Why can’t you be transracial?

August 2, 2023 • 11:30 am

A while back there was some discussion about whether people could claim that they were members of a race/ethnicity other than the one they were born into. The paradigmatic example was Rachel Dolezal, a white woman in Spokane, Washington who claimed to be black, and altered her appearance to match her claims. She worked her way up to the presidency of the local NAACP before she was outed by her family and the press. She was thereby fired from the NAACP, and hugely demonized for pretending she was black. It became clear that “transracialism” was not something one could do, in huge contrast with claiming one is transgender, which is not only largely accepted but lauded.

My first reaction was to believe Dolezal’s claim that she did feel she was black, and so why was she demonized in contrast to a natal woman who claims that she really is a man trapped in a woman’s body? There doesn’t seem to be a fundamental philosophical or moral difference between transracialism and transgenderism so long as the claimant expresses honest feelings. Sure, you can make up reasons why slight differences would render the former unacceptable, but they’re just made-up reasons to somehow defend the sanctity of race. To see the lengths people will go to demonize transracialism, read some of the arguments in the NBC News article below.

The philosophical similarity of transgenderism and transracialism was thoroughly discussed by philosopher Rebecca Tuvel in the journal Hypatia in a 2017 article called “In Defense of Transracialism,” (see my take here), and Tuvel was instantly demonized, with the journal’s editor apologizing on Facebook and petitions circulating calling for the article’s retraction. This is all because, in a philosophical analysis, Tuvel didn’t find a substantive difference between transsexualism and transracialism. Here’s her abstract and a footnote:

(Note Tuvel’s footnote when you read the critiques of transracialism in the article below.)

And yes, I agree with Tuvel. If society deems it okay to assume the trappings of a sex other than your natal sex, then they should also accept one who assumes the trappings of a race different from their natal race, so long as the transracial persona comes from honest motivations. After all, both gender and race are said to be social constructs (they aren’t, but it’s irrelevant)(, so why is it okay to change gender but not change race? The only reason I see is that “race” is seen as somehow sacrosanct, even though, like sex, it’s something you’re born with (both natal sex and race actually have biological realities). Race is such a touchy and divisive topic these days that it’s apparently regarded as something that an individual cannot change, even if, like Dolezal, you’re transitioning from a “privileged” race to a “minoritized one.”  And this is often the direction in which it goes.

This controversy is the subject of this NBC News article. Click to read:

The upshot is that many people are now trying to assume a new race—most of them young women, and most of them trying to become East Asian.  This is often done by some numinous method called “subliminals,” whereby you can change your appearance by listening to audio files. That’s hokum, of course, but let’s ignore that and look at the arguments against people who feel they’re Asian and want others to accept them as such. Or against those who want to change their natal race to anything at all. NBC News doesn’t quote a single person in the article who says that this change is okay. Quotes from the article are indented:

Practitioners of what they call “race change to another,” or RCTA, purport to be able to manifest physical changes in their appearance and even their genetics to become a different race. They tune in to subliminal videos that claim can give them an “East Asian appearance” or “Korean DNA.”

But experts underscore that it is simply impossible to change your race.

“It’s just belief,” said Jamie Cohen, an assistant professor of cultural and media studies at Queens College, City University of New York. “It doesn’t ever really work, because it’s not doing anything, but they have convinced themselves that it works because there’s other people who have convinced themselves, as well.”

Well, maybe you’re not changing your genetics to correspond with the ethnic groups we call “races”, but neither are transgender (sometimes called “transsexual”) people changing their gametes. It’s changing your persona, and you can do that with race as easily as you can with gender. Cohen’s argument is simply incoherent, because both transgenderism and transsexualism are “just belief”!

Here’s another argument:

Experts agree race is not genetic. But they contend that even though race is a cultural construct, it is impossible to change your race because of the systemic inequalities inherent to being born into a certain race.

David Freund, a historian of race and politics and an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, corroborates the idea that a “biological race” does not exist. What we know today as “race” is a combination of inherited characteristics and cultural traditions passed down through generations, he said.

In addition, Freund said, the modern concept of race is inseparable from the systemic racial hierarchy hundreds of years in the making. Simply put, changing races is not possible, because “biological races” themselves are not real.

Freund added that the idea of changing one’s race operates differently depending on a person’s racial background and that white people who seek to “transition” to other races can often sidestep the harms of racism.

First of all, as Luana and I show in our Skeptical Inquirer article, race (even in its crudest classification) does have a polygenic basis: races and ethnicities conform very well to cluster analysis based on many genes. And of course sex devolves to a activated genes that set off a pathway resulting in whether you have the equipment to make sperm or eggs. Biology is key in forming both one’s natal ethnicity and natal sex.  So if you can change one because you’re uncomfortable, why can’t you change the other? (By “change”, of course, I mean “change the claim of what you are”, not change the reality of your biological sex and race.)

