Passing

In her article, It Takes One to Know One: Passing and Communities of Common Interest, Amy Robinson discusses the notion of passing, specifically in terms of American American and gay men and women. She writes, “The successful passer only disappears from view insofar as she appears (to her reader) the category into which she has passed… it is the spectator who manufactures the symptoms of the successful pass” (718). In other words, it is not the passer who becomes an ulterior identity, but instead the spectator who sees the passer as such. Robinson goes on to further explain what exactly the spectator is participating in. She argues, “Lorde’s decision to couch her conclusion as a question- “After all, doesn’t it take on to know one?”- provides a more formal hint that the claim to tell who is or isn’t a member of one’s community of identity is more important than knowing if one’ suspicion is correct” (723). This is a very complicated idea. Robinson is stating that a spectator’s intuitive suspicion (based on whatever?) is more important than actually having any sort of confirmation about a passer’s true identity. Robinson’s article immediately makes me think of one of my favorite movie’s this year: Moonlight. The film chronicles a young black man’s continual repression of his homosexuality, but one question I have watching the film is, why does everyone assume this character is automatically gay? The first third of the film follows Chiron as a boy, yet everyone around him knows that he is gay before he does. Is he even considered to be passing at this point? What is it about him that signals his inner identity that is nowhere close to being revealed? As Robinson states, it is a spectator’s “claim to tell who is or isn’t a member of one’s community” which is more important to the spectator in determining the identity of the passer, but there is nothing about Chiron or nothing that Chiron does that gives any indication of his sexuality. As an audience member, we are forced to accept that Chiron is gay before he does. Chiron does not come out of the closet, but seems to be born outside of it. The film complicates the notion of passing buy never even giving the main character the opportunity to pass until much later in his life.  As Chiron grows up, he does everything in his power to appear “hypermasculine,” almost overcompensating to burry him deep in the closet and pass for something he is not. Chiron knows his true identity, but again, this is to “pass” in the eyes of the spectator.  

Works Cited

Robinson, Amy. “It Takes One to Know One: Passing and Communities of Common Interest.” Critical Inquiry. 4th ed. Vol. 20. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1994. 715-36. Print.

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