For male to female transgender people it can be a challenge to move through the world. If we can do so with a minimum of trouble we are generally happy. Trouble could be something simple as a harsh look or being called sir by a clerk, or trouble could mean being physically assaulted or worse.
The crux of all such problems is being read or clocked as the language goes. Being detected as a male trying to be seen as female. I’m going to talk about what the issues are and a little bit about the stages.
You need to understand that post transition that my description would change to being detected as a trans woman. Some might argue it should always be so. Let’s agree to disagree, some of this advice could be useful for a cross dresser as well and some of it is useful at all stages.
There are multiple aspects that convey masculinity and femininity to an observer. Not all need to be present to be perceived as female or as male. There are ranges of each that come across as feminine or masculine. I’m not going to cover all such cases, not at all. It will be up to you dear reader to do your homework.
Motion and Posture
People read a surprising amount by how someone moves. Go watch a video of Caitlyn Jenner and ask yourself if her movements are masculine or feminine. Think about the motions of an effeminate gay man and what makes those motions feminine.
Women are more expressive with their hands when they talk, and they really do break their wrists more often than men. They are more likely to touch someone (but be careful about this with men because it can be misread).
Women in public tend to take up less room when they sit and don’t sprawl out. Watch men and women. Men will extend their legs and arms to grab extra room, women will not. Part of that also comes from years of practice wearing skirts and dresses and the needs for modesty.
Women make smaller motions with their arms when walking generally and walk more upright and with their boobs forward for lack of a better description. A guy’s walk can vary from very fast and purposeful with big arm motion to hunched over. Here too women tend to not take as much room. Some women tend to walk a straight line with their feet and create more of a hip sway.
Women smile and women laugh and do so much more than men. If there’s one thing you can do to appear more feminine it would be to put a smile on your face. That alone will make you look younger and more feminine.
Until your face actually looks more feminine, which may take just hair removal, that and hrt, or that and ffs, you’ll want to use some make up. This is difficult. Lots of makeup will draw people’s eyes, not enough will leave you looking male.
- Beard cover – use something to neutralize the beard color if the beard is dark such as an orange lipstick thinly applied and tapped out. Cover with something thick like dermablend
- Add regular foundation on the rest of the face.
- Add some contour under the cheeks to make your cheekbones more prominent and your jaws less boxy
- Use a lipstick or gloss that matches your natural lip color to enhance them
- A little concealer to cover bags under the eye
There’s a lot of focus here on pitch. Pitch has some importance, but as long as you aren’t incredibly low the biggest issue with pitch will be on the phone. The bigger issues in my opinion are cadence and word usage.
Men might say things like:
“I have a big gut”
“I need to hit the head”
a woman would say things like this instead:
“It’s beautiful outside, just the perfect weather for a nice long walk.”
“I’m so upset about being overweight. It seems like I’ve tried every diet. You know how it is”
“Pardon me, I’ll be back in a minute”
You need to unlearn male speech patterns because they will give you away quickly. Get used to expressing yourself and not grunting answers. Perhaps you’ve always done this – good.
Secondly, women vary their pitch a great deal and emphasize words with pitch and not volume. Men can be very monotone (not always) but generally have less pitch range than women when talking.
Specific pitch is less important than resonance. If you raise your pitch the resonance will come out of your chest, but getting the resonance out of your chest is the major thing. Try to project your voice through your nose and the right things should happen. I do confess that this may make little sense if you aren’t a singer though.
Before talking about clothing, let’s talk about the problems with disguising the male body early on. This will make clothing make more sense. There are a number of issues with a male body that makes coming across as female difficult. Not all may apply to you.
- Hair – hair where you don’t want it like facial and body hair, no hair where you do want it like your head
- Physique – broad shoulders and narrow hips, thin thighs and a small bottom. A larger muscular chest and larger hands
- Face – angular features, square jaw, brow ridge, thick nose, large neck
- Genitalia – our friend the penis and scrotum
Some of this will work out, some may require surgery, some may always require clever choices in wardrobe or special underwear.
For your head, if you still have it, grow your hair. If you have male pattern baldness you might do what I do and get a hair system. If you have very little hair use a wig. I highly recommend a good quality human hair wig because you can style it and it will last a couple of years.
