If people can ‘change their gender’ just by saying so, who’s to say we can’t declare ourselves ‘trans-race’?
I knew a few transgender women long before they were ‘cool’.
I remember four in the 1990s: A fellow computer geek who longed to be a woman but couldn’t afford it; a married Pagan BBS friend; and a self-described transsexual (a still-acceptable term back then), in a small Usenet discussion group. Ironically, her new name was Caitlyn. Not that Caitlyn!
The fourth was a Real Life gal undergoing transition who joined our Pagan group. She looked, acted, and sounded like a woman. When she whipped me around on the Samhain ball dance floor I whispered in her ear, “Okay, NOW I can tell you used to be a man! You still have your man’s strength!” and we laughed.
Transgenders had more of a sense of humor back then, despite a helluva lot less support. Crossing genders wasn’t common then, but hardly unknown. In the 1960s, Christine Jorgenson, the world’s first surgical transgender, stalked off the live Dick Cavett show in a huff. We came to understand a small percentage of people felt born into the wrong body. Today, coinciding with the rise of social media, transgenderism has exploded in demand and developed its own set of politics, along with a distinct air of fashionableness.
Those who yell loudest that “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria doesn’t exist!” are often the ones who smell the most of appropriated coolness. The ones who seem, just below the surface, to require the external validation of others making the same choice as they have to live under a different gender identity, or just to experiment.
Now, all you have to do is declare yourself one label or t’other and the rest of the world is expected to goose-step into line. It’s created a whole culture war, mostly between natal women and ‘people with a penis’ who aren’t yet ready to give up ‘the dangler’ as my Pagan BBS trans buddy put it many years ago.
The good news is you no longer have to accept society’s labels and can live however you want to live, right? You can just slap any old label on yourself if you don’t like how you were born, maybe make a few cosmetic changes, and expect everyone to treat you as though you were always that way, right?
Whoa, li’l buckaroo, it doesn’t work like that!
Before we jump into the Rachel Dolezal debate, let’s take a quick look at another subculture of people who also slap other labels on themselves, occasionally with cosmetic alterations, appropriately named the ‘Otherkin’.
Otherkin take self-identification a step further and no longer restrict their identities to humanness. Their labels are legion (Millennials and Gen Z LOVE LOVE LOVE their labels!) and include vampires, fairies, elves, ‘furries’ (animals), aliens, sprites, mermaids, werewolves, and other mythical beings.
Some play at being other people/beings (D&D’ers, live-action roleplayers, historical re-creation groups) which ends when you return to the ‘real world’ of home and office. A small percentage choose to believe they actually are that person or being. They identify. Everyone around them is s’posed to go along with whatever Lady StarTwinkles Fluffybunny, Queen of the Unicorn Fairy Foo-Foos, says.
It’s pretty fair to say there’s precious little left you can’t appropriate for yourself if you ‘identify’ that way.
However, there’s one label Thou Shalt Not Appropriate.
Rachel Dolezal, Jessica Krug, and several Instagrammers have taken a lot of heat for passing themselves off as people of color while white. It seems to be a particularly white woman thing. It’s called ‘blackfishing’.
Nothing raises the hackles of POC, especially black women, quite like the Dominant Caste acquiring the mantle of victimhood and oppression by deciding to change race, something the natal POC can’t do.
Or can they?
Creative Commons CC 2.0 photo by Marc Levi on Flickr
Yes, I know Michael Jackson had vitiligo. But the fact remains: He was arguably the whitest man alive when he died. The last music videos he made show a man who almost looks covered in Wite-Out(tm).
If he’d acquired light-colored custom contact lenses and lightened his hair, he could have easily passed for a white person. Apart from being Michael Jackson.
Was it all because of vitiligo, or did he, on some fundamental level, want to be white, more acceptable in a racist society?
He remained genetically black. We couldn’t see his children since he kept them covered in public but I wonder — was it all because he feared kidnapping attempts, or because he wanted to shield the evidence they weren’t his?
Once his children shed the Taliban crap, it was crystal-clear none had an ounce of African-American blood. Jackson wasn’t their biological father. No way.
You can change your appearance, but you can’t change your genetics. Which brings us back to the transgender community and the science denial rife in some corners that one is not fundamentally the way they were born, despite the fact that some trans-men can (and do) give birth, and that trans-women can still sire a child, even after losing ‘the dangler’ if she preserves some pre-transition sperm.
It’s hardcore evidence they’re still biologically the way they were born, regardless of how they identify.
But the hell with science. If you can declare yourself a man or a woman solely on your word, why can’t you change race?
The acceptance — sometimes blind acceptance — of labels on the left and especially in the transgender community, despite biological reality, will eventually trip up those who don’t accept ‘trans-racialism’.
Clearly, POC can change color if, like transgenders, they’ve got the money. Vitiligo patients are hardly the only ones to do it. Asian and Southeast Asian women have been lightening their skin for centuries.
Rachel Dolezal is so black she culturally appropriates blonde hair. CC0 4.0 image by Aaron Robert Kathman (cropped) on Wikimedia Commons
Rachel Dolezal took it a step further than white people seeking a good tan. She sought to transform herself into someone who could ‘pass’ for black. Had she wanted to go darker, she might have done what journalist Grace Halsell did. Halsell took vitiligo treatment pills to darken her skin so she could live and work while black in Harlem and Mississippi. Her 1969 book Soul Sister details her experiences.
She followed another journalist, John Howard Griffin, who first ‘went black’ to live and work in America, particularly in the worst of the worst — Mississippi — and wrote about it in his highly controversial bestseller Black Like Me.
