In first grade we had PE class. PE stands for physical education, an attempt to incluclate young minds with the values of exercise while, in some cases, inadvertently promoting alienation, devaluation, and gender segregation. (Let’s not get into that tangent just yet.) Alas my first grade class was one of the fortunate ones where the latter did not happen, but most likely neither did the former. In one of these PE classes we had a tennis section, where we scooted off to the tennis courts, were decoupled from our familiar instructor, and instead introduced to a figure I still recall with extreme clarity.
During one of our lessons – I’m not a tennis expert so I don’t recall which – I did something wrong. The coach promptly began to scold me, and correct me, and me being such a sensitive perfectionist from the very start, felt akin to being told I was a total failure. Then the coach presented me with a way out: “unless you’re left handed, in which case you’re doing it right.” I jumped on this opportunity to save my honor, and quickly blurted out that yes, indeed, I did happen to be left handed.
There’s Lefties and there’s Righties
Now, first graders are more perceptive than we give them credit for. The lefties in my class well knew I was not one of them, and the righties knew I wasn’t one of the others. But thankfully nobody said a word. Whether they let it slip by in order to cover for me, or out of morbid curiosity to keep watching the impending wreck, I can only assume. What I do know is that for the next few weeks, during tennis class, I was a lefty. Well, I’m not a lefty, so this statement is false. Instead, I tried very hard to pass as a lefty.
It proved difficult to pretend I was something I’m not. Not only did I have to remember to be a lefty only during this specific class, but I had to constantly remember not to divulge my secret natural inclination to be right-handed. I had to make sure nobody else would suspect I wasn’t a real lefty, or if they did, that they wouldn’t “out” me as a righty. Little actions became very salient to me, such as casually walking around with your racket in the correct hand. Cautiousness bordered on paranoia when I realized these hardly noticeable nuances could potentially be my ruin.
Moreover, it took considerable effort to pass successfully as a lefty. I mean, it’s challenging enough to hit a tennis ball when you’re 7 – it’s practically impossible when your body wants to do the opposite. After tennis class I always felt particularly drained, as if more energy was spent pretending to play tennis with my left hand than actually playing tennis.
Overall the experience was a painful one, and when it was over I was more than relieved. It certainly takes a lot of effort to construct and maintain an elaborate lie of yourself – being something which you know is false, and on top of that doing something which feels awkwardly unnatural to you. Hiding was only the beginning; pile on some relearning, some pretending, plus the neverending anxiety of being discovered; and that sums up the experience of trying to pass. All I can say is, passing is hard.
Later on in life I went on to pass as a straight person (though I never did a very good job of it), as a sexual, inadvertently as a lesbian (I still do, and it’s awkward), and as cisgender (not very good at that either). Finally, I don’t have to hide who I really am anymore – a righty. And now you know.
As it was first grade, there were no real grades. But in my mind, I received an A for passing. The most ironic part of the story is that I had the very same instructor every year for our tennis section, and he never once recalled that, for that first year, I had been a lefty.
5 thoughts on “A Passing Story”
I loved that story, as an analogy of passing, and how hard it is.
Also, don’t get me started on PE and ostracising and gender division.
When it suddenly hit me that passing is not just an LGBTA thing, this story just popped into my head. I guess we are always trying to pass as something, it’s just much harder when that something is the opposite of what you’re trying to hide.
Yeah, everyone has their own PE story.