passing. This is the lesbian, gay, bisexual or crossdressing person who passes as acceptable in culture until identified. The transgender analog is a person who passes and accepts the demands of passing. What is required for progress is a method of facilitating conversation and understanding between these folks and in the larger communities. It may be that individuals do not recognize they are treated as privileged by others, and would be offended by a blunt analysis brought to them in the style of early class, race and feminist discussion. Here we can learn much more from what activists and theorists have done in struggles that have come before us. Our method ought ideally to be in addition to the usual triggers of crisis or the push into awareness by friends and activists.

The idea of pointing out how gender appearance is a primary cause of oppression seemed to be the perfect way to alert all groups to the importance of unity. It may yet be that unifier. But some may also think that our own hold on place is tenuous, and a possibly real model of scarcity may still hold us in fear of dismissal or submergence if we suggest our allies? struggles are ours as well. And just as the intellectually aware person may choose to embrace passing and find it works for them, so it be may be implicitly true that many transgender and transsexual rights would be lost to a strategy of focus on gender appearance as the crux of oppression. I suggest we must look to the work of thinkers like Ms. Boswell and Ms. Xavier to help us with these questions. The frontier activists and transcenders open paths ahead, but the solid roads must be put down by people who think through the implications within ideas. The conversation must be carried on with as much respect as the ideas can earn.

With the work of these two theorists in mind, here is a response to the problem I gleaned from both articles. I see several possible ways through the difficulties of actually bringing into being a world where gender freedom is so present that passing is no longer a position that divides our powers or gives temporary power to a few.

One way is to take back the civil justice and progressive political conversation. By this I mean take back the once powerful place that progressive writers held in the information media of the past. Once labor and civil rights journals, pamphlets, novels, articles, newspapers and the like were numbered in the well-read thousands. Today they have been marginalized, and by default have given up the visible medium to commercial pundits and well-funded thinktanks of the Right. We can change this condition by building into our daily experiences an expectation that Ms. Boswell, Ms. Xavier and our other strong voices appear in our current civil rights newsletters, in the references of textbooks and in the political press. I think we could find a place in every essay on human rights and every novel that talks about human development.

Even if these hopes are too high at this time in our history, I believe we can adopt the goals of recapturing the conversation about justice and equality with a long-term view. Here is an example: The western conservative media has labored thirty years and more to erase the liberalizing efforts of the 1960s. Shall we work as long and as hard to take our place in the larger conversation?

Another approach is to encourage each one of our transgendered and transsexual clients and friends who has considered higher education in gender identity research or therapy to double their efforts to get that education. Let us be the next generation of researchers, therapists, medical providers and writers. We will need other progressives to battle the race, class and economic barriers to our educations, but this battle becomes a new way to show how our particular struggles strengthen all movement toward justice and equality. I hope every transgendered or transsexual person who has thought about joining a local progressive group or starting a gender group will reconsider and do it. I would never insist that everyone do these things, but support of those who do desire them will bring us all a greater place in the world.

From these efforts will surely spring activists whose voices will in time become the common conversation of society. Then we may repeat on a grand scale the change that comes in our own lives as we learn about ourselves. What would society and culture be if the ideas in these two essays were fully a part of any conversation about gender?any therapy session, any visit to a professional provider? What if movies and books proclaimed such understanding in their plots and characters?

Once it was enough to find a single supporter, a friend, or a small group of providers. Today we rightly expect much more in the way of support and service. This change in expectation comes from the patient work of a generation of activists and thinkers; here are two of the most eloquent, Ms. Boswell and Ms. Xavier, and now their ideas are part of our conversation. I know you will go about your business in your own way, you may never need or use the ideas that are expressed in these writings. But many will, and many more will take the ideas on to further understandings. If you have the desire within you to think and explore, or feel the excitement of discovery, raise your voice, and join!