So Freund is wrong about that.  But what about the sex hierarchy of women’s inferiority that was also hundreds of years in the making? Again, though, I don’t see the relevance of a “hierarchy” argument, especially because most people who want to change their race are going from white to a “person of color”—the direction of accruing more bigotry. (Apparently black people “passing for white” because of their light skin is not so bad, except in the Jim Crow South that adhered to the “one drop” rule.)

Another critic:

Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at City University of New York, said: “There is a privilege in being able to change your race or to say that you’re changing your race. There are many people who would be unable to ever change their race. Particularly, Black people in this country would be unable to say all of a sudden ‘I’m white’ and be treated with the same privileges that white people have.”

Again the argument doesn’t make sense. People who want to change their race, like Dolezal, meet with huge opposition.  While there are indeed transphobes, the general tenor of liberal thought is to accept someone’s claim that their self-identified gender differs from their natal gender.  Again, why does race differ? Sure, it’s hard for a black person to claim that they’re white if their pigmentation and other traits are obviously black, but that’s also the case for many natal men who claim that their identity is that of a women but still look like men.  In both cases one can accept the change of persona while still recognizing the natal origins of someone. (To be polite, though, one should address someone as they wish to be addressed and identified—except in cases like sports and prisons, where natal sex should be recognized.)

One more:

Tiq Milan, a Black transgender activist and writer, said it is a disservice to transgender people to compare the two. Race historically emerged as a social construct to establish a racial hierarchy with the white race at the top, whereas variances in gender identity have existed for thousands of years, he said.

“When it comes to who we are as racialized people, it is how we present to the world, but it’s also how people treat you,” Milan said. “It’s not just putting on the hair and the makeup and talking and walking [in] a kind of way. That is fetishizing, and it’s objectifying, and it reduces the beautiful and complicated cultures of people of color.”

First, I don’t think race was “constructed” to establish a hierarchy; as far as I know, race wasn’t used by the ancient Romans or Egyptians to rank ethnicities, and at any rate Egyptians aren’t white.  Of course recognition of different types of both ethnicity and gender have existed for thousands of years. But that seems irrelevant too, as does the “beautiful and complicated cultures of people of color” (is this an implication that people of no color have inferior cultures?).  All that matters to me is that people can claim either a gender or an ethnicity different from their natal condition, and if there are good reasons for this, and it’s not a hoax but a real feeling, why should race and sex differ?

It goes on, but not one person was asked to defend transracialism. (Why didn’t they call Rebecca Tuvel?)

In the end, my view is that if you’re going to go along with people’s claims that they’re of a different natal gender than their natal sex, then there’s no reason not to do the same with race or ethnicity. It may be harder for race if natal race is obvious, but it’s often hard for transgender people too, like accepting the claim of a natal man with a mustache and penis that he’s of female gender.

Now in neither case do we have to accept the reality of claims like “I’m a woman” from a natal man or “I’m an East Asian” from a natal white person. But I think it’s entirely possible to identify with a race other than your natal race, and we should treat those who do so the same as we do transgender folks.

The only difference I can see is that there are racial set-asides, as in affirmative action, and it seems unfair to say you’re black when you were born white just to take advantage of these. But such set-asides are disappearing, and really shouldn’t exist at all. And remember that there are female set-asides as well, and those also seem unfair. Most of us think that a transgender woman should not be able to compete on female athletic teams.

Perhaps the readers can find a relevant philosophical difference for treating transracialism different from transsexualism.  I don’t fully understand why they’re treated differently, nor do the explanations above clarify things for me. It seems to pivot on the centrality of race in public discourse, but even that isn’t very helpful since biological sex and trangenderism are also hot topics these days.

For a sarcastic take on the NBC article, read the Not The Bee piece below (click to read, h/t Luana):


88 thoughts on “Why can’t you be transracial?

  1. I usually ignore typos, but I think you’re missing a “not” in this sentence which reverses its intended meaning: “In the end, my view is that if you’re going to go along with people’s claims that they’re of a different natal gender than their natal sex, then there’s no reason [not] to do the same with race or ethnicity.”

  2. As for Rachel Dolezal, Netflix has an insightful documentary about her, “The Rachel Divide.” In it, she explains the structure and dynamics of her family of origin that propelled her to begin thinking of herself as black. It’s a fascinating film, and will almost surely leave you feeling quite sorry for her.

    1. Yes I felt sorry for her too. She had good familial reasons to think of herself as growing up in a black family and as a black person. The hair and other embellishments hurt her public perception, but that seemed incidental to the sincere view of herself as black. But as Jerry says that doesn’t mean anyone else has to accept her claim as true.

  3. This is the most perfect quote:

    “It’s just belief,” said Jamie Cohen, an assistant professor of cultural and media studies at Queens College, City University of New York. “It doesn’t ever really work, because it’s not doing anything, but they have convinced themselves that it works because there’s other people who have convinced themselves, as well.”

    1. Yes, I’d love to hear him say that about transgender people – or else explain what he thinks the difference is.

  4. I’m thinking that in the same way we separate genetically based sex and gender identity, we can separate genetically based race and racial identity. Rachel Dolezal is not Black but she identifies as Black. Then, it’s up to the NAACP to decide their standards for joining.

