Passing Privilege

Ok, kids. Gather 'round. Time for Dillan to share a ditty with ya'. Today we're going to talk about PASSING.

Many of you will never have to deal with this in your lives because, regardless of your sexual orientation, you are gender conforming. What does that mean? Well, it means you dress, act and behave in ways that the larger society deems "normal and appropriate for the gender norms assigned to your sex".

Did I lose you?

OK, boys wear blue and they like trucks and sports. Girls wear pink, skirts, have long hair, like makeup and romantic comedies.

Check, check and check.

Those apply to you. You're good. You're "normal".

Not all apply? Oh, that's ok. Most of them apply to the outside observer, so you can pass. People won't suspect you might sport an "alternative lifestyle" (alternative to the "NORM", of course) so they will not target you on the street or in your daily life. They won't call you names or make comments about how your water bottle is the wrong color, or your hair is too short or the pronouns you prefer don't matter so they'll use whichever ones they want to anyway. They won't tell you that the sparkled shoes were the wrong choice because boys should wear sports jerseys or they won't call you a lady when you're wearing a men's tie when you're out to dinner with your girlfriend.

You pass, honey.

You can slide in and out of identifying however you want on any given day because most of the time, people will just assume you are straight.

You can choose where, when and how people know about your internal life--and you can control what experience you have as a result. This is a privilege.

This isn't about shaming or blaming (that's not how I roll)--but there is way too much oppression and power differentials in this country to not NAME the realities happening all-around us. To pretend otherwise is ignorant and perpetuates oppression, discrimination and intolerance.

Advocacy is the naming of privilege, power and difference in any and all communities where it is perceived--particularly by someone from a marginalized community or identity. Advocacy happens in good times and in bad. It happens when it needs to happen.

If you pass and benefit from privilege (be it white privilege, passing privilege, class privilege, etc.) you don't get to say when and where it's happening. You listen to the person naming it, and honor their experience. Confused? Go read Privilege, Power and Difference by Allan Johnson.

Know that there are many people every day who are affected by the norms in place in our society. For some, these norms create a sense of safety, a sense of their identity and "how to fit in" and they are hurting people who don't fit in and threaten their sense of identity. Our society is gradually moving away from these norms but it's not an easy road for the people who are paving the way to that change. If you are included in the norm, do your best to empathize with the people who are out in front, doing all they can to shift the paradigms to feel safer in their skin.

One final note about the passing piece; so I may illuminate a reality for many of my LGBTQ friends and community (we often refer to each other as "family").

Imagine being a woman, for instance, who is both gender conforming AND is attracted to women. She likes heels and makeup but doesn't like beard scruff against her face. In fact, this female-identified person is in a committed relationship to someone who identifies as a woman yet every day, someone asks her:

"So what's your boyfriend's name?" "When are we going to see a ring on that finger?" "Why don't you bring your boyfriend along? "So how long have you and your boyfriend been together?"


Every day she has to make a choice: come out every single damn day of her life to every single person who ASSUMES she's straight, or be silent and live a half-lived life, unable to express her joy and elation about the person she loves.

Not necessarily an easier existence just because she passes...

What's your experience? How can you SAVOR it and create the opportunity for others to do the same?