how dolezal isn't 'trans'
September 12, 2015
Note: this is a post I wrote a while back but didn”t ever share publicly. One of my patrons has requested that this be shared. So, this is for you!
It was only a week ago that Elinor Burkett published her piece on why cis women like her get to be the only ~real~ women. Just a few days ago, a Canadian newspaper printed a story about ‘transabled” ppl. In Burkett”s piece, she says the following (which is a common tactic of white radfems):
The “I was born in the wrong body” rhetoric favored by other trans people doesn’t work any better and is just as offensive, reducing us to our collective breasts and vaginas. Imagine the reaction if a young white man suddenly declared that he was trapped in the wrong body and, after using chemicals to change his skin pigmentation and crocheting his hair into twists, expected to be embraced by the black community.
Which is somewhat topical given that there is a white woman, Rachel Dolezal, who was recently exposed as a white woman pretending to be Black. Now, I don”t expect Burkett to make even a peep about how this white woman has appropriated the identity of Black women (notice how her example is men doing this…), but I”m starting to realize that this is actually something that the transgender community actually needs to deal with. Especially the white ones.
Recently (I can”t find the link), I found an transmisogynist article written by a conservative that used disability as an analogy for transness, rather than race. At the time, I thought it was a refreshing (if equally awful) change from the analogy to race. However… now that ‘transable” is being presented on at academic conferences, I”m a lot less amused.
There are two somewhat different things at work her. On the pro-side, within white liberal identity politics and discourse, there really isn”t a substantive difference between a trans woman, a trans able person, or someone like Dolezal1. Now, I have no idea what Dolezal”s reasoning is and I don”t particularly care. I do remember getting into these discussions on tumblr and the rhetoric generally invoked transgender narratives and logic. So too does the transable ppl:
Some of his study participants do draw parallels to the experience many transgender people express of not feeling like they’re in the right body. source
How did it all come to this? What has gone wrong in our discourse such that these things are not only coherent but actually happen?
One large part of the blame does, indeed, have to go to the white trans community and how it builds its discourse. The normative narrative of the ‘wrong body” isn”t only dangerous and awful within the community, but the implications it has outside the discourse should be pretty clear here. And it isn”t accidental that these two new ‘trans” groups look toward and emulate white transgender discourse.
As far as I can tell, perhaps the biggest culprit is the medicalization of gender, which, no, the white trans community isn”t solely responsible. This is also something that cis ppl have forced into the community and continue to force us to live by. The transable article mentions how one person thinks that the transgender community distances itself from transable ppl bc we”ve worked so hard to depathologize transness.
Except. Pathologization isn”t the real issue. The real issue is medicalization. This is perhaps, clearest to see in the transable case. Where they take ‘body integrity identity disorder” and turn it into a socio-political ‘identity” via calling it ‘transable”. And, so, it all begins. About how BIID is an identity whose treatment is some kind of body modification.
And, yes, the above from conservatives and radfems show that there are many many people, united on the left and the right, who cannot and will not ever see a substantive difference between a transable person and a transgender person. The rhetoric against either is very much the same: ‘mutilating healthy bodies” or ‘going against biology”.
So, why do I think the problem is in the medicalization of gender as espoused by both cis ppl and transgender ppl?
Even when white transgender ppl don”t treat being trans as a pathologized disorder, many of them still treat it as it if it something that must be ‘treated”. Sure, the recommended course of treatment may vary from person to person, but they insist that ‘treatment” of the body is basically essential to the transgender experience.
Part of the reason why this is endemic to white ppl”s transgender discourse is because it heavily relies on cartesian dualism of mind and body (‘born in the wrong body” is only coherent in a dualistic worldview). And so, even when de-pathologized, white trans ppl general still work within this worldview. That their minds are distinct in some non-trivial fashion from their bodies, and thus, if their mind ‘disagrees” with their body, the solution is to modify the body. And, thus, this is how one treats being ‘trans”.
Within this logic, you can”t actually make a distinction between transable and race mimicry. Both hinge on a worldview in which it is coherent to assert that there is a real distinction between your mind and your body. And should that distinction cause discomfort or pain, then a person is justified in doing whatever they need to their body to relieve that discomfort. This is how medical transition is usually justified.
And honestly? Radfems and conservatives actually have a point when they point out that there is a problem with this explanation. A problem that becomes exacerbated when this transgender logic is applied within a liberal identity politics, because suddenly we have ppl advocating for ‘transable” as an identity that needs to be recognized and, perhaps, addressed by the medical community (this is definitely what transable ppl want, as noted in the last paragragh of the article). Withing a white liberal identity politics, you can”t coherently argue against ‘transable” while supporting transgender people.
Fortunately, I”m neither white nor liberal. Thus, I can and will argue against ‘transable” and racial mimicry while still asserting my right to live as the gender I am.
- I refuse to use 'transracial" to label what ppl like Dolezal do. 'Transracial adoptees" has been in usage for a long time and is meant to refer to children of colour who are adopted into families who are a different race than them (often, but not always, white families adopting poc children). Transracial adoptees have spoken about how using 'transracial" as a way to mark white ppl appropriating a different race erases their experiences and the organizing they"ve done around the issue. ↩