In this thesis I explore several published articles as well as the life-stories of five Caucasian, transgender informants from the Southeastern United States (specifically, long-term residents of Alabama). This research examines the role "passing" within the transgender community and contains information from interviewees who successfully passed as the opposite gender from the gender they were assigned at birth. These interviews helped me gain understanding, not only about the colorful lives of both those who are transgender and their partners, but also about patriarchy and the gender-binary system we, as Americans, are adhering to. It was my desire to learn from this local sub-culture by sitting down with each informant individually and asking them a set of questions, mostly about why they believe Westerners, specifically Americans, are adhering to a gender binary system rather than other worldwide, gender-variant identities.
There were many topics I assumed would emerge, including medical issues, violence, and legalities. Those issues are briefly covered, but my curiosity was piqued by the observations made about gender from the point of view of the participants who strongly passed as cisgender compared to those who are not able to physically pass for various reasons, or who choose to adhere to an identity outside of the binary system. Each of my informants started their transition later in life, meaning they have experienced being both male and female. By all appearances, they now pass as the gender by which they identify, have been accepted by their gender’s peer group, and can now recount differences in what it means to be both male and female in America. Although the five informants claim that their "passing" has was worthwhile, there were still liabilities associated with the transition. These liabilities will be the focus of my paper in addition to background information about each informant's life, creating a combination of research, statistics, and storytelling which I believe highlight problems within America’s ethnocentric, gender system. Liabilities of "passing" include: one’s ability to identify their own community, transgender awareness and visibility to those outside of the community, feeling pressured to adhere to gender norms as a safety precaution, physical discomfort, limitation of activities, health concerns, bitterness and jealousy within the transgender community, complicated romantic relationships, a dependency on the medical community which creates a certain element of exploitation, and the required diagnoses of having Gender Identity Disorder, or GID, before having access to hormones or surgeries.
Clark-Grainger, Jennifer, "The Art of Passing: What Transgender People Can Teach Us About Gender" (2015). Anthropology Undergraduate Senior Theses. 6.