    1. Is “racial identity” different from living the culture associated with a given race? If not, what does it mean?

      1. I mean the race you identify as. And if you identify as a race different from your genetic race then it’s likely you would adopt their culture too. But that wouldn’t be necessary.

        Now, I’m guessing that the NAACP is not going to accept Black racial identity if the person isn’t genetically Black (in fact, they didn’t) but they could if they wanted to.

    1. Queer Theory perhaps solves this – everybody mating with everybody, all the time, for any reason – “sexual citizenship” (direct quote from the sex ed literature) – eventually we’ll get back to the state of grace we fell from with everyone all mixed in uniformly – “man” creating society, creating “man” (Marx’s word “man”).

    2. Surely the long, and sometimes successful, history of Afro-Americans both desiring to “pass for white” (impelled by, bluntly, Structural Racism) and the non-trivial number of people who have succeeded (implying “mutable race”, in practice) argues against your assertion being correct.
      Of course, measuring prevalence of success in “passing for” (in any of the multiple possible directions) is hampered in practice by the deliberate mendacity involved. You never get to know about the truly successful practitioners.

  5. I think the people who believe that race is a social construct and can’t be changed, innately recognize the same thing as the rest of us, which is that appropriating someone else’s suffering (in this case by proxy of their group identity) is disrespectful the same way stolen valor is. However, ideology comes first, so they have to invent a gobbledygook explanation to reconcile their cognitive dissonance. This is literally what it means to be deluded.

    1. Culture is a social construct, there is a fascinating literary history built around the idea of someone being physically of a particular race, but culturally of a completely different one.

      There is an interview on YouTube with someone of European background who grew up heavily immersed in Japanese culture, the dichotomy between the way they look and the language they speak (They are more comfortable speaking Japanese than English) and the culture that lies behind their very gestures is mesmerizing.

  6. There have been strong reactions in Canada towards people who falsely claim First Nations ancestry (“pretendians”). Such people frequently claim official First Nations status (with the legal consequences of that), government assistance and awards that are intended for First Nations people, so there’s good grounds for this animus, but further, First Nations people feel that it’s up to them to decide who belongs among them. Hard to argue against this, but also hard to see why such a criterion of acceptance isn’t more universally applied.

    1. Native American tribes have been incentivized both to increase and decrease the number of their members, depending on the legal/economic advantages to be had. (DNA testing is sometimes decidedly unwelcome, because it can lead to embarrassing results.) Without separation of race and state, this situation seems inevitable. Who would want to forego racial spoils?

      1. (DNA testing is sometimes decidedly unwelcome, because it can lead to embarrassing results.)

        What’s the “unexpected paternity” rate? Averaged over Canada, or over a State, or over a (First or Second) Nation, or over a clan (pick a definition) or over a professed family group?

      2. Incidentally, since Canada has First Nations, it implicitly also has Second Nations. I doubt that the seam has been missed by Canadian politicians and other comedians, but I don’t recall hearing about it in the outside world.
        Obviously there’s the trivial level that Torontonians consider Ottowans to be Second Nations, and vice versa. (Repeat with any two teams, possibly even in similar sports.)

  7. Indeed.

    I’m thinking Marx and — though he is an “intellectual swindler” (look it up – maybe Eric Voegelin) — Marx’s goal of communism, which is really Utopia.

    We would know Utopia when there is no race, sex, eye color, handedness, or individual distinctions of any sort? … or Thomas More (Utopia, 1516 – public domain!) might have put it differently.

    So… I guess a CRISPR/Cas9 kit should do it – just edit the melanin gene, or double it, IDK.

    A terrible, Lysenkoist idea. But how would it be inconsistent with Utopia?

    … is that the possessive of Marx? Marx’s?

    1. Marx’s is okay or you can just write Marx’. The terminal ‘x’ is like a terminal s in a name like James which can be written in the possessive as James’.

  8. I think that there MIGHT be a substantial difference between transgender and transracialism, but it requires to ditch the idea that gender isn’t innate but only due to self-identification.

    Some studies SEEM to show that gender is innate in terms of brain activation patterns AND that there are some people whose brain patterns don’t align with their sex.

    IF that’s true then there is a possibility that some people might experience a mismatch between their brain activation patterns and their physical sex, for whatever reason.

    However in recent times people have been supporting the idea that gender is just due to self-identification, which DOES make a comparison with transracialism more appropriate.

    I think that the real issue here is gender relying entirely on self-identification, which creates issues in terms of deciding who is really suffering from dysphoria and who
    instead is just identifying with the opposite gender for other reasons.

    1. The study you mention about brain morphology and gender identity is wrong because they didn’t control for same-sex attraction. And even if we can’t see morphological differences for transracial tendencies, what if there are NEURONAL patterns that lead one to feel they’re of a different ethnicity than their natal condition?

    2. And this study which *does* control for same-sex sexual orientation finds that “trans” people have brain structures similar to those of other members of the same sex (not the opposite sex).

      Burke, S.M., Manzouri, A.H. & Savic, I. Structural connections in the brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation. Sci Rep 7, 17954 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17352-8

  9. Years ago in an effort to keep an open mind about the Tuvel affair, I began reading an essay on ‘The Daily Nous’, which one might characterize as a woke (in the pejorative sense) philosophy Web site. Before I got to the second page of the essay, IIRC, the author dismissed trans-racialism because, “it is not politically useful.” Maybe I was impatient, but that seemed to confirm the woke stereotype right from the start. I quit reading the essay and never looked at ‘The Daily Nous’ again.

    1. Daily Nous is indeed woke, but comments on some issues can be interesting and useful, There are good commentators, including David Wallace.

  10. Added to that, (I know, since I live in the Western Cape now, where this is very prominent) race is a true spectrum. You have one Khoikhoi grandparent, and one black one, and then 2 white ones, and all possible variations, especially if some of the grandparents themselves were of mixed race. A true spectrum here.
    Compared to sex, race is pretty fluid (no, I don’t contend there are no races), so one would expect that choosing/changing one’s race would be pretty much easier than changing one’s sex. But apparently not. That makes no sense. Maybe there is so much resentment by activists (from different sides), just because it is so difficult, nay impossible, to determine boundaries.
    As an illustration, one of my 2 youngest sons is classified as ‘white’ while the other, from exactly the same parents, is classified as ‘coloured’. And I can’t even remember which one is classified as what. One is darker with sleek hair, while the other is paler with very curly hair.

    1. A true spectrum here.

      This image has been doing the rounds for a couple of years now, and like the site I’m sourcing it from, I’ve forgotten the original source.
      (Will the image display? Nope, see link at end.)
      In deference to a 1970s song, what we need is a spectrum of coffee-colours to quantify the melting pot.
      Hey, there’s a project for Caturdays – coffee-coloured readers cats, by the score. Make a change from black cats for Halloween.

      Alternative image link : https://flowingdata.com/2022/01/28/chicken-egg-color-spectrum/

      1. A song, by the way, that is no longer playable on radio stations as the concept of ‘coffee-coloured people by the score’ is offensive to those of higher sensibility than mine. I bought the single in 1969, contributing to its no. 10 position on the UK charts, and I still have it somewhere.

      2. A song, by the way, that is no longer playable on radio stations as the concept of ‘coffee-coloured people by the score’ is offensive to those of a more delicate sensibility than mine. I bought the single in 1969, contributing to its no.10 position on the UK charts. I still have it somewhere.

      3. Well you have black coffee, Café au lait, and hot milk, you even have chocolate milk or coffee with chocolate and milk.

  11. Today, managing one’s identity is widely accepted. The question at hand is how far can the practice go; how much malleability will the culture accept? Managing one’s gender identity is quite widely accepted but not universally so. Choosing one religion over another is also widely accepted but not universally so. Race may end up being an impenetrable boundary that one cannot cross. (The Rachel Dolezal case is instructive. At first, I thought her claim was ridiculous but I later came to be more sympathetic.) It’s all about what the culture will tolerate. We’re observing the natural testing of boundaries, which is often rancorous. It may seem logical for race to be on par with gender, but those who disagree will undoubtedly find ways to highlight how the two differ.

  12. Perhaps I’m being naive, or just plain ignorant, but given what we know about genetic mixing of peoples from disparate parts of the globe, isn’t there actually a strong argument that race, unlike sex, actually is a spectrum?

    1. I’m with you, Ken, and with what Nicolaas wrote above. I, of 100% Hungarian ancestry, am married to a Chinese woman. I guess our children are mixed race, though I don’t think of them as such. They are just who they uniquely are. And what about Barack Obama or Halle Barry or Tiger Woods or….? I think using a range or a spectrum of physical characteristics is the best way to understand “race” or variations in human populations.

    2. We all belong to the same species, but when human populations initially spread across the globe, those populations evolved certain recognizable characteristics including the morphological differences that we have called “races.” Today, there is much less geographical isolation among those populations—as well as fewer social constraints on breeding across them—but historical remnants remain. So, my thinking is that today’s populations either today form a spectrum or are rapidly becoming a spectrum. “Race” may be an antiquated, albeit descriptive, term for what might be better called geographical populations. These populations are genetically and morphologically recognizable as statistical averages so, in that sense, are quite real.

      My 2 cents.

  13. “That is fetishizing, and it’s objectifying, and it reduces the beautiful and complicated cultures of people of color.”

    I can’t think of anything much more fetishizing than to view the cultures of people of color as “beautiful and complicated”!

  14. I’m wondering if there’s really something sacrosanct here about race in particular, or if race is simply one attribute among many that can weaken the argument that it’s phobic to not believe that “trans people know who (or rather what) they are.”

