“Passing” in trans parlance is to be automatically recognised out in society and assumed to be the gender that you are. By this I mean by people one meets for the first time.
The significance of it varies from person to person. It can be about self-affirmation, about safety (especially in hostile, transphobic places or societies) and to a certain extent about dysphoria. In the self-affirmation category we have a spectrum of things from being able to relax into being oneself to it being reinforcement of gender identity.
When it comes to ‘passing’ I guess ‘your mileage may vary’ is sort of the case.
The amount I spent on testosterone not ‘passing’ was actually quite minimal - at most 4 months - which is fairly unusual. The amount of time that I spent aware of my identity, out and not on testosterone (and thus not ‘passing’) was also quite long- a year and a half which was also fairly unusual in the part of the world that am in, and having transitioned medically at 31 and socially at 30, in a full time job as a government (healthcare) employee this was unusual. So bear in mind that my experience and point of view can be different from many other people.
After coming out I had a lot of thinking to do and one of those things was about ‘passing’. It was pretty obvious pretty quickly that even in men’s clothes I don’t ‘pass’ but also that I was not identifiable as a trans man. Whereas a trans woman, no matter how ‘masculine’ looking is very identifiable - for better and for worse. On the one hand being invisible prior to decisions about non-social transition is ‘safe’, and on the hand it means that no-one1 uses the right pronouns. So- awkward.
Some of my friends were pretty good about trying their best but many/most were not. Sorry guys, it’s the truth.↩