No, You Can’t Always Tell

Katy Montgomerie
9 min readAug 10, 2020

Addressing the claim that you can always tell who is trans or not, with evidence.

Six cis women and one trans woman

A common argument encountered online when discussing trans rights is “we can always tell”, by this they mean people can always tell if someone is trans or not, and that the idea that trans people ever “pass” is a myth. If you asked any trans person if they thought people could always tell they’d probably just laugh. It’s such a common assertion that it has its own hashtag: #WeCanAlwaysTell where trans people and allies laugh at such claims. If you talked to some Gender Critical or anti-trans campaigners though they might laugh at the idea any trans people ever pass at all. So which is it?

Forced Outing

Earlier this year Nikkie de Jager, a 25 year old makeup blogger, was forced to come out as a trans woman to her 12 million YouTube followers. To be clear she wasn’t viewed as a man up to that point, she wasn’t coming out as someone starting a transition to being a woman, she was already known as a woman and had never been publicly known as anything else. She came out to reveal that she had transitioned already when she was younger. Although she says she would have liked to have shared this information one day, the timing of this wasn’t chosen by her because she was being blackmailed.

Lynn Conway is a very influential computer scientist and electrical engineer who transitioned in 1968. She lived her life in “stealth”, which is the common term for a trans person who passes and who has no one in their life that knows they are trans, until 1999 when she learned that an investigative journalist planned to out her, so she too decided to take control and out herself.

Many trans people are not given the chance to take things into their own hands and are outed by the press, often in ultra public and very cruel ways. Caroline Cossey, a Playboy model and Bond Girl who transitioned in 1974, lost everything when she came out and was relentlessly harassed by newspapers across the world. When Tracey Norman was outed in 1980 it ended her career, a very similar story to what had happened to April Ashley, another trans woman, 19 years previously.

Katy Montgomerie

Katy is a feminist, LGBT rights advocate, atheist, metalhead, insect enthusiast and trans woman