Out in the Open

Come to Pass

"Passing" is the ability to be read as something you are not. While is can be a privilege for some people, it can also come with unforeseen consequences for both them and those who see them. This week, Piya explores the good, the bad and the cost of passing.

Piya explores the good, the bad and the cost of passing as something you're not

James Chaarani, pictured with his mother Amal, says some people who don't know he's a Muslim-raised Lebanese-Canadian read him as white. (Submitted by James Chaarani)

This episode was originally published on September 20, 2019.

"Passing" is the ability to be read as something you are not. While is can be a privilege for some people, it can also come with unforeseen consequences for both them and those who see them. This week, Piya explores the good, the bad and the cost of passing.

Here are the stories from this week's episode...

Indigenous woman who passes as white struggles to own her identity

Haley Lewis's mom is of Scottish descent and her dad's Mohawk. As someone with fair skin and freckles, she says people often read her as white. After being ridiculed for being Indigenous as a kid, she decided to ignore her heritage for a long time. Lewis tells Piya how she's now trying to reclaim her roots, but also struggles with taking up space among fellow Indigenous people.

'They don't realize that I'm exactly who they fear or fathom': White-passing grants man access to racism

James Chaarani says his fair skin leads some people not to know he's a Muslim-raised Lebanese-Canadian. And sometimes he uses his "white-passing" ability to his advantage. But as Chaarani explains in an essay for Out in the Open, the privilege also comes with gaining painful access to unfiltered versions of racism.

He used to mask his class to cut it as a lawyer – but 'making it' came with a cost

As an aspiring lawyer, Muhammad Faridi used to study table manners, practice speaking like businessmen and pretend he was into high art to mask his family's socioeconomic class. He doesn't have to anymore, now that he's a partner at a prestigious firm. But as Faridi tells Piya, the consequence of making it for him has meant losing old friends and a sense of belonging.

After hiding cerebral palsy for a decade, woman uses visibility to blast disability myths

Kelly Douglas has cerebral palsy. But her symptoms are largely invisible, which gives her the ability to pass as someone without a disability. And she did just that for nearly a decade because she feared being defined by disability in the eyes of others. Douglas tells Piya how feeling complicit in maintaining disability myths eventually led her to come out about her CP.

The personal and political tension of 'passing' while transgender

Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard identifies as a transgender woman. But when she walks down the street, she says people often see her as a woman who was assigned female at birth (also known as cisgender). Blanchard tells Piya how passing can be liberating for her, but can also carry dangerous risks... and why the mere term is so controversial among transgender people.

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