Transracial, TransIdentity: Identity, Choice, and the Self


Though this fake-ad from Salvo Magazine has an agenda, the philosophical, ethical, and potentially-political fiat is relevant:

Whereas, Gender and Race are socially constructed concepts on a spectrum, which may vastly diverge from biological norms, and

Whereas, Gender is understood as mobile, controllable,  and protected as a human right,

Race must also be understood and protected as such.

Caveat: Recent scientific research generally agrees that there is no object scientific thing as race. Biologically, two “White” Europeans may have less in common genetically than either has with a “Black” person, who may in turn have more in common with a Chinese person than someone from their own country of origin. (In the context of the outdated view of race as a biological, genetic, definitive thing, the same questions and comparisons are relevant, transplanting “Sex” for “Gender”)

As transgenderism and non-cisgenderism become more widely excepted and celebrated, the inevitable question arises: which aspects of our selves can be or should be protected and where do we draw the line, if we choose to draw one at all.

In a vacuum, the recent populous view that gender should be open to choice by each individual, would transcribe to an individual’s right to choose their race, from social transactions to racial-reassignment surgery. Though sympathizing and supporting sex-reassignment may be an easy act of love for many progressives and queer activists, Racial reassignment likely leaves an undefinable sourness on your tongue. This may be due to the historic context in which one’s “Race” has been used as an excuse to enslave, murder and rape, as well as subversive movements such as the “Black is Beautiful” and “Red-Pride” slogans designed to promote self-love in spite of social pressures to conform and assimilate.

But non-males have been similarly enslaved–There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in history and the vast, absolutely overwhelming majority are women. Women were granted the right to vote in this country after former slaves and people of color. With this in mind, though Female-to-Male Reassignment is more prevalent, MTF accounts for about 25% of sex reassignment surgeries (SRS) in the US (Gender Center). Would Racial reassignment be similarly distributed, more balanced, or racing to one race? Many studies have found that when one is a member of both a marginalized gender/sexuality and a marginalized race, racial identity tends to trump sexual/gender identity (Violence against WomenRacial Identity, Masculinity and Homosexuality in the Lives of Young Black Men).

Tangential questions that elective-surgery transpire include, what constitutes the self? Which, if any, parts of the body consitute one’s self? and What are the limits of identity?  Many “Wannabes” around the world have an immutable urge to have elective amputations, feeling that they won’t be complete until their body is divided (Wannabe), while those with Phantom Limbs (Ted Talk) still feel parts of their body that are no longer there. Sergio Canavero (head transplant) plans to conduct the first human head transplant–Dogs have already had head transplants, but only lived for up to 7 days (still pretty impressive/scary). Would this really be a body-transplant? If so, would the body have different rights than the head? For example, if the body had raped and murdered someone, would the resulting human pastiche have the right to vote? In our brain-centric culture/paradigm, the answer may seem obviously yes, but heart-transplants have been observed to have much influence on a person’s tastes and personality; How much influence would the presence of an entire body, the result of decades of architecture and experience, have?

How important are physical characteristics to our psychological well-being? Amputees (who don’t happen to be Wannabes), survivors of severe burns, and others with drastic, sudden physical changes often suffer from severe depression and reported loss of identity, but how different are the effects when that physical change is sought after and planned for and what are the limits? Where do I stop being a better looking version of Phil and become a stranger with a fragmented identification of self?

These questions may seem sensational and lacking relevance, but so did many questions around non-cis gender/sexuality, sexual reassignment surgery, and the limits of individuality/identity, before movements around the world opened our eyes to how many millions of people face these questions everyday. Moreover, with the fields of genetic manipulation and ever more complex surgeries become commonplace, these are questions we will no doubt have to answer as citizens, policy-makers, and most importantly, as sentient Humans.

Identity is more than a name or a social security number. It is an essential foundation to our happiness, decision making process, and ability to navigate the social and physical worlds in which we live. Like never before, we will have to fight for our rights to identity and choose which we will celebrate and which we will not.


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