Passing as straight not the same as being straight

We live in a world where what you appear to be matters more than what you are.

There’s no better example of this than straight-passing. This phrase defines someone who identifies as queer but doesn’t fit the stereotypical queer image or who is in a relationship that appears to be heterosexual.

Many see straight-passing as a privilege because it can mean less discrimination. While this might be true, queer people of all types still have to face bigotry, if in different ways.

When we first look at daily interactions with other people, there is a difference in how people who pass are treated.

“If we appear straight and cisgender, and for some reason are not in a safe place to come out, we have the ability to pretend,” said Early College senior Kinsey Danzis. “People whose appearance doesn’t quite fit into the heterosexual and cisgender norm don’t have that luxury because people tend to assume right off the bat that they’re queer, whether they’re actually queer or not.”

While people who don’t conform to the straight, cisgender image are faced with more immediate discrimination, people who do are still wrongfully treated, if a little later.

“Although a queer person may pass as straight if they’re in a heterosexual relationship, straight privilege by definition doesn’t exist for them because (first), they’re queer and (second), they still have to deal with prejudiced a——s on all sides,” said Erin Tatum in an article for Everyday Feminism. “I’m pretty sure that cancels out any ephemeral benefits of temporarily passing.”

Straight-passing queer people also experience the same fear of coming out and are often met with shock.

“There’s an embarrassment that crosses their face, a shuffle of papers, a reach for a pen — a social clumsiness in that they assume I’m not,” said Koa Beck in an article for Salon.

Facing this scary experience is difficult for anyone who identifies as queer, regardless of how they appear.

“In a society so eager to assume straightness that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ becomes public policy, it takes courage and resolve to challenge the presumption of heterosexuality,” says the GLBTQ online encyclopedia in its definition of “passing.”

Additionally, once they have come out, people who appear straight and cisgender are more often met with disbelief. This is especially true for people who identify as bisexual or pansexual.

“I think that sexual diversity when one is homosexual is somehow (treated like it’s) branded into their personality, and when someone is bisexual or pansexual their sexuality is brushed off as a slight variation of heterosexuality,” said Early College sophomore Erin Goeke.

This kind of questioning is always harmful.

“After all, who would be happy (to not be) recognized for what they really are?” said Aviva Dove-Viebahn in an article for The Root.

People who pass are also often not given the same level of respect and acceptance in the queer community.

“I’m neither butch nor a tomboy,” said Dove-Viebahn. “Does that make me less gay or, more importantly, less politically viable as a gay woman?”

This question is shared by many straight passing people, and it could isolate them from the community.

“Maybe passing keeps me safe,” said Gaby Dunn in an article for Thought Catalog. “But sometimes I just want to feel proud of who I am or accepted by the people who should be my people.”

Regardless of outward appearance, everyone in the queer community should be welcomed and heard.

No one should ever assume sexuality based on appearance and all queer people — straight-passing or not — should uphold this value.

“When people irresponsibly jump to conclusions about someone’s gender or sexuality based solely on their appearance, that invariably leads to more discrimination regardless of whether or not the assumption is correct,” said Danzis.

While it’s true that different parts of the queer community face different issues, all face bigotry. All have struggles. The difficulties of some should not be valued more or less than the difficulties of others.

The message should always be acceptance. That’s the whole point.