Skirting The Issues: 98 Percent

Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida
Ellen Krug. Photo by Mike Hnida

We transgender folk call it “passing”—the ability to easily present in the way that your brain’s been shouting is your “real” gender ever since you can remember.

Some of us—like yours truly—care greatly about whether we pass. For others, passing doesn’t matter. I respect that, too.

For me, designated male at birth and now transitioned to female, the question is whether a stranger would be inclined to guess that I was born with a penis instead of a vagina.

In other words, how well do I “pass?”

I often say that I pass “98 percent.” Thanks to estrogen and the miracles of plastic surgery, I have wonderful feminine bumps and curves. Throw in a nice blonde ponytail and eyes that only a mother could bestow on a daughter, and I’d be willing to challenge any newcomer to figure out my birth anatomy.

That is, until I open my mouth. At that point, perceptions usually change. Puberty and genetics gave me pipes that are unmistakably masculine, even coarse.

Ouch. Double ouch. Oh, how I absolutely detest my voice!

Almost daily, I’m reminded about how I don’t fit in 100 percent. If it isn’t an off glance from the coffee barista as she takes my order, it’s a sudden cold stare by the man responding to my reflexive “thank you” when he’s held open the door.

And don’t even get me started on the reactions in elevators when I absentmindedly comment on Minnesota’s abysmal weather.

Time and again, I so forget that I don’t sound like I look. You’d think that I’d learn by now.

It would be relatively okay except that sometimes, my voice actually puts me at risk. For example, as I bantered with the bartender at my favorite restaurant while waiting for a friend, a man appeared at my side. He said, “You look like a woman and act like a woman, but you sound like a dude. Are you a dude?”

“No,” I answered. “I’m a woman, not a dude. Leave me alone.”

The man persisted. “Are you sure you’re not a dude?”

When annoyance started to give way to fear, I asked the bartender to intervene. He ordered the transgressor to move on. Thankfully, the man complied.

I changed seats from the bar to a table. Afterward, I watched my accoster approach another single woman, leeching, flirting, obnoxious.

While that made me feel a bit better, I was certain he didn’t ask that woman if she was a dude.

More ouch.

I have to deal with various vendors—plumbers, auto care people, a jeweler to fix a broken ring. I worry that my voice will influence how these folks perceive or deal with me. I sometimes wonder if human bias against what’s “different”—the small mindedness that results in judging and exclusion— gets me the short end of things. Throw in that I’m sometimes reluctant to be assertive—what for me used to be a very real male characteristic—and now you have a sense of how I let some things slide.

Don’t make waves, I tell myself.

All of this is far different from how I approached the world as a man. Back in my testosterone days, I pushed people around. I didn’t care what they thought; why should I?

After all, I enjoyed white male privilege and exercised it regularly, sometimes to the detriment of others.

I sure don’t miss being that person. He wasn’t the true me: a caring, compassionate and open soul.

So let’s assume a fairy godmother knocked on my door one day. She’d grant me one wish— anything I could possibly want.

I’ve often wondered: would I wish for a feminine voice?

As it turns out, as much as my voice is a source of personal pain, I would keep it. Crucially, for a daughter—the one who’s had great difficulty with my gender transition—my voice is the only thing she has left from her “old Dad.” I couldn’t possibly take that away and leave her with nothing.

What’s more, my voice reminds me of something much needed, something that I didn’t quite understand when I lived as a man: my common humanity.

Everyone has something about themselves that sets them apart from other humans. For some, it’s body weight or height or that bald spot which showed up last year. For others, it’s even more fundamental—it could be skin color or a foreign accent or the emotional scars of growing up in an abusive household.

My voice reminds me that I’m no different than anyone else. The odd looks that I get bind me to other people, many of whom are on the lower rungs of the ladder. I now have a faint sense of what it means to be the only person of color in the room.

For me, who impatiently seeks to make a difference in the world, remembering my commonality with others is incredibly important. It grounds me.

Thus I’ll live with the voice.

But what about that fairy godmother wish?

I’m still working on it.

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