By Alex Linker
I first heard the term “passing” when I discovered other trans people. In the trans community, passing means being seen as the gender you identify as.
However, the idea of passing implies that being seen as cisgender (rather than transgender) is the goal for all trans people. Unfortunately, this enforces cis-normativity and continues to alienate trans people from each other and the broader community.
For a long time, I thought it was my goal to be seen as a guy, but now that I have achieved that, I realise the implicit erasure of parts of my identity. I’m lucky in the sense that I am a transmasculine person who “passes” as male. But I am also unlucky because this means that strangers and acquaintances assume that I am a cisgender, binary man, when I actually experience life outside of the gender binary, embracing my trans identity as an important aspect of myself.
Passing is not only relevant in the context of being seen as cis though. I also pass as neurotypical/abled and queer.
I am queer. I look queer, because I am queer (and anyone who is queer looks queer). But I walk around as a masculine-presenting individual with dyed blue-green hair and (often) painted nails. I am visibly queer in the sense that I am different from the societal norm. I do not “pass” as straight. My mannerisms can be quite effeminate (partly due to my social upbringing as a girl), and I am outspoken about being queer.
Because I am seen as a cis guy, my appearance and behaviours are also seen as queer. My behaviour is also “queer” in the sense that it is unusual. Being autistic, I behave in ways that others might not expect, by responding in an atypical way in a social situation or through stimming (repetitive behaviours used for self-stimulation and regulation).
But I usually pass as neurotypical (nt), or a bit quirky. This makes me feel like my autistic identity is invalidated and I’m not entitled to behave in more unusual ways. I feel like because I can pass as nt, I should always strive to act that way, even if it is detrimental to my mental health (as it often is). I know that this is partly due to internalised ableism caused by societal pressures and restrictions, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling pressured to conform to society’s expectations of me.
I also pass as abled. I have multiple chronic illnesses, but they are all invisible, meaning that I often appear perfectly healthy. But this appearance is deceiving. I am often in significant pain, but I make my way through each day as if I am fine, often pushing myself too far because I don’t feel disabled enough (because I don’t “look” disabled, whatever that means).
My life is a juggling act of trying to meet social expectations, and trying to break those same expectations in ways that embrace all facets of my identity.
I am constantly trying to remind myself that passing shouldn’t be the goal. Passing as something I am not does not change who I am.