A Story in Passing

Renée (then Brette) at PAX River, 2012Dear M_____,

Maybe a story from my [gender] transition will help you decide how you should present at your new job?

Over the last five years, I have gradually and gently transitioned from living as a somewhat androgynous “man” to now living fully as a woman. Throughout this period, I had worked remotely as a software engineer. Almost no one had seen me in five years, and I was pretty sure that no one knew about my gender transition.

Over a year ago, I had to go to a government site to perform some consulting. A couple of my old colleagues would be there (who knew me as a man). I had just started hormones, but I was already living as a de facto woman, as I was gradually and continually making changes to become more of who I truly am…

…Well, the trip was a sudden thing and I prayed and debated how I should present myself (with relatives worried I would lose my job). I should say that I’m not a “girly-girl” but it had been years since I had dressed like a man. So, with an ache in my heart, I packed guy clothes for a week, but I also packed my ordinary clothes – I didn’t cross dress: women’s clothes were “me” clothes…

…After a nine hour drive to PAX River, I checked-into the hotel as “me” and got to know the hotel check-in folks – it wasn’t long before I was “out” to them as transgender, and they were really cool with it. I’m very comfortable and at ease with myself (at least to others!), and I’ve been told a number of times from cisgender folks that that made it easy for them to accept that I’m trans…

…So, not knowing what sort of dress-code to expect, I dressed on the upper-end as a guy – first time in seven years I’d worn a tie! (I felt so icky this way!) When I got there, I realized I was a bit over-dressed for most of the people. We had some high-ranking military people, and two company CEOs, and I was there to watch-over a very tense project turn-over that was occurring because of the outcome of a bitter contract bidding war. My (former) colleagues were ordered to be tight-lipped about everything and my task was to keep them honest. The project was now being run by two women managers about my age…

…Finishing the first day and looking in the mirror back at the hotel, I realized that I looked like a woman in drag. My hair reached the small of my back, I had worn my pearl ear studs (against advice); I was lithe, moved and occupied space like a woman, had (small) breasts already and spoke with an in-between voice: I just didn’t make a convincing man anymore…

…So at dinner, by myself, I simply dressed and presented as myself. At this point in life, I was being ma’m-ed about as much as sir-ed; and I had been comfortable letting people gender me any way they would. While I enjoyed the meal feeling wonderfully as myself, someone not quite ready to admit she was a woman – I decided: I will wear what I want for the rest of the trip – for me to be authentic is paramount, and I know that people can tell when I’m hiding, even if it’s behind an old “man” mask…

…The rest of the week (which became nearly two weeks), I was fully myself and very comfortable. I dressed much like the other women, maybe a little more formally: we were all geeks of one sort or another!

…Each day, due to the enforced-tension among the teams, I ate alone at the same restaurant: it was so nice being treated as a woman by most of the wait-staff. On the last night, one waitress continually sir-ed me when my presentation was obviously that of a woman. I gently explained to her that I was a transgender person, and I was uncomfortable being sir-ed and offered my first name instead…

…On the last day on site, I knelt by the receptionist’s desk, to be on her level as I spoke: a highly intelligent woman, maybe a decade my senior, with whom I had chatted much, she had been sir-ing me the whole time out of formal politeness. I then told her gently that it would really bless me if she would call me by name instead of sir, because I am a transgender person. Unknown to my conscious self, the desire to assert myself as a woman was almost at the surface, and masculine references were fast becoming intolerable. I shared with her because I strongly suspected that there were questions flying-about the office about me among the women, and I know that by coming-out to the receptionist, it would not be long before everyone knew where I stand (or at least stood at the time)…

…So, I concluded the trip successfully – what the women managers had hoped for happened because I was there. We had grown fairly close, but the nearest I came to outing myself to them was to take them aside together and thank them being kind to me as one who was a very unusual person.

The “punch-line” to all this was that months later, when I came-out to my manager, he told me that one of his first clues was when one of these women managers called the company, singing my praises, and commented that they had expected a man, but a woman had come instead!!

Anyway, I finally came-out to my colleagues when I legally changed my name and gender, and (so far) it’s been very well, and I am so blessed to be a working woman!!

So, M____, be yourself, you’re okay as yourself, and people will see that even if they can’t “get” you or even if they have issues with your transgender nature.

Hope this helps!!

Blessings & Joy!!

PS) Oh, a little more about the trip I described above: it really was a milestone in my transition. Prior to this, I was telling everyone and myself that I was in a “not-transitioning” transition. (haha!)

