Week 5 – Passing

“Insisting on a distinctive optical location, subjects repeatedly invoke a mystical intuition in which the eyes are the privileged vehicle of secret knowledge”

-Amy Robinson, “It Takes One to Know One: Passing and Communities of Common Interest”, pp. 719-720.

In “It Takes One to Know One: Passing and Communities of Common Interest”, Amy Robinson draws connections between race and sexuality via the unspoken identification abilities of members within these in-groups. Although blackness is inherently designated by a physical trait (skin color, “race”), human sexuality holds simultaneously visible and invisible characteristics. In the context of passing, this entire concept of invisible sexual identity is only possible because of society’s general acceptance of heterosexuality as the standard. Therefore, homosexuality is viewed as deviation and an individual passes as heterosexual only within the eyes of a “true” heterosexual. As Robinson explained, members of the in-group are not magically given powers to distinguish others with similar qualities, rather they are more aware of these silent visual codes because they too have likely exhibited them while navigating a heteronormative space. She uses the word “unremarkable” as a way of describing passing (re: sexuality); unlike skin color, sexuality is not always significant on a surface level unless one is actively performing against traditional standards of gender–which we falsely equate to sexuality. For instance, as a bisexual person, I present is a traditionally feminine way. Unless I am in a queer setting, it is rare for me to be assumed as anything but straight. However, because I have dark skin, I am (correctly) assumed black in all spaces.

Passing will always be a fairly inexplainable concept, because as Audre Lorde refrained, “doesn’t it take one to know one?”

Source: Robinson, Amy. “It Takes One to Know One: Passing and Communities of Common Interest”. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 20, No. 4, Symposium on “God” (Summer, 1994), The University of Chicago Press. pp. 715-736.


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