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    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    Kenji Yoshino Earned Himself a Gold Star From My Amusement Park

    You must read Kenji Yoshino's piece in this week's NYT magazine. It's about what he calls "The Pressure to Cover." By "cover" he means FDR sitting behind a high desk so no one saw that he was in a wheelchair, despite the fact that everyone knew he was differently-abled. Jon Stewart changing his name from Leibowitz, despite everyone knowing his ethnicity. Margaret Thatcher taking speech classes to lower the pitch of her voice, though no one doubted her gender. It's a fascinating cousin of "passing". Yoshino, as a legal scholar, talks about implications for the law, but makes the discussion broader.

    Discussions of passing and covering always make myself ask, "What am I covering? How am I passing?" I guarantee that anyone, if they think about it, will find the things they are most desperate to downplay are not only the ones they think they downplay.

    So Yoshino's cool, right? Check this out. Rock on K.Y.!


    Blogger zp said...

    sounds great.

    except that to pass or cover implies that we know who we ARE and we're hiding something authentic or essential . . . and that we imagine that who we are is stable and the passing and covering just a passing thing, or something that covers (rather than transforms) who we are. i've thwarted a bunch of expectations, but those with the expectations are the folks with the problem . . .

    12:14 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    ZP, I'm glad you bring that up because I actually don't think that "to pass or cover implies that we know who we are and we're hiding something authentic or essential", but I think you're so right that most debate on the topic of passing or covering imagines that stability. In fact, I think one of the most interesting elements of passing and covering is this: we are aware of what must be hidden and we do what we can to hide that, even if we are not sure we embody it. For example, heterosexual men who still feel the need to emphasize their love of sports. They don't know for sure what they're hiding, but they are covering something, existent to whatever extent or not, by emphasizing one part of their "identity" (their cultural demarcation as heterosexual men who are a sum of behaviors and mannerisms as much as biological "realities") over another part that may or may not be "essential" or "authentic".

    2:23 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Oh, one more thing. I mean not at all to say that passing or covering doesn't have its effect on who we are; after all, there is something strange about defining levels of "performativity". However, the level of choice we feel we have in our performance seems a paramount question for defining something as passing or covering vs. "being me, the authentic never-changing thing"- neither exist in an exclusive sense, they interact, and they fall on a continuum (like just about everything).

    2:33 PM  
    Blogger zp said...

    oh totally.

    Yoshino's legal points would have been really interesting if he'd framed his argument using concepts of performance. as in, some performances of identity are legally acceptable/defensible, some not. he came close when he tried to discuss the arbitrary-ness of the legal line drawn between the mutable and immutable . . .

    6:22 PM  

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