When you struggle out of the closet as a transgender person, even if the only person you are outing yourself to is yourself, it’s fair to say that you are at a confusing and vulnerable time of life. Certainties no longer exist, and a future that might involve a transition is a deeply scary place. If you breezed through it all without a care in the world then you are lucky, because it seems to me that for many people this period in their lives is marked by a succession of barriers that must be broken down one by one. Many trans women will be brought down by the seeming impossibility of hair removal, their deep voices, and craggy appearances, while for many trans men there is the terrifying presence of a large bust, or the impossible hurdle of going unnoticed in male-only spaces. These brick walls seem to remove the chance of ever transitioning, but they also provide an odd sense of security, an excuse to cling to what you know rather than risk the uncertainty that lies beyond them.
For me back then the brick wall to end all brick walls was that of my height. You see, I’m in the upper 1% height percentile for British men and off the scale in height terms for British women, and I rarely meet anyone taller than me. It has served me well at times, but in terms of transition it seemed like an impossible thing to circumvent. How could a woman who has to duck to pass through a standard door frame possibly hope to make a successful social transition, it didn’t seem possible! I was doomed to a life in the shadows, a part-time giantess who would expose herself to constant ridicule and could never go forward.
Know your assets
One thing that unites everyone whatever their orientation and identity be they cis, trans, or anyone else, is that when it comes to appearance none of us consider ourselves to be perfect and we all need to play to our assets. We all have things that count against us as well as things others would do anything to have, and it is the latter set of attributes that we have to identify and bring to the fore. Natal women do this all the time, the entire beauty industry is founded upon it even if that opens up another whole can of worms.
As I struggled out of the closet it was the realisation that I too had unexpected assets that started to slowly remove bricks from that wall I mentioned. I’m lucky enough that my height has given me legs many women would give anything for, for example, or though this has little to do with my height I was also lucky that decades on the T had mercifully left me with very little body hair. I was a very tall, fit, and lean person, and that wasn’t a bad starting point for creating a tall, fit, and lean female shape.
When you are different from the norm in whatever way, people notice you. In my city I have found over the years that a lot of people know me by sight even if I don’t know them. I was back in the days before my transition the really tall bloke they’d see walking into the centre to pick up a sandwich at lunchtime, or stooping to reach the bar in one of our mediaeval pubs. To be a very tall woman is to amplify that effect, and to be a very tall trans woman is to send it into overdrive.
Preparation is everything
As someone who people will notice when they see you, the impression you deliver is many times more important that it is for someone more unobtrusive. Based on that first impression we can either continue on our way, or be subjected to transphobic abuse depending on what other people see. Therefore one of the most important features of my coming out of the closet was that I had help in crafting my style from the natal women surrounding me. They ensured that my style evolved into something as close as possible to that which a natal woman of my age and height would project, and I managed to evade some of the sartorial errors that trans women unlucky enough not to have such help can fall into. I learned to recognise shapes that work well on average women but are disastrous on women like me, I found the optimum skirt length for very long legs, and discovered that casual summer dresses for short women can make excellent casual tops for very tall women. As I first saw myself in the mirror wearing Long Tall Sally jeans and an appropriate top, yet more holes appeared in that brick wall and I started to see in front of me the woman I’d never thought I would become.
My path through transition has been a slow one for various reasons. It has been at times frustrating, but in the context of transitioning as a very tall person I am thankful for it giving me the extra time to prepare. Coming back to my point earlier about crafting the right impression, taking the time to grow my hair out to female length and get my beard lasered while still living as a bloke meant that I never needed to wear more than light make-up, and fortunately escaped the need to wear a wig. By then so many bricks had fallen away from the wall that there only remained a metaphorical pile of rubble to step over. Starting my Real Life Experience period wearing unremarkable clothing, with natural hair and a face that didn’t scream thick foundation meant that despite my height I had achieved my aim of being as unremarkable as I could given what I had to work with at the time.
So I’ve described how I overcame the mental brick walls associated with my physical appearance. Several years later I can look back upon a successful social transition in which my height has been an asset rather than a liability. But before I sashay elegantly into the sunset there is another aspect to transition that all trans people pay some attention to but to which height adds an extra angle. Passing. It’s something that is of concern to many trans people of all paths, the idea that you may some day be able to melt away into the general population without people noticing you are trans. My nGendr colleague Charlotte recently wrote a very powerful piece outlining her take on it. It’s not a subject without controversy, but some of that is probably best left to be the subject of other posts.
A passing obsession
You can’t deny it, anything that draws attention to you is not exactly a passing asset. Being a very tall woman means that people will look at you, and if there is anything there to be seen, they may well see it. If passing a hundred percent of the time is a must for you then you will inevitably have to come to terms with a reduction in that percentage if you are very tall, but it’s not all bad news.
I’m going to say something some trans women will find controversial; only a vanishingly small number of trans women achieve a hundred percent passing. Maybe young trans girls who are lucky enough not to experience male puberty can manage it, but for those of us who transition as adults with facial hair and broken voices it’s very difficult to erase those effects entirely. Even the most passable trans women will trip the TDAR of those around them from time to time, so it’s important to recognise that rather than passing completely they have succeeded in raising the percentage of time in which they pass completely as high as possible.
So when considering passing it’s important to understand that each and every trans woman will never either simply achieve a binary pass or not pass, but will have a maximum percentage of time during which she passes, and a hopefully small number of occasions during which she doesn’t. Many trans women will convince themselves they have achieved full-time passing, but the reality if you observe their interactions is that it’s rare not to see someone who takes a second look. If you are regarding yourself in the mirror and thinking “I can never pass, I’m too tall!”, then you should instead be thinking “I can pass even though I’m tall, and if things go well I can do it most of the time!”.
This revelation came as something of a shock to me as my social transition progressed in the time following my full-time debut. I had resigned myself to always being a very large and obviously trans woman, having reached the conclusion that it was a far better thing to be than a very depressed and suicidal large bloke. So when I found myself in situations where I was taken as natal female, no double-takes or anything, it was a surprise. It even reached a level of surreality, such as when I was passed by a load of drunken young men who made me very apprehensive, only to hear one of them say to his friend once they’d passed, “Wow, she was a WOMAN!”. I’m not under any illusions as to my passability, however I am pleasantly surprised to find I manage it more often than I expected. If passability is one of your brick walls, then all I can say is that it will come to you in some measure, even though you are tall.
To conclude this piece, I hope any tall readers who are struggling with their height as a barrier to transition have found it helpful in their path. It can be done, it can be done successfully, and you can do it. Recognise your strong points and play to them, take pains to evolve a wardrobe and look appropriate to your age as well as your height, and take some extra time to prepare everything you can before you leave the relative safety of male presentation. You can make a successful social transition, and go on to lead a happy and fulfilled life as a woman of height.
Remember, your tallness will be an asset, and it should be one that you make work for you.