This Week in Bad Ideas: Equating Trans Woman Caitlyn Jenner to Dumb Person Rachel Dolezal

This week, a very bad thing happened on the Internet, if you would classify yourself as one generally opposed to lazy journalism, casually oversimplisitic comparisons, and/or good old-fashioned racism and sexism. This looped car crash of a news story about disgraced former NAACP official Rachel Dolezal broke just close enough in time to another seemingly similar headline-grabbing story that, unfortunately, presented many people with a prime opportunity to show just how bad a lazy analogy can get.

For those of you who have been living under NBA Finals-induced rocks, and if so I can’t blame you, WARRRRRIORRRRRRS, Rachel Dolezal is the now-former president of the Spokane, WA chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is an organization that we all agree that we like despite its, uh, rather outdated moniker. Rachel Dolezal’s parents, in a pretty low parenting move, recently revealed that she is in fact a white woman who has been living as a black woman. And boy, did she commit: Rachel Dolezal went to a small Christian college in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was a student leader in a group that sought to promote cross-racial understanding in the student body; earned a master’s degree from Howard University in D.C., where her art portfolio centered around African themes and her lawsuits were a bad look for her future career; became a sort of expert on African-American hairstyles and was a regular at a spray tanning salon; and even served as an adjunct professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, which, I assume, is as you read this hastily gathering all of its computer science majors in a windowless conference room and ordering them on the threat of dismissal to expunge all traces of this fact from the Internet. Even when pressed on the subject after stepping down from her position at the NAACP, she defiantly told CBS’ Matt Lauer that she “identifies as black,” naysayers be damned.

“It’s a little more complex than me identifying as black, or answering a question of, ‘Are you black or white?’…I definitely am not white. Nothing about being white describes who I am.”

Prior to her ignominious racial outing, she told people that her adopted African-American brother was her son, and when explicitly asked about her heritage–a rare event, actually, since “Whoa, so, are you really black?” is not usually a sentence said to anyone’s face–she haltingly explained to reporters that, yes, she is African-American, because all people come from the African continent, which is the greatest non-answer since President Clinton’s request for a definition of the word “is.” As a smart-aleck lawyer, I can confirm that Rachel Dolezel would make a great smart-aleck lawyer.

For a variety of reasons, public sentiment seems to be pretty aligned on the question of whether this is OK (nope); whether this is anything other than disingenuously selective cultural appropriation via the cringe-inducing concept of benign blackface (also no); and/or whether, even setting the complicated identity politics aside, this was at its base a good decision for her and the causes she espouses (hahahaha no). The narrative is pretty clear: Rachel purposefully portrayed herself as something she is not, and now people found out, and the chickens are coming home to roost. As Iggy Azalea’s tour manager can attest, this kind of thing can only last for so long.

HOWEVER, the facts have never been much of a barrier for your friend Ghost Andrew Breitbart, purveyor of all the poorly-cited Obama takedown articles that your uncle in Florida with an AOL email address forwards to you once a week, who decided, like many other misguided folks, to weigh in on the Rachel Dolezal controversy in the shittiest, hot-takiest way possible: by making a very bad analogy (stop reading now if you don’t want to get angry) sneeringly comparing the left’s fury over Rachel Dolezal to (you knew this was coming and you hoped you wouldn’t hear about it and there’s still time to stop reading) to the outpouring of support (seriously, save yourself) for (I WARNED YOU) Caitlyn Jenner. Via one Ben Shapiro, when he’s not just straight making shit up and passing it off as scoop, sounds like a real peach of a guy:

On Friday, after a long news week, the story of Rachel Dolezal hit the press, proving once again that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

No, that’s “beer,” Ghost Andrew Brietbart. You’re thinking of “beer.”

Just last week the President of the United States congratulated Bruce Jenner

It’s “Caitlyn,” you dick. Don’t be a dick.

on his courageous decision to pretend to be a woman

Nope.

and the entire left bursting into spasms of ecstasy over a collectively insane decision

Oh God.

to ratify the notion that men can magically become women.

