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“Those mixed bloodlines were always lurking, waiting to peek out, and fear of losing their status kept white people in line. If two white people had a child, and the government decided that the child is too dark, even if both parents produced documentation proving they were white, the child could be classified as colored, and the family had to make a decision. Do they give up their white status to live as colored people in a colored area? Or would they split up, the mother taking the colored child to live in the ghetto while the father stayed white to make a living to support them? Many colored people lived in this limbo, a true purgatory, always yearning for the white fathers who disowned them, and they could be horribly racist to one another as a result.”
Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

"Passing", in sociology, is the state of living one's life as a member of another sociological group be it ethnic, racial, gender, class, or sexual. It's a complicated matter in real life, what with humans so rarely fitting perfectly into the ever-shifting categories we make up for them. Indeed, there are times when we categorise individuals in ways that they themselves do not acknowledge, or that are based upon merely tangential connections. For example, why does an "octoroon" (7/8 "white"/European, 1/8 "black"/non-European) in a U.S. Reconstruction-era novel have to identify as 'black' in order to be "true to themselves?"

It reflects many racial ideas still present (if now, less explicit) in 'Western' societies, including many European countries and their post-colonial offshoots, such as Australia, Brazil, and Canada. It's perhaps most prominent in South Africa and the United States, which both have troubled histories of race relations due to their histories of expelling, enslaving, and/or sexually exploiting their native populations (and in the US case, enslaving and sexually exploiting Africans as well). Both countries also instituted "One-Drop Rules", which stated that 'one drop' of non-European blood made a person non-white and thus deprived them of the rights of a full citizen. Securing these rights would require "passing" as a member of the dominant racial group. However, there is always the chance — and thus, always the fear — of revealing one's ancestry.

Likewise, there are huge social pressures keeping many LGBT people "in the closet," and many women have cross-dressed not because they are transgender or even transvestites, but because they want to do something they would only be allowed to do as a man. See Armored Closet Gay and Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today? for more elaboration.

Most modern fictional representations have simplified this complex state of being into An Aesop: "Don't try to be something you're not."

The Reveal is usually a part of this (including Death Bed Confession). Compare In Another Man's Shoes and related tropes. Glamour Failure is a more fantastic version. Sub-trope to Hiding Your Heritage and Hide Your Otherness.


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    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: New York episode "Youngblood" had a young homeless man who desperately wanted to be part of his childhood friend's elite social circle. He borrowed various designer clothes while living out of a shed in Central Park in order to blend in. When he was found out, the people he'd tried to befriend killed him by inducing an allergic reaction.
  • Once Upon a Time in Wonderland's Red Queen is a complicated one. She's revealed to be one of Cinderella's stepsisters - making her an Impoverished Patrician. But she ran away from her family to be with Will Scarlett - an outlaw living in the woods. But she abandoned him to become a queen in Wonderland, and has been disguising her true voice with a fake poshed up one to hide her origins.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody has Maddie pretending to be a rich socialite in order to become more appealing to a rich boy staying in the hotel.


Gender And Sexual Orientation

  • Michelle Cliff's No Telephone To Heaven has the trans/genderqueer character Harry/Harriet (also known as H/H), who is biologically male but identifies as a blend of male and female. At the beginning of the novel, s/he has a totally masculine appearance but wears bikinis, puts on make-up, and occasionally dresses in the genderfuck style (for example with both a tuxedo and very campy make-up. This impish black Jamaican character passes for an African man to fool an American tourist, who really thinks he has just met "King Badnigga of Benin"). Towards the end of the novel, H/H starts living and presumably identifying as Harriet, a white nurse, which involves double 'passing'. H/H is very aware that even as 'she' is respected as a generous nurse, s/he could literally get lynched for being trans and for passing for white, but makes this choice because a black man couldn't become a nurse. This character plays a huge role in the development of the very confused main character Clare Savage, a white-looking middle-class mixed-race Jamaican woman who questions the racist standards of her formerly slave-owning family and might further be bisexual. His/her ability to transcend social boundaries and to fool racists and homophobes/transphobes is part of his/her attributes as The Trickster figure.
  • Monstrous Regiment starts out with Polly disguising herself as "Oliver" and joining the army, and gradually discovering that almost all squadmates are doing the same, and so is a sizable part of the army's high command, upholding the structure that forbids women to fight while disregarding it, and so is the squad's legendary leader Sergeant Jackrum, who is also worried about about going to his son and is convinced to go home as a father instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Adam in Degrassi has some trouble coming across as a guy, particularly in his early appearances. Played with an element of Cringe Comedy. Booyah!

  • Wandering Son:
    • Played for Drama in later chapters. Nitori's voice deepens and she starts looking less androgynous due to puberty. One scene has a clerk gossiping behind her back that she's a boy due to her voice.
    • Makoto always suffered from this, even when she was prepubescent, as she doesn't fit the ideal for a girl.
    • Ebina, a trans woman with a preschool daughter, doesn't pass and she realizes this.
    • It's implied that Yuki (who is transgender herself) noticed Takatsuki's nervous behavior the first time he went out as a boy and talked to him because she knew he was trans.
  • Bokura no Hentai:
    • Osamu starts having issues crossdressing when he begins hitting puberty. His crush becomes disgusted at him because he's grown taller than him and has a low voice. When Osamu was in public once, people noticed his masculine voice when he spoke too loud. He, however, still keeps crossdressing into adulthood.
    • Satoshi references this trope. He doesn't want to crossdress anymore because he can't pass and has outgrown his sisters' hand-me-downs. Osamu makes him realize that he might not pass but he can still look good in a skirt nevertheless.
    • After she starts going to school as a girl, some of the students bully Marika behind her back for her slightly large hands and low voice.
  • Kaito from Himegoto - Juukyuusai no Seifuku notes that, as he's already an adult, it won't be long before he can't pass well. Even at his current age people still sometimes talk behind his back when he crossdresses.
  • Yuuki from Boku to Boku is a androgynous middle schooler. Even when dressed in a girl's swimsuit she gets mistaken for a boy in drag.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 4:
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition has Krem, Iron Bull's second in command of The Chargers who was born female in the Tevinter Imperium. The issue of his biological sex doesn't come up until he makes a sarcastic remark to Iron Bull about teaching him to bind his man-breasts, at which point the Inquisitor clues in.

  • A short-term and more light-hearted example occurred in Ozy and Millie, when the two titular characters decide to 'switch genders' for a day, to find out how differently members of the other gender are treated. Nobody sees through the Paper-Thin Disguise, and both of them come away from it with a greater insight into the opposite sex.

