On Covering: Queerness

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Virginia Tech

The literature on the ethics of presenting as queer has been largely confined to a commonly acknowledged phenomenon called "passing," or fully concealing one's membership to a marginalized group. Often employed as a survival strategy, many are sympathetic to the idea that one should be able to pass if need be. With that said, many philosophers argue that it is inextricably tied to oppression in the sense that acts of passing are acts complicit with one's own oppression. Because of the usually drastic alteration to one's appearance or behavior passing encompasses, along with its connection to oppression, a larger problem has gone unnoticed: covering. Covering differs from passing as one's membership to a marginalized community is now background knowledge in any social interaction where one may cover. Covering, then, depicts the intentional editing of one's behavior to modify the way in which their marginalized status is communicated to an audience. It is because one has announced their status as a community member that this concept often surfaces without controversy.

This, at first, is intuitive. Why should someone be able to permissibly hide the entirety of their identity if partial concealment is impermissible? In the end, the very reason that covering is often excluded from the ethical discourse – that one has already announced their status as a marginalized community member – is actually a reason for my claim, that covering is wrong but passing is not, rather than one against it. I begin my argument with a negative claim: there is no duty not to cover. After explaining why this is the case, I argue for my second, positive claim: there is a duty to refrain from covering. If successful, my argument should show that a duty not to pass, or to be out, is too demanding. This will offer a better starting point for a relocation of some duty, which I argue should be on covering. If it is placed on covering, then demandingness concerns are circumvented and the goal of a duty to be out is more tangible.

passing, covering, standpoint epistemology