Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Passing, Visibility, and Privilege

I've been thinking a lot about passing, privilege, and visibility lately. I was just re-reading Cal Montgomery's presentation from the Queer Disability Conference in 2002 from the panel (In)Visibility, Recognition, and Marginalization: Queers with Non-apparent Disabilities titled
Tangled in the Disability Cloak. It reminded me of Eli Clare's essay "Flirting with You: Some Notes on Isolation and Connection" from:

is the second book, also by Clare, which also begins to dive into these questions. If you're new to queer/trans and postmodern identity thinking, it's a poetic and engaging place to begin.

Here are some of the personal questions I've encountered regarding passing, visibility, and privilege. They really are questions, although some of them sound a bit like complaints, I'm more perplexed than bothered (although I am bothered by the inequalities and oppressions that cause people to experience the need to justify or assert identities versus stereotypes or prejudices) :
-What does it mean to pass as a man (particularly a white middle class man)
when I identify as genderqueer?
-When I'm read as a woman, why do I get annoyed if I identify as genderqueer and passing as a man isn't my goal?
-I often am read as a gay man, but I don't identify as either gay or a man, although I do identify as a queer transguy. Why are people intent on simplifying my identity wrongly when I correct people who should know better?
-What are the advantages and disadvantages to passing as neurotypical?
Aspergers is rarely read as autism, more likely misread as cognitive disability, typical anxiety/nervousness, oddness, coldness, or other misreadings--when passing as neurotypical, I find I'm more likely to be misread than not.
-What does autistic visibility even look like? Is being out verbally really visibility?
-What does it mean to be read as cognitively disabled when I'm not, and how do I use intellectual/educational privilege to deny this when it occurs?
-In using an insulin pump, diabetes is more visible than without, but less impairment-causing.
So according to the Social Model of disability, it's then more socially disabling to use an insulin pump and be more healthy than to not and be less visibly disabled.
-I often am read as a gay man, but I don't identify as either gay or a man, although I do identify as a queer transguy. Why are people intent on simplifying my identity wrongly when I correct people who should know better?
-If I actually manage to be perceived as I see myself in disability, then why is it that sexual identity or gender identity (or race, class, profession, religion, etc.) is considered to be even less complex than it was by itself? For example, all autistic people are assumed to be asexual (or occasionally hypersexual), but always in a straight way. And despite the theories and evidence that nonstandard gender identities are prevalent in people with autism/cousins, there is almost nothing written about it? (Perhaps we can blame ABA for brainwashing "proper" gender behaviors).

Of course, there are several interlocking answers to the rhetorical questions:
-Internalized and external oppression
-De-sexing of people with disabilities
-Medical/charity model of disability
-Pathologization of gender variance
-Homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia
-Oversimplifications in modernity/modernism clashing with postmodern realities/identities

But this just leads me to deeper questions:

  • Why is passing so complex?
  • What do we loose by passing?
  • Why is invisibility desirable in some circumstances (such as when one wants to pass), but generally negative in being erased?
  • What is the price of misrecognition?
  • Borrowed privilege is different than typical privilege, and can both be something we're more aware of from contrast, yet can be less willing to question publicly if trying to pass. How does one responsibly use borrowed privilege, and does that necessarily mean not passing?

  • Being out, transferring power to those with less assumed privilege, and questioning privilege are the two ways I've found the best to struggle publicly with these questions. Yet, in doing so, it means that I spend far more time explaining myself than would be ideal. Explaining one aspect of yourself everywhere you go is a hassle, explaining 5 parts of your identity is impossible. Perhaps I'm getting lost in the detail-orientation of my autistic brain. Or perhaps I'm getting mucked up in postmodern identity questions. Both ways, it is interesting how these questions keep coming up in disability, gender, and sexuality discussions...Perhaps these questions are key in figuring out how to be real people in real communities.

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