As far as crippling disorders go, I feel extraordinarily lucky to have dysphoria that manifests chiefly as dissociation. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no good version of dysphoria, but at this point not having a consciousness that feels seated in my body is less a problem and more a fact of life. Given the option between that and being acutely aware of my body and how wrong it feels, I’ll take the dissociation. I don’t think about my body much. I don’t receive its signals. I do the things to keep it well, hydrated, and functioning more or less correctly by force of habit and not because I can feel it when my body tells me to. If anything, I pretty often forget that my body exists until something happens to slam me back into it. Sometimes that’s a pain sufficient to get my attention. Sometimes it’s illness. Other times, my body has changed enough that it can’t be ignored. Mostly, though, my body is something that exists separate from my consciousness, operates largely without my input, and is horrifying to be made aware of.
That being the case, I have no idea when I started passing. I’d never really thought about it. In retrospect, I’m not sure if passing seemed so impossible it wasn’t worth thinking about, or if being disconnected from my body meant that I couldn’t imagine a version of it that other people would identify as masculine. After all, there’s no version of my body and the way it looks that exists in my mind’s eye insisting it’s reality. I could not tell you what I look like any more reliably than someone I’ve passed on the street. Either way, I found out I was passing because I kept outing myself without realizing. As far as I was concerned, I was being clocked by default of existing. I just assumed everyone knew I was assigned female at birth just by looking at me right up until it was glaringly obvious I was wrong.
I started working a retail sales position in late November. The store was small, trans inclusive, with a mostly queer staff that made me feel right at home. The store made a point of calling me by my name everywhere it possibly could, only using my legal name for payroll purposes. That meant that none of my co-workers ever saw or heard my legal name. I was handed a pin on my first day to write my pronouns on, and we were off to the races. Because I was always introduced as Vico and never needed to correct my co-workers on my pronouns, I had no way of knowing if people were clocking me or not. I was never misgendered, but still, I continued assuming everyone I met knew I was trans by default.
One night I was closing with a few people I’d become friendly with pretty quickly. We were talking about high school theater and choir experiences, and I mentioned being a soprano in high school. The conversation stopped for a second, and then someone corrected me and said I must have meant tenor and then moved on. It didn’t occur to anyone in the moment that I might be trans. What they thought was that I didn’t know shit about vocal music.
I had similar conversations a few times before it finally occurred to me that I was passing. I’d thought that realization would feel euphoric. It did not. It made me realize more fully than ever before that I had no idea what I look like and what other people saw when they spoke to me.
It’s not that I thought I looked so feminine that surely no one would ever think I was assigned male at birth. I’d just assumed I would never fully pass and was called ma’am enough in my day-to-day life to reinforce that assumption. Suddenly I was being smacked in the face with how other people perceive my body, not to mention that I have a body to be perceived by other people at all, and it made me feel vulnerable and alien in my skin. I thought I knew what I looked like, but over and over people told me I did not.
A few weeks later, two separate customers with homophobic t-shirts walked into my store, worked with me exclusively, and called me sir during the entire interaction. That cemented in my mind that the way I think of myself and the way other people see me do not match. It also told me that the people who hate me and spend their time screaming that they want me detransitioned or dead are much less aware of my presence in a room than they claim to be.
I still don’t see it yet. It’s not that I look in the mirror and see a woman so much as I look in the mirror and am still seeing the minutia. I see how much more of a mustache I’m capable of growing, how much more angular my face looks, how much of my bust I’ve lost. My eyes still jump to the most recent changes and latch onto them. I don’t see the full picture that other people do.
For now, passing feels disorienting, like someone has hung a frame around the features that have been exciting to see come in, but have never felt like a united image. I’m still getting used to seeing myself as a complete picture. Where I’ve been focused on facial hair, a bust line, and acne I’m starting to see a relatively young man with kind eyes and a nice smile in fits and starts. It’s good to see him, and I hope we can get better acquainted.
In the meantime, it’s nice to know I look a little more like the person I’ve been trying to become than I thought. I might not be able to hold onto it yet, but there’s something comforting about knowing the people around me are seeing that whole picture and not just the bits and parts I’ve been silently begging to finally come in. I’m not done with my transition, still it’s good to know that people see me as the man I am, regardless of where I think I am in the process.