I glided through the elevator doors. I was wearing skin tight black leggings, black suede wedge boots and a grey Henley t-shirt with a long vintage gold tassel necklace. My hair was blown out and my eyebrows were on fleek. I ran my fingers through my perfect soft red waves that I had slaved over with a weak hotel hair dryer for an hour and waltzed towards the impossibly handsome concierge at my Seoul hotel. South Korea was under a terrorist high alert thanks to escalating tensions with the North and the government was telling us to avoid public transportation. It was the end of the world... or at least the end of Friday. Throwing caution to the wind in these dangerous times, I asked the concierge, with a flirty purr, if he could call a taxi to take my mom and me to the Jongno-gu district. We wanted some Korean BBQ for dinner, which of course, pairs well with a potential nuclear holocaust. He happily obliged.
He was a particular rare breed of man that always makes me melt; gorgeous on the outside, with a quirky adorably awkward 'Joseph-Gordon-Levitt-in-10-Things-I-Hate-About-You' personality. Incidentally, Cameron James was my first major childhood fictional film character crush, but I digress. The cab arrived. He grinned as he ushered us out the door. He told the taxi driver where we were going and we were off. When we returned, he asked me how the food was. We had a brief conversation in which I was actually being bold. My usual default mode with men I'm attracted to is Liz Lemon eating night cheese. I was proud of myself and feeling confident in my womanhood. He walked with me towards the elevator and hit the button. He held the door for my mom and me, and as we walked in and the door was closing, he looks at my mom and says "goodnight ma'am!" Then he looks at me, his beautiful dark eyes meeting mine, and says "goodnight sir!" I was totally crestfallen.
I walked into my hotel room, my confidence totally shaken, and collapsed onto the bed sobbing uncontrollably. I Facebook messaged a trans girlfriend of mine, who deftly talked me off the ledge, but still I was rattled. All of the positive reinforcement of being gendered correctly for nearly a year, or having people be surprised when I disclosed my trans status to them went out the window because of one guy who confirmed all of my deepest insecurities and most negative inner monologues; "you should have transitioned younger," "this is all for nothing," "you'll always just be a man in a dress," etc. However, the component that bothered me the most was the realization that I was validated so much by other's perceptions of me and so easily invalidated as well. For over a year I had been singing the gospel that 'being misgendered can only bother you if you care about being trans,' or have enough self-shame to find being visibly trans to be negative. However, the truth is, that's a pretty reductionist perspective. The idea of 'passing as cis' is both a touchy and complicated subject.
For many, including myself, 'passing as cis' means safety. I was out to dinner a few weeks back with a group of trans women and we were all trading stories of sticky, occasionally dangerous, situations we had gotten into thanks to someone realizing we were trans without us disclosing it to them. These situations ranged from simple street harassment to outright violence. 'Passing as cis' is also a privilege. This is not only in how it affords someone the aforementioned safety, but, often 'passing as cis' trans people are much more likely to have their gender-identity accepted by their peers and society in general than those who do not. This especially leaves the non-binary/genderqueer folks out in the cold. Plus there's the fact that 'passing privilege' has major intersectionality with medical access, which in turn intersects with race and class.
For me, sitting in that vulnerable moment in my hotel room in Seoul, feeling invalidated on the basis of my 'passability,' there was an additional factor; the mourning of the person I never got to be. I never got to be daddy's little girl, I never got to go with my childhood girlfriends to girl scouts, I never got to audition for the female lead in the school play, I never got to experience high school romance as a girl, I never got to go to prom as a girl, and the list goes on and on. These associations with girlhood may seem trivial or stereotypical, but soon I began to realize that I've had a subconscious script in my head running alongside all of the more conscious negative and insecure ones. It was the idea that somehow, if I could achieve utter and total 'passability' as standardized by cis and heteronormative beauty standards, and if I could be that girl that I never was, if even for just a moment, that somehow it would make up for that lost time and my identity as a woman would be more valid. When that concierge called me "sir," it made me feel like that goal was impossible. Yet as I began to unpack all of this as I cried, I also began to see how absurd that goal was in the first place.
The next day, I walked back downstairs, girding my loins and hoping that I wouldn't see the concierge, afraid it would be too much for my freshly healing psyche. Yet there he was. Again, we asked for a cab. This time, I barely looked him in the eye, vowing to myself that I wouldn't revert back to the fantasy of the person I might have been. He walked over, looked my mom directly in the eyes and said "your cab is here sir!" then he looked at me and said "hello again ma'am!" As he walked off, I began to laugh. Language barrier. He was using sir and ma'am interchangeably. I felt myself falling to the allure of the positive validation; 'maybe I could be that girl afterall!' However, this time I stopped myself. Nothing was going to rewind my life for me. I have to come to terms with me, the sum of all of my parts, both my present and my past. I will never be the girl that a boy asked to prom. Plenty of cis girls aren't either. But I am the woman who is finally creating a future for herself based on authenticity and truth. In the immortal words of Julia Stiles as Kat Stratford, "Why should I live up to other people's expectations instead of my own?"