    There are people who identify as different species. There are those who insist their age is a mental state. Some reject body parts; some have Jesus in their heart. Add in the reincarnated from other lives, the Star Children from other planets, and the transmogrified souls of trees, rivers, and crystals from fringe Spiritualities, and there’s a pretty large grab bag of analogies to being transgender — all of which are verified by an unverifiable inner sense of Knowing Who You Really Are.

    If transgender claims are to be accepted, then, they probably have to be unique. So NONE of those other category leaps are valid. All of them are “insults.” The analogy advocates do want the world to make is to being gay: you’re born that way, it can’t be changed, and, above all, it’s taken seriously.

    But we believe gay people can know they’re gay because the first person“inner sense” is the prosaic and common one of sexual arousal/romantic attraction — and we can verify it by looking at behavior. Have sex only with others of the same sex: diagnosis, homosexuality. The same does not apply to everyone recognizing a born male is really a woman because he wears dresses and tilts his head winsomely in photographs.

  15. Interesting piece…but what does this mean? ‘….they’re of a different natal gender than their natal sex’. If gender here is a social construct (and not a synonym for sex) how can it be ‘natal’?

    Secondly, I have an idea why trans racialism is abhorred, and transgenderism is lauded. It’s the old ‘cui bono’, yes? Who benefits? I suggest it’s because transgenderism largely benefits men, including men who have a paraphilia, including men who enjoy attention, including men who enjoy manipulating. I don’t think this covers all of trans IDd males, but all trans IDd men are indeed male! Trans IDd women barely figure in the whole issue, as we know.

    I do wonder what would have been the reaction if Rachel D had been a man? Or if white men saw benefit in claiming a different racial identity?

    1. Oli London did not get much love when claiming to be Korean. Women like Rachel D., Saccheen Littlefeather and Jessica Krug owe their success to the sympathy given to women who claim victimhood. For a man, their role lacks appeal. To him, appearing as weak is contemptible and certainly elicits much less sympathy. He will also be more scrutinized, and overly crazy displays might be viewed as threatening. There are more fitting roles, like that of a fighter struggling to overcome the enemies of his people or that of a mysterious exotic foreigner.

      1. Oli was ridiculed and he was just preposterous, anyway. His IDing as Korean lasted about two minutes 🙂
        Sorry, I don’t understand your point.

      2. I also don’t get your point. Rachel D’s success was owed to people’s believe that she was at least partly black. When she was exposed as lily white, she was targeted by a very ferocious campaign.
        Women claiming or not claiming victimhood do not get much sympathy, as your comment itself makes evident. On the contrary, many people love hating women. There is a specific slur for white women, “Karen”, and none I know about white men.

    2. Interesting perspective and may certainly play a role.

      I would say, however, that trans women (trans IDd males, I think, in your terminology, that I’m not very familiar with) pose a set of problems that trans men do not and is one factor, in my opinion, that make accusations of transphobia redundant.

      Nobody has a problem with a trans man competing with men in sport because “he” does not gain an advantage. “He” only potentially puts himself at risk in a contact sport and “he” only puts “himself” in a vulnerable position in male bathrooms and male prisons. And the point that nobody seems to have a problem with this aspect of trans rights suggests it is not transphobia at work when concerns are raised about men transitioning to become trans women.

      By the way, my use of square quotes above is purely to aid clarity and apologies if I misunderstood the point you were making.

      1. You’ve understood me 👍. Yes, you’ve expanded on why the issues raised by trans identified females (‘trans men’) show it’s not ‘transphobia’ that causes concerns about men claiming to be women.

  16. Of all the arguments in the NBC article, this one is the funniest: “Experts…contend that….it is impossible to change your race because of the systemic inequalities inherent to being born into a certain race.”

    Whereas when it comes to women vs. men, society is a level playing field?

  17. Why limit the discussion to race and “gender”? The movement called “affirmative neurodiversity” takes it further. See: https://www.bps.org.uk/psychologist/neurodiversity-affirmative-education-why-and-how . For example: “The neurodiversity paradigm has three main components – all consequences of the basic fact of neurodiversity as applied to society. First, variability between people in how they learn is natural, and indeed this variability is a collective strength for the human race. Second, there is no one better or correct way to be, and all neurotypes are equally valued. …Third, neurodiversity, just like other dimensions of diversity such as ethnicity, gender or sexuality, is something that needs to be understood in the context of social and interpersonal dynamics.”