[hurls laptop to ground in fit of rage]

Hooboy, so there’s a lot going on here already. First, transgender men do not “pretend” to be women. I do not claim to be an expert on this topic, but fortunately I also have access to Google, so I can “learn” “information.” (Take notes, Ghost Brietbart). Start with the difference between sex and gender. According to the helpful explainers at the American Psychological Association, that veritable bastion of leftist propaganda, sex is “associated primarily with physical attributes such as chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy.” So, for example: the presence of a Y chromosome; testosterone and estrogen; um, genitalia. Gender, by contrast, refers to “the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women.” So for example: having long hair, wearing dresses, and sporting heels, or, more seriously, being perceived as more sensitive and emotional, and playing the predominant role in raising and nurturing children. It’s actually not so tough if you think about it; when we talk about discrimination against women, that discrimination is not because of the presence of the ladyparts underneath their clothes; it’s because of the perception of women as the subordinate gender. Gender and sex usually align, but sometimes they don’t; while someone with a female sex is likely to also display a female gender (i.e., there is alignment between the two), a transgender person feels a stronger identity with the gender not typically associated with their sex. That’s what transgender means. There’s no “pretending” involved.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. While gender and sex are two different concepts, we have unfortunately developed just have one set of terms — “man” and “woman” — that we use when referring to both sex and gender. Even when we talk about the concept of gender discrimination, what word do we often use? Sexism. And to make things worse, the English language is pretty clumsy at specifying which one of those two concepts we’re talking about in the moment. Depending on the context, sex and gender also often flip-flop in order of relative importance; for example, if you’re going in for some kind of surgery, it’s probably more likely that you’ll be thought of by your sex, as a man, but if you’re enrolling in a college class, maybe your gender is more important, since your chromosomal composition won’t matter as much.

So, while the semantics admittedly do not do much to help provide clarity regarding the duality of sex and gender, the short version is that it’s possible for sex to be male and for gender to be female, or vice versa. But setting aside all of these “facts” and stuff, it’s also entirely reasonable for you to decide that you make a distinction that others may not make for themsleves, and for you to ask other human people to, in the name of common decency, to show respect to you by recognizing that you make that distinction.

Unfortunately, there are people who just can’t quite manage to make it past their “icky” reaction. Doubly unfortunately, they have access to the Internet, too (again, to share their bad ideas, but still not to actually learn anything). To wit, Ghost Breitbart:

Today, the entire left is struggling to explain how a white woman who identifies herself as black is not, in fact, black.

Not really! As noted above, Rachel does not have a lot of staunch defenders here. Even those who credibly point out the fact that she’s spent her life organizing and advocating on behalf of people of color and other marginalized communities, and that these are very good things, are no longer on board when it comes to the position that the ends justify the means. Falsely claiming to be a victim of very real racial prejudice cheapens the lived experiences of people of color, who cannot simply opt in and out of the consequences of structural inequality when they feel like it. It’s particularly galling that she allegedly felt the need to bolster her civil rights leader bona fides by perhaps faking the receipt of hate mail and planting a swastika on the front door of Spokane’s NAACP headquarters when the building’s security cameras were suddenly and mysteriously turned off. It’s a transparently self-aggrandizing move to manufacture evidence of despicable racism and hatred, especially when there’s already more than enough of that going on, in Spokane and in Charleston and in communities everywhere. Rachel thought some smoke would be good for her career and her cause, but she started a real, honest-to-goodness fire.

Rachel’s actions are also bothersome because most reasonable people understand that, shocker, one does not need to be a person of color in order to care about or advocate for or contribute to the well-being communities of color. There is nothing that prevents a white person from feeling passionately about (or even committing their life to) equal opportunity for all racial groups. To assume the opposite actually undermines the goals of promoting integration, tolerance, and understanding, because imputing such a prerequisite assumes that those communities are loathe to accept anything other than what they perceive as “their own.” It’s sad because it seems like Rachel isn’t evil or racist or malicious; on the contrary, she seems genuinely committed to working for the good of minority neighborhoods, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups. She’s simply a fascinatingly misguided individual who, by failing to think through the consequences of her actions, ultimately undid (and then some) her life’s work in just three short days.

She is a charter member of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.

Setting aside the issue of how one becomes a charter member of a hashtag (are there board meetings? I would like to attend said board meetings), in his glee the author manages to make the exact mistake that Rachel Dolezal made: assuming that only black people can meaningfully care about something that troubles most people, like “police officers killing civilians at startling rates across the country and most of these incidents occurring in lower-income or historically minority communities.” I assume he’s the type that thinks this is what “irony” means, too. Later, does he work in a gratuitous misogynistic aside? Thank you for asking, of course he does.

