In my experience, the verb to pass puts the burden of fitting society’s expectations of gender on the individual being judged/the judgee. The action of the verb is in the hands of the judgee, as in:
While this may sound like a good thing at first, like it’s putting the judgee in control, what most often ends up happening is that the person is praised or condemned based on rules that they have no say in whatsoever.
This mindset measures the judgee against this ever-moving target – an impossible ideal of womanhood or manhood. Not only is this silly and unrealistic, but there are also plenty of people who aren’t interested in going through life as a binary man or woman.
The verb to read puts the responsibility back onto the shoulders the person doing the judging, highlighting that it’s their expectations and preconceptions that cause the situation in the first place. As in:
Recap: If someone passes incorrectly, it’s framed as the fault of the judgee. If someone reads incorrectly, it’s the fault of the judger. I tend to gravitate toward read instead of pass, but there are some situations where terms such as passing privilege seem to be more useful.
Which brings us to…
…me and my now-visibly-pregnant body moving about the world. Before pregnancy, people already read me as a woman about 95% of the time- an androgynous woman with facial hair, but a woman nonetheless. A few times a year someone might say, “sir” to me and I don’t correct them, crossing my fingers that they won’t go through the flustered, “Oh, I’m so sorry, MA’AM!” routine as soon as they hear my voice. Occasionally a kid will ask if I’m a boy or a girl and I’ll smile and say something like, “Nope,” or “I don’t know,” or “not exactly,” or “sort of,” and then see where they take it. I tend to enjoy a privilege sphere that includes men not finding my androgyny threatening or challenging to their own masculinity (I’m not butch and I’m pretty petite), women often initially being a bit put-off by my appearance (“Why doesn’t this person wax their facial hair or wear makeup? Don’t they know they’re doing womanhood wrong?”), not being treated with beauty privilege (fine by me), not being harassed in women’s restrooms, not having the option of choosing men’s restrooms, and every once in a while someone will mistake me for straight. Well-meaning strangers seeking to affirm what they believe is a lesbian couple will address my partner and me as “ladies.”
Following this trend, no one reads my growing belly as a man’s beer belly. This comes with its perks and drawbacks. Unlike A.K. Summers in Pregnant Butch, people offer me physical help, which I very much appreciate, given the slow, steady wrenching apart of my skin and ab muscles to make room for the fetus. The obvious downside is the further erasure of my gender identity. Colleagues have tried referring endearingly to me as “mama” and it is rather challenging to convince them to stop without outing myself [In case you’re new here: I’m out with my orientation at work, but closeted with my gender.] I’ve tried to keep it vague and cheerful: