Passing is the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of social groups other than his or her own, such as a different race, ethnicity, caste, social class, gender, age and/or disability status, generally with the purpose of gaining social acceptance or to cope with difference anxiety.
I have no interest in passing. This story has to begin with the understand that the Western world is measured using the straight white male as the bar. I am a black cishet female. That’s how I was born. It’s the most base thing I can be categorized as. Before I went to school, before I discovered subculture, before I met friend groups, that was me. I do not have the ability or desire to pass as anything else; one look and you know that I am a black (I don’t think you can tell whether or not someone is cishet just by looking) female.
I am also neurodivergent; I have an extremely high IQ, I have synesthesia, and I’ve already been open about my struggles with depression and anxiety. These are things about me that you can’t see immediately, some of them you might never know if I didn’t disclose them to you. However, they certainly make me an “other” when in a group of people.
Because of the aforementioned things, I spent most of my life not fitting in. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and was in GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) programs from third grade forward. I was different from the other kids, but I wasn’t weird per se. Not until middle school. Then I became weird. Then I was ostracized from my peer group and shit got difficult. This is also when I started to get way into the alternative music scene. It was early 2002-2003, the birth of the “scene” phase, and my time.
Being a part of the scene became everything to me. I was regarded as weird because of my physical appearance and because of my brain. I found solace in the lyrics about being downtrodden and outcast. I had always had an attraction to horror movies and creepy shit. The scene became my home. My hair has been every color of the rainbow, I've got multiple tattoos and piercings, 90% of my wardrobe is black. I go to shows, I play guitar, long after the scene has "died" I am still here. I was offended by the "emo-revival" last year, because to me emo never went anywhere.
I loved being so outwardly "other", because I was so inwardly "other". At the time I had no understanding of passing. I had a "me" and "them". I had a very narrow, teen-age version of "me" and "them". "Me"; black, really smart, always sad, loved to write, read comics, still played with barbies in secret, played guitar in public, family didn't have money, hated football games, not popular, and didn't fit in if my life depended on it. "Them"; mostly white, super peppy, barely passed their classes, were totally cool and drank at parties, got invited to parties, listened to pop music in public, families had money, and were a part of the crowd. I was not one of "them" and never would be. There was no point in trying. I only realized this, because I tried. I tried and failed; no matter how much Hollister I wasted my mom's money on; there was always someone around to remind me I was black and then ask to copy my homework. So, I dug in, excelled in my classes, took office in extracurricular clubs, and did it all with flaming pink hair.
Then I met people (besides me) who celebrated the person I was, despite my being an other. I went to college on scholarship because of my academic strength. I pledged a sorority. A lot of people will read this sentence and say what? I did. I had no intention of rushing, let alone pledging. I was tricked into it by the Student Life advisor at my campus; he was familiar with me and my on campus involvement in high school. I told him it wasn't for me, I wasn't "that girl". I thought for sure no organization would bid me; I wore fishnets to recruitment and said "Marilyn Manson" when one of the women asked me what my favorite band was. However, my (future) sisters loved that about me. They saw a unique young woman with leadership qualities, who wasn't afraid to stand on her own, and was pretty engaging once you got her talking. The camaraderie I experienced as a sister convinced me I did not have to pass; awesome people would see me for who I was.
And then I got a job a retail. As I've hinted before, I was a computer and mobile device technician up until May 2015. My location had catered to an older affluent crowd. My coworkers and managers were generally young, hip, forward thinking people. No one batted an eye at my septum ring or my purple hair or my tattooed back. They mostly wanted to pick my brain. But, in retail, customers generally think they can say whatever they want to you without consequences. I was called "the black girl with too much makeup", I was called "the girl with silly nose ring", I was accused of being racist against black people...the list goes on. My manager one day, a young tattooed woman, herself sat me down after a particularly harsh customer and asked, "why don't you just take the septum out at work? It's not all about how you look."
But, it is. I could have a symmetrical naturally colored hair cut. I could take out all of my piercings. My (current) tattoos are generally all covered by clothing unless it's very warm out. But, I'm still a black woman after all of the drag is washed away. I'm thinking of Viola Davis's Emmy award winning scene in How to Get Away with Murder. You know the one. And then I'm thinking about how Viola Davis was the first black woman to win a Best Actress in a Dramatic Series Oscar. I'm thinking about the year I spent trying to pass in high school; only to be told by a drama teacher I couldn't have the role I was overly qualified to play because I was black. I'm thinking about the customers who refused to work with me and demanded a man because "they know more about this computer stuff".
I started writing this because I met an emo girl in a professional setting. She was trying so hard to pretend she wasn't emo. Wearing a sweater to cover tattoos on an 80 degree day, hair pulled up so you couldn't see the streaks unless you looked hard, pops of color on the black clothing. I wanted to pull her aside and tell her "It's not worth it. Anyone who is going to judge you for that is still going to judge once they get to know you. Let that freak flag fly".
I have no interest in passing. I might not show all of my cards on the first meeting. But, I will never ever try to diminish myself in any capacity for other people. I've been there. I tried it. But, I'm still me regardless. Outwardly other, inwardly other. I know I speak from a place of cishet privilege, and I'm not writing this at all to diminish my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I know for them passing can be a matter of life and death. I say this all to diminish the society that wants to bend everyone to one standard. The same society that makes my skin a matter of life and death. We have got to stand up to this fucking system. Standing up to the system is why I have no interest in passing.