    Real Life 
  • It wasn't until jazz musician Billy Tipton died that even his adopted sons learned that Dad was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton. He had been living as male for nearly 50 years (with only two female cousins and possibly a lover or two knowing his status as a trans man), including sexual relationships with women, at least one of whom was firmly convinced her partner was male (his cover story was that a serious car accident damaged his genitals and broke his ribcage which had to be kept in bandages).
  • This is the basis of the book Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent. For about a year and a half, she masqueraded as a man among various groups of men (in a monastery, at a business, in a strip club, etc.) to see how their interactions varied from what she experienced as a woman.
  • "Passing" is a common term in the transgender community, meaning just what you would think. A trans woman's ability to pass can be greatly affected if she started transitioning before the onset of her male puberty. Puberty not only affects secondary sexual characteristics like breast development, but also skeletal changes, such as the pelvis widening and moving forward, or hands and feet staying smaller, or the vocal cords not lengthening. Most trans women who transition after puberty have a harder time passing.
  • Gay actors and musicians of yesteryear were all but required to pass as straight. Rock Hudson is one of the more famous examples. Liberace was also adamant in keeping his sexuality under wraps as well, and his estate went to great lengths to cover up that he died from AIDS-related complications.
  • There is a popular legend that at least one Pope was a woman who lived her life as a man, with the truth only being discovered on her death. It was supposedly started by Protestants as a way to discredit the Catholic Church. There's even the legend a test was conducted on newly elected Popes for confirming their male anatomy (as shown in The Borgias).

Race and Ethnicity

    Anime & Manga 
  • Kallen Stadtfeld/Kallen Kozuki of Code Geass is a half-Britannian/half-Japanese Terrorist and Student. She was able to pass as a Britannian student by day, and joined her brother's resistance cell by night. She preferred to think of herself as Japanese rather than as a Britannian or a "half-breed". Despite finding out that she's a half-breed, her Britannian friends don't lose any respect for her at all, and try to petition their very well connected friend to have her pardoned for her terrorism. In fact, the show, despite having overcoming racial supremacy and segregation as a main theme, has surprisingly little incidence of named people actually caring about race, to the point where the President of Japan at the end of the series is married to a black, Britannian woman, despite years of ruthless oppression and cruelty. It would have been touching if anyone had actually remembered that used to be a theme, or if the guy in question wasn't a complete idiot. Apparently, it was intentional that the main protagonist and his foil were designed in such a way that they could conceivably pass for the opposite race, whom they were fighting for.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Major Miles of the Briggs Brigade is one-quarter Ishvalan from his maternal grandfather's side, but still found himself targeted by Executive Order Number 3066, which stripped all soldiers of Ishvalan ancestry of their ranks and ordered their imprisonment during the Ishval Civil War. His commanding officer Major General Olivier Mira Armstrong refused to hand him over, and he typically hides the distinctive red eyes of his Ishvalan heritage with a pair of tinted glasses. It's implied his ancestry is more or less an Open Secret and he specifically reveals it to Kimblee when he finds out Kimblee was present during the Ishvalan massacre.

    Comic Books 
  • The concept of passing overlaps heavily with Fantastic Racism in the second volume of Black Sad.
  • Sally Juspeczyk in Watchmen covered up her Polish ancestry for the sake of her career, renaming herself Sally Jupiter, and firmly denies it when she is sort-of confronted about it. Her daughter Laurie has no such hang-ups and uses her mother's original surname.
  • Again involving Fantastic Racism, although it's rarely referred to in these terms, in X-Men there does seem to be slight tension between mutants who appear to be human and those who, for example, have blue fur and feline features or no heads and facial features on their chests. Kitty Pryde compares being a mutant with averting this trope by being openly Jewish—she is nearly always depicted wearing a Star of David necklace—because it's a part of who she is, although she does not "look Jewish" and so could pass.

    Fan Works 
  • RWBY: Scars:
    • Blake is a cat Faunus who wears a bow to hide her cat ears and pass as human. Most people don't notice anything unusual about her bow, but more than a few characters (such as Penny, Winter, and Velvet, with the latter being a rabbit Faunus herself) easily figure out she's a Faunus. Faunus are often able to tell that Blake is one of them.
    • While humans can't tell that the human-passing chameleon Faunus Illia is a Faunus, other Faunus can. When Ilia purposedly passes as human this sometimes leads to angry or confused stares.
  • Desert Gold:
    • Edward and Alphonse pass well as Amestrian. Their skin can pass as a tan and their hair is just dark enough to look blond. But, Kain grew up amongst half-Ishvalan kids and can tell that Ed is biracial.
    • Over time, several of the Elric's peers begin to get suspicious of them. For example, when Edward solves an Ishvalan riddle and when Edward tells Elicia an Ishvalan folktale he learned from his mother. However, they don't fully notice the brothers are Ishvalan until Edward is forced into a situation where he must speak in Ishvalan.
  • In married to the flames, Jin notices her boyfriend Li is a firebender when she kisses his neck and notices he's abnormally warm. This, combined with his gold eyes (which she originally chocked up to mixed ancestry), lets her realize that Li's a firebender.
  • In there is a fire in me, nobody ever suspected Jet from having Fire Nation ancestry in spite of the Freedom Fighters noticing his apparent inability to get cold or burned because his skin was dark enough for him to look fully Earth Kingdom, to the point that Aang is weirded when the older teen is revealed as a firebender since he's not pale-skinned. After he reawakens his bending, Katara also comments on his breath being hotter than expected.

  • The Human Stain. The Movie of the book had an African-American character played by Anthony Hopkins.
  • Imitation of Life follows Peola (in the 1934 version)note  and Sarah Jane (in the 1959 version), a mixed-race girl who can quite easily pass for white, trying her best to deny her mother and her previous life altogether. It doesn't end well. In the 1934 version Peola is humiliated when her dark-skinned mother comes to meet her at school, and later has to quit her job when her mother tracks her down at work. In the 1959 version it's worse for Sarah Jane—her white boyfriend beats her senseless when he finds out, and she gets fired from her job as a cabaret dancer when her mother comes looking for her.
  • A fantasy-race version occurs in Thor - the title character's already resentful younger brother Loki discovers that he's actually a runt of a Jotun who was abandoned as an infant and taken in by Odin, who glamoured the blue-skinned, red-eyed monster baby into a humanoid/Asgardian-looking Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette. He does not take it well - in fact, it's the tipping point of his fall from grace. While the latter society is portrayed pretty unpleasantly the former has raised a child to so despise another race that discovering he's one of them leads to the automatic assumption that the reason he's felt inferior his whole life is because he's really a monster, which, no matter how much his family tells him otherwise, is too much for his emotional stability to bear.
  • The film version of Watchmen includes another example in addition to one mentioned in the comic book section above. Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias is portrayed as German enough to still have something of an accent, which he conceals in public by shifting to a newscaster-perfect, "generalized" American accent instead. In private, he has no qualms about letting his natural voice (which sits somewhere between American- and German-sounding) show through. Matthew Goode, who played Veidt, stated in behind-the-scenes interviews that this was not based in Veidt having any shame at simply speaking German as a first language, but rather because his parents had had ties to the Nazi party, and Veidt wished to distance himself from that as much as possible.
  • In C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America Horace the slave claimed that the Fauntroy family were all descended from a liaison between John Ambrose Fauntroy I and Horace's great-grandmother. All the light-skinned children were brought into the family while the dark-skinned ones were left to be slaves. John Ambrose Fauntroy V tried to fight the charges of 'passing', but it was too late to save his presidential campaign and he ended up committing suicide. The movie doesn't make it clear if Horace was telling the truth or not.
  • Ann Carver's Profession: A film from 1933, nominally about the age-old struggle for a woman to have it all. Here, the title character is an attorney, and the film is naturally wound up in her many sensational trials, including a suit for breach of promise over a broken engagement. Carver's argument? How could anyone, even a sophisticated, wealthy playboy be expected to know that the woman he thought he loved was passing for white? This gambit succeeds only after our intrepid attorney parades a group of women in front of the jury, all but one of whom are white, and demands that the plaintiff's attorney pick out which one is passing. If he can't do it, then there's no way the jury can blame her client for not being able to do the same, and no way he should be expected to keep his promise of marriage to a woman of color.
  • Pinky: A 1949 MGM film centering on a young woman from Alabama who began passing for white when she went away to nursing school in the North. She returns home engaged to a white man who doesn't know the truth, and, thus, much drama ensues.
  • Played for laughs in The Jerk where Steve Martin's character was raised by a black family and legitimately believes himself to be black. He's an adult before it's explained to him that he's actually white, but he continues to consider himself to be black.
    "You mean I'm gonna stay this color?!"
  • Sayonara has a moment where Katsumi (who is Japanese) is revealed to be planning to get surgery on her eyes to look whiter. Her husband (who is white) has to assure her he loves her as she is.
  • In Sapphire, Sapphire Robbins was biracial, but able to 'pass' as white. When Superintendent Hazard and Inspector Learoyd discover this, they have consider whether this was a factor in her murder.

  • Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! gets mixed up with this trope and Half-Breed Discrimination as more of the back story about the back story coming out comes out. Although it being Faulkner, a lot of the point is just impressing upon the reader what a total Jerkass the lead really is.
  • Kate Chopin's story Désirée's Baby is a particularly brutal twist on the trope. The bigoted Armand kicks out his wife Desirée for having a dark-skinned baby, which supposedly proves that she's not completely white. It's revealed at the end that he's the one with mixed ancestry, although it's left up to interpretation whether or not he's aware of this.
  • In The Ballad Of Lee Cotton, the title character is born into a black family, but with an Icelandic Disappeared Dad and a mixed race mother he's born looking looking entirely white. Even though he doesn't attempt to pass as white, he gets problems anyway just because people refuse to believe he's black; for instance, he has to get certified black by a lawyer just to get a school to accept him. The lawyer explains the One Drop Rule to him and his mother: "even if you're only one-sixty-fourth part black, Mississippi will give you the other sixty-three parts for free. In fact, they insist upon it."
  • "Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States" by William Wells Brown features Thomas Jefferson"s slave daughter escaping captivity. Yeah.
  • Same thing happens at the end of Ann Rinaldi's Wolf By the Ears, as mixed-race Harriet opts to leave Monticello and pass for white.
  • Angua of the Discworld series passes as human instead of as a werewolf.
  • Discussed at length in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Big George's light-skinned wife has twin sons: Jasper, who's as light as she is, and Artis, who's dark like his father. Throughout his life, Jasper is subtly encouraged by his parents to associate with other light-skinned black people, gradually earning Artis's resentment as he realizes his twin's skin color opens doors that are closed to him. His parents realize the animosity between their sons but feel powerless to change things, knowing that this is the best way to give Jasper an advantage. Jasper's daughter Clarissa is so light-skinned that she regularly passes for white, using the privilege to shop in the high-end all-white stores. While doing so, she is unexpectedly recognized by her elderly uncle Artis, whose greeting is mistaken by security as a black man harassing a white woman. Artis is violently ejected from the store, while Clarissa burns with shame over what she's done to him, but is unable to intervene, knowing she'll be even more violently ejected if the white employees realize they've been deceived.
  • The Garies and Their Friends (1857) by Frank J. Webb.
  • Harry Potter:
  • Fannie Hurst"s novel "Imitation of Life" is an interesting case, as it was adapted into a movie in both the US and Mexico, showing the differences in views of passing in both nations.
  • A weird version of this occurs in Hari Kunzru's The Impressionist. Pran Nath Razdan is the product of his Indian mother's one night stand with a British man, but his family passed him off as the son of his mother's husband, a wealthy and educated Indian man. When the man dies, Pran Nath is thrown out on the street and spends some time desperately trying to reintegrate himself into Indian society. Failing at this, he eventually makes his way to England, where he successfully passes as 100% white and British. When, some time later, he tries to reveal his true heritage, he is not believed.
  • The Lions of Little Rock is a young adult novel set in Alabama in the 1950s, just as schools are being integrated. The main character learns that Liz, the new girl at her school, wasn't just tan from the summer but African-American. Liz is then ostracized by peers of both races. She was able to pass until being seen at a black church, though.
  • Nella Larsen's 1929 novel Passing is entirely about examining this phenomenon-it contains three "black" women, one who has basically switched to a white identity by continuously passing, one that can pass, but doesn't, and one who passes occasionally out of convenience. It does not work out well for the first two in the end.
  • The title character of Queenie is a beautiful half-caste girl born in Mumbai during The Raj. Fair enough to pass for white, she conceals her Indian parentage and makes her way to London, where her looks and talent get her noticed by a film producer who helps propel her to stardom in the still-overtly racist Hollywood of the 1930s. The novel is considered a Roman à Clef — author Michael Korda based the story on the life of his aunt, legendary actress Merle Oberon (see entry under Real Life).
  • The "One-Drop Rule" gets blackmailer Monte Field killed in The Roman Hat Mystery by Ellery Queen. One of Field's victims was white to any standard of appearance, but had a distant ancestor who was a slave. Said victim was engaged to a lady whose family would have immediately have banned the wedding and destroyed the man's career if the One-Drop had been revealed.
  • In a rare reversal this trope, the titular character of The Sheik is a European pretending to be an Arab. He mostly gets away with it, too; the only way the female protagonist finds out he's not is because his best friend, a Frenchman, gives him away.
  • A racial Pass Fail is the Dark Secret in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Yellow Face". Effie Munro, married into white British middle-class society, was previously married to a black man in the United States, and has a daughter who is darker than he was. (Scientific footnote: this usually only happens when both parents are mixed-race, and being a "passer" herself would explain some of the curious inconsistencies in her backstory. If either Holmes or Watson caught on, they kept quiet about it.) Fortunately, Grant Munro is big-hearted enough to accept the little girl.
  • This is part of the backstory of the Fannie Flagg novel Welcome To the World, Baby Girl! The (blonde, blue-eyed) protagonist's mother turned out to be of mixed race — the daughter of a German woman and a very light-skinned African American man who had moved to Europe to escape from the racial discrimination of the United States, but had been forced to move back with the rise of Hitler. She could, physically, pass for white without trying, but had spent her adult life in terror of being "outed" by someone who knew about her background — which was the reason for her secretive and evasive behavior during the protagonist's childhood.
  • In the Worldwar series by Harry Turtledove, Mordechai Ancielewicz is a Polish Jew fighting in the resistance. While traveling in the countryside, he encounters a farmhouse, and attempts to pass as a (Catholic) Polish partisan. Mordechai catches himself when the Farmer's Daughter starts getting flirty (realizing very quickly that dropping his pants would blow his cover immediately, since no Catholic man would be circumsised), and manages to eat the ham they're serving without hesitation, but is caught out when he crosses himself wrong and doesn't put butter on his potatoes. Fortunately for him, they aren't upset about it.
  • The entire point of James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography Of An Ex Colored Man. The nameless protagonist is a very light-skinned "octaroon" (or less) in the late 19th-early 20th century, who is nonetheless raised as black—albeit a very sheltered kind of black, only mingling with the black upper crust and with an unusually large number of white people in his social circle (easier to believe in New England). A gifted pianist, he spends his young adulthood in that field, eventually learning ragtime music and touring Europe with a rich white man. However, he eventually quits ragtime after seeing a lynching, decides to pass as white, and becomes a businessman and marries a white woman, who does not realize his heritage. The book is based in part on Johnson's life (he could pass if he grew his facial hair right), but also on the lives of others Johnson knew.
  • In The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, a girl who counts as white in 1960 goes back in time to 1860, where — because of her suntan, curly hair, and resemblance to her plantation-owning ancestors — she is classified as black and assumed to be the offspring of a wayward son of the family and one of his slaves, making her a slave herself. After she returns to her own time, she is assumed to have run away and an advertisement is issued. In the description of her it says, "Could pass for white." Researching her family history, she learns that after the Civil War, the aforementioned wayward son inherited the plantation and passed off his former-slave wife as a white woman from France — so as their descendant, the protagonist really does have a few black genes.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign count René Vorbretten was briefly considered ineligible to rule his District when it was discovered that he is one-eighth Cetagandan on his grandfather's side. Non-Barrayaran ancestry is not an official bar to holding a countship — the Emperor himself is one-eighth Betan — but his political opponents raise the technical point that René's great-grandfather was not actually the son of his presumed great-great-grandfather and therefore shouldn't have inherited the position in the first place. With this technicality to stand upon, and general anti-Cetagandan sentiment to fuel the emotions, the Conservative political faction hoped to remove René and install a cousin in the role more sympathetic to their politics. Thankfully, a precedent in the Barrayaran inheritance lawnote  stated that the Count's heir need not necessarily be a blood relative.
  • This is naturally all over The Man in the High Castle, being an Alternate History scenario in which the Allies lost World War II. One of the main characters, Frank Frink, is actually Frank Fink, a Jew, and hides his identity for obvious reasons. A more minor character, Rudolph Wegener, tells an artist he dislikes that he is Jewish and has undergone plastic surgery to make himself look more "Aryan", although it's left open to interpretation whether this is actually true or whether he is simply saying it to mess with his head. One of the central themes of the novel is the question of at what point a person becomes what he or she is pretending to be.
  • In Noah Gordon's The Physician, main character Rob Cole wants to study medicine in the Persian madrassah, where the great Avicenna (Ibn Sina) teaches. However, Christians are not accepted there, but Jews are, so Rob decides to take on the guise of a Jewish student to be admitted. On the way, a Jewish would-be student he makes friends with finds out his secret, but he chooses to help him learn how to be a Jew to pass. This, however, later causes him trouble when, upon returning to England, he crosses paths with a merchant who met him while he was passing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Season 2 episode of Angel flashed back to the 1950s and a biracial girl called Judy. She appeared to be white, so she tried to pass at her job. When her heritage was discovered, she got fired and then dumped by her fiance. And it's implied her family disowned her for not looking black enough.
  • Brought up in passing on The Drew Carey Show—in an episode where Drew's dad wants him to join a country club he's a member of, Drew and his friends are appalled by the casual racism displayed by one of the club members ("So you work downtown—I hear it gets pretty dark at night"). Oswald asks what would happen if someone weren't pure white, say 1/16th Cherokee, and when this is laughed off, says that one of his great-great grandparents was Cherokee. (This fact is never brought up again on the show, so he wasn't just passing in-universe but to the writers as well! For his part, Drew doesn't join, and his dad admits he's only a member because of the connections it gives him and he dislikes the racist undertones.)
  • One episode of Law & Order has a black guy who spent his whole adult life passing for white. He's only found out after his second wife was killed when they considered taking back their darker-skinned baby they had given up for adoption. His first wife killed the second in order to maintain the illusion of an all-white family for her son, who was attending a very upper-class-white school with subtle social discrimination against non-whites. Or, so she said, until it was revealed that she'd never wanted to take custody of their son in the divorce, had to be bribed to do it, and she was really just a big ol' racist. The best part of that show was toward the beginning, when the detectives are operating under the belief that the "white" man killed his wife because she gave birth to a black infant. After they find evidence that he has been passing, the white detectives can't get him to admit it. Lt. Van Buren shoos them out of the interrogation room, closes the door, gives the man a knowing look, and sarcastically congratulates him on passing, asking what white people are like among themselves. Feeling guilty, he finally admits to having passed as white for years in order to climb the corporate ladder, something that would have been much harder to do had he lived as a black man since he joined before the Civil Rights era, and by the time he became an executive he'd been passing as white for so long that he didn't want to reveal the truth. The irony is that when the police question the suspect's superiors at work, they say that had they been aware that he was African American, they probably would have promoted him to the Board of Directors as their Token Minority.
  • On Sons of Anarchy, it has transpired that Juice's father is actually African-American, and he has been passing as Hispanic. In the show, as in real life, Hispanics and Asians are allowed in white motorcycle clubs, African-Americans are not.
  • In The Terror, Commander James Fitzjames confesses in a moment alone with his Fire-Forged Friend Captain Francis Crozier that he is the illegitimate son of an Englishman and (most likely) a Portuguese noblewoman in exile in Brazil, ruefully admitting that despite his reputation as the cream of the crop of the Royal Navy, he is “not even fully English”. This is an interesting example, as it shows the tenuous and shifting status of who is and isn’t considered white- by modern standards, most Portuguese people are white, meaning he would be considered at most mixed-ethnicity to us (and he is accordingly played by Tobias Menzies, who is a white Englishman himself), but in the show’s 1840s setting (as in real life) it would make him racially dubious in the eyes of English society and the Royal Navy if word of this got out. (Ironically, Menzies' dark hair and eyes and olive complexion make him look more plausibly half-Portuguese in context than the real Fitzjames- a rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed redhead- did.)
  • Cold Case: "Libertyville" and "Colors" both have characters who are half black and half white, but look completely white, struggling with whether they should accept their identity or bury it. Given the nature of the show, either decision is likely to end tragically.
  • Carnival Row: Philo, who's half Faerie, passed as wholly human for most of his life. It's revealed his Faerie mother ensured this by having his wings surgically removed when he was an infant. After he discloses this to his lover Portia, she throws him out in disgust, and soon his life falls apart when his police colleagues find out, since they view it as a disgrace, while suspecting him of murdering people to conceal it as a result.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Bloodlines", the openly racist Niagra police force includes one man with a black grandmother, who not only joined a white supremacist group to keep his secret, but killed another member of the group who found out.

  • The 1901 hit song "Coon! Coon! Coon!", featured in part on the quotes page.
  • Big Black's "Passing Complexion" is about a black man who "could mix with ordinary white company" without being noticed as long as the subject of his race never came up in conversation.

  • In Moonlight And Magnolias, producer David O. Selznick has downplayed his origins as the son of an Eastern European Jew and considers himself to be successfully assimilated. Towards the end of the show, he realizes that despite his efforts to pass, the Hollywood mainstream still sees him as a Jew rather than an American.
  • Played with in Show Boat. Steve is white, and his wife Julie is mixed-race, passing for white—their marriage was a crime in the South at the time. When someone tips the local sheriff off and he comes to arrest them, Steve quickly cuts Julie's hand and swallows her blood; when the sheriff arrives, he asks, "You wouldn't call a man a white man that's got Negro blood in him, would you?" He swears to having that blood in him (and thus, he pretends to be passing for white); the two are able to leave the boat, and the South, in peace.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • "Mongrelfolk" are a race of Heinz Hybrids, and the inevitable result of a setting in which most humanoid species are capable of interbreeding. Traditionally they look fairly monstrous, with mismatched limbs and asymmetrical facial features, but a 3rd Edition sourcebook put a spin on them by explaining that those hideous mongrelfolk are rare individuals used as a distraction by the rest of their kind, and honored for their sacrifice. Ordinary mongrelfolk instead blend the features of their various parent races more subtly, to the extent that observers tend to interpret them as people close to, but not quite, their own race. So a dwarf might see a mongrelfolk as an unusually broad-shouldered elf, an elf might see a tall and slender dwarf, a human would see a strangely attractive orc, and so forth. This allows most mongrelfolk to fit in with any society, not fully belonging, but at least tolerated by their cousins.
    • In the Eberron campaign setting, some members of the shape-shifting Changeling race try to avoid the distrust other humanoids have for their kind by creating a single false identity for themselves and living as members of a different humanoid races. These individuals are known among Changelings as "passers". This is in contrast to "becomers", who maintain multiple identities of varying races, or simply create, steal, and abandon identities whenever they find it convenient or amusing; and "truthseekers", who live openly as changelings and only rarely use their shapeshifting abilities. Both passers and truthseekers can sometimes hit something like the gender variety — Changelings are born with a biological sex, which is what someone looking at them with magic that sees through shapeshifting would see (leaving aside more mundane passing), but if they shapeshift to another sex it is thorough enough to get pregnant or impregnate regardless of their birth sex.

  • Chirinide of Drowtales refers to herself as a "half-breed" because she has a light elf father and a drowussu mother, and goes so far as to wonder if she should commit suicide to keep her "impurity" from spreading through the Kyorl'solenurn clan. Despite this she really doesn't look any different from other drowussu, which turns out to be a big hint that the drowussu are actually descended from light elves.
  • Greer, the protagonist of The Girl Who Flew Away is eventually revealed to have had a black father. She's able to pass for fully white, which just contributes her to self-loathing as she feels it's hiding who she really is.

    Western Animation 
  • On Futurama, Leela grew up thinking she was a one-eyed alien abandoned as a baby on Earth. She later discovers that she is a relatively normal-looking mutant; because mutants aren't given legal rights, while aliens are, her parents left her at an Orphanarium so that she could grow up without having to suffer like they did. (It might sound ridiculous, but it was actually rather touching when they were reunited.)
  • Inverted on South Park: Tuong Lu Kim turns out to be a white man with multiple personalities, one of whom thinks he's Chinese.
  • On Young Justice, Megan passes as a Green Martian when she is really a White Martian. Note that this is only possible for her on Earth: on Mars, everyone is a telepath who can read minds, so it's impossible to even try. Technically she and her uncle J'onn are passing themselves off as more human looking when their actual appearances look like something straight out of Alien.