  18. Helen Joyce’s take:

    Why is it okay for a man to say he’s a woman, but it’s not okay for a white person to say that they’re black?
    In academia, the reason is that these are two completely separate fields. One of them is critical race theory and the other is queer theory. And in critical race theory whiteness is original sin. I mean it literally is that. If you’re white, you must atone for that for the rest of your life, and you will never be finished atoning, and you will never get to the point that you can say you are not racist. Sorry, man. You have to be anti-racist all your life. And so you could never allow a white person to identify as a black person, because then they can identify out of their sin, right? Whereas if you move over to queer theory, this post-modern field where categories are evil, and where we make utopia by destroying categories. So, if you’re theorizing male and female within that, it’s good to destroy the categories [man and woman].
    But I think that’s a contingent explanation. I don’t think it’s by chance that those two fields grew up the way they did. I think critical race theory very much follows from the American history of race. It just doesn’t make any sense anywhere else. It doesn’t make sense there either, but what I mean is you can see where it came from. Whereas the queer theory thing, the reason that that’s where sex landed is because there are men who want to be women, and they want it more than anything else, and those men have the drive to make it happen because it’s their erotic drive [they are autogynephiles – see Wikipedia link at the end of this comment]. They have the money because some of them are rich (really rich). They have nothing else to be thinking about. So they make it happen. The way that you can kind of see that this must be the case is if you look at what trans activism is. It’s not what you would do if your concern was trans people. I mean trans people do have poor health outcomes, poor mental health, low income, all of those things. So you would have policies focused on that. But actually the policy is exclusively focused on gender self-identification, which is legally changing your sex, which means that you can go into spaces for the opposite sex. So the policy is clearly formed for the benefit of people whose fixation is to count as the member of the opposite sex, not people who just want to try and get by while being highly unusual.
    I was watching a documentary on Rachel Dolezal and she, it was after she was exposed [as white], and she went to do a talk at this university, and the talk was done to black students, and this girl put her hand up afterwards and went “I don’t think you can call yourself black,” and Dolezal was like “Why not?,” and she went “Because you haven’t earned the right to be black.” And I found that so interesting. I was like “No, she can’t call herself black because she isn’t black.” But “you haven’t earned the right,” oh, isn’t it very odd? The equivalent I’ve seen of that in trans is when people say that trans women are better women than what they would call cis women, and who I’d call actual women, because they [the trans women] have worked for it. It didn’t land on their lap. And you’re like: “Nothing lands on anybody’s lap in the way of which sex they are. When an egg meets a sperm, and they combine, they form a male person or a female person. That’s the way it works. It is that simple.”

    Source: Triggernometry: What’s Causing the Trans Explosion? – with Helen Joyce. Dec 2022


    Note how Joyce’s take relates to Mike G’s comment (comment # 10 here).

    1. Thanks, Peter. BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour has tweeted asking for suggestions for guests and, just like when they did the same thing last year, 95% of the replies are telling them to interview Helen Joyce. I can’t see it happening, though. Helen used to be a regular guest on things like the BBC News round-up of the next day’s newspapers, but hasn’t been able invited onto any BBC programmes since her book was published.

      1. I suppose that Joyce not being invited on the BBC’s Women’s Hour is a useful indicator of the lack of journalistic objectivity / fairness of the BBC on this topic. Well, Joyce has been recently interviewed, in long form, by Peter Boghossian, Megyn Kelly and Richard Dawkins – all available on YouTube.

    2. I think that is standpoint epistemology, which originates with Marxism. It is (apparently) asserted :

      The oppressed can have the insight of the oppressed as well as the oppressor.

      The oppressor can only have one insight – the oppressor. Oppressors are completely ignorant of the oppressed’s insights.

      IMHO the first claim appears to be a gnostic claim, a truth located by gnosis that must be revealed to those without the special insight of the oppressed.

      I am getting this from Kathleen Stock’s book as I read it.

  19. I guess my answer to the issue of transracialism is the same as to that of transgenderism (more properly, transsexualism): live and let live to the extent that it has no impact on others, but recognising also that there are limitations. So: no men in women’s single-sex spaces; competing in women’s sports; taking places set aside for women in boardrooms, electoral lists, etc. and no white transracialists taking black scholarships; counting towards diversity targets, and so on. Basically, let everyone identify how they want, whilst acknowledging that in some circumstances race and sex absolutely matter.

  20. What’s interesting to me about this cultural tension is that there is a lot more vitriol heaped on those that chose to transition in a direction that goes from what is perceived to be more privileged category to a less privileged category. People are way more incensed about men transitioning to women than the other way around and likewise white people passing as black or indigenous causes more ire than black or indigenous people passing as white. I’m not sure what it all means but I don’t see this pattern discussed much.

    1. I think the reason for the vitriol is that when people transition in that direction, it undermines the narrative that racial and gender privilege exclusively favor white people and men. If that really were the case, people who are white and men should have no reason for wanting to respectively change their race and gender to something different. (When in reality, there are potential social benefits to transitioning in that direction, such as gaining the ability to benefit from affirmative action programs.)

  21. One of the main problems here, I think, is that when both are boiled down the ideas of transgender/transsexualism and transracialism are largely nonsensical. It is then very difficult to discuss.

    Whilst it is true that gender dysphoria likely exists, and I have great sympathy for such individuals, it does not call for a re-writing of reality. Affirm where we can, if it’s in the person’s best interests, but acknowledge the reality of the sex binary, acknowledge that there are spaces designated based on sex, and move on.

    As many others have suggested, I think the concept of transracialism makes a lot more sense. I do think the concept of natal race is real to a degree and is not simply a social construct, but it is much more a spectrum whereas sex is not.

