Passing  
  By: Apostle Alex D. Byrd  
       
 
 
     
 

I remember several decades ago being immensely impacted by a movie called, “The Imitation of Life.” This movie chronicled the life of a young woman who as born black but looked like she was white. This movie was set in a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining its strength and momentum. It was a time when the predominate white society said that black people were inferior. Yet, at the same time, black people were beginning to accept themselves for who they were. They were recognizing their strengths and making the world stand up and notice that they were NOT inferior. And so it was that this woman was caught in the middle of two worlds. As the story goes, the woman decides to live her life as a white woman. But the result of that decision was that she alienated herself from her family and finally lost the dearest treasure she had… her mother.

The impact this movie had on black America was that it caused us to look down on those who, as we called it then, were “passing.” We developed a disdain for those who were black and were passing themselves off to the world as white. Was it that we were playa hating? No. I don’t think so. The problem with passing is that it requires you to hurt your own kind in order to cover your own lie. You can’t just pass and not disassociate yourself from your own people. If you do, then that will bring suspicions to you, right? We internally hated the way this woman treated other black people. When her mother visited her, she was ashamed of her. She made her sneak in the back way. She refused to call her. She learned to talk down to other black people. She assimilated every attitude and behavior the predominate white society had towards blacks. Black folk who watched this movie didn’t like her or anyone else that was “passing.”

But today, I struggle as an openly bisexual African American because I refuse to pass. Many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement constantly try to convince me that my struggle for equality is not like the struggle of the Civil Rights Movement because my difference is not visible to the naked eye alone. Well, we told all those people that were passing a different story. We told them that the Civil Rights Movement was about being, whether you looked like it or not. But now they want to change their story on me because they don’t want to be associated with “my kind.”

Yes, there are many people who are Same Gender Loving/Attracted (SGL/SGA) who are passing. Yes, the African American society has made it easy for us to pass. Don’t be fooled. There are some people out there who are passing and most people can tell that they are gay just by watching their mannerisms. I’m not mad at them at all. To me, we all have got to get through life the best way we can. But, I am concerned that those who are passing are doing a disservice to those of us who can’t pass or, like me, refuses to pass. I’ve lost some friends because I refuse to pass. I’ve lost some jobs because I refuse to pass. I’ve been shunned by some influential people because I refuse to pass. The problem with all this is that many of the ones who stopped being my friend, refused me jobs, and shunned me are SGL/SGA people.

I’m reminded of a story we learned in Sunday School. It was about a great leader in the Bible named Moses. Moses was given a tremendous gift by God. He grew up being able to pass. The despised race of his society were the Hebrews. He was a Hebrew, but was raised an Egyptian. Everyone in the predominate society accepted Moses as an Egyptian. After all, he was said to be the Pharaoh’s grandson. But there came a time in Moses’ life that passing was not a good thing. When Moses realized who he was and looked at the mistreatment of his people, he made a decision. I can just imagine Moses saying to himself, “I’d rather suffer with my people than to enjoy the pleasures of passing as an Egyptian.”

Brutha Moses, I feel ya, man! When I look at how my people (those non-heterosexual and non-binary gendered people) are suffering in this world, I don’t have the luxury of passing. There is something inside of me that knows that if I pass today, I will lose the very thing that I cherish… my community. We are not inferior. We are not deviants. We are not what the predominate society says we are. We are human beings just like everyone else. We are Americans just like the rest of the Americans. We are valuable to the whole of Society. We deserve recognition for our contributions. We deserve respect for our commitment. And I will not pass on that. I am who I am. Just like the Civil Rights Movement taught me to be, I am proud of who I am and not of who I can pass to be.

 
       
 

 

 
     

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