Passing

Jul. 8th, 2012 11:29 am
aishabintjamil: (Default)
[personal profile] aishabintjamil
I'm trying to sort out my thoughts on a subject which disturbs me, so this will probably not be the most tightly organized essay I've ever written. Maybe I'll revisit it when I've done some sorting of ideas and have something more polished an coherent, but in the meantime I'd appreciate thoughts from my friends list.

For those who may not be familiar, passing is a term that was originally used to describe the practice of a mixed-race person identifying with and presenting himself as one race, while denying their ancestry of the other. It was most commonly seen in the US in people of mixed Black and Caucasian heritage during the era of segregation, where there was a clear benefit to being Caucasian. It carries, at least to my ear, a sense of abandoning your brethren who can't take that way out, and of being ashamed of half your heritage. It is used in a more clinical sense by sociologists, but today I'm being troubled by its use in day-to-day life, so we'll leave the sociologists out of the discussion.

I was at a party recently where I overheard a conversation among a group of friends, people I didn't know, although the context suggested that at least a couple of them fell somewhere on the GLBT spectrum, talking about a mutual friend. Someone mentioned that he liked sports, and a couple of other interests common men in our culture. One of the other people immediately said "Oh, he's a passing gay." And the rest of the group agreed.

I hadn't run into this term before. From context it clearly meant that he was out of the closet, i.e. openly admitting to being gay, but this group seemed to feel that he was "passing" because he wasn't conforming to the classic stereotype of the slightly effeminate gay male.

I find this very troubling. Apparently we're encouraging/enforcing our own stereotype from within. Why shouldn't a gay man be interested in sports? Why shouldn't a lesbian woman be able to be interested in both makeup and clothes, and fixing her own plumbing? She shouldn't have to choose between being butch or femme. He shouldn't have to pretend to interests and behaviors he doesn't truly share just to be accepted in our community.

We should be supporting each other in all our diversity, not supporting stereotypes. Those don't help us when we stand up and say we want the same rights and responsibilities as all the other people in the country, they set us apart, and make us easy to point at and say "They're not like us."
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