One of the criticisms I received about my blog about last week’s episode was the focus on ‘passing’, and yet while understated in week two itself, passing is a central aspect to trans experience, it frames the experience. Trans people either pass in the gender they aspire to, or they don’t, they either choose to pass as man or woman once the transition, or they remain passing as a woman or man without ever transitioning, or they choose not to pass after transition and pass as a trans person, or they simply are unable to pass because of certain characteristics that define them as male (more usually than with trans men).
In episode three, the program makers focus heavily on ‘passing’, and so I make no apologies about commenting on this aspect. It is an important aspect of the program, and seems to be an important part of the lives of participants, as they try to find away of navigating society and being accepted as the people they see themselves as.
The program opens with the house-mates returning, and over dinner we hear about the changes since last week, how Drew has had such a hard time before she ended up stuck at home. She is upset that she got turned down for the job in the bridal boutique: “to me it’s all about passing – like, if I passed, I’d have got that job.” The narrator explains that passing is important to every member of the group, because being read as trans outside can be dangerous, and two-thirds of trans people have experienced hate-crime.
One of the trans men talks about being kicked out of a changing room, or being laughed at for using the men’s bathroom, and how at one level this makes people terrified deep down in case it escalates into violence. All of participants have been threatened with violence, we are told. A ju-jitsu master is brought in to teach some basic self-defense techniques, but his most important message is that if you look and walk with confidence, people leave you alone.
Donna says that it is OK for her to pass as a trans woman, is able to accept that there are parts of her that aren’t female, and gets on with her life that way. Drew admires Donna’s confidence, although for her confidence is about being able to pass.
For the guys, a fake cock helps them feel more centered and able to pass, including peeing in a urinal. They pore over a box of fake willies, some costing as much as £1,000, presumably donated by the producers or manufacturers, and discuss how they are attached and that some have a funnel to allow peeing through. Cut to bathroom where two guys experiment, a loud standing pee-tinkle from the toilet signifies success, but still not as satisfying as having one’s own cock, apparently.
Then we are back to the girl’s quest for cleavage – rolled up socks, freezer bags, condoms full of water and gaffa tape have all been pressed into service in order to enhance what is there and produce realistic looking – and passable – breasts at one time or another, as Drew and others are seen applying makeup in the mirror yet again. The aim of passing is, we hear, to be taken as being a ‘natal woman’, which ‘feels amazing’ – which kind of negates the earlier comment about being all about safety and it being about some kind of sensation, or thrill, that can helps to keep going.
Some time is spent looking at Lewis’ relationship with his father, who left his mother a decade earlier, and his plan for fund-raising for chest surgery, which he feels he needs to pass as a man. Drew gets a job waiting tables in a mall coffee bar, where her concern is about passing, although she realises it is more important that people are nice and accept her. One woman commented that she wore too much makeup, and doesn’t need to. Lewis passes well as male, so he is anxious about outing himself as trans in public while fund-raising. Lewis’ dad becomes very supportive of his efforts to raise funds. Donna supports the event by dressing like a hooker and giving Lewis a lap-dance on stage.
Drew’s job is about more than the pay-check from a 9-5 job, it is about building a social life. Her colleagues seem to accept her, and she seems to enjoy having a normal job as a woman. And she gets offered a position, which was really great – this was quite powerful at the end, and left me feeling better about the program than when I watched last week’s.
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