Exploring Gender Perceptions on Airplanes, Part 3


About 6 months ago I took a couple of plane flights in what I called “Semi-femme” mode in order to see what reactions I received from people. By “semi-femme” I mean wearing female but mostly gender neutral clothing and a wig but without any makeup, padding, or other female indicating items. In the case of this trip I wore a long sleeve patterned tshirt from Kohls, dark blue Gloria Vanderbilt jeans from Costco, and black ankle boots that had a very low heel. I also wore a zip up sweatshirt/hoodie that actually came from my boy closet. I wore my normal medium length wig but brushed out so that there was only a hint of a curl to it. My belt also came from my boy closet. I carried my regular work brief case and small suit case.

The flight was from Atlanta to San Francisco. I had previously flown to Atlanta wearing essentially the same outfit(I did change my tshirt) but without the wig. I knew of some coworkers who would be at the airport about the same time as I would and so did not want to risk running into them (I did encounter one and so my caution paid off). On the way back there was no such worry. It was an interesting test case because on that flight all I received was “sirs”.

I went through security at Atlanta wearing everything but the wig. I was feeling a little wary and so felt safer leaving it off for that part. Later I slipped into a “family” restroom, put on the wig, and brushed it out. After a short time, I left. I had quit a wait since my flight was delayed and so wandered around the terminal a bit. I received some odd looks but was mostly ignored. I ordered some food and it was clear the person who took my order was uncertain how to respond especially when I ordered in sort of an inbetween voice (a little higher than my normal male voice but lower than my normal female voice). It was sort of fun to explore gender boundaries without the worry of “am I passing or not”. I was just dressing as me and not trying to be overtly female.

I did not get my upgrade on the way to Dallas and so sat anonymously in coach. The fun began when I got to Dallas.

Due to weather my flight departure was delayed almost 3 hours and so I had lots of time in Dallas. Eventually I got hungry again and so went to one of the many fast food eateries there. Again I ordered in my neutral voice and got my first “ma’am. I just smiled and paid the bill.

I had put into for an upgrade and so eventually went to the gate to check on it. When I got the counter the agent asked if she could see my ticket “ma’am”. When she got the ticket with my male name, she really did not react but also did not respond with either a “sir” or a “ma’am”.

While we were boarding the plan, the agent taking my ticket (a different agent than at the counter) also gave me “thank you ma’am” when I gave her my ticket. I just smiled and went down the ramp to board the plane.

I did not get my upgrade and so I was sitting in coach again. Right before takeoff the agent who took my ticket came up to me to tell me that my upgrade had come through and I could move up to first class. There was some confusion among the the various agents/flight attendants as they alternatively referred to me as “he” or “she”. I ended up in a seat actually assigned to another passenger (he had moved to sit with his girlfriend) and so the flight attendant ended up really confused. She was very friendly and touched me on the arm/hand/shoulder several times during the flight (something that never happens when I am clearly in boy mode).

I eventually arrived at SFO without further incident.

The experience made me feel very good about my feminine presentation. Afterall, if I could get repeatly referred to as “ma’am” without really trying too hard, I should not worry much about it when I add the “extras” (makeup, padding, jewelry, purse, etc). Normally “passing” is not difficult for me but this gives me even more confidence. It is also interesting to think about what are the real female cues that people rely upon. In my case a wig was enough to push me from a clearly male to an ambiguous/female gender presentation.

In some ways doing semi-femme is more fun than full femme since I am not worrying about “passing” (since I am really not trying to pass as anything but me). I get the wear the clothes I like without the worry!!