Patreon Exclusive: Subterranean Mutant Semiotics: Morlocks, X-Factor, and the Privilege of Passing

A lineup of the Morlocks

Our monthly Patron-exclusive essay series continues. You can read all of these incredible analyses for as little as a dollar a month on our Patreon.

Content Warning: This essay includes discussions of transphobia, anti-trans violence, trans-medicalism and passing.

It’s challenging to have nuanced conversations about passing, because of the ways in which passing is determined by the dynamics of privilege. If there is one thing marginalized folks really hate to have to admit is that they may still hold privileges of one kind or another. Privilege itself is not a bad thing, but the way in which you abuse and misuse your privileges or fail to acknowledge them, is.

We need to recognize that for many, passing and “going stealth” are either critical parts of being able to safely navigate a hostile society. We also need to recognize that not everybody has access to the means necessary to achieve this level of safety for a number of reasons. Passing/”going stealth” can be a matter of life-or-death safety, but it is still a privilege that not every trans person has. Because acknowledging privilege is challenging, understanding the privilege of passing can sometimes be framed as invalidating of the experience and trauma of passing trans people.

It doesn’t invalidate anybody’s hardships to acknowledge that they experience a certain amount of privilege relative to others marginalized people. Certainly, none of the trauma that Warren Worthington has suffered through is being invalidated when we say that he has significantly more privilege than the Morlocks. Nor does it excuse the trauma experienced by white middle-to-upper class passing trans women to acknowledge that they experience significantly more privilege and safety than trans women of color with limited access means of transitioning.

The Morlocks are mutants who cannot pass as humans, and “choose” to live in an underground tunnel system, instead of living within human society. In some cases though, mutants without visible mutations [such as in the Gifted TV series] cast off that privilege, altering their appearance in such a way to make themselves visible, and reject the notion of passing. Just as many trans people in our world reject passing and the ideologies that impose the pursuit of “passing” onto trans people. When we look at the mutant metaphor as a surrogate for the experiences of trans people, Morlocks could be framed to stand in for people without the means and levels of access to pass, and/or people who actively choose not to pass.

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