The changing faces I see on elevators

I’ve been passing more and more, lately. That’s what transgender people call it when people see you as the gender you are, not what you were assigned at birth. When we don’t pass, we call it getting clocked. Passing is good, getting clocked is bad.

It occurred to me week before last that people look at me differently now, than they would have before before my transition. I’m not just talking about the fact that they see a female now. I mean the looks on their faces are different, and so is their body language.

I had just been to the grocery store and was exiting the elevator in my apartment building while a young woman was waiting to board, obviously headed to the pool. I’d never seen this woman in the building before that moment. I was wearing a cute sundress and sandals. As our eyes met, she politely smiled as we passed just outside the elevator door. It was a brief instant in time, but it was a significant moment for me. I had just passed. I had not been clocked.

How could I tell what was in her mind? Her facial expression didn’t change as we passed. But more on that in a moment.

Something happens when a woman enters an elevator or room with only a male already there. In places where danger could occur, like an elevator or a parking garage, most women present themselves differently when encountering a woman than they do with a man. There’s a higher level of awareness. Not fear, but women act differently than they do when there’s only another woman present. When it’s another woman present, there is less trepidation. The way in which they hold their shoulders — their entire body — is more relaxed.

After I got my groceries put away, I sat to reflect on on the experience. My mind went to other women I’ve encountered very recently, and the way in which the experience is different than it was two years ago. Then I thought about the experiences I’ve had when encountering men over the past year. As long as I can remember, I haven’t been comfortable around men I don’t know. That hasn’t changed a lot, but interestingly, I do find myself slightly more comfortable now. The way they present themselves around me has changed considerably, though.

Men no longer immediately divert their gaze away, out of instinct, to ward off any potential face-off that naturally occurs between men positioning to be the alpha. Before my transition, most men would size me up with their peripheral vision. Now, they look more in my direction and politely smile in an attempt to put me at ease. After a quick smile, their gaze typically falls elsewhere, only occasionally back towards me, unless there’s conversation. The diversion of their eyes is relaxed now, no longer with intent to avoid eye contact. I don’t think any have found me attractive, but that’s perfectly alright with me! I am not attracted to men.

Something else has been happening. With less frequency, the looks on these faces change, ever so slightly. As people approach me, they sometimes begin to look away, then their eyes snap back toward me and narrow a bit. I can see the wheels turning. They may not be able to put their finger on it right away, but they can tell something isn’t quite 100% “normal.” That’s when I know I’ve been clocked. As soon as they know I can see them looking at me, trying to figure me out, they snap away and try very hard not to stare, but stealing glances to ensure their eyes aren’t playing tricks.

When I do pass now, I get clocked as soon as I open my mouth. There’s a recognition for others that my baritone voice is male. Their ears tell them that what their eyes have seen doesn’t match what their ears are hearing. Probably, in nearly every case, it’s the first time they’ve ever come face-to-face with someone who is transgender.

I told two trans friends about this blog post to see what their experience had been. A close trans male friend told me that now he tries to over accommodate when he’s in a space, room or on the street with women because he doesn’t want to seem predatory. With other men, he says there’s a lot of posturing going on that he didn’t see before his transition. He says other times they try to “bromance him real hetero style and bring me into their circle. They think I’m one of them.” We agreed that his experience is similar, but in reverse to my experience.

My other friend Kylie, the one I call my trans twin because we started on hormones just days apart, knew exactly what I was talking about, as well. She hadn’t put as much thought into her experiences as I had, but everything I told her about my thoughts rang true for her. This happens with us a lot. Once of us will share an experience and the other will know exactly what they other is talking about. Ours is a special sisterhood.

Something I shared with both of these friends, is that we feel blessed to have experienced both worlds. We certainly didn’t enjoy life before transition, but none of us would go back and change anything substantial. We realize that we are the sum of our experiences. We simply wouldn’t be who we are today, had we not experienced everything we have, especially the hardships of discovering we were transgender and dealing with all the baggage that comes with that, then making the decision to transition. It wasn’t an easy road to go down, but we’re in a special club. Not many people can say they’ve experienced life with everyone seeing them as one gender, then the other. We feel fortunate to have experienced everything we have. We’re stronger, more learned and have unique experiences we can apply to living life. For that, we’re very grateful.

2 thoughts on “The changing faces I see on elevators

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  1. I look forward to hearing about your journey Dani, and how Kylie is doing. Each and every time I read your post I learn so much more about the transgender world, it allows me to open my eyes so that I don’t stare(clocked) and do make eye contact. I want to be able to let the person know that I except them for who they are, one beautiful human being!


    1. Thank you, Melodie! If you come across someone who looks like they may be different, for whatever reason, trans or not, just smile directly at them. Humans were meant to care for each other, but we rarely act like it. Through the smile of your eyes, you will communicate to them that they matter to you, that you care about them. In this way, we can share our love of acceptance for each other, just as we are.


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