P is for… passing privilege – What it is, why is is not necessarily a good thing and how it supports allyship

Some of you might wonder what the topic of this post means. Basically passing privilege is when you belong to a disadvantaged group but people cannot tell this from looking at you and assume you are from a privileged group.

For me I have a few passing privilege experiences – particularly in terms of invisible disability and my gender identity. The assumption I think is that passing privilege is something a person probably wants to have as it shields them from random bigotry and ableism from strangers. I have friends whose gender expression is more ambiguous than mine and who people are more likely to assume are transgender and I have friends who are wheelchair users. These friends are on the receiving end of nastiness, bigotry and paternalism and everything that comes with it. I do not have that experience – and I usually have  to come out to people for them to know I am Queer or Disabled.

When people me I always think they might think I am a lesbian woman but that is it. When I say I have written books on autism a lot of people think I am an academic, parent or professional. In terms of my gender expression, these days I get a lot of people assuming I am female. While these things might sound like a positive they really aren’t. Instead of facing direct transphobia and ableism when walking down the street, I face erasure. Every time someone says ‘ladies’ when referring to me I die a little inside. I really don’t cope with being constantly misgendered. When I was younger my gender expression was very much the expectation of a male. Bus drivers would call me ‘mate’ when greeted with my checked shirt and work boots and shaved head and I loved it. I am tempted to change my expression (clothes etc) to to being more masculine so I don’t get mistaken for a woman every single time! However, it is not me that needs to change.

So passing privilege enables me to not be attacked by strangers but it comes at the cost of my my various identities. Passing privilege has one very handy impact which is that is make me a pretty good ally if any of my my friends are being attacked by bigots. I think it would be nice if these considerations were unnecessary and people were respectful and understood that a person’s gender has nothing to do with their physical appearance. I shouldn’t have to change my style because people assume I am a girl. People need to understand that gender expression, gender identity and biological sex are different things. People need to understand that many disabilities are invisible and autistic people don’t have a big sticker on our heads sating ‘autistic’. Passing privilege shouldn’t be necessary as a ‘thing’ because we should all be able ourselves and express our identity in whatever way we like.   

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