    Almost every argument made in the highlighted article is an immediate eye roll. You simply can’t accept these people believe what they’re saying, the cognitive dissonance is remarkable. I’d much prefer the intellectual honesty of them saying, “yep, we get it. Transracialism is probably a lot more coherent, but politics today simply can’t accommodate it. Maybe in the future? But right now, if you’re white, you’re not even allowed to make dumplings.”

    Final point, and returning to the spectrum of race and what others have said above, Thomas Chatterton Williams’ book “Portrait in Black and White” addresses this issue. His wife is white and his children appear white. Can they identify as being black? I imagine that any institutionalised/systemic racism does not apply to them, but their father is nonetheless black. How would the “experts” in the NBC article respond? If they were to “allow” these people to identify as being black, what about if they then go on to have children with a white partner? When would it become unacceptable and who is drawing the line?

    The whole thing is ridiculous.

  22. Our host writes that racial set-asides are disappearing. I wouldn’t be so sure. Here are just a few of the many set-asides called for in the 2023 San Francisco Reparations Plan:

    Payments of $5 million to every eligible Black adult, the elimination of personal debt and tax burdens, guaranteed annual incomes of at least $97,000 for 250 years and homes in San Francisco for just $1 a family.


    Interestingly, people who have “identified as Black/African American on public documents for at least 10 years” can be eligible for this program. Details are on page 32.

    1. Interestingly, people who have “identified as Black/African American on public documents for at least 10 years” can be eligible for this program. Details are on page 32.

      What constitutes a “public document”? I could write an post on my blog site identifying myself as a Wombat, and post-date it’s publication date to … actually, I haven’t experimented beyond de-tyoping last month’s post. But I suspect I’d be able to go back 10 years.
      If it’s a government (local, state or federal?) document which is publicly accessible … why would they even record race if the 1960s constitutional amendment blocking “Jim Crow” laws was accepted. (I assume police investigation records are not publicly accessible – as opposed to court records and conviction records.)

  23. New to the blog and late to this conversation — Does John Howard Griffin’s book: Black like Me (1961; I read it in ’61 or ’62) track anywhere is this?

  24. Some feelings or desires, like same-sex attraction, are VERY old, and can be VERY strong. It’s likely that some cases of transsexualism belong to the same category. But 21st Century white American girls who think they’re East Asian? No way, that has to be a completely different category, probably one that includes ROGD, or social contagion in general.

    (Tuvel doesn’t deal with the massive differences between sex and race, only acknowledges that are not equivalent, but treats the feelings as equivalent!)

  25. Edit: intended as a reply to Richard Bond way up under #17.

    Karens are white women who aren’t completely down with going to the back of the bus and standing for black men…or, more recently, who try to prevent a gang of black men from stealing her electric bicycle. Bubbas are just good-natured white men in overalls who like God, guns, and barbecue. With biscuits. They don’t particularly mind black folks they work with as long as they don’t jerk them around.

  26. In my opinion, you folks are overthinking this issue. The reality is absolute PC dominance. PC says that transgenderism is OK (more than OK) and transracialism is not OK. Since PC rules everything (K-12 education, Academia, Hollywood, the media, government the FBI/CIA/military, NGOs, SV, Tech, Wall Street, corporations, etc.) transgenderism is mandatory and transracialism is verboten.

  27. One should also consider that different human races are only a few tens of thousands of years old, kinda superficial, while the split between male and female is orders of magnitude older and deeper. It precedes the human species, genera or ape family, it is tens, nay, hundreds, of millions of years old.
    The sex binary is a deep chasm, the racial differences (again, I don’t dispute they exist) are a shallow moat, easily overcome by sexual activity, in comparison.
    That makes it extra enigmatic why transgenderism is embraced and transracialism despised, I think the distinction as of now is deeply prejudiced, with historical factors and political agendas overruling the biological reality there.

    Trans male to female and trans female to male maybe 2 very different phenomena.
    I suspect that much (no, not all) of the male to female transgenderism is an attempt by ‘omega males’ to get access to vulnerable women (in the orang-utan vein), or in sports to get awards they could not win otherwise -cheats in other words.
    On the other hand, I suspect that the female to male transgenderism epidemic, the sudden onset gender dysphoria (SOGD) is not real transgenderism, but the result of young -overwhelmingly privileged, but troubled- young women not happy with their bodily changes at puberty and, in an environment where privilege is despised, looking for victim status (that was Abigail Shrier’s conclusion, not mine, but I think she’s spot on), encouraged by ‘activists’ on social media. She compared it to the Anorexia nervosa epidemic a few decades ago, a comparison that makes great sense.

    Lagniappe: I think that ‘gender affirming’ hormonal ‘therapy’ and to an even higher degree ‘gender affirming’ surgery (yes, it’s a messy, mutilating surgery), without a proper, profound psychiatric assessment over a long period is nothing short of criminal.

