Friday, March 11, 2011

Passing and Presumption of Identity

Much has been written about the phenomenon of "passing" although that term is not often used. Recently, I've been reading some fiction where the protagonist (male, in these three instances) is a working-class person trying to pass as upper-middle class, or even as part of the aristocracy. These protagonists are sometimes psychotic, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," by Patricia Highsmith but mostly they are just regular schmucks struggling to get by: "The Secret History," by Donna Tartt and "Old School," Tobias Wolff.

Although in the above cases, "passing" requires a web of falsifications, the most common form of it doesn't take any effort whatsoever. In every day life, people tend to assume that the folks they interact with are just like themselves. So, since the majority of people are straight, are brought up in the Christian tradition, aspire to be perceived as young etc...all these labels will be automatically attributed to you, if you simply keep your mouth shut.

Working as a librarian, the assumption of a Christian background and identity is a constant one. Many people use the library simply for its computers and a myriad of folks want to read one book only and that book is The New Testament.

Queers have made a ritual of passing for centuries, sometimes for the sake of security or financial gain, other times for the simple sake of expediency. Coming out is still fraught with problems although the legal protections are greater now than ever before.

Even in the bad, old days, I made a point of coming out as gay at work. Not in the interview, mind you, but afterwards in order to be able to converse about something other than the weather. I paid a high price for this as I can attribute the loss of 3 jobs to some aspect of homophobia. However, it was more commonly a hassle rather than a danger. I had a co-worker who was quite dense. She was someone I had to come out to repeatedly because she just couldn't seem to remember that I was a lesbian. This would not have been bad, in and of itself, except that when I least expected it, I would be subjected to a diatribe against some flaw or failing she attached to lesbian/gay culture. I finally learned to just cut her off and say, "Pat, I'm the wrong person to try and get support for your feelings on this issue."

As an older person, I find being called, "young lady" offensive. I have lived and worked hard for these wrinkles, this perspective, this overview of the human condition that can only be derived from experience. I'd rather just be an old crone until I engage in the ultimate passing. Passing away.