People have been trying to compare the Rachel Dolezal scandal to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out–but they’re totally wrong.
If you haven’t already heard about Rachel Dolezal, you will soon. The woman has received a flurry of media attention and is reportedly in talks to star in her own reality show. To sum things up, she’s a white woman who has pretended to be black for the past 10 years, taking on leadership roles in activist spaces and even giving lectures about the black experience. Needless to say, she’s a complete psycho. So, of course, the whole world is obsessed with her.
As much as I hate to contribute to the obsession the world currently has with this woman, her story has struck a chord with me in a very triggering way. In the wake of this scandal, countless think-pieces and Facebook posts have been going around, comparing Rachel’s blackface to the transgender experience, especially Caitlyn Jenner’s recent coming out.
In all honestly, reading the transphobic reaction many people had to the whole situation triggered me and had me doubting my identity. Even though I’ve thought about stuff like this before, seeing so many people come out in support of a woman who is very clearly mentally ill had me feeling like I’m crazy for being trans.
I managed to bring myself down to earth—but not without the help of my best queer friends and some great online activists. Here are some of the things they taught me about this situation and how it relates—or not—to being transgender.
‘Transracial’ is a thing—but it’s not what you think it is.
Believe it or not, you really can be transracial—but it doesn’t mean you were born the wrong race or ethnicity. As YouTuber Kat Blaque pointed out, “Transracial is actually a term used to describe adoptions where the parents are of a different race than the children that they adopt.”
So, Rachel’s adopted brothers are transracial, since they’re black and Rachel’s biological parents are white—but she’s still not anything other than white.
Race and gender are both social constructs, but not in exactly the same way.
One of the main arguments in defense of Rachel is that race and gender are both social constructs, so Rachel should be free to identify as black, the way Caitlyn identifies as a woman. At first glance, this argument makes sense, but when you look a little deeper, it all falls apart.
Kat explained things perfectly. “Race and gender are absolutely social constructs,” she said in a recent video shared on EverydayFeminism. “The difference is that gender is not a biological trait passed from parent to child, whereas race is.“
Yes, people are assigned ‘male’ or ‘female’ at birth—that’s their sex—but gender is an identity that is enforced by society, or expressed by an individual, sometimes taking bits and pieces from society’s understandings of ‘man and woman.’ As Kat put it, “The idea of being ‘genetically a man’ is a fallacy. Male and female are sex. Man and woman are gender. Both are socially constructed.”
Another way the constructs of race and gender are different is history. (I’m going to sound like a substitute history teacher for a minute, but bear with me.) Race, as we know it, was created by white people during colonization to keep people of color oppressed. Gender, on the other hand, has existed in some way—in many ways—throughout history and cultures.
In fact, many cultures have not only recognized a variety of gender identities, but sometimes holds these “third” and “fourth” genders in high regards. Take, for instance, the “two spirit” people who were widely-respected in many Native American tribes. The thing is, European settlers are the ones who disproved of those identities. So to be “transracial” in this way makes literally no sense.
The lady is straight-up lying.
A popular—and offensive—belief about trans people is that we’re trying to deceive people. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Rachel, on the other hand, has straight-up lied about so many things, it’s hard to take her “transracial” bullshit seriously in the first place. However, many people are still making the comparison between trans people affirming their identity through their appearance, and Rachel getting a tan and wearing a weave to “pass” for black.
The difference? “She can go home and wash off her self-tanner and wash off her perm,” said Kat. “But I can’t wash off my gender—and that’s something that isn’t defined by my makeup.”
While trans people can take off certain gendered things they wear to express their identities—clothing, makeup, even a weave—their gender remains constant, just as everyone’s race remains constant. “While my gender has changed, my race will always remain the same,” Kat said of her experience as a transwoman.
As a trans person, it’s frustrating—and triggering—to hear people say ignorant things about stories like this. But the good part is we can use these moments to educate others—and educate ourselves. After being triggered by some of the commentary surrounding this story, I now feel more confident in my identity than ever, and inspired to make a change. (Which is why I’m blogging for the first time in forever.) And it’s all thanks to the great activists out there who shared their knowledge and their truths online. Because that’s what being trans is about—being truthful.
“As a transwoman, I don’t like being compared to someone who’s a liar,” Kat said. “I am not being dishonest by being who I am today. Who I am today is the most truthful incarnation of myself.”
Kat spilled so much more tea in her video about the Rachel/Caitlyn comparisons. Check it out below: