The Amazing Appropriated Race

Over the past week, I’ve grown angrier and angrier about Rachel Dolezal pretending to be black. At some point I realized I was taking the whole thing personally, which is weird, because a) I’m not black, and b) I was never in the running to be president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. So, y’know, it’s not like she robbed me of the title.

But then I thought about it some more, and eventually a light bulb fizzled on, and I was all, “OH, right. Phantom penis.” And I finally understood why I was so pissed off.

I should probably explain that last part.

Several years ago, a buddy and I decided to start a social group for gay male Pagans in the Houston area. We wanted to gauge interest before planning anything, so we posted a message in a local Yahoo! group (remember those?) to see if there were any other gay dudes around who might want to participate. A couple did, which was nifty, but the majority of responses we received were divided between heterosexual men accusing us of being exclusionary, and heterosexual women calling themselves “hag fags” [Ed. note: They meant “fag hags,” which, hi, is almost but not quite as offensive] who announced that they would be joining us, regardless of whether or not we wanted them there.

My favorite response, though, came from a cisgendered woman — let’s call her Viola — who informed us that she qualified for membership because she was a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. We did our best to explain that, no, that did not actually make her a gay man, and Viola replied (I swear to the Gods I’m not making this up) that she had an invisible, “phantom limb” penis that got her into all sorts of trouble. Because you know how gay men are. Thinking with their dicks or whatever. Like she does. On the inside.

And on that note, allow me to relate a true story of a gay man trapped in a woman’s body.

Back in college, my friend Kathleen sat a few of us down and let us know that she was transgendered and would be transitioning to male. In return, we let her know that we’d already figured that out, on account of her unusually large collection of books on gender reassignment, and the fact that she’d been living as a man for about a year and a half. So Kathleen became Georges, and then he fell in love with a cisgendered gay man, and they’ve been together ever since. And the rest of us were all, “We’re confused, but you’re happy, so it’s all good.”

To review…

Georges: “I was born physically female, but I am actually male, and I went through several costly and painful surgeries in order to be true to myself and comfortable in my own skin.”

Viola: “I am capitalizing on my hetero privilege to violate other people’s safe space.”

A subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.

So anyway, yeah, that’s why I’m all discombobulated over Dolezal.

I get having an identity discordant with one’s anatomical and/or biological makeup. Really, I do, if only because I know way too many Furries — selfhood is polymorphic, The End. But if owning that identify means contributing to the marginalization of the community to which you claim to belong, then honestly, you’re a whole lot more part of the dominant culture than you’d like everyone else to believe.

5 thoughts on “The Amazing Appropriated Race

  1. Thank you for putting that so succinctly. I’ve been trying to figure out why this bothered me so deeply, and you gave the perfect analogy. It is the denial of the journey that gets to the place; not living through the actual racism but appropriating a rare place of achievement without the cost.

  2. Good insight. It reminds me of a KPFT show I guested on years ago for the transgender show that came on around midnight (it’s been that long for me, 13+ yrs, so I’m foggy on the name). I got in a discussion with the anchor over how the lesbian community was dealing with MTF women. It was interesting, because many lesbians I talked to, at that time, were frustrated with some – not all – of the women in transition, usually those that seemed (and that is a perception only) “on the fence” and only took hormones and weren’t making a “full” commitment, not paying the cost. To the lesbians, it was White Male Privilege once again, not facing the years as a woman, the discrimination, the “dues,” etc., getting to be “women” whenever they felt like it. Sure, some of the individuals that raised lesbian ire seemed to flit in and out of their sense of self, acting female one minute and then booming in a deep male voice if they needed a drink quickly, and many lesbians at that time didn’t understand the frustration of those who couldn’t afford to transition (or who were denied) but the heart of the T community wasn’t like this, and it took a lot of talk, a lot of understanding and a lot of education to bring everyone together. I believe once more FTM transgender people started to come out and be more present and active, this also helped tremendously.

    I often joke about being a gay man trapped in the functioning body of a lesbian, because I don’t fit a lot of lesbian stereotypes, and, frankly, it’s made good material for my stand-up routine. But I couldn’t imagine thinking that I have an imaginary penis any more than I could imagine being a Secret Agent Man named Mr. Pecan (a role I once assumed when I was 5 until I decided it would be cooler to be Batman).

    And this is why the Dolezal story bothers me, as well. Her history shows an ability to use her “whiteness” when it suits her, which is offensive, but that so much is wrapped within so many lies – so many fantasies – yes, “…appropriating a rare place of achievement without the cost,” is a perfect description.

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