Until your face is good wear the hair so it obscures your face a bit. You can use clips, bobby pins and other devices to keep it in place.
If you haven’t started HRT then body hair is a problem if you have dark hair. You only need to really worry about what shows even though you may well care about the rest. Shaving will smooth things but you may still see the hair ends because the hair is coarse. Other options include:
- Laser hair removal – expensive but effective. Worth considering for legs since shaving your legs is a pain anyway
- Waxing – moderate cost, lasts for about a month, a bit painful but tolerable.
- Epilator – free other than buying the device, more painful in some ways than waxing.
- Electrolysis – best saved for hair that can’t respond to laser, effective. Pain level depends on area being treated
Patience is important. If you’re going to transition, most of the chest, belly and back hair will go away in time. Starting laser and electrolysis on your face can’t start too soon if you know you’re going to transition as it takes several years. If you have a significant amount of dark hair it is definitely worth starting with laser.
I was blessed with actually having hips. If you aren’t there are pads sold to give you hips. I do suggest that. Much of women’s clothing is just not going to fit until you’ve have some fat around your hips. Choosing A line skirts helps too since they create a hip line even if there isn’t one.
Broad shoulders will be helped by padding out the hips as well. The shoulders will decrease somewhat with hormones since the muscle mass in your upper body will reduce, but you’ll always want to balance that out as you can.
Avoiding tight fitting tops is going to be awkward but necessary as long as your chest is still muscular. It’s a very masculine thing and will really make you visible. That too will help with the shoulders by smoothing out your upper body.
There’s not much you can do about your hands truthfully. They will get a bit less bulky in time, but they won’t change in length very much at all.
All you can really do with your angular features is to use makeup to hide as much as you can and to obscure them a bit with hair. Many trans women see marked softening with hormones but some need surgery just to get by.
The neck will lose muscle in time with hormones. In the short term having it veiled somewhat with hair will help disguise the size of it.
This is the easiest part, but also the least comfortable part. Depending on what you’re trying to wear you’re going to tuck things back so they’re out of the way. Tucking is basically pushing the testicles back up and the penis back between your legs. If the clothing isn’t too tight you can often just do that and hold it in place with tight underwear. If things are really tight you might need to tape it in place.
Once HRT is started the testicles will reduce in size and will fit in the “sockets” better. The penis also shrinks a bit and spontaneous erections will cease to happen.
You can also get a piece of clothing called a gaff which tightly holds everything back. I never bothered and they are reputed to be quite uncomfortable.
If you’re going to pass you really don’t want close scrutiny in those pre transition months. I was moderately passable, but until I was full time for about three months I was still read sometimes. Who knows, maybe there are some cases it still happens but I’m not aware of it.
What I can tell you is that when I started I got looked at and sirred by clerks and there were hard stares by some men. Clear signs I was read. I was doing better by time I started hormones. Six months later when I went full time it was not common to be read but there was clearly still something off. My measure was doors being held open.
Back when I went full time I might have a door held open every so very often. Perhaps a few times a week. Now it happens unless it’s some young teenager. It’s been a gradual thing. My take on it is that I was passing about 95% by a year after I went full time. I think that’s about 99% now. Where I do have a “problem” is online because my voice is still pitched low and I get misgendered, but so do natal women so whatever.
Clothing is an important choice to avoid the scrutiny that is likely to get you read. What you wear depends on where you’re going. Wear what’s appropriate. Don’t wear a fancy dress to the supermarket and don’t wear yoga pants to a nice party.
A good everyday outfit for everyday might be jeans, and a pullover sweater, a pair of earrings and nice but comfortable shoes. Another would substitute a tshirt and a cardigan or a button down and a blazer. Women’s casual is much less casual than men’s casual. Women generally don’t dress like slobs outside of the house ever.
When choosing pants for pre HRT you’re going to want something a bit loose, so perhaps not jeans. This will hide skinny thighs.
Whatever you do buy, make sure it fits. You don’t want anything that makes your pooch visible, or is tight is emphasises rolls of anything. Watch reruns of shows like What Not To Wear and listen really carefully.
I can’t say this last strongly enough. Get over the size. It absolutely has to fit, the number is just a number. It has to fit. It has to look good on you. It has to fit or you shouldn’t buy it.