    Real Life 
  • 19th Century literary trope of the Tragic Mulatto, in which a beautiful woman in good standing in her community has her reputation and often life destroyed when it is revealed that one of her distant ancestors was in fact a slave owned by her household. Such an idea seems horrific to the modern eye, but as a wise man once said, if your friends are going to abandon you to die in a poorhouse after finding out that you're one-sixteenth Black, they probably weren't your friends in the first place. Subverted in the same way but with inverted genders in the film "Angelitos Negros". The happy ending has the wife realizing after discovering that her biological mother was her black nanny that she has been a complete jerk to her family and that race is utterly meaningless. The family reunites.
  • The Brazilian Soap Opera Escrava Isaura (Isaura The Slave) has a twist on the titular character tragedy: it isn't her racial background that's the problem, because she can pass for white with no problem (partly for her looks, partly because her original owners gave her a polished education), and most of the people she loves and befriends already know or don't care when they learn about it; it's that she is still legally owned by her most obssessed admirer and he doesn't want to give her up so easily. If he has to use the Race Card to discredit her and make her go back to him, he will do it.
  • Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars: the light-skinned son and daughter of a former slave move to another town and pass for white. The daughter becomes engaged to a white man, and she starts to have doubts about deceiving him, so she points to a black servant and asks her fiance if he would still love her if she were that woman. He misunderstands it as her asking if he would still love her if she were a poor servant, and says he would. Then he finds out later that her mother is a black woman, and tragedy ensues for everyone.
  • Both played straight and subverted by the legal doctrine governing slavery in British North America and United States. Slavery status did not depend on race, only the status of the person's mother. Since the only persons initially legally recognized as slaves in British North America were African slaves, the legal doctrine does imply that a person legally held in slavery did have some African ancestry. However, legal definitions of race did not affect slave status, at least technically. Many persons of mixed or even full African ancestry were born free. Some persons of very little African ancestry and legally "white" were born slave. Many examples listed below arise from this. Somewhat ironically, legally defining race and "passing" became more relevant once slavery was abolished but institutionalized racism became better established, however.
  • The North used this trope during the Civil War to drum up support for their side among the British and other Europeans. They distributed flyers with the pictures of beautiful blonde, blue-eyed little girls who were slaves in the South solely because they were one-sixteenth or one-thirty-second black, and pointed out that if the South won, those girls would end up having to service their masters in the same way that black women did. The Values Dissonance in this campaign ("if the South wins these pretty white girls are going to be sexually abused!") and the fact that white supremacists later coopted it and Irish indentured servitude (itself closer to a draft than chattel slavery) as a form of whataboutism means that not many modern people have heard of it.
  • Abolitionists held mock "fancy girl" slave auctions in the North at universities to titillate, then outrage white Northerners. "Fancy girls" were attractive slave women, usually mixed race, who were sold at slave auctions in New Orleans as sex slaves. The abolitionists would auction lighter and lighter women, displaying their bodies like cattle, until, to the horror of the white crowd, they finally started auctioning off blond haired, blue eyed women who in the South would legally be considered black.
  • There was a pamphlet abolitionists were circulating in Great Britain about a Scottish man traveling through the American South who had encountered a house slave he perceived as white. What the Scottish traveler found exceptionally alarming was that the slave had red hair and a Scottish accent. When the Scot brought the matter up, the slave's master grew indignant, and insisted the slave's hair was slightly wooly, and his nose slightly full, which proved he was black. The Scot saw none of this, and thought the slave owner was reaching, but the slave owner told the Scot not to feel ashamed, that he hadn't lived around blacks long enough, so his untrained eye was easily fooled. It turned out the slave had been born free and believed himself white, up until slave hunters had shown up one day to recapture his grandmother. The man's grandmother was a runaway slave who had passed as white, and married a Scottish immigrant. The grandmother, her children, and her grandchildren were all reclaimed as lost property and enslaved. The slave's white relatives were still trying to buy their freedom back before they could be split up and sold off to different owners. Whether the pamphlet's story is true or not is anyone's guess.
  • Actress Merle Oberon hid her mixed race parentage, and birth in Mumbai, India, throughout her entire career, claiming to have been born in Tasmania, Australia. That her claimed early life was a total fabrication didn't become known until after her death, and her actual parentage is still somewhat in doubt.
  • Relics of this are still in law. Native-American religious rituals using controlled hallucinogens can only be legally participated in if the person can prove a certain level of blood membership to the right tribes, essentially making it illegal to convert to those religions. A man who is 1/16 the right bloodline could do so, but his wife who wasn't, and any children they had, could not.
  • 19th-century Finnish orientalist and explorer Georg August Wallin spent years traveling in the Middle East while disguising himself as an Arab Muslim, including a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was in several situations where having his true origins revealed would have meant certain death. T. E. Lawrence also visited Mecca in Arab guise.
  • 15th-century Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin had to pass himself as a Muslim, while traveling through the Middle East and India, though mainly not because of discrimination (merchants were usually given some leniency whenever they go at the time), but mostly due to the difficulties of practicing Christianity all alone in the foreign lands (and he was robbed of his religious books at one point anyway), so he figured that following Islam would be a lesser evil. His diaries are still full of guilt because of this self-perceived betrayal of his faith.
  • Shows up in Australia: Australian history, especially that of the stolen generation, has made discussions about mixed race and exact categorization of aboriginals into a taboo topic amongst people with any sense. Suffice to say that in many cases, even aboriginals who could pass for white have still suffered as a result of racist politics — in fact, there are people alive today who were taken from their families by the government specifically because they could pass. It's considered incredibly offensive to challenge someone who identifies as aboriginal Australian, even (especially) if they look white. An issue that has brought this up at times is the fact that Aboriginals are eligible for benefits from the government due to their status.
  • Half of the cases in this article about undercover operations.
  • The famous French writer Alexandre Dumas, père, who was a quadroon, and quite proud of his Black heritage (he was a son of an equally famous Napoleonic general), once tore some asshole who tried to demean his origins a new one by this verbal double broadside:
    My father was a mulatto, my grandfather a Negro,note  and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.
  • In mid-19th century France's high society being a quadroon was only somewhat gauche, roughly equal to admitting a descent from someone as crass and unrefined as a peasant — a fodder for gossip, but not something that might've hurt someone's career: the revolution had seen to the broader horizons even for the socialites.note  Which is why Dumas could put his detractor in place with just a witty retort. In the US at the time admitting to being a quadroon would certainly and utterly destroy any chance of a society's acceptance.
  • Alexander Pushkin, who was occasionally compared to Dumas (when he wasn't being compared to Shakespeare) was also a quadroon,: his great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, was an African prince from present-day Cameroon, a former slave adopted as a godson by Peter the Great. Pushkin's unfinished historical novel "Peter the Great's Negro" was loosely based upon his life.
  • Quick examples of famous African-Americans:
    • John Wayles Jefferson, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson (probably) and Sally Hemings, settled in Wisconsin, became a prosperous property owner, and served as an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War, all as a white man.
    • Sally Hemings herself was classified as white in U.S. census records while living near Washington D.C., after she was formally freed by Thomas Jefferson. She was either a 1/8 or 1/4 black and was described by contemporaries as nearly white in appearance. Of course, she was also a half-sister of Jefferson's wife who died early in their marriage.
    • Frederick Douglass says in his autobiography that his master was his father but could not find any documents telling about his mother's bloodline, meaning that he was possibly even more than 50% white.
    • Walter Francis White, head of NAACP between 1931 and 1955, was 5/32 black (that is, five of his 32 great-great-great grandparents were black) and was, in appearance, completely white, with pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. Yet, he considered himself a black man and presented himself as such, being an active civil rightsman most of his life, except when he went "undercover" as a white man to investigate the activities of the Klan and other racist organizations.
    • Malcolm X = 25% white, 75% black
    • Homer Adolph Plessy of Plessy v. Ferguson fame was 12.5% black and 87.5% white. In fact the reason he was involved in the case in the first place was not to allow blacks to be in whatever rail cars they wanted, but rather to show that a racially based system was stupid since things are not so simple when it comes to race. The US-SC didn't see it that way. In fact, in a case of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, many Southern states began adopting "one-drop rule" as the law governing race because this case showed that defining race based on ancestry and "blood quantums" led to ambiguous cases, as per Mr. Plessy. (Because of the difference in laws, Mr. Plessy would have been considered white in some states but black in others, including his home state of Louisiana.)