The day I left PAX River, the first place I stopped for gas, I made a sudden decision that I realize now to have been simmering for months: I decided, to switch restrooms – I told myself, maybe I’m not fully a “woman,” but I’m “woman enough.” The two single occupancy restrooms were right up at the checkout counter in very prominent view of all. I waited in line for the women’s to become free – in line as several men also waited. What kept me there was the overwhelming sense that “I belong here, even if I don’t fully look like it yet!” There were no comments, no stares, and the male clerk ma’m-ed me when I made my purchase…

…I have not looked back, and I have gradually become very comfortable in the most chaotic and crowded of restrooms, making small talk with other women there. This desensitized me to where I regularly dress and shower with other women when I swim and dance at the YWCA. Though pre-op, I have my tuck down so well, that I can pass nude if necessary (and it was this morning!)

PPS) By the way, for your own safety, when you finally get onto hormones, ask your doctor for a “carry letter.” I’ve never needed mine for bathrooms, and only once in a locker room. I’ve finally changed my gender marker on my permanent IDs, so I don’t need one anymore. BUT a letter, reduced & laminated that you carry in your purse can be a godsend if you cross-paths with someone from the “potty-police.” Months prior to my trip, I had wanted to switch because I was deeply uncomfortable using men’s facilities; months after my switch, when I asked my doctor to write me a letter, she said that it would be downright dangerous for me to be using men’s facilities. (What had made me hesitate to switch sooner was that I didn’t want to make other women uncomfortable, but it seems that I was being recognized as a woman months before I was willing to accept it myself.)


When I came-out to my employer, our vice president asked one of our Field Security Officer, now in Human Resources, to help me get my name and gender changed within the company. Before he told her who I was, she asked if the person in question was me; previously, she had read helpful things I had written to transgender people on the Internet. As a result, she was fully aware of my transsexuality but discretely kept it to herself. Also, after telling my manager that I appeared very different from the last time we met, he sheepishly informed me that my Google profile pictures had been showing-up on his phone for a year or so, and he’d forgotten what I used to look like! (Each of these people were absolutely stellar in handling my transition – the first in our company’s division.)

I remember one occasion, for a formal evening, when our foster daughter asked me to dress more like a guy for her beauty pageant appearance. I struggled with this request, and only managed to be (somewhat) guy-like for a few hours.

On the way out of town, I dropped by the restaurant and thanked the manager for all the kindness and dignity his staff had shown me as a transgender person. He was impressed even as he was a bit taken aback. Feeling sure that I must present a bit odd to others, I try to be very nice and generous with tips in part so that, perhaps, people can see and remember that trans folk are nice people too.

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4 thoughts on “A Story in Passing

  1. It must be difficult when you run into people you knew before you transitioned.
    I was curious: did hormones help this or complicate it? Just wondered

    • Hi Archfriar! Sorry for my delay in moderating and replying to your comment – I just discovered it in the spam folder!

      It has been a blessing that it has not been difficult for me meeting people who knew me pre-transition.

      Hormones do not seem to have complicate things, but I think they helped – here’s why: HRT *supports* who I am already (helping me psychologically: ego syntonic), AND it accelerated changes that were already gradually happening in my body since my first puberty.

      For various reasons, I appear very comfortable in my skin to others (from their feedback, and despite how I feel at times) – I think this “simple” thing has been what has made my transition so smooth. I think this has been due to the magic of desensitization, and the that I simply abandoned myself to become who I really am. My changes were very gradual and carefully applied emphasizing what felt right AND what worked aesthetically for me. So, it seemed that I was never “freakish” in appearance or manner – somehow, it all seemed very natural for me. Some people would say to me things like “I don’t like XYZ in males, but *somehow* it works for you.” For a long time, I felt that I was in a “not-transitioning” transition – I said myself and others who knew me to be trans…

      I do not try to pass as a woman; instead, with increasing fidelity and integrity, I am passing as myself, who is a woman: it’s an inside-out thing.

      …So I moved through androgyny and crossed the invisible boundary between living comfortably as an openly transgender person, to living comfortably as a transgender woman. I let people gender me as they perceived, and when the balance of cues tipped people who had seen me change through the years decided I must be a woman. At about the same time, I was psychologically at the point I could give myself permission to relax and claim my identity as a woman.

      By the time I started meeting people who knew me as a man, I was well past the point of being comfortable living as a woman. Regardless of what they thought, my sense of myself as a woman never wavered and I was simply myself. Some people cannot accept me a woman, but virtually everyone treats me as a woman even if they think I am “only” a transsexual woman. There are a few that flatly reject my womanhood, but they really look foolish in doing so.

      I’ve also been blessed in that HRT has been unusually effective for me: my body is responding to hormones like a much younger person. I was also blessed that my body is much less masculine that it could have been. At this point, I appear like a larger, more masculine version of my little sister.

      Colleagues I have visited recently who knew me before have told me they were amazed and not at all awkward with me as a woman. Even though they were surprised at first, they quickly became at ease because I was at ease from the start. I think it also helps that I think, move, speak and behave like other woman, so I am much more feminine in person than still pictures of me would imply.

      Does this help answer your question?

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