It has been quite a while since I’ve discussed the topic of “passing.” The reader may recall that the concept of passing is quite simple. To pass is to be perceived as a member of group X regardless of whether an individual actually belongs to group X. We often hear of individuals passing as members of the opposite sex; that is, passing is often referred to in the transgender realm, but I would argue that the concept extends to many more areas. What of the poor person that passes as affluent or the mentally ill individual that passes as mentally healthy? The truth is, that we often need to pass in order to get what we desire. Consider the introvert that passes as an extrovert in order to appear socially acceptable or the businessman that is insecure that appears commanding and powerful. Passing is an important skill for anyone, not just the transgender and certainly not just the psychopath.
I think such a demand – the ability to pass – strikes many neurotypicals as odd or unnecessary. We are taught at a young age to “be ourselves,” that individuality reigns supreme. However, reality dictates that certain expectations are to be met in order to succeed in a given arena. Returning to the businessman example, consider what would happen if the naturally subservient to others? He would quickly be taken advantage of by clients. Now, if he were to appear steadfast yet accommodating, he would have a much better chance at making his sales quota as he would appear to be a trusted provider of a product that his client believes they require. Few would argue with such a need to pass in this case, I believe. Even fewer would be offended by such a need. What about the interviewing process? In reality, a game is being played between employer and candidate. The candidate is presenting a combination of bluff and true knowledge and the employer is trying to determine whether the individual truly possesses the traits being discussed or whether some edges are being smoothed. Here, the lines may begin to blur.
Let’s dig deeper. We consciously withhold or embellish certain information in order to fit a certain image. Most do not go into their church and let their gambling habits be known. Maybe we don’t volunteer that we spank our children at the local PTO meeting. We seek lawyers to fix our speeding tickets. We often read the latest political theory that matches the views of those we will be interacting with. So on and so forth. Humans are always molding themselves (whether through their own abilities or from the help of others) in order to blend into a larger group. Everyone passes, or so they think.
Why then is it so insidious that I, a psychopath, can pass as a neurotypical when I want to? I am merely doing what is ultimately most convenient and beneficial for me. A master of deceit, I know those mannerisms and views I must hold in order to remain one of the flock. I know the mechanisms behind the ability to pass that everyone uses on a daily basis. I can spot when others are masking because I know myself to mask. That is all incidental, however. The core point is that there is no difference between my desire to remain inconvenienced and those desires of neurotypicals.
That said, we are afraid of “out groups” that pass as “in groups”. Well, the neurotypical is, anyway; the psychopath hardly cares. This message of fear is propagated by state and society and trickles down to the individual. We don’t want wolves that look like lambs even if those wolves do not strike while in sheepskin. Ironically, in a world of emotion and perception, we want objectivity. Maybe we are afraid that we will be sucker punched by an person we thought familiar as seen by the surveillance state brought in the wake of 9/11? Maybe our guts emit visceral reactions to the mixing of distinct groups; such are the murmurings of conservatives opposed to the transgender. Or maybe we are subconsciously worried about our own ability to pass, lest we be discovered to be someone we are not. We aren’t that different on this front; you just perceive me to be a wolf … though I suppose I could say the same about you.