Passing: An Alternative History of Identity
A slave woman in 1840s America dresses as a white, disabled man to escape to freedom, while a twenty-first-century black rights activist is ‘cancelled’ for denying her whiteness. A Victorian explorer disguises himself as a Muslim in Arabia’s forbidden holy city. A trans man claiming to have been assigned male at birth is exposed and murdered by bigots in 1993. Today, Japanese untouchables leave home and change their name.
All of them have ‘passed’, performing or claiming an identity that society hasn’t assigned or recognised as theirs. For as long as we’ve drawn lines describing ourselves and each other, people have naturally fallen or deliberately stepped between them. What do their stories—in life and in art—tell us about the changing meanings of identity? About our need for labels, despite their obvious limitations?Lipika Pelham reflects on tales of fluidity and transformation, including her own. From Pope Joan to Parasite, Brazil to Bangladesh, London to Liberia, Passing is a fascinating, timely history of the self.
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