    • Tiger Woods = 25% black, 12.5% Native American, 12.5% white, 25% Southeast Asian, 25% Han Chinese. Sort of an inverted Pass Fail—when asked during the early years of his superstardom, he would say that he personally never identified as being of one race, but he couldn't avoid the world assigning him race. Comedienne Wanda Sykes made a point about this that was disturbingly prophetic—that the more he won, the more the media would downplay his being part black and play up the other parts of his heritage, but that if he ever fell from grace the criticism would be aimed straight at his blackness. He's also said that he's been harassed for this stance amongst "black" celebrities, some of them, he said, invoking the "one drop" rule. As it turned out, Sykes was partly right and partly wrong. The media indeed downplayed his African heritage during his peak years, but after he was exposed as a serial adulterer in 2009, his race barely played into the criticism he received.
    • Andre Cailloux, a Civil War officer in both Confederate and Union armies, as well as others in similar situations. He began as one of the officers in the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, a Confederate unit raised by the seceding state of Louisiana among its prosperous free black community. While the unit was distinguished for two reasons, namely that it was the first all-black military unit in continental North America and that it was the first to be commanded by black officers, at least at the troop level, Confederate authorities did not know what to do with the unit so it languished in New Orleans until the city fell to the Union. Officers and men of the unit switched allegiance to the Union, and since the Union did not give officer's commission to blacks, the unit's black officers had to pass as whites to retain their Confederate rank. Cailloux and Morris W. Morris were among the first African-American officers in the U.S. Army, but they had to do so while passing as whites, while they had served as officers in the Confederate Army as legal blacks.
    • 21st century baseball historians have suggested that William Edward White was the first black man to play in the Major Leagues, even though he spent his entire life passing as white. It wasn't until records of his birth were found in 2003 that suggested that he was the son of a southern plantation owner and one of his slaves. Born in 1860, this means he would have been born a slave, despite his complexion being light enough to pass his entire life. White served as a one-day replacement player for the Providence Greys in 1879, five years before the official first black man to play in the majors, Moses Fleetwood Walker, did so.
    • George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat was of mixed black and white heritage, listed as "coloured" on his birth certificate, but he was sufficiently pale to pass for white. He had curly hair which he hid under a hat, and explained his slightly African features and darker complexion by claiming to be ethnically Greek.
    • Defied by Fredi Washington - who played Peola in the 1934 Imitation of Life mentioned above. She frequently had to fight off claims that she had tried to pass. She was in fact an avid civil rights activist after she retired from films.
    "You see I'm a mighty proud gal, and I can't for the life of me find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin, or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons. If I do, I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens."
    • Keyboard musician John Roland Redd, a light-skinned black man, was Ambiguously Brown enough to initially pass as a Hispanic man under the name Juan Rolando, before achieving fame as "Indian" musician Korla Pandit. Even his own son didn't find out that Pandit was African-American until after his death.
  • Oddly enough, when white men who tried to have their marriages annulled when they claimed their wives had tried to pass, and the wives said they had told them of their black blood, the women overwhelmingly won. Then, the men would be asked such question about whether they had normal eyesight and the like to imply that anyone could have told that she was "really" black.
  • In 2010, white Republican Scott Fistler tried to run for Congress, but lost to another Republican. Four years later, he ran again as a Democrat under the name Cesar Chavez, posing as a Hispanic-American to try to pander to the large number of Hispanics in his district, and even in a sense attempting to pass for the late labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. He was not successful.
  • Clarence King, one of the founders of USGS and a celebrity scientist/explorer in late 19th century New York City who had zero black blood still passed himself as a black man and had a secret black family, as noted by Martha Sandweiss in her book Passing Strange.
  • "Freedom suits," where a slave claimed to be illegally held in slavery, were fairly common in the American South in the antebellum era. In several of these cases, slaves who looked "sufficiently white" claimed to be white persons who were kidnapped and held illegally in slavery. The case of Sally Miller/Salomé Müller in 1845 Louisiana is a well-known case.
  • A substantial number of Jews in Nazi Germany passed as gentiles successfully. While it remains unknown whether some wilder theories are true (i.e. Adolf Hitler or Reinhard Heydrich being secret Jews), there are better documented cases of Jews in unlikely places, such as the case of SS officer Eleke Scherwitz, a Jewish concentration camp commandant in Latvia. He was put on trial for war crimes in 1948, after his past as a concentration camp commandant was found out while he was trying to pass as a Jewish refugee from Eastern Europe (which he technically was). However, some (such as Anita Kugler, the author of a recent German book about him) contend that he saved many lives using his position as a high ranking SS officer.
  • Crypto-Judaism, where Jews pretended to have converted to Catholicism but secretly practiced Judaism, is believed to have been widespread in post-Reconquista Spain as well as other parts of Europe. Many Crypto-Jews from Spain and Portugal supposedly came to the New World as conquistadores. At least some, such as Luis Carvajal, the governor of Nuevo Leon, were tried for heresy by the Mexican Inquisition, and died in prison or executed. The Nazis later seized on the historical existence of Crypto-Jews in antisemitic propaganda, most prominently showcased in a children's book where a Greedy Jew ostensibly converts to Catholicism only to immediately renege on the "no meat on Fridays" rule by "converting" a roast goose to a fish.
  • In the non-fiction Detroit: An American Autopsy Charlie LeDuff discovers that his great-grandfather was listed in census records as "M" for Mulatto as a child, but as an adult when he moved to Detroit was able to blend in with the large number of ethnic Greeks and other "swarthy" European immigrants moving there and able to pass for fully white, to the point that by the time Charlie was born this part of his family history has been completely lost.
  • The documentary Little White Lie is about Lacey Schwartz, an American filmmaker who believed her whole life she was white, only to find out that she was the result of an affair between her white Jewish mother and an African-American man. A zig-zagged version of this trope, since most people she interacted with knew she wasn't fully white (at her bat mitzvah, the rabbi expressed excitement at having an Ethiopian Jew at their synagogue), however, she was unaware or in denial of that fact until her late teens. Her parents explained her dark complexion as being the result of distant Sicilian ancestry.
  • In his book The Color of Water, James McBride tells the story of his mother, the wife of a Black Baptist minister and a committed Christian, who called herself Ruth and identified herself as a light-skinned Black woman. He eventually learned that her birth name was Rachel Deborah Shilsky and that she was a white woman and the daughter of a rabbi, raised as an Orthodox Jew. Besides invoking this trope, she was likely playing with it in that the name Ruth is often given to female converts to Judaism, based on the eponymous heroine of the Biblical book of Ruth.
  • As recounted in I Am the Night and the podcast Root Of Evil a woman named Fauna grew up believing she was mixed white and black and had been adopted by a black woman, only to discover as an adult after tracking down her birth mother Tamar that this wasn't true and she was actually entirely white. What's worse, her father was likely Tamar's own father George Hodel (considered a suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Short, popularly known as the Black Dahlia) making her a product of Parental Incest.
  • In a reversal of the typical dynamic, there's the strange case of Rachael Dolezal, an NAACP chapter president whose parents revealed in 2015 that she was actually white. Dolezal admitted that she did not have Black parentage as she initially claimed, but insisted that she was still Black because she identified as such. The incident attracted accusations of cultural appropriation and comparisons to white actors who pretended to be Native American such as Iron Eyes Cody (an Italian man) and Sacheen Littlefeather (a white American woman) before Dolezal stepped down from the NAACP and was fired from her university positions. The fact that the controversy over Dolezal's "trans-racial" identity occurred just as the transgender rights movement was beginning to receive widespread mainstream attention additionally invited both transphobic comparisons and widespread discussion about the differences between race and gender identity, both of which were satirized in an Atlanta sketch surrounding a Black transphobe who self-identifies as white.
  • Another unusual inversion of the usual situation is Raúl Juliá, who arguably "passed" too well. Raúl Juliá was a mixed-race Latino man, and like most Puerto Ricans had some Spanish and some Indigenous ancestry, but his grandmother was Black (her father was Dominican and listed as a "mulatto" on the census, and her mother was an at least partly Black woman from the US Virgin Islands). He was quite light-skinned, and when he played Othello wore makeup to appear darker, leading some theatre critics to question the casting. Interestingly his take on the character was one of Laurence Fishburne's favourites.


