Passing & Gender Conformity


Being indistinguishable from a cisgender person of the same gender.

Not everyone cares about passing.

Not everyone has a binary gender. Or a gender.

Not everyone has access to time & money to pass.

In our society, passing is a barrier to entry

To get medical care,
To use washrooms,
To be date-worthy,
To change documents,
To have pronouns respected,
To be respected.

Bodies that don't look cis, that don't pass, are devalued

To the detriment of all other expression

That's what we'll discuss in this workshop


  • "Mah-Eh-Liss"
  • She/her
  • I don't pass
  • Dyke
  • Francophone
  • Settler

Colonial conception of gender

This workshop is taking place on unceded and unsur­ren­dered Algo­nquin, Huron-Wendat, and Anishinabek ter­ri­tory


Quick Survey

"trans enough"

Who heard of proving you were

What context did you hear it in?

You hear that a lot with assessments

binary gender identity

playing up femininity for transfeminine folk

playing up masculinity for transmasculine folk

trans narrative

You "want to pass"

or you don't get medical care

It's not just about the limited imagination of the person you're seeing

"...patients engage in 12 months living in a gender role that is congruent with their gender identity..."

The guidelines dictate that medical care becomes predicated on how well you fit into gender roles

Trans people aren't accorded flexibility for gender expression

Medical profession enforces gender conformity

Government also enforces gender conformity

Identity Screening Regulations


5.2 (1) An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if


(c) the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents;



Gender marker on Canadian passport

Birth certificate in Saskatchewan

Birth certificate in N.W.T.

Birth certificate in the Yukon

Birth certificate in P.E.I.

Correctional Service Canada Guidelines


Pre-operative male to female offenders with gender dysphoria will be held in men's institutions and pre-operative female to male offenders with gender dysphoria will be held in women's institutions.

According to government
cis bodies > trans bodies

Having to go through a social worker or medical professional to prove you're trans enough in Ontario to change ID is not much better

When you need to conform to change ID,
also become a part of the story

Often having the wrong gender or name on ID means having that carried over to the school and/or workplace

So now you're getting that pressure from these institutions in addition to the government to care about passing

Schools & workplace enforce gender conformity

These policies & laws are written by cis people

Cis people uphold their bodies as the ideal

We need representation


Trigger Warning

BILL BURR: Transgender athletes? I don’t fucking understand that, y’know?

BILL BURR: You have your dick cut off, you put on a sports bra, and now you’re the number one tennis player in the world. Just coming out there with your man-shoulders!

Bill Burr: I’m Sorry You Feel That Way (2014)

RAJ: And, judging by her lack of adam’s apple, she’s been female her entire life.

Big Bang Theory (2014)

LARRY WILMORE: So, at this point, we as Americans are about as unclear about the current state of our role in the middle east, as I am about the current state of Bruce Jenner’s penis.

The Nightly Show (2015)

Very few words devoted to trans people

mocking trans women

Those few words are devoted to

adam's apple




Reducing women to body parts and how those parts conform to gender norms

You have to pass

or no one will date you

and it's okay to ostracize you

No acceptance for
non-passing trans people, feminine genderqueer transmasculine people, women rocking beards

"Positive" Representation

Quick Question


have in common?

What do these

Trans women played by cisgender men

Trans men played by cisgender women

No trans people playing trans roles

​Gaby Dellal (Director, "About Ray"):

The part is a girl and she is a girl who is presenting in a very ineffectual way as a boy.

Jean-Marc Vallée (Director, "Dallas Buyer's Club"):
[Would you cast a trans actor?] Never. Are there even trans actors? I’m not aiming for the real thing....

Tom Hooper (Director, "Danish Girl"):
In our film, Lili is presented as a man for two-thirds of the movie, and her transition happens quite late on, so that played a part in coming to a decision.

When trans actors aren't considered for trans roles, the interest is not about depicting trans people authentically

adam's apple




It's about depicting trans people as body parts that don't conform to gender norms

It's a conscious decision that embeds the message that we are defined by how we (don't) pass

That value system is unconsciously fed to us when we consume these movies

Possibility Models

The most celebrated possibility models pass and are conventionally beautiful

If all we ever celebrate are passing trans people, then passing gets internalized as an expectation

We need more possibility models!


Quick Question

What are some micro-aggressions you've experienced?

Much of it is derived from not meeting gender norms

If you pass, many of these micro-aggressions cease

Authentic expression is suppressed


They both pass

The message is that they don't belong in those washrooms

That their appearance makes that self-evident

They contrast bodies to make the point

A person who looks like him who wants to use this washroom belongs in this washroom

What separates these two?

He has a beard

These campaigns enforce gender conformity

And further marginalize those who do not pass

When our own activists suggest we don't belong because we don't pass, where does that leave us?

Human Rights Campaigning

Trans activists will remove "gender expression" protections as a concession

Sometimes proactively

The same way that gay activists would routinely drop trans protections

Under this regime, binary trans people retain protections

But everyone else gets thrown under the bus

The message from activists is if you want legal protection, conform to the binary

“It is not gender identity that elicits violence but rather the way that gender identity is expressed..."

- Amanda Ryan (Gender Mosaic)

No proactive removal of gender expression

Don't even offer removing gender expression as an option


There are barriers in society for those who aren't cis

There are additional barriers for those who don't pass and especially those who don't value passing

We need in our own activism to stop holding up cis bodies as the ideal for everyone

It devalues wonderful colourful expressions of gender

Our work needs to be inclusive of non-passing trans people, non-binary folk and other non-cis lives


Thank You!

Passing & Gender Conformity

By Maëlys

Passing & Gender Conformity

This presentation looks at how expectations around the use of passing to enforce gender conformity.

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