Passing (sociology)

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Passing is the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of an identity group or category different from their own, which may include racial identity, ethnicity, caste, social class, sexuality, gender, religion, age and/or disability status.[1][2][3][4] Passing may result in privileges, rewards, or an increase in social acceptance,[1][2] or be used to cope with difference anxiety. Thus, passing may serve as a form of self-preservation or self-protection in instances where expressing one's true or authentic identity may be dangerous.[4][5] Passing may require acceptance into a community and can also lead to temporary or permanent leave from another community to which an individual previously belonged. Thus, passing can result in separation from ones original self, family, friends or previous living experiences.[6] While successful passing may contribute to economic security, safety, and avoidance of stigma, it may take an emotional toll as a result of denial of the authentic self and may lead to depression or self-loathing.[4]

Etymologically, the term is simply the nominalisation of the verb pass in its phrasal use with for or as, as in a counterfeit passing for the genuine article or an impostor passing as another person. It has been in popular use since at least the late 1920s.[7][8][9][10]

Ethnicity and Race[edit]

Historically and genealogically, the term passing has referred to mixed-race, or biracial Americans identifying as or being perceived as belonging to a different racial group. In Passing and the Fictions of Identity, Elaine Ginsberg cites an ad for escaped slave, Edmund Kenney, as an example of racial passing; Edmund Kenney, a biracial slave, was able to pass as white in the United States in the 1800s.[2] In the entry "Passing" for the glbtq Encyclopedia Project, Tina Gianoulis states "for light-skinned African Americans during the times of slavery and the intense periods of racial resegregation that followed, passing for white was a survival tool that allowed them to gain education and employment that would have been denied them had they been recognized as "colored" people." The term passing has since been expanded to include other ethnicities and identity categories. Discriminated groups in North America and Europe may modify their accents, word choices, manner of dress, grooming habits, and even names in an attempt to appear to be members of a majority group or of a privileged minority group.[11][12]

Nella Larson's 1929 novella, Passing, helped to establish the term after several years of prior use. The writer and subject of the novel was a mixed African-American/Caucasian who pass for white. The novella was written during the Harlem Renaissance, when passing was commonly found in both reality and fiction. Since the movements for civil rights of the 1960s, racial pride decreased the weight given to passing as an important issue for black Americans. Still, it is possible and common for biracial people to pass based on appearance or by hiding or omitting their backgrounds.[13][14]

In "Adjusting the Borders: Bisexual Passing and Queer Theory," Lingel quotes bell hooks' discussion of racial passing .[6] hooks examines being black in different contexts: for women, for men, and in society. hooks states "in black American life when a newborn is emerging from the body what is first noticed is skin color... black parents know skin color will, to a grave extent, overdetermine some aspects of their child's destiny as much as gender." In this statement, hooks highlights differences in the experiences of black and white families, stating the child's skin color will always be first noticed in society.

Social Class and Caste[edit]

Class passing, similar to racial and gender passing, is the concealment or misrepresentation of one’s social class. In Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster suggests racial and gender passing is often stigmatized, while class passing is generally accepted as normative behavior.[15] Class passing is common in the United States and is linked to the notions of the American Dream and of upward class mobility.[13] Passing in the context of caste, as prevalent in the Indian sub-continent, is also called Sanskritization.[citation needed]

Popular culture[edit]

English-language novels which feature class passing include The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anne of Green Gables, and Horatio Alger novels. Films featuring class-passing characters include Catch Me If You Can and Andy Hardy Meets Debutante.[15] Class passing also figures into reality television programs such as Joe Millionaire: contestants are often immersed in displays of great material wealth or may have to conceal their class status.[15]

Sexuality and Gender[edit]

Main article: Passing (gender)

Passing by sexual orientation occurs when an individual's perceived sexual orientation or sexuality differs from the sexuality or sexual orientation with which they identify. In the entry "Passing" for the glbtq Encyclopedia Project, Tina Gianoulis notes "the presumption of heterosexuality in most modern cultures," which in some parts of the world, such as the United States, may be effectively compulsory, "most gay men and lesbians in fact spend a great deal of their lives passing as straight even when they do not do so intentionally."[4] The phrase "in the closet" may be used to describe an individual who is hiding or concealing their sexual orientation.[3][4] In Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion, Maria Sanchez and Linda Schlossberg state "the dominant social order often implores gay people to stay in the closet (to pass)."[3] Individuals may choose to remain "in the closet," or pass as heterosexual, for a variety of reasons. Examples of such reasons include a desire to maintain positive relationships with family and policies or requirements associated with employment. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was an example of a policy that required passing as heterosexual within the military or armed forces.[3][4]

