Monday, June 22, 2015


Recently Rachel Dolezal has been in the news. I do know that by now we've moved on to more serious issues, but it's taken me this long to organize my thoughts.

Recently Rachel Dolezal has been in the news. And I have to think about her because so many people are saying "If Caitlyn Jenner can pretend to be a woman, why can't Rachel Dolezal pretend to be black?" Dolezal is not only co-opting the black struggle, she's co-opting the trans struggle as well.

This means that people have been talking a lot lately about the differences and similarities between racial identity and gender identity. To be honest, it makes my brain hurt. I want to talk about something slightly different.

First of all, trans people do have a history. Comparing Jenner to Dolezal makes it sound like Jenner is the only trans person who ever existed, Dolezal is the only white person we've ever heard of who pretended to be black, so they're the same. Of course that is not the case. I've got nothing against Caitlyn Jenner, but she was a media spectacle. That's her business. There are many more trans people out there than most people have any idea of. Most of them don't seek the spotlight. Trans and gender-non-conforming people have existed throughout history. They fought and died for the right to be who they were.

It does bother me when people say that Dolezal didn't "earn the right to be black," because the same thing is said about trans people (especially trans women, because apparently you have to earn the right to be oppressed on the basis of gender or skin color.) But I do feel pretty strongly that Dolezal hasn't earned the right to be considered "trans." People don't know how much we have to go through in order to transition. You don't just slap on some makeup (for girls) and change your hairstyle and that's it, you're trans. You don't transition because it will help you get the job you want.

One of the many comments that I've read on this subject sticks with me:
Rachel Dolezal is being defended as a White woman consuming Black womanhood; not as a Black woman. People know she is a White woman and are defending her as a White woman to be allowed to have the “right” to engage in this White parasitism, what White people have always deemed their right. No one defends Black women this vigorously for anything whatsoever.
No one defends trans people this vigorously either.

Dolezal does have one thing in common with trans people: a habit of lying. The difference is that trans people are required to lie BEFORE transition. After transition, even though habits are hard to break, most of us grow out of it. (Then the world accuses us of deception, because they don't understand that we were lying before.)

I understand some of the reasons why people lie. We lie because telling the truth doesn't feel safe. We lie when telling the truth does not benefit us. We lie because we've been boxed into a corner and there doesn't seem to be any better option. Authenticity is about finding a piece of the truth and deciding to stand by it, no matter what price you have to pay.

I maintain that if Dolezal had discovered her true self, her authentic black self, she wouldn't lie about it now. She wouldn't evade questions. She wouldn't walk out of interviews. She wouldn't post photos of herself with a black man and claim he's her father. She wouldn't say "there's no evidence that those people are my biological parents." (I do think that her parents are horrible and I'm perfectly happy to blame them for her behavior.) Every single one of these deceptions and evasions contradicts her claim to authenticity.

Maybe, like recently outed Congressman Randy Boehning, she could have said she feels a sense of relief. “I don’t have to look over my shoulder any more.” Yes, we do know something about being outed. We know the right way and the wrong way to respond. Say it loud, Rachel. "I'm black and I'm proud." If you can't do that . . . then you're not being true to yourself.

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