    Comic Books 
  • In various iterations of Shazam!, Captain Marvel uses his adult superhero form to conceal the fact that he is actually a child. Other heroes are naturally reluctant to let a ten-year-old fight super-powered murderers. One of the more interesting aspects of this is a Justice Society arc where young Billy Batson started dating Star-Girl, since they are both heroes and are roughly the same age. However, from the perspective of the rest of the team who didn't know Marvel's true identity it seemed like the Captain was getting way too close to an underage girl and it got him in a lot of trouble. In Billy Batson and the Power of Shazam Billy, who is an orphan and formerly homeless, uses his adult form to pose as his own father and rent an apartment.
  • In Top 10: The '49ers, the Iron Man Captain Ersatz, who is supposedly a scientist kept alive by a Clingy Costume life-support system after a lab explosion, is revealed to be a robot invented by the scientist, who actually died in the explosion, impersonating him to escape anti-AI prejudice. His success is helped by the fact that he's the first AI in the comic's universe sentient enough to pass as a human.
  • In The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye it's revealed that during the so-called "Golden Age" that preceded the war, a form of racism existed against Transformers who had been born by apparently having their sparks split from the spark of a "forged" (naturally-born) Cybertronian, known as being "constructed cold". Apparently it resulted in an apartheid which before the war was supposed to be over. At one point, the ego-centric scientist Brainstorm boasts of having supported "equal right for knock-offs!" implying he was forged. Shortly thereafter, a weapon that targets the sparks of all Cybertonians constructed cold is activated, and among those affected is Brainstorm himself, revealing that he was also constructed cold. It gets added to some issues down the line, where it turns out not only was he constructed cold, he was an M.T.O., a Made To Order, and they weren't activated until after the war began, meaning he couldn't have been part of the equal rights movement because he hadn't been born yet.

