Hope* sent me the note below in January 2003. It is a nice companion piece to the section on self-acceptance.

* name changed to protect her privacy.

Dear Andrea,

I'm completely awed by the work you have done on your Web site -- and the good it has done so many people. I wanted to share some experiences and some ideas about confidence and "passing."

The basic info is this: I'm MTF, and with my coming out at work in March 2003, I will finally be full-time, with the loving support of my friend, the friendship of some wonderful people in the local TS group and the very brave, unqualified backing of my company, a large U.S. media corporation.

I spent the month of October in France, en femme the whole time, and the response of the French people was a great surprise. In a month, exactly three people called me "Monsieur." At home in the U.S., many times that number of people would say "Sir" to me as I go about my daily life.It's because the French are tolerant, live-and-let-live people, with great respect for individual freedom, who are -- contrary to the stereotypes held by some ignorant Americans -- extremely concerned with polite behavior. Their term for correct, dignified behavior is "bien eleve" or well brought-up. The wonder is that French civil rights law, by comparison to American law, is unbelievably primitive, even vicious. According to a sledge-hammer principle dreamed up by Napoleon, a French citizen has an essential identity that is fixed at birth and cannot be changed. That means that a French TS can't ever obtain a legal name change like the court order any American can get with a trip to the local courthouse. Gays and lesbians are not protected against discrimination or hate crimes by French law. Transgender people have even less protection.

I discovered in my own way what James Baldwin, a gay African American, knew about the French. He lived among them for many years, taking refuge from American bigotry. The French are friends of freedom, and they have much to teach us.

So what does this mean? My understanding of it is that "passing" is sometimes a matter of making a person think that one is actually a woman, but much more often it's a matter of making a person understand that you WANT to be treated as a woman. It is then proper for that person to say "Ma'am" or "Miss" to you and address your group as "Ladies," regardless of what he or she may think is "actually" the case. The French do that without even thinking. Americans are still learning how to do it.

My parents were from West Virginia, and I am Southern enough to believe that this is how a society should work, through good manners and correct, compassionate behavior toward others. The behavior of the French people is my evidence that it can actually be that way.I'm not pretending to become a woman, but I am trying to live comfortably as a female transsexual, and it's actually very comforting to me to have someone clearly "read" me, then do the correct, bien eleve thing and say "Ma'am" to me.

I have never heard it explained this way, but it is altogether different matter from "passing" and "stealth" and "disguise" and all the other things having to do with deception that preoccupy many transsexuals.

I'm "passable" in my own way, and here's what I try to take out into the world instead of a lovely, feminine face:

-- A voice that is imperfectly feminine, but pleasant, friendly and sympathetic

-- A ready laugh

-- Gentle manners that are correct without being ostentatious or superior

-- A patient, sympathetic attitude toward other people, especially weak, poor or challenged ones; a particular love of people who work hard in spite of their fatigue

-- A 6-foot-1 body that moves in a fairly graceful way, proud and erect, with my held held up. I learned how to do it long ago, in dance classes.

-- A readiness to apologize when I should, praise or compliment other people when I can, and gracefully accept any kindness I'm offered

-- A smile that lets out the joy that is bursting inside me, free at last from my prison of male behavior

-- A little trick that harms no one and steers all sorts of trouble away from me. It's called "misdirection." Use a sudden hand gesture to distract the other person away from looking you in the eye, then drop the distraction and let the person look back at you. Meet his or her look with a direct, but non-threatening look and a very small smile.

Timing is everything, and if you do it right, you break the person's concentration on whatever negative thing may be developing, and you may may even make him or her smile. Or even laugh.

Each of us can all create our own hell, and I think it's in each of us to find our own heaven. I'm very grateful that so far, these things have worked for me.

Would you like to make an anonymous contribution?

If you have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.