Continuing the discussion from Popular queer Native American Twitter account turns out to be unpopular straight white woman:
I think there is a good chance that the post that spawned this might disappear, so I will summarize: The poster asked why people who believe that a person can unproblematically “choose” their (the post used “its”) gender identity believe that choosing a race/heritage/ethnicity is “forbidden”.
I am not going to respond in the thread because it’s off topic. Also, I think it is certainly the case that most of the time a person posing that question would be doing so in bad faith, trying to stir up shit, thinking they are more clever than transgender people and than people who listen to transgender people.
But the reason I’m posting this is because if you think there is a parallel between being transgender and co-opting a racial identity to sell books, promote your twitter or otherwise benefit yourself, you are flat out incorrect. I want to make it clear to anyone who thinks this is a valid point that this is not more clever than looking at the actual world and learning about actual people. It’s easy to think that if you ask a question an no one will answer you it’s because your question is one they don’t have an answer to, not because they find you insufferable.
This is a long read presented by a non-expert, so if you don’t want to waste your time, don’t waste your time.
Here’s the deal: transgender people exist. They aren’t something that millenials made up to be “woke” about. They have existed throughout human history. Because gender is a social construct transgender people have been called different things, conceptualized different ways and treated better or worse (usually worse) by different cultures.
And because gender is a social construct our concept of what it means to be transgender has embedded cultural elements. I might describe a transgender person as a person whose gender (which is a self-assigned thing) does not agree with their sex (as assigned to them by others based on the shape of their body or perhaps their genetics). Transgender people in other cultures might not think that’s a good description of their experience at all, I don’t know because I haven’t asked every transgender person in the world.
Whether we can agree on language is beside the point though, language doesn’t make reality. Fire didn’t become hot when we discovered that the heat was the average kinetic energy of the molecules. People who thought it felt hot before that weren’t hallucinating, they were experiencing reality through their own understanding which was informed by their culture. Transgender people aren’t transgender because someone else can write a definition in a dictionary, they are transgender because that’s who they are.
You don’t counter a widely felt human experience that crosses centuries and cultures by saying, “What about this person who created a fake twitter profile?”
The selfish motivation for creating a fake twitter profile to promote your real twitter profile is transparent. People lie to benefit themselves. But I’m going to go further than that: I don’t know the inner world of that professor. As a person who has the experience of hearing voices in my head, and who sometimes has ascribed demographic traits (such as age and gender) to those voices, I’m not going to say, “There’s no way that person wasn’t giving voice to a part of themselves.”
However, when you give voice to a part of yourself it’s on you to do so in a way that doesn’t harm other people. Pretending that a transgender Indigenous professor who is part of your inner world is part of actual reality is co-opting racial and trans experiences. Because your experiences are still your experiences. An out and proud trans woman friend of mine can’t (and doesn’t) claim that she had the experience of being a teenage girl, of being seen as others as a teenage girl and treated by other as a teenage girl is treated. It would be wrong for this friend of mine to go out in public and describe the sexual harassment directed at them by teenage boys when they were a teenage girl because that didn’t happen. It would be absurd.
By creating a fake twitter account of an Indigenous transgender person, the professor basically claimed to have the life experience of being treated as an Indigenous person in society and made claims based on that. That’s not okay. And it’s in no way equivalent to a person coming out as transgender to their family, their coworkers or the public - a painful experience at the best of times that can’t possibly create any benefit other than the benefit of being true to yourself and being accepted for who you are (neither of which make any sense unless you are actually being true to yourself).
People have really thought this stuff out, and I’m not even one of them. I’m just giving an off-the-cuff layperson account of this based on conversations with a friend, reading one book, and reading things like the transphobia discussions on this blog. To anyone who thinks they are cleverer than transgender people and their allies because they can say, “What about Rachel Dolezal” I just want to say that the dismissal you get isn’t because you’ve outsmarted people. It’s because thoughtful people have looked beyond the simple interpretations of sex and gender that they acquired when they were young children and actually figured this out. And - I wish this went without saying but it doesn’t - a disproportionate number of those thoughtful people are transgender.
And by the way, yes, somewhere in the big wide world there is someone who is lying to you about being transgender because people do almost everything for all kinds of reasons. If you want to say that you don’t believe people when they tell you their gender because people lie then I guess that’s your jam. Just as long as you don’t believe apparently cisgender people. Because the odds anyone has ever in your life misled you into thinking they are trans are very, very low. But somewhere out there you have a transgender friend, coworkers, cousin, parent, child, etc., and if you don’t believe that gender is self-defined then they are definitely keeping that secret from you.
ETA: I realize that in posting this, just like I did when I posted the White Culture thread, I’m basically opening the doorway to some real fucking bullshit. Plus, I get that I might be inviting debate on whether transgender people exist. So let me be clear: that is not a subject for debate. If someone implies transgender people don’t exist or are equivalent to someone making up a false identity on twitter they either need to educate themselves, or to be told that that’s some unacceptable shit, probably both (if only they had the emotional fortitude to hear “that’s unacceptable” and think, “oh, I should probably go educate myself”).