Passing and being Passed

What is your experience of passing? Do you think you ever “get passed”? why or why not?

Now what the hell do I mean by that? There is a term in queer and crip theory and cultures called “passing” which basically means fitting in with normative structures in society. So, for example, if you’re gay and pass that means people assume you’re straight. If you’re transgender, you may pass as your preferred gender without anyone being the wiser. If you are disabled, people may think that you are able-bodied, and not even stop to consider other possibilities. Passing is most widely understood (I think) in relation to queer and disabled identities, but is also relevant to race and gender issues, though I won’t get into that now.

There has been a lot of study around passing and the various perceived positives and negatives that go with it. Positives can be things like acceptance and avoidance of discrimination. Negatives can be identity confusion which can lead to psychological stress, and lack of understanding of things like access needs (particularly for those with invisible disabilities). Passing is something that is experienced at every level and kind of disability and/or queer identity, and can come about through things like humor (i.e. me making jokes about being a blind designated driver) or aggression and defensiveness. Everyone who has any inkling of “otherness” in their identity (which means all of us at some point or other) has probably interacted with this concept at some point.

Growing up, I certainly spent large portions of my life attempting to pass as sighted, and succeeded to varying levels. As an adult, however, I want nothing more than to own my identity as a disabled woman, and am finding that to be a constant struggle. People want proof that I’m “really” blind… whatever that means. This need of proof is presented by things like making incorrect assumptions about my access needs, asking extremely awkward questions about my sight (which I don’t really mind. I prefer questions to assumptions), or making “jokes” about how I must be “faking it” because I apparently look too capable to “really” be blind.

There is certainly a power in passing. If people think I’m “normal” and they find out that I’m not what they expected, suddenly a whole restructuring of what reality is/can/should be has to happen. But it is also a serious point of frustration for me, because I get sick of the fact that people can’t conceive of a blind person who is capable of things like navigating a street, dancing and/or (dare I say it) seeing something… just to name a few things.

So that’s my version of passing. What’s yours?

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