Generations of girls have been told that the only way they can survive is to remain silent, go unnoticed and blend in. If a girl was able to fit the narrow, nearly unattainable confines of what society demands women look like, it was expected that she keep quiet about her past and just pass. It is never far from my mind that some, not as fortunate as I, are often ridiculed, shamed, hurt, or attacked when they fail arbitrary tests that I seem to pass.
I've always taken issue with the term passing. It promotes a false impression that trans women are engaging in a process through which we are passing ourselves off as cisgender women—which we are not. We are not passing as women. We are not trying or pretending to be women. We are women, and cis people are not more valid, legitimate, or real than trans people.
Besides, to pass always felt like an insult when I was striving to excel.
Still, I benefit daily from the privilege of blending in and not being seen as trans. My womanhood is unchecked and unchallenged in most spaces that I enter—from the grocery store to the subway to the locker room. Because of my appearance, I am granted the choice of discretion, of actually choosing how open I am about my experiences, and that is a privilege many are not granted. They are faced daily with the burden of other people's ignorance and intolerance. We don't have to search for too long to watch footage of a girl being attacked on public transit or in the restroom, or read a story about the killing of yet another black or Latina woman. There are only so many vigils, so many murals, so many pleas for justice before we must succumb to the fact that our culture is intent on us not existing.
Yet so many still choose to survive, and that looks different for each of us.
I chose to wear the cloak of normality as part of my own survival. I wanted to be accepted as I saw myself, without rebuttals, without denial, without exile. I followed a prescription handed down to me from women I knew who had also benefitted from blending and passing. I took notes as a teenager watching these women slowly separate from their family and friends, leave their places of becoming, and start somewhere no one knew their name. They believed—no, they knew—the only way out was silence.
As these women fled, they took with them experiences and stories and knowledge that would not be passed on, wisdom that other girls would never bear witness to or benefit from. They went out and got theirs, because that's what they were taught was the only way to make a way. For years, I got mine by remaining silent and blending in. Now I've finally reached a place where silence is no longer an option for me. My survival depends on my ability to speak truth to power, not just for myself, but for us. I'm committed to getting ours. It requires me to relay how I struggled with living, dreaming, loving, fucking, being seen, and simply being in my body, in this world. This is a universal experience.
From Surpassing Certainty by Janet Mock. Copyright © 2017 by Janet Mock. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.