In the context of gender, passing refers to a person's ability to be regarded at a glance to be either a cisgender man or a cisgender woman.[1] Typically, passing involves a mixture of physical gender cues (for example, hair style or clothing) as well as certain behavioral attributes that tend to be culturally associated with a particular gender. Irrespective of a person's presentation, many experienced crossdressers assert that confidence is far more important for passing than the physical aspects of appearance.[2] Groups of people whose members may be concerned with passing are crossdressers, drag queens and drag kings, trans men, trans women and those who identify as a third, non-binary, or genderqueer identity.

Related terminology

Gender attribution

Gender attribution is the process by which an observer decides which gender they believe another person to be.[3] Once an observer makes an attribution of the gender of a person, it can be difficult to make them change their mind and see the person as another gender.[4]

This is sometimes referred to as simply "gendering", not to be confused with sexing animals.

Passing/not passing

In black culture, the failure to pass as the desired gender is referred to as being read.[5] In this context, "read" is used as a verb. The event of being read is known as "a read". In this context, read is used as a noun. It can also be called "being clocked."[6]

A person is far more likely to be able to read someone of their own race but less likely to read someone of a different race. It is generally accepted that this is because gender cues within one's own race are more readily recognized than gender cues of other races. Some people opt to leave their country of origin, because gender cues can vary greatly between countries. Vocal range, physical build, hairline shape, facial structure, demeanor and clothing styles are just some of the reasons cited.[7]

Passing is much more than physical appearance, there is a spectrum of difference in the same gender, height, bone structure, appearance of having or lack of having an Adam's apple, so the mind does not just rely on the looks alone. Mannerisms and vocabulary are even more important. The mind picks up these inconsistencies or supporting traits, in so supporting a person's appearance (passing) or not (being read). How a person is dressed, or clothing that is out of place for the surroundings, will draw attention. A mini skirt, mink coat and knee high boots even on a cis woman in a supermarket will focus one's attention on her, leaving her open to observation for other tell-tale traits.

Depending on a person's presentation, anyone may be able to read them. What is more important than whether a person is read or not is how others react if they do read that person. It is suggested by some researchers that many trans people who believe that they are passing are in fact being read by many observers, but the observers do nothing confrontational and hence the trans person is not even aware that they were read.[4]

It is also notable that "reading" and "being read" have the alternate meaning of insulting and being insulted in the context of Ball culture.[8] Very often the subject of the read is a flaw that would result in not passing. The term used for passing in Ball culture is "realness".[9]


Main article: Stealth

The term stealth is used to refer to a person who passes as their desired gender at all times, and who has broken contact with everybody who knew their gender history. Thus, everybody around them is unaware that they were not always presenting as the current gender, and they are effectively invisible within the population of their current gender. In order to live in stealth,[6] an individual has to be extremely passable. People may also choose to be stealth in some parts of their lives and not other, disconnected parts (for instance, being stealth at work, but openly transgender amongst friends).

See also


  1. Julia Serano. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Seal Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58005-154-5, ISBN 1-58005-154-5
  2. Polare 63: A Crossdressing Perspective
  3. IJ TRANSGENDER - Special Issue on What is TransGender? - Who put the "Trans" in Transgender? Archived September 27, 2007, at the wikipedia:Wayback Machine.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jennifer Anne Stevens. From Masculine to Feminine and All Points in Between, Different Path Press, 1990. ISBN 0-9626262-0-1
  5. A CD glossary | The Cornbury Society
  6. 6.0 6.1 GlossaryArchived September 30, 2007, at the wikipedia:Wayback Machine.
  7. Griffin S. Boyce. Implications of Location on Gender Perception, Ladies and Gentlemen, 2007.
  8. Youtube clip from the movie Paris Is Burning (film) in which this is explained. Archived January 30, 2014, at the wikipedia:Wayback Machine.
  9. Youtube Video from Paris is Burning on realness. Archived January 30, 2014, at the wikipedia:Wayback Machine.

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