There have been a lot of stories in the news recently about transgender issues. These include the Trump administration’s rollback of transgender guidelines that were issued under President Obama, and the transgender boy who won a Texas girls wrestling championship (not surprising, given that this biological female takes testosterone in order to give her a more masculine appearance). Another story caught my eye that, at first, seems unrelated but is quite pertinent to the discussion over transgender identity. Note: When I use the term transracial, I am not referring to the normal practice of adults adopting children who belong to a different race than they do.
The transgender/transracial connection
Last year the head of the Spokane NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, was discovered to have two white parents. While the organization for blacks does have white leaders, some of its members claim Dolezal misled them into thinking she was black. Dolezal resigned, is reportedly living on food stamps, and may soon be homeless. But Dolezal (who just changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo) still asserts that she is black:
I feel like the idea of being trans-black would be much more accurate than ‘I’m white.’ Because you know, I’m not white. . . . To say that I’m black is to say, this is how I see the world, this is the philosophy, the history, this is what I love and what I honor. Calling myself black feels more accurate than saying I’m white.
When the Dolezal story broke, many who were sympathetic to her cause asked, “If Caitlyn Jenner can be a woman, why can’t Rachel Dolezal be black?” In response, a flurry of articles and blogs came out saying that the concepts of transgender and transracial are not equivalent. These authors claimed that being transgender is a legitimate identity that others should accept, whereas being transracial is a psychological disorder or even a case of malicious fraud. (though one has to wonder, if Dolezal said she was a black man, would she be hailed as half fraud, half hero?)
However, if transracial identity is comparable to transgender identity, and transracial identity is a fraud or disorder, it follows that transgender identity would also be fraudulent or disordered. That’s what worries activists who defend transgender identity and motivates them to put forward the following arguments, neither of which survives rational scrutiny.
Transracial identity involves offensive cultural appropriation
Objections based on “cultural appropriation” claim that it is offensive for someone who has not had to endure the trials associated with a minority identity to claim it as their own (especially if the person doing it is a member of a “privileged class” like a white person). One author puts it this way: “As a white woman, Dolezal retains her privilege; she can take out the box braids and strip off the self-tanner and navigate the world without the stigma tied to actually being black.”
First, this objection doesn’t work if someone who identifies as being transracial undergoes surgery to permanently alters his skin and hair in order to look like a member of another race. Second, it cuts against those who identify as being transgender. If a biological male identifies as being a woman, wouldn’t that be an example of cultural appropriation because he has not had to endure the trials of being a woman? After all, in many cases he can take off his wig and dress in order to navigate the world without the stigma tied to actually being, in this case, female.
In a 2015 interview with Buzzfeed, Caitlyn Jenner said, “The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.” This comment, of course, earned the ire of women who would rank childbirth, parenting, and enduring sexual harassment as being much tougher for women than navigating one’s closet.
This argument actually proves that if it is offensive for a white person to pretend to be a black person, it is just as offensive for a man to pretend to be a woman.
Transracial identity is fraudulent and disordered
Like the “cultural appropriation” argument, this argument claims that because we know from biology what someone’s race is, people who identify as transracial are either deluded or lying. However, the property of being a man or woman, according to these advocates, comes from gender, which is not biologically inherited, as is race. In fact, one LGBT advocate says:
People who are transgender do not lie about their gender identity. Instead they acknowledge that the gender prescribed to them at birth does not match how they feel. Rachel Dolezal on the other hand is a white woman who lied about being black in order to elevate her professional standing as an Africana professor and activist.
So when Caitlyn Jenner says, “I am a woman,” that’s “true” because Jenner is speaking about an internal sense of gender, and that (rather than biological sex) is what determines whether someone is a man or a woman. But this same reasoning can be applied to people like Rachel Dolezal.
A transracial person could say that being black reflects her “jender” (to coin a word that describes her internal sense of race). She might say that being transracial means “the jender prescribed to me at birth—white—does not match how I feel.” Her claim to being black, then, would be a true description of how she sees herself. One could even come up with other categories like “schmender” and say this refers to an internal sense of age rather than one’s biological age and, when the two do not match up, that person is isn’t mistaken or deluded about her age, she’s simply a trans-schmender person.
Ultimately, there is no logic to saying that a person’s internal sense of race can’t determine his racial identity but a person’s internal sense of sex can determine whether he is male or female. If a person who advocates for transgender rights wants to be consistent, he must either also advocate for transracial rights or else reject the transgender ideology and help people discover their true identities as children of God who were created in his image to be male or female.