The other night as The Boy and I were laying in bed cue sexy music, he turned to look at me as if to say „I love you more than anything else and I promise to do all the dishes in our new apartment“ and yet what he actually said went something like this: If being transgender is socially acceptable, why isn't being transracial accepted? Because it's the same thing if gender and race are constructs.
I can only assume that this sentence was either due to a spontaneous and quickly-remified speech impediment and that he will actually be in charge of dish washing in our new place, or a sly torture attempt to ruin any chances I had at getting a good night's sleep. I'm going to assume the former – but it has played on my mind since then and so I will answer his question as best I can.
Because white people.
Ok maybe that wasn't a complete answer– but that is what it comes down to. Now I know some people are going to get up in arms over this and just trust me, I will explain myself – just let me get to that.
First up: Transracial has traditionally been used to describe children whose race doesn't align with that of their adoptive parents. Dictionary.com however– which is to the Oxford or Cambridge dictionary as WebMD is to a doctor – defines it as „involving or between two or more racial groups.“ So, depending how strictly we view race and how far you are willing to look back: Almost everyone could count themselves as transracial by that definition.
However, that didn't answer our question. In order to explain why transgender and transracial are not the same thing to The Boy, I used basic feminist (oooh the F word!) theory, as did he: Gender and race are constructs. What he forgot to add is that a construct needs a central point, something to compare everything to. For gender – men are this central point and women, transgender people and people who don't identify with any particular gender are therefore 'the others.' For race, white people make up this central point, meaning anyone that is less than white cannot be considered white.
Enough theory for today!
So let's put this into perspective with some examples from both sides of the argument:
- Children born to parents of two different racial backgrounds will never be considered white even if one of their parents is and they identify as such. Obama is an excellent example of this. He was raised by his two white grandparents and white mother and had little contact to his Kenyan father – and yet his main claim to fame in years to come will probably be as the first black president.
- On the other hand, many children of native people all throughout the world were stolen from their homes during the 19th and 20th centuries in order to re-educate and raise them in an anglicized environment – in other words – to make them white. But this didn't actually make them white, these children would not grow up to be recognised by society as white, even if they personally saw themselves that way.
- Michael Jackson: Vitiligo (a disease which causes skin depigmentation) and dangerous amount of surgery or not, Michael Jackson was never considered white, even when he was so pale he made my foundation look like bronzer.
And yet Rachel Dolezal (Google her) only had to get a fake tan and a perm to be accepted as black, which comes back to my point about white people. Transracialism as The Boy believes to exist, is a one-way street. White people can choose to identify with their immigrant forefathers at any time and yet maintain their privileges (Ooh the P word!) but people of any other skin colour or race cannot gain white privileges even if they identify as white. What Rachel Dolezal did is not being transracial. It is being racially manipulative and using her privilege to deceive people. She didn't grow up being black and share their experiences, she could (have) wipe(d) off the fake tan at any moment and go(ne) back to her life as a white American woman and yet she chose to be black, or possibly she truly felt black, but the point is that whilst the privilege of choosing a race was afforded to her as a white person, it is not afforded to people of other races.
Transgender is aligning your gender identity (rather than your assigned gender) with your outer appearance and behaviour among other things. Options for transitioning vary according to country and culture but in countries currently more accepting of transgender people we see people from diverse racial backgrounds transitioning. It is a two-way street, not a fair street admittedly, one side definitely has a lot more traffic lights and road blocks – but at least there are two lanes.
Transracialism doesn't offer that, if race is measured by a group's differentiation from the central point then everything is measured by whiteness. White people are therefore the default that get to choose where 'the others' land on their manufactured scale. When white people have this privileged position of choosing who goes where, they can also choose where they want to go - but when the others don't get the same opportunity (which they don't), then it is not this utopian idea of transracialism where you go to a build-a-race workshop and pick out what works best for you as an individual being compared to transgenderism, but rather white people identifying as whatever they want, no matter how tenuous the link (I'm looking at you 14th generation American Irish people!) and yet forcing their own racial views and identities onto 'the others' and this cannot be compared to the transgender movement.
Like I said, white people.
Hope all is well.