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We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing…

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America (2017)

by Brando Skyhorse (Editor), Lisa Page (Editor)

Other authors: Gabrielle Bellot (Contributor), Trey Ellis (Contributor), Marc Fitten (Contributor), Susan Golomb (Contributor), Margo Jefferson (Contributor)10 more, MG Lord (Contributor), Achy Obejas (Contributor), Clarence Page (Contributor), Lisa Page (Contributor), Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Contributor), Patrick Rosal (Contributor), Brando Skyhorse (Contributor), Sergio Troncoso (Contributor), Teresa Wiltz (Contributor), Rafia Zakaria (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3 1/2 stars: Good.


From the back cover: For some, "passing" means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don't willingly pass but are "passed" in specific situations by someone else. This is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of "passing" in America. Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he learned who he really is. Page shares how her white mother didn't tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her kids were iun fact, biracial.

The anthology includes writing from Gabrielle Bellot, who shares the disquieting truths of passing as a woman after coming out as trans, and MG Lord who, after the murder of her female lover, embraced heterosexuality. [ MG is a friend of mine]. Patrick Rosal writes of how he "accidentally" passes as a waiter at the National Book Awards ceremony, and Rafia Zakaria agonizes over her Muslim American identiy while traveling through domestic and international airports.


Another book which I read because my friend MG Lord wrote one of the essays in this. All the essays are quite good, with naturally some resonating more than others to my own personal journey. I only wished they had chosen a broader range of "passing" scenarios-- virtually all of them were about race, with one on religion and two on sexuality. Of course, race is a vital area in the US and much "passing" undoubtedly occurs there. Overall, a solid "good" rating for this important book. I will pass it on to another who can certainly relate to "passing" and race issues.


Some quotes which struck me:

By denying my authentic self I staggered into depression and came out holding a shitload of Depeche Mode, Cure and Morrissey albums.

At recess, right in front of me, they would matter of factly talk about Puerto Ricans, and say, "You know, like Teresa." I have no idea what they were talking about in such a matter of fact way... I didn't correct them. I didn't know how. I wasn't trying to perpetuate a fraud. I wasn't trying to pass. I just didn't have the words.

Thirty years later, I am just now coming not to care how I am judged, not because of some inner strength, but the realization of the futility of caring about it. We're all judged by such complex matrices that it is impossible to anticipate them all.

My female friends had told me stories of being catcalled and stalked before, but I had never understood them until now. Soon, it was just a normal facet of my life, this harassment for being seen as a woman: sometimes comical, sometimes annoying, always a bit unnerving, sometimes terrifying. It became common for men I did not know to speak down to me, often so subtley that I doubted they were aware of doing it. What had seemed so large at first now had become a new norm, yet I still worried each time a man catcalled or propositioned me that I might face violence if he realized I was trans; after all, it is not uncommon for trans women to be assaulted or even killed by someone who reacts in fury to finding out the woman he was flirting with is not cisgender.

It can be a sudden shock to realize that you have accepted yourself as you. That you have come to love yourself. That you have come to learn you would let yourself into your own home if you opened your door at a knock, and found yourself standing before you, a woman without reservations.

Ultimately, humanity is complex, Sphinxian, strange. And I like it being complex. I like people living their lives as whatever makes them feel happiest, if it does not harm anyone else. I do not wish to hate, even if I too must remind myself of it when faced with people who seem disgusted by me simply being me. Hatred, after all, is not so much a failure to love as a failure to try to understand complexity or difference. And we can all be better, in a small yet big way, by understanding that.

My mother told me, on the verge of tears, that I no longer looked or sounded like the child she raised. Acceptance, like rejection, is not always absolute. But we grow as we learn more. We become bigger as our capacity for love does, even if our steps are small.

For me, this was an early lesson in the value of passing. Each of us has two identities: the one that we know ourselves to be and the one that others see when they interact with us. "Passing" is the label that we give to the practice of changing our public identity without, one hopes, losing track of who we truly are.

