Toronto
2 min

The pleasure of not passing

Barrelling down a Yonge St sidewalk, late for a meeting, a man yelled something at me. It took a moment for it to sink in. He yelled, “Gay glasses!”

He was, apparently, talking about my sunglasses.

I’d fished those bad boys out from under my desk earlier in the day. They’d survived weekly office cleanings under there during the winter. And, miraculously, there was an hour of sunlight that afternoon — amid a weeklong overcast spell — just as I was heading out the door. Perfect.

Did my glasses make me look gay? Well, probably. They were oversized plastic tortoise-shell Jackie O glasses. You can judge for yourself.

For my own part, the taunt seemed, well, factual. “Yeah,” I thought. “They are pretty gay.”

Earlier in the day, before the rain let up, I was wearing my pink plaid scarf and thinking about passing. I haven’t tried to pass as straight for years. At this point, I probably couldn’t. I flounce when I walk, and there’s something soft and lispy about my voice.

It wasn’t always that way. I’m not a delicate or fine-boned person. I often look like I just rolled out of bed. So in college, straight women were, at least occasionally, confused.

When people talk about passing, they tend to talk about its negative repercussions. They often cite the kind of heckling that I received on Yonge St, and worse — harassment, violence, what have you.

What tends to get overlooked are the benefits of not passing.

And there are lots of joys. At a straight bar west of Yonge St, I met friends for a drink after work. The beer was flowing and so was the conversation.

Our waiter — gorgeous, butch, hirsute — was attentive. Over the course of the night he grew friendlier and eventually parked himself at our table. He shared a story about his choirboy ex-boyfriend. He directed the story at my friend, who was wearing a pink shirt (and is adorable).

Indeed, not passing has its benefits. And not just good service from waiters.

Not passing is a huge help for me when I’m cruising. Now, I admit that I’m mostly a passive cruiser. I tend to make myself available for flirtation, but I’m rarely the one to make first contact. Because I don’t pass, that shyness is rarely read as straight obliviousness. And a subtle invitation, one that might be judged as inadvertent in a straight-acting fellow, carries more weight when it comes from someone who doesn’t pass.

I get lots of comments from strangers about my pink plaid scarf. Often they’re men, using the compliment as a way of striking up a conversation. And it can happen anywhere — at the pharmacy, at the bus station, in straight bars.

Pickups are, I admit, as much about confidence as anything else. But I’ll tell you this — I have way, way more opportunities to cruise, flirt and pick up strangers now that I identifiably present as gay.

Some attribute the highest status to those who can shift in and out of being read as gay. After all, those people can hang their flag — or pink scarf — when it’s convenient and put it away when it’s not.

But the pleasure of never passing — for women with broad shoulders and close-cropped, asymmetrical haircuts and men with swishy voices — should not be underestimated.

It’s a relief, actually. To not have to think about it. To not have to come out to strangers. To get up in the morning and not have to decide whether the way you act or dress will reveal a secret about you. To not have your sexuality be a secret at all.