Friday, August 07, 2009

Becoming transracial (by Suzie)

Imagine a white boy who talks, dresses and acts in ways associated with black people. He says he hates his body; he feels like he’s really black. His parents take him to counseling, but finally conclude that he’s transracial, and they allow him to transition.

He starts speaking African American Vernacular English; he changes his walk and gestures to those he considers typical of black people; he gets salon treatments to change his hair; and he wears dark makeup. As an adult, if he has the money, he will get medical treatment to darken his skin and plastic surgery to alter his facial features. If he doesn’t have the money, he will still expect people to accept him as black. If they don’t, they will be discriminating against him, based on classism, in addition to transphobia.

Some people think his changes amount to caricature. But he may argue that his behavior is the result of biology. Or, he may feel like he has to adopt certain behaviors to increase the chances that he will be accepted as black, as well as to avoid violence for being transracial. He also says he should be cut some slack because he’s enjoying his new-found freedom. His black critics wouldn’t slam cisracial black people for acting “too black.” Or, maybe black people criticize him because, down deep, they are uncomfortable with their race, he says.

At work and on official documents, he wants to be recognized as black. He attends clubs and committees for people of color. If they don’t accept him as black, he will consider them transphobic. In fact, he feels that he is more oppressed because he is both black and transracial. He will call people of color transphobic if they accuse him of harboring white privilege, and he’ll explain that he never really felt white, and he was harassed by other whites, and so, the concept of white privilege doesn’t apply to him. He expects people to acknowledge their cisracial privilege.
Yes, I know this will make some of you angry because you think I’m being insensitive to black people and transgendered people. (For more on that subject, read this blog post and its commentary.)

I oppose discrimination against transgendered people. I do not have an “irrational fear” (phobia) of them. But I think feminists ought to be able to discuss the claims of some individuals who tie gender to biology because these theories impact our lives. In that context, I think it's appropriate to look at attitudes about race and biology.

Here’s an interesting discussion on the use of the term “cisgender” and the concept of cisgender privilege. For the record, I dislike “cisgender” because the term isn’t readily understandable by most people, and so, I wonder how much good it can do in decentering those who think they are normal. (And the goddess help anyone who thinks they're normal.) I think binaries hurt us, and I don't want to create new ones. I’ve questioned the idea of privilege recently, and will be happy to supply links for anyone interested.

Personally, I don’t feel a need for women-only spaces, but I try to be sensitive to those who do, including my lesbian-separatist sister.

When I was in women’s studies (2000-2001), critiquing feminism was the norm, but we never read anything that questioned transitioning from one gender to another, with the exception of Kate Bornstein. Cisgendered feminists who questioned were considered transphobic.

More of my thinking will come in the next post. ETA: I've inserted a link so that it will be easier to read before you curse at me. The same analogy can be used for different arguments. Please don't assume I'm trying to make the same points as other people who've brought up race.