Gender passing refers when an individual is perceived as belonging to a gender identity group that differs from the gender with which they were assigned at birth.[2] In Passing and the Fictions of Identity, Elaine Ginsberg provides the story of Brandon Teena as an example of gender passing in the United States. The sex Brandon Teena was assigned at birth was female, but Brandon lived as a man. In 1993, Brandon moved to Falls City, Nebraska, where Brandon initially was able to pass as a man; however, when community members discovered that Brandon had been assigned the sex female at birth, two men in the community shot and murdered Brandon.[2] Ginsberg cites Billy Tipton, a jazz musician who was assigned female sex at birth, but lived and performed as a man until his death in 1989, as another example of gender passing. Within the transgender community, passing refers to the perception or recognition of a transitioned or transitioning trans-person as belonging to the gender identity to which they are transitioning rather than the sex or gender they were assigned at birth.[2][4]

Religion[edit]

Passing as a member of a different religion or as not religious at all is not uncommon among minority religious communities.[citation needed] In the entry "Passing" for the glbtq Encyclopedia Project, Tina Gianoulis states "at times of rabid anti-Semitism in Europe and the Americas, many Jewish families also either converted to Christianity or passed as Christian" for the sake of survival.[4] Circumcised Jewish males in Germany during World War II attempted to restore their foreskins as part of passing as Gentile.[citation needed] The film Europa, Europa explores this theme.

Ability or Disability[edit]

Disability passing may refer to the intentional concealment of impairment in order to avoid the stigma of disability; however, it may also describe the exaggeration of an ailment or impairment in order to receive some benefit, which may take the form of attention or care. In Disability and Passing: Blurring the Lines of Identity, Jeffrey Brune and Daniel Wilson define passing by ability or disability as "the ways that other impose, intentionally or not, a specific disability or non-disability identity on a person." [16] Similarly, in "Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence," Robert McRuer argues that "the system of compulsory able-bodiedness...produces disability." [17] Individuals whose disabilities are "invisible," such as people with mental illness, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, or physical disabilities that are not immediately obvious to others, may choose whether or not to reveal their identity or to pass as "normal." Individuals with visible physical impairments or disabilities, such as people with mobility impairment, including individuals who use wheelchairs or scooters, face greater challenges in concealing their disability.[16]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Daniel G. Renfrow, "A Cartography of Passing in Everyday Life," Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 27, Issue 4, pp. 485-506
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ginsberg, Elaine (1996). Passing and the Fictions of Identity. Duke University Press. 
  3. ^ a b c d Sanchez, Maria C.; Schlossberg, Linda (2001). Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion. New York University Press. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Gianoulis, Tina (2010). "Passing". glbtq Encyclopedia. glbtq, Inc. 
  5. ^ Leary, Kimberlyn (March 1999). "Passing, Posing, and "Keeping it Real"". Constellations: An International Journal of Critical & Democratic Theory. 
  6. ^ a b Lingel, Jessa (2009). "Adjusting The Borders: Bisexual Passing And Queer Theory". Journal of Bisexuality. doi:10.1080/15299710903316646. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  7. ^ Larsen, Nella (1929). Passing. Alfred A Knopf. 
  8. ^ Day, Caroline Bond (1932). A study of some Negro-white families in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 
  9. ^ Herskovits, Melville J. (1930). The Anthropometry of the American Negro. New York, NY: Columbia University. 
  10. ^ Harris, Cheryl I. (1993). "Whiteness as Property". Harvard Law Review. JSTOR 1341787. 
  11. ^ "The trouble with 'passing' for another race/sexuality/religion …". The Guardian. 2014-01-02. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-03-27. 
  12. ^ Arsenault, Raymond (2011-02-25). "Book Review - The Invisible Line - By Daniel J. Sharfstein". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-27. 
  13. ^ a b Dreisinger, Baz. ""Passing" and the American dream". Salon. Retrieved 2016-03-27. 
  14. ^ Sloan, Nate. "Stanford historian re-examines practice of racial 'passing'". Stanford University. Retrieved 2016-03-27. 
  15. ^ a b c Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. Class-passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture, Carbondale, Il: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005, pp. 1-5.
  16. ^ a b Brune, Jeffrey A.; Wilson, Daniel J. (2013). Disability and Passing: Blurring the Lines of Identity. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-4399-0979-9. 
  17. ^ Hall, Donald E.; Jagose, Annamarie; Bebell, Andrea; Potter, Susan (2013). "Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence". The Routledge Queer Studies Reader. New York City, New York: Routledge. pp. 488–497. ISBN 978-0415564113.