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Passing

Passing is a slang term to describe a transgender person's ability to be accepted as their preferred gender. The term refers primarily to acceptance by people the individual does not know, or who do not know that the individual is transgender. Typically, passing involves a mix of physical gender cues[?], like hair style and clothing, as well as behavioral attributes, comportment and mode and style of interpersonal communication. For example a female who attempts to pass as a male may be dressed in men's clothing and walk in a masculine manner, but if they speak with a woman's voice or using a traditionally feminine speech pattern, they will not be accepted as a male.

The endeavor of trying to pass is most often practiced by transvestites and transsexuals. Because most performers, drag queens and those drag kings who consciously perform are open about their natal sex and are not actually trying to appear to be the opposite sex, they are not typically referred to as passing, even though some may be able to or may actually do so at other times. As RuPaul once said, "How many women do you know who wear seven inch heels[?], four foot wigs, and skintight dresses?"

Similarly, while most cross-dressers and transvestites who venture out into public areas do try to pass, unlike transsexuals, they do not (usually) undergo any permanent physical alterations or live full-time in order to make passing easier. They should be referred to with whatever gender-specific pronouns they wish, but they do not consider themselves the opposite sex or expect others to.

Conversely, almost all transsexuals will attempt to live and work as their preferred gender and be fully accepted as that gender rather than their natal sex. Therefore, passing is not just an option but is seen as a necessity. The majority who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery or who are past the transition stage do not usually refer to themselves as passing, since they now consider themselves to actually be that sex. Those who are completely accepted after transition often choose not to disclose their natal sex and instead live in stealth, a term used because they are so completely invisible within the population of their current sex.

Transgender people who do not describe themselves as either cross dressers/transvestites or transsexuals may have different attitudes towards passing. For example, they might not try to pass at all, they may send consciously mixed signals, or they might be able to pass but do not hide the fact that they are transgender. Personal views on passing and the desire or need to pass are independent of whether an individual has had medical treatment or changed their name or legal gender.

The failure to pass is called being read or being made. A person might say, "When I was out shopping, I could tell that sales girl read me, but she didn't say anything." However, even though a person may be read as being "cross-dressed," it is usually impossible to tell whether the person is actually a cross-dresser, or is actually a non-passing transsexual or another kind of transgender.

Compare the terms passing and stealth with in the closet, and being made or being read with being outed.

Etymologically, the term may simply come from the idea of satisfying a test requirement, or it may come from the definition of pass meaning to let go unnoticed as in passed by or passed over. It has been in popular use since at least the late 1960s.


Racial or Ethnic Passing is a slang term used to describe a member of a racial or ethnic minority group who successfully tries to be accepted by others as another race or ethnicity, especially in the case of a person of mixed race or ethnicity being accepted as a member of the racial or ethnic majority. It is usually used derisively and is not considered politically correct to aspire to, attempt or accuse another person. It has therefore been used less often in recent years.

As an example, civil rights leader Walter Francis White[?], the chief executive of the NAACP from 1929 until his death in 1955, whose ancestry with five-thirty-seconds African mixed with European, went out on investigative assignments of lynchings and hate crimes in which he was forced to pass as Caucasian for his own safety.

In fiction, Passing is a 1929 novel by Nella Larsen about a light-skinned African American woman posing as white. See Nella Larsen for a discussion. A recent passing narrative is Philip Roth's novel The Human Stain (2000).

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