“Passing privilege” — I can’t believe anyone is going to argue that the alleged ability to “pass” makes a group’s oppression somehow “not as bad.” Even if individuals can pass, they can only do so by hiding and disguising who they are. Is homophobia a “lesser” oppression because gays and lesbians (at least the white ones) can “pass?” — if they STFU, anyway. Are we really going to start comparing oppressions? Is that what anyone in anti-oppression work should be doing?
Penka, you’re absolutely right. I mean, to bring it back to writing as an example — look at the Brontë sisters. If I raised an argument that they were successful because they did a great job passing as male writers, and therefore we should not talk about the fact they could not initially publish works as female writers, everyone here would be looking at me as if I had two heads and one was shoved high up my ass. Passing isn’t a privilege; it’s a survival skill. It is a choice to blend in with the oppressors to keep yourself as safe as possible from harm FROM those same people. It’s feeling knots as you hear people who care about you trash and belittle something that is a part of you you cannot change. And it is no cakewalk — it’s difficult to even couch it in terms of being a privilege.
I mean, think about these incidences of passing:
1) A woman diagnosed with a debilitating disease and experiences chronic pain tirelessly works a physically demanding job to reach managerial status as if she is able-bodied because she knows if she revealed that she had that disease and the treatments she receives, she would lose the job she loves.
2) A man attempting to join a primarily heterosexual fraternity gets an impromptu assignment to write homophobic slurs on a friend’s whiteboard. The group dives into writing; the fraternity heads are all watching. But he’s been dating this friend for a couple of weeks.
3) A woman who works three jobs to support her younger siblings while going to college part-time learns about a banquet at the end of the school year for graduating seniors. The banquet is mandatory for all graduates because they present their projects as the main event, and the cost is over $300 per person because of the event’s location. She only has $500 for groceries for the next two months.
In all these situations, people are forced to choose between “passing” and reaching a goal that is important to their immediate advancement or revealing something about themselves that could leave them vulnerable to attack or loss. How is this a privilege?
I tried to broaden these examples beyond race and gender because often the superficial examples of passing seem to scramble people’s brains as a “good thing.” Where is this hidden benefit of being able to pass?
and my response:
Yes, absolutely. In all of those instances, I suppose one could make the argument that having the "choice" at all is a "privilege" over those who can't--for instance, the young man who's so obviously gay that he never gets into the fraternity at all, and is the one who gets the slurs written on the whiteboard--but what a fucking choice. It doesn't change the basic problem, or who's at fault for perpetuating it.
also, for those who can and do make the choice to "pass," internalization, the "closet," if you will (which can exist on a number of axes, not just sexuality) is its own special kind of hell.
in fact, speaking of, an old joke (not that I'm laughing here, but by way of illustration, I actually think it's apt) suddenly comes to mind:
Person dies and goes to hell, and the devil tells hir that sie has a choice of several rooms wherein sie can go and suffer for all eternity.
The first room has people being boiled in oil.
The second room has people lying on beds of knives.
The third room has people standing chest-to-chin-deep in steaming shit, but they're actually talking to each other and holding cups of coffee, and don't seem to be in physical agony. The new infernal tenant tells the devil, "I'll take this one, then."
Choice made, the person goes to join the throng. Shortly thereafter, a demon comes in with a pitchfork and goes,
"Right everyone, coffee break's over, back on your heads."
That there would be "passing," basically.
Oh yes, passing privilege. The ability to lie about things that matter in order to make assholes happy.
--dw3t-hthr (see comments)