Blending versus Passing

By , April 15, 2013 1:49 pm

I’ve been listening to the first two episodes of the trans-focused podcast Sugar and Spice, hosted by Jen Richards of (among other things) We Happy Trans and the Trans 100, and Bailey Jay of being fucking awesome (and also awesome fucking, NSFW). In the first episode, they interviewed Namoli Brennet,  wonderful trans singer/songwriter. At one point, someone (I think Namoli, but I could be wrong) talked about the idea of blending into a crowd. This is something a lot of trans people desire: the ability to be perceived as no different than anyone else. I know I hate feeling like I stand out, because that usually means I feel like I’m standing out in a negative way.

Her comment got me thinking, though, about the idea of passing, and replacing that with the idea of blending. I don’t like the phrase “passing” because of its implications: if you don’t pass, you fail. Likewise, it places the responsibility of passing on the trans person: you didn’t pass. I think the more accurate phrase is “being perceived as the gender which one is presenting,” but that’s a bit of a mouthful. Even though I don’t like it, the idea of passing is conceptually useful when discussing things like “passing privilege.” That is, the ability for a trans person to be perceived as cis, and move through cis spaces without (much) risk or danger. (For the record, I absolutely have passing privilege in my day to day life. I can walk down the street and reasonably assume I won’t be “clocked,” or read as trans.)

This may be over-thinking things (it probably is) but I like the idea of blending as opposed to passing, because it places a trans person within a larger society. I blend for the exact same reasons I pass, but I wouldn’t blend in a community of color, having nothing to do with my status as trans. Passing is also used to talk about “passing as straight,” or “passing as white,” but there I think blending is even more apt: Is this person – possibly through no fault or credit of their own – able to blend into this larger group? (Cis-ness, straight-ness, white-ness, whatever.)

I don’t expect blending to replace passing any time soon (or, y’know, ever) but it’s an interesting way to distinguish who holds the responsibility for trans-otherness. (Hint: that responsibility sure as hell isn’t on trans people.) It also is something less wordy than “being perceived as the gender which one is presenting,” while still being relatively clear. Just food for thought.

2 Responses to “Blending versus Passing”

  1. Jenny Hackett says:

    I tend to use phrases like “I was read correctly” rather than “I passed”, because it’s a passive construction that puts the agency on other people. Then we can have “passing” to mean blending into the majority group, and “being read correctly” to mean being understood to be the gender you present as. This essentially decouples the idea of “looking like a [wo]man” from “looking cis”, which is useful for me because there are a number of people that I perceive as trans, but I still perceive their genders correctly.

    • Rebecca says:

      I like that a lot. I have a negative emotional reaction to ‘read,’ but I’m honestly not sure why. I suspect it’s because being read is usually not a good thing, but I’m going to need to think more on that. In any event, thanks for weighing in! I don’t think we really need to add ‘blending’ as a new vocab word, but I enjoy thinking about how language is used and how it can/should be used. 🙂

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