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A Cartography of Passing in Everyday Life


Direct all correpondence to Daniel G. Renfrow, Department of Sociology, University of Washington, Box 353340, Seattle, WA 98195–3340; e-mail:


This analysis of student narratives explores various forms of passing encounters whereby individuals are not who they claim to be. I distinguish between (a) passing along highly stigmatized identities and everyday passing across less threatening ones; and (b) proactive passing, which individuals initiate, and reactive passing, in which individuals embrace an identity others have mistakenly assigned to them. These strategies are complex processes whereby individuals interactively negotiate definitions of the situation and sometimes give idealized performances. They underscore through contrast the sense of an authentic identity that enhances the stability of self. Although theorists claim that passing is inconsequential for the individual, the narratives in this study suggest that masking a central identity can be emotionally costly.