#DrewsViews: Cis Passing

by Drew Adams

I’ve gone to a lot of events lately to speak about my experiences as a transgender man. After I do my speaking or panel or workshop or whatever it is I’m there to do, I like to hang around to talk to members of the audience one on one. At a few of my more recent engagements, on more than one occasion someone has said to be “wow, if you hadn’t told me you were trans, I never would have known!” Or some variation of that sentiment. Now I’ve been on testosterone for a year and a half and I know I look very “cis passing,” but it genuinely rubbed me the wrong way when people said that. For awhile, I couldn’t really tell why, but after discussing it with a few people, here’s why I think it made me uncomfortable.

The people saying that they wouldn’t have been able to tell that I’m transgender by in large mean very well. They mean what they say as a compliment. By saying I “look cis” in the cadence of a compliment, it implied that “looking cis” is a good thing, and that passing as cis is something that all transgender people should strive for.

First of all, there is no way to look cis or look trans. Both trans and cis people alike can look however they want to look and there is often no way to tell if someone is transgender by looking at them. The main reason this bothers me, however, goes back to it being framed as a good thing to look cisgender. If looking “not trans” is a good thing, however, then that means that “looking trans” would be a bad thing. Trans people are beautiful. Trans people are handsome. Trans people are hot. Trans people are unique individuals. To suggest anything less, even unknowingly, is an insult. Therefore, telling a trans person that you would never be able to tell, or that they look cis, is a microaggression.

Now, there are a lot of trans people who want to be perceived as cisgender by the outside world. There are people who want to be completely stealth. That is totally valid and cool, good for them. I am just not one of those people. Being transgender is a very important to my identity and I find a lot of empowerment in being a very out and proud trans man. I don’t want to “look cis.” I never have. I probably never will. And I’m happy like that.

About the Author:
Drew Adams is a transgender high school senior from Ponte Vedra, FL, who is committed to LGBTQ advocacy at the local and national levels. He serves as his high school GSA’s president and raises money for Northeast Florida’s LGBTQ youth outreach, JASMYN, to which he also donates food, toiletries and school supplies. Nationally, Drew serves as a youth ambassador and advocacy volunteer for The Trevor Project, a youth social media ambassador for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for Point of Pride. On the legislative side, Drew lobbies for the Equality Act by visiting with his Congressional representatives and their staff.

Additionally, Drew has spent years fighting to change his school district’s bathroom policy to be trans-inclusive, and the fight is still ongoing. Drew is an International Baccalaureate student and a volunteer at the Mayo Clinic, and he hopes to go to medical school and become an adolescent psychiatrist specializing in transgender health. For fun, he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, creates sculpture art and plays the piano.