The controversy wasn’t his ‘appropriated’ skin color for an adventure, but that he spoke out as a white man who’d dared to experience the racism American deniers preferred to ignore. Some trans-race critics argue the natal white don’t grow up in a racist society and can never truly understand what it means to be a person of color in racist America.
Many feminists argue a ‘transwoman’ can never truly understand what it feels like to grow up in a misogynist society. Transwomen may have experienced pre-transition misogynist bullying too, for not being ‘man’ enough in others’ eyes, but it’s still not the same as boys trying to touch your breasts or cop a feel between your legs. They weren’t likely trailed down the street by much older perverts with a taste for babygirl. They got called on more in school, were told less they couldn’t do certain things, and likely had later parental curfews, if any at all. They still reaped the benefits of male privilege even if they were derided with ugly names for not being he-man.
Touché. People from a dominant group can never understand what it was like to be born into a disadvantaged one.
But if we accept gender transition, why not racial ones?
There’s historical precedent in many cultures where one is accepted as ‘one of us’ even if one looks different.
Indigenous American tribes happily accepted escaped slaves (‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend!’) along with some white people, depending on the circumstances. Once accepted into the tribe, the newcomers were treated as blood brothers and sisters, no different from those who’d been there for countless generations.
In pre-civil rights America, black people who could ‘pass’ for white often did, although they were rejected by blacks who knew their secret. And whites as well if someone found out. Grey Owl was a British-born white Native Canadian wannabe who acquired the identity of a Native Canadian, lying about his parentage to give his story the Native blood it lacked. Iron Eyes Cody was an Italian-American who played Native Americans in movies and later came to insist he was a real one. He’s best-remembered as the ‘crying Indian’ in the Keep America Beautiful PSAs every kid in America remembers from the ‘70s.
Pretty cry for a white guy!
Speaking of Indians, (the kind from India — or not) Korla Pandit was an African-American who passed himself off as someone from New Delhi in the 1940s.
There are many other examples of people from various races ‘identifying’ and passing themselves off as members of another.
T’ain’t nothing new under the big fiery sky thing.
Gender dysphoria is real and not fully understood, but the sudden ‘popularity’ of it — coinciding, as noted, with the rise of social media — makes the charge of ROGD real too. What if ‘trans-racialism’ became an Instagram thing? What if brave souls resisted the critics, the bigots, the haters and the cancellers and went from black to white, or white to black, or Indian to Chinese?
Do the reasons actually matter?
Some ‘gender dysphorics’ have cited not wanting to be gay in a homophobic society, or not wanting to live as a woman in a misogynist society as reasons for wanting to change genders. There’s a bizarre lack of criticality in the trans community and the wokenati about this. Why aren’t we asking how authentically one can truly live when one feels they have to change something fundamental about themselves to fit in? Why aren’t we asking what we need to do to fix a misogynist, homophobic, and now we can add racist society, so you can live with tits or a penis or dark skin or love your own gender without it being a social liability
? We should continue asking these difficult, uncomfortable questions, but, at least for me, accept people with their labels as long as they’re not jerks about it — i.e., less snowflake hysteria.
Like the ROGD transitioners, I don’t believe ‘transracials’ are changing out of a biology-based dysphoria. I strongly suspect white POC wannabes are reacting entirely out of socialization, and the skin-lighteners are trying to become more ‘acceptable’.
Here’s the hard reality: Just as we can ‘change gender’, we can also clearly ‘change race’. Except for our chromosomes. You die with the ones you were born with. Had Michael Jackson ever fathered children of his own, they would have displayed at least a few African-American characteristics. Biology may not be destiny but it still determines what your children look like, and what part you’re allowed to contribute.
Asa ‘racianormative’, I’m at peace with my whiteness. I’d rather change society so we can all be literally comfortable in our own skin. It’s a longer and harder slog, but I don’t believe you can live authentically if you choose a different label for the wrong reasons.
Regardless of what you’ve heard, a white skin is not a magic ticket to everything your little heart desires. Although you’ll get into the better golf clubs.
But it’s not my job to decide whether others’ reasons are wrong or right, unless you’re a ‘person with a penis’ — in scientific parlance, a man — trying to muscle your way into a domestic violence shelter or women’s gym.
As I question the authenticity of some transgender choices, I recognize some want to experiment, are tired of ‘labels’ (brave souls!), and continue a gender questioning arguably starting with the Boomers, who scandalized ‘The Establishment’ sixty years ago with gender-bending looks. (And also, famously held a disdain for labels. What goes around comes around.)
“Hey, is that a BOY or a GIRL???” The favored conservative taunt in the 1960s. By Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell — Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
It’s hypocritical to claim we can change gender but not race when clearly it’s doable for everyone. I’m not sure why the left still staunchly resists this progressive Third Rail but the history of ‘blackface’ and minstrel shows surely has something to do with it. I suggest POC who accept ‘transgender’ but not ‘trans-race’ ask themselves what’s the difference, and consider transgenderism critiques pretty closely resemble those lodged against blackfishers.
Maybe a little trans-racialism on both sides would be a good learning experience for all.
After all, many POC say, “It’s not my job to educate white people!” Okay. We’ll educate ourselves, and some may choose to cross race to find out up close and personal as two journalists once did what it means to be another race in America, however imperfectly. They might even decide to stay.
“Ha ha ha, what a silly Negro!” Eddie Murphy crosses the race barrier in a hilarious 1984 Saturday Night Live sketch.
I don’t know if transracialism is a good or bad idea yet but it’s one I may explore more. Relax, intellectually!
It seems awfully silly to insist someone is ‘a person with a penis’ or a ‘woman’ just on their say-so, then turn around and say No-no-no, you mustn’t appropriate race!
Food for thought. Soul food, perhaps…