What I learned is that even if you reach the goal you want--the self you want--you still have to interrogate yourself if that goal is a worthy one, if the self you have achieved is what you thought it would be before you achieved it. If it isn't, then you need to give yourself the space and time to work out who you want to be. you always owe yourself that self-respect. ( )
  PokPok | Jun 9, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The essays feel very personal and I appreciate that the editors tried to make their readers think by including less common examples of passing. The book suffers some from the uneven quality that collections like this often struggle to overcome, but - overall - I’d recommend it. ( )
  stephivist | Apr 27, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a good collection of important, timely stories. I appreciated the variety in the "kinds" of passing -- not only racial, but also sexuality and gender. I would have appreciated a short biography of each of the authors, so that I could know where they were coming from and put their story in context. For example, what they did as a career, where they lived, etc. I think this would help the reader better understand the potential consequences of their passing (if any).

I wouldn't say this a good book to read cover to cover. Perhaps it would be better to choose a specific essay about a demographic you're interested in. As others have said, some of the essays were repetitive and too long. I ended up skimming a good number of them (but not Trey Ellis'...his was fantastic!).

This is certainly a book to add to the discussion of passing in the United States -- and it will do just that: encourage discussion. ( )
  esnanna | Feb 28, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
15 writers have chosen to reveal to us the stories of how they (or a close relative) have intentionally or unintentionally "passed" as someone they were not. "Passing" is defined as being accepted by others as a member of a race, sex or other group to which they would not otherwise regard one as belonging. Mostly, this usage of the verb refers to light-skinned Black people being accepted as white, but other types of passing such as for a gay person to be accepted as straight, are represented here. In fact, it seems the authors have been very diligent in being representational, and have put together a very diverse collection.
Being a straight, white, cis-gendered, middle-class individual in Minnesota, I have probably never been assumed to be anything other than who I am; I have very little idea of what these people have had to deal with in their lived experiences, so I feel extremely grateful to them for opening up and sharing these experiences.
I found it heartbreaking to read about people who were 'forced' into passing by the actions of a parent, and can't imagine how hard it must be to live an authentic life when the choice is between being yourself or exposing your mom as a liar.
It's also interesting to reflect on what "black" really means. One author tells of getting his genetic profile done and finding himself to be 51% white, higher than his lighter-skinned sister's percentage. There was a time in our country's history when "even one drop" legally made you a person of color, regardless of your skin tone. Several authors of mixed heritage write about how they felt out of place with both (or more) groups, which highlights how obsessed our society still is with labeling and putting people in a box for easy categorization.
Self-identity is difficult to determine, even when nothing about your appearance or status is ambiguous, so how much more difficult is it to find your authentic self, when people want to put you in a box you don't belong in or you can't find a box in which you want to belong? ( )
  EmScape | Feb 12, 2018 |
Book didn't appear on my radar until I spotted Ron Charles' review and was intrigued by the premise. You may recall the saga of Rachel Dolezal and about how she self-identified plus others who have claimed they "feel" they identify with or belong to another group. In Dolezal's case she specifically identified as black but this essay collection isn't just limited to race.

We begin with Brando Skyhorse, who grew up believing he was Native American, had met his "father", etc. It turns out this was an entire fiction created by his mother and he discusses how that affected him as a child, as an adult, in professional and personal settings, etc. He has written a memoir about it but I have not read it so I could not say if here's any repeated material. The essay, though, was the best. It was sometimes very compelling and fascinating but it also felt a little too long.

Which is what the book felt like too. I read the next few and then skimmed over the rest. I hate essay collections and that's no different here. This definitely gave me food for thought and it was an interesting collection topic-wise. But ultimately I prefer long form journalism or memoirs vs. essay collections.

I wanted to like it more but it's too uneven. This could very well be a case of a book format that is just not for me. It's available now so check it out at the library or bookstore. ( )
1 vote acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Skyhorse, BrandoEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Page, LisaEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bellot, GabrielleContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ellis, TreyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fitten, MarcContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Golomb, SusanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jefferson, MargoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lord, MGContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Obejas, AchyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Page, ClarenceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Page, LisaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Perkins-Valdez, DolenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rosal, PatrickContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Skyhorse, BrandoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Troncoso, SergioContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wiltz, TeresaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Zakaria, RafiaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kosturko, BobCover art and designsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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