The entire discussion of transabled/transethnic identities over the last few days has put a lot of emphasis on the narrative of a transethnic/transracial person who is