Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner and the Elephant in the Room

We don’t talk about these issues in depth. Truly, we don’t. We celebrate some people for carving out their own identies and condemn others for doing the same. Since we hail from a past of condemning everyone different, I think this is somewhat of a step forward.

I do not think it is the right step.

Isn’t the point of progressivism to step beyond these labels: female, male, white, black, hispanic, old, young, fat, skinny, etc, etc, etc? Isn’t the entire purpose to break out of these boxes? To yell from our rooftops and windows that these labels do not define us, do not tell us how to think, feel or act?

This, I believe, is where we have gone hugely astray. We’ve devolved to the point of unintentionally doing that which we were trying so hard to fight against: reinforcing stereotypes. 

When we insist on changing our race or gender, aren’t we implying certain stereotypes to the above race/ gender? Black people don’t all think the same thoughts. Women don’t all feel the same feelings. 

Before you start spitting at your computer screen, I have no problem with trans people. If you feel you are a different gender, do what you need to do.

Here’s my concern: I worry we are creating a culture where it’s not okay to simply feel feminine and be male, where it’s not okay to identify with certain threads in one race while belonging to another. 

For all the people that insist that it is not possible to feel like a particular race, that race is a societal issue, I offer myself as Rachel Dolezal Exhibit A. I have accidentally referred to myself as white at least twice in my life. Yes, I am Indian. Yes, I carry with me that Indian culture and my parents had an arranged marriage and I speak Telegu and I mostly understand Hindi and in a lot of ways, dammnit, I feel white.

What I do not feel is some overwhelming need to surgically alter my skin color to reflect my socioeconomic upbringing. Why? Because I do not buy into the stereotype that ALL white people MUST have been raised in middle class, American suburbs, nor the stereotype that ALL Indians MUST have been raised in villages and grown to become doctors or engineers. Those experiences are not universal to any subset of people. There may be an average, but there is not a universal. 

In technical terms, fuck that shit. Humans are complex, multi-faceted beings, and never is one meager label sufficient to encompass one entire life. White people are allowed to be poor. Indians are allowed to be well-off. We can break the rules, we can be different, we can be ourselves without needing to make our physical bodies “match” our unique thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

Many people insist that the true cause of outrage directed at Rachel Dolezal is her deception. Really? I’m not defending her, but I’d like to highlight our inconsistency: if a trans woman had lied about her gender and falsified documents to substantiate her claims, we would have rushed to her defense, citing the potential emotional harms of being truthful and unaccepted, insisting that the world is to blame, is unprepared to be open-minded, and subsequently bitten off the heads of anyone who used the wrong pronoun. 

Point being: we draw an arbitrary line when our arguments are extended to their natural conclusions. 

What if we all take a step back and consider? When did it become not okay to just be yourself, the way you were born, without needing to change anything?

There are a great many ways in which I feel masculine, as well. Growing up, I hated being female. Hated it. No, I am not belittling or mocking trans people. There was a significant period of my life where I would have killed to be male. I’ve never actually told anyone this (Surprise, dear husband!) Every weekend I’d go griping to my mother:

“I hateeeeee being a girl.”

“What! No, you don’t! That’s silly!”

(No, parents, I’m not advocated you be dismissive). 

If my mother had instead replied with: “But do you feel male? Are you sure? Okay, well if you feel the same way in two years, let’s get you a sex change,” I could easily have been male today. I’m still not joking. There are all of these aspects of me that feel so male: I’m aggressive, domineering. I have loud opinions which, with that ever-present Hillary Clinton effect, is somehow always more accepted in men. Heck, even last week I felt this way. It can be tough, being a part of an insular community of stay-at-home moms and having unpopular and outspoken values on parenting. Sometimes I genuinely feel like I was born into the wrong gender. Sometimes I think I’d make a killer head of the household (though, if I really wanted, I could do this as a female). 

And yet, I love being a woman. Absolutely love it. I love being different and carving out my own niche in stay-at-home-motherhood-ness. I love paving the way for other odd people that don’t quite seem to fit in and helping them see, by example, that being different is okay

Back when I was 12 and telling my mom how much I wanted to be a boy, I hated myself. Didn’t know it at the time, but I hated myself, so I hated my gender because it was a part of me. I had a whole host of other problems I hadn’t even begun to recognize. 

I have a friend that actually went through this process. Hated herself, became male, still hated himself, finally dealt with his problems, and went back to being female.

And NO, to clarify again, I am NOT suggesting that all trans people are merely running from other problems. How could I possibly know?

All I am saying is that with a decision this big, isn’t it worth trying first to explain that inexplicable urge?

My friend now wishes she’d stopped the hormone treatments earlier on, before her voice dropped so much. Physically, that’s not something you can undo. 

Lucky for us, physically is not what matters. What matters is who we are on the inside, and that endures no matter what changes we force on our bodies. 

How about instead of celebrating or criticizing, what if instead we dig deeper, ask questions, seek to understand, but, above all, accept and love? 


One thought on “Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner and the Elephant in the Room

  1. Yes, I’ve figured that if there wasn’t such a line in the sand and we were allowed to be who we are, there would be no need to surgically alter our bodies. IMHO

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