    Fan Works 
  • In this Watchmen fanfic, Adrian Veidt has been dyeing his hair for most of his life, and with good reason. His mother's husband was a blond, blue-eyed German in 1939 Berlin, but Adrian takes after his mother's Jewish lover in looks.

  • In Gattaca Vincent is an "In-Valid", a child born naturally rather than genetically engineered. He borrows the identity of Jerome, one of the genetic elite, in order to pass as a "Valid" and gain employment at a space agency. Vincent and others like him are known alternately as "borrowed ladders" and "de-gene-rates".
  • Bobby "Iceman" Drake's mother in X2: X-Men United famously asked, "Have you tried not being a mutant?"

  • In a Real Life incident described in Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, the young Charles Darwin passed as a devout Unitarian, and his father urged to him to do so even with his fiancée/wife. He eventually decided to out himself to her, and eventually, of course, to the rest of the world. Rumors of a deathbed conversion were greatly exaggerated.
  • Played with in Dark Angel (1996), in that Gillian technically is a member of the group she's trying to fit in with - a witch - yet still gets on the receiving end of this. Because Gillian is a lost witch, she was born with powers but knows nothing about witch culture. As such, she struggles to blend in with Night People without Angel's help; she's able to win over Melusine and get the supplies she needs for spellcasting by using witch greetings and drawing a dahlia – one of the symbols of the witches – although Melusine is clearly suspicious of her. Things get much more serious when Angel tries to get Gillian to enter a Black Iris club; she sticks out like a sore thumb and is immediately assumed to be a human who happened to find out about the Night World, resulting in her being preyed upon by a group of vampires; after all, humans who find out about the Night World are considered fair game. Gillian starts to panic and can't follow Angel's instructions, and she gets lucky that Ash Redfern intervenes (he doesn't believe she's a witch either, but covertly helps her escape).
  • Most humanoid cryptids (or therianthropes, who can shapeshift into a human form) in InCryptid pass as humans because the Covenant of St. George is dedicated to exterminating them. For instance, gorgons wear wigs to cover their snake hair, and Sasquatch have learned to love depilatory products and mail-order shoe catalogs. Several cryptids travel with the carnival in Magic For Nothing because they're less out-of-place somewhere people already expect to see "freaks".
  • Kroniki Drugiego Kręgu dragons are Voluntary Shapeshifters, who need a genetic template of whatever they're changing into. So, to pass as a human, Oura gets a template of a pretty girl, but Eril is quick to notice some sort of oddness about her. However, since she simply wanted to be able to talk with him without scaring the boy with her dragon shape, and he interprets "weird girl" as an elf, it works out.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Commander Susan Ivanova has a long-established hatred for the Psi-Corps, due in large part to her mother being forced to take telepathy-blocking drugs by them which caused her severe depression and led to her suicide. It is eventually revealed that Ivanova is also a low-level telepath passing herself off as a mundane while serving in the armed forces (something telepaths are banned by law from doing).
  • An episode of Just Shoot Me! inverted the SVU example above, with Elliot's brother having spent years posing as mentally disabled due to a head injury as a child to get out of having to support himself. He's outed only after Jack's foolishness causes a Rage Breaking Point.
  • One episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit featured an autistic guy who somehow managed to convince everybody (including his own mother!) that he was neurotypical.
  • Star Trek: Picard: Jean-Luc Picard is technically an xB, but because he doesn't possess any visible Borg implants, he doesn't endure the galaxy-wide persecution that the other former drones do, who are perceived to be "property to be exploited, or as a hazard to be warehoused." He never has to worry about being a victim of Borg tech harvesters (like Icheb) or being a victim of a government-sanctioned xB massacre (like Hugh and his patients). Rios conveniently forgot that Picard was once part of the Collective, and when Elnor ponders if the xBs are better off dead, he's obviously not thinking about his surrogate father.


    Real Life 
  • Crypto-Christianity, where Christians (whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant) were forced to conceal their faith due to persecution. The practice started in the early days of Christianity during the glory days of the Roman Empire, but it was also prevalent in the formerly-Byzantine regions of Ottoman Turkey, in the Middle East, in feudal Japan, as well as under communist regimes, such as the USSR, where the practice of religion was repressed. Perversely enough, there are even cases of Catholic Christians pretending to be Protestants so they could integrate into a Protestant-centric society and vice-versa.
  • Neurologically-atypical people sometimes try to pass for neurotypical, especially autistic individuals ('masking').
    • In one case, a young autistic man managed to fool people into believing not only that he was neurotypical, but that he was a rich, young executive planning to buy their company. Apparently due to his autism he didn't have any of the physical signatures associated with lying.
    • "Physical signatures associated with lying" themselves are, in fact, neuroatypical/anxious behaviours and do not actually indicate lying unless the person is stressed out about the lie, as any experienced or self-controlled liar will not get anxious about the lie.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many people knew that he couldn't walk, particularly the press and White House staff, but publicly he worked hard to conceal his disability. For example, he had a customized car made that he could drive with his hands. He painted his leg braces black and nearly all of his photos show him either sitting in a regular chair or leaning on somebody or something (there is only one photo of him in his wheelchair). In films that show him "walking", he's always surrounded by people so he could hide the fact that he was using them for support.
  • True Life examined people who were trying to avoid this for various reasons. One person highlighted was a transgender woman who passed so well nobody knew (because for all intents and purposes she had lived as a woman since she was a child), and had to tell her boyfriend. There was some humor, when she was in a club and a man was dancing with her and she became...aroused. Another person profiled was a biracial (black and white) girl Nicaraguan. She was too dark to pass for white, so she went for Latina instead. This caused problems when her friend set her up on a date with an actual Nicaraguan.
  • Atheists who live in highly religious regions that face social stigma (or in some cases worse) will often pretend they belong to a religion long after they've given up the belief (assuming it was ever there). In some cases this includes members of the clergy, who stay either to keep their livelihood, avoid ostracism, or just simply because they still believe their religion has benefits/good principles they follow. The Clergy Project exists to help these people, including in coming out.