    1. The American Academy of Pediatrics has just decided to commission an external review of its current practice guidelines which are highly supportive of aggressive gender-affirming care for adolescents and children. They had been stonewalling against lobbying by member pediatricians to do a re-think. The decision comes apparently in response to passage of laws in (I think now) 24 U.S. states banning puberty blockers, hormones, and surgery altogether in minors. (Most recently Louisiana which Jerry wrote about yesterday.)

  28. “It precedes the human species, genera or ape family, it is tens, nay, hundreds, of millions of years old”

    I looked this up. It appears to be roughly two billion years old. Another (related) measure is FST (a measure of DNA similarity). Races are roughly 99.9% alike. Sexes are roughly 98% the alike. Stated differently, sexual differences are roughly an order of magnitude greater than racial differences. These numbers are quite rough and should not be taken as exact.

  29. From K. Stock’s Material Girls (2021):

    [Begin excerpt]:

    “[…] one influential text was the 2007 book Whipping Girl by American biologist and trans woman Julia Serano. A notable contribution of Whipping Girl to popular culture is the idea that trans women are a kind of woman like any other. The term ‘trans’, Serano argues, should be treated as an adjective like “Catholic or ‘Asian’, rather than ‘trans woman’ being thought of as a compound noun.[16]
    Relatedly, Whipping Girl did much to popularise an adjective for people who are not trans: ‘cisgender’, later shortened to ‘cis’, and standing for those people whose gender identity and sex are ‘aligned?[17]”

    [16] Julia Serano (2007), Whipping Girl: Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Seal Press

    [16]Serano talks mostly about ‘cissexuals and ‘transsexuals’ but makes clear she doesn’t mean by this to identify any particular relation to medical transition, or the lack of it.

    [End excerpt]

  30. Is it plausible that persistent gender dysphoria since childhood has a genetic/epigenetic cause?

    Is it plausible that persistent “race dysphoria” has a genetic/epigenetic cause?

    My guess is that the answers are “yes”, and “no”, respectively.

  31. “Why You Can Be Transgender But Not Transracial”
    (I’m assuming this is James “Conspiracy Theorist” Lindsay)
    Podcast : 2 hr. 39min

    JUNE 10, 2021


    Intro written on website:
    “The short answer to this question, which is sometimes given (usually after someone steps on the landmine of thinking they can pull off a transracial argument or identity), is that Critical Race Theory and Queer Theory approach the issue of identity differently. ”

    … haven’t listened yet. I wish these frikkin’ podcasts were transcribed.

    1. Listening notes:

      Lindsay discusses Plessy v. Ferguson (1892), especially Justice Harlan’s lone dissent.

      Plessy was 1/8 Black. Harlan argues that race leads to contradiction – comparing that Chinese at the time – who were subject to racism, [Wikipedia]: “writing that the U.S. Constitution “is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens”, and so the law’s distinguishing of passengers’ races should have been found unconstitutional.”


      Lindsay considers incentives and power in race v. sex.

      CRT aims to liberate racial minorities from white supremacy. CRT arose to assure Affirmative Action. Race is essential for AA (as readers note), so the boundaries are policed. The categories are essential for CRT.

      Queer theory aims to liberate sexually minorities from cis-heteronormativity as dictated by biology/materialism. So abolishing the category of sex – and substituting Queer Theory’s model – will aid that project.

      1. Yes, that’s what Lindsay says, and it’s very interesting, but that’s not, I think, what people who believe that trans people are born in the wrong body mean. It’s clear that they think there’s a genetic/epigenetic cause.

        1. I think you know this, but it is worth stating: it is impossible to be born in the wrong body.

          Actually that is even weirder now that I write it out again.

          So there can be no cause for an impossibility.

          [ strokes beard on chin ]

          1. A trans-identified woman (a physician) who commented on that excellent Reddit critique of the Chen 2023 NEJM article


            says of course we can’t be born in the wrong body. This is the only body we have. But she said she knows she is male gender and felt threatened by other people gawking at this person with breasts who with “hormone replacement therapy”, grew a beard to express that male gender. She said she and her partner liked her body just fine the way she appeared naked, beard and all I guess. But she felt “unsafe” appearing that way to others so she had top surgery.

            It’s not me, it’s you.

          2. I agree, it’s impossible, but, just like a large-scale GWAS three years ago concluded that “In aggregate, all tested genetic variants accounted for 8 to 25% of variation in male and female same-sex sexual behavior”, it could be the case that transsexualism is partially genetic. And there is the FBOE (fraternal birth order effect), which is the finding that older brothers increase the probability of homosexuality in later-born males.

  32. How about this :

    Transracial is not equivalent to transsexual.

    The proper comparison would be, in practice, detransitioners or whatever dysphorics – either accepting homo or heterosexual lives.

    Because heterosexual individuals are not minoritized of course, but homosexuals are acceptable by modern liberal societal norms, as a result of classical liberalism.

    Normativity is the enemy of Queer Theory, and its attendant social stability makes larger Marxist programs (in CRT, for instance) ineffective.

    Consider : in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s How To Raise Your Kids Gay,she expresses – counter to expectation – a sort of resentment of the “depathologization” of homosexuality in the DSM at the time.


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