According to that interview in The Easterner, she was later date-raped by a mentor…Of course, she never reported anything to the police and no one was ever arrested.

Because, as we know, all incidents of sexual, particularly when committed by a friend or acquaintance, and particularly when said friend or acquaintance occupies a relative position of power, are always and without fail immediately reported to authorities and result in timely arrests, and without these two necessary conditions, it just never happened. But anyway, enough skewering Rachel, and back to Bad Analogies 101.

In the aftermath of the cartoonish left’s Bruce Jenner orgasm, the Rachel Dolezal story must hit like an Acme anvil dropped from the seventh story of a building.

If Ben Shapiro feels like it’s acceptable to insist on continuing to call someone by a different name than they have respectfully and repeatedly requested, I’m going to call him “Dipshit McGee.”

She took every element of leftist stereotype – victimized woman, victimized black, international human rights crusader, diversity fighter, put-upon artist – and rolled them all into a resume.

Nothing says “I see a lot of merit in flying a Confederate flag” like blithely referring to members of racial or ethnic groups as standalone nouns.

Ruthanne Dolezal said, “It’s very sad that Rachel has not just been herself. Her effectiveness in the causes of the African-American community would have been so much more viable, and she would have been more effective if she had just been honest with everybody.”

Fittingly, the one sentence in this article devoid of inane garbage comes from someone other than Mr. McGee. Mom hits the nail on the head: Rachel Dolezal really wanted to make a difference in the world, which is a good thing; pretending to be black as an assumed prerequisite to doing so, however, is a very bad plan that undermines all of the best intentions.

And then it all came tumbling down, just because of how Rachel Dolezal decided to self-identify.

This is absolutely true with respect to Rachel Dolezal. That is not at all the case with Caitlyn Jenner. Caitlyn Jenner, as Bruce, lived her life as a man. She did it for a really, really long time, and at some point she decided she couldn’t take it anymore. But she never pretended to be a woman. Caitlyn Jenner was born X, lived as X (and won an Olympic decathlon medal, by the way, which is straight badass), and then asked that we treat her as Y. Rachel Dolezal was born X, pretended to be Y and hoped no one would notice (at best) or lied about it (at worst), and now that expects people to believe that she’s really been Y all along.  If you asked Caitlyn Jenner about her identity five years ago, she would tell you that she was born a man, but identifies as a woman, and is in the process of figuring all that out that out. Rachel, by contrast, just lied.

We must pity her, and we must stand with her in her quest to reach self-worth via redefinition of ethnicity.

This is a particularly shitty snarky thing to say. Coming out as trans, a status that many people still don’t really understand (note, again, my need to do a lot of Googling above), has got to be absolutely terrifying, particularly where doing so invites persecution and violence. A 2014 reportfound that 10% of violent transphobic crimes were committed against kids:

Among the 102-person figure that comes in from 14 countries worldwide, “36 persons were shot multiple times, 14 stabbed multiple times, 11 were beaten to death, three were burned to death, three dismembered/mutilated, and two were tortured, two were strangled, one was hanged, one had her throat cut and one was stoned to death.”

Good Lord. So, turns out, coming out as transgender isn’t a joke. It takes, objectively speaking, some serious guts. One woman lying about her race is not the same, and none of the 10,000 pithy jokes you’ve read on Twitter that are some variation of “I have been living my life as a 35-year-old white man but now I have decided to come out as a leatherback sea turtle!!!1!!!!” are on point, either.

After all, as President Obama said of Bruce Jenner, “It takes courage to share your story.” Even if that story is complete and utter bullshit.

Ugh. Caitlyn Jenner has said for years that she has a male sex, a female gender, and identifies as female. Caitlyn Jenner does not want to be known as Caitlyn Jenner because she thinks that womanhood is a prerequisite to being an advocate for women. She has not faked incidents of transphobia in a calculated effort to become the face of the transgender community. She has not pretended to be a woman for years, hoping that no one would notice and issuing bland non-answers when caught red-handed; if anything, actually, she’s pretended (again, gender) to be a man. No, all Caitlyn Jenner wants is to be herself for the first time in 60 years, and for you to respect that and otherwise mind your own damn business. By contrast, Rachel Dolezal is a misguided white lady who got a lot of spray tans and lied to whoever asked. Rachel and Caitlyn are both stories about identity, but the similarities end there. Don’t make that mistake.

Also, for the last time, “Caitlyn.” It’s not hard. Stop being a dick.

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