Passing is the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of a combination of sociological groups other than his or her own, such as a different race, ethnicity, social class, gender, and/or disability status, generally with the purpose of gaining social acceptance.[1] This may take the form of changing only one group from the person's own, such as a person dressing such as to pretend to be of a higher social class, or may take the form of simultaneously changing multiple groups, such as a male suicide bomber who shaved off his beard, dressed and wore makeup to appear as a Jewish woman in order to enter a hotel in Israel.[2]

Etymologically, the term is simply a clipped form of the phrasal verb pass for or pass as, as in a counterfeit passing for the genuine article or an impostor passing as another person. It has been in popular use since at least the late 1920s.[3]


Further information: [[Passing (racial identity)]]


Passing as another ethnicity is a common phenomenon. For example, in North America and Europe, stigmatized groups such as Jews or, in the past, Irish Catholics, frequently modified their accents, word choices, manner of dress, grooming habits, and even their names, to attempt to appear to be members of the mainstream majority group.

In Germany during World War II, some circumcised Jewish males attempted to restore their foreskins as part of passing as Christian.

Social class

Passing as another social class is historically common.

One example, which is often used in the plots of fictional novels and movies, is that of a poor young man who pretends to be of a higher class in order to woo the daughter of a rich man.


Further information: [[Passing (gender)]]


In the disabled community, Passing describes those with "invisible disabilities" who can pass for able-bodied: for example those with autism, hearing impairments or depression-spectrum illnesses, as compared with those who have facial disfigurements, motor impairments (cerebral palsy) or paraplegia.

There is a certain amount of rivalry between passing and non-passing groups in the various communities. Disabled persons who can pass are viewed as having advantages that those who don't pass do not have—less discrimination and public attention. This can lead to a view that they are not "properly disabled." Conversely, in many parts of the world, funding and care is less available for invisible disabilities. For example, Medicare in the U.S. provides much less funding for mental than physical disabilities.

Sexual orientation

Further information: [[The closet]]

Passing as a different sexual orientation has traditionally been an action taken by homosexual men and women, who pretend to be heterosexual to avoid social stigma associated with homosexuality. The phrase "in the closet" is typically used for a secret homosexual or bisexual; the word "passing" is not common in this context.


Passing as a member of a different religion, or as religious at all, is common among minority religious communities, like Jews living among Christians or Shi'i Muslims living in Sunni communities. In an intentionally humorous echo of homosexual passing, or "being in the closet," many Wiccans refer to the hesitance to admit their religion as being in the "broom closet."


  1. Daniel G. Renfrow, "A Cartography of Passing in Everyday Life," Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 27, Issue 4, pp. 485–506; Maria C. Sanchez, Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion, NYU Press, 2001.
  2. Margot Dudkevitch. Shin Bet: Israel has tracked down all those involved in Netanya attack [Passover Massacre], Jerusalem Post, April 14, 2003.
  3. Nella Larsen, Passing, 1929; Caroline Bond Day and Earnest Albert Hooton, A Study of Some Negro-White Families in the United States (Cambridge MA: Harvard University, 1932; Melville J. Herskovits, The Anthropometry of the American Negro (New York: Columbia University, 1930); Cheryl I. Harris, "On Passing: Whiteness as Property," 106 Harv. L. Rev. 1709-1795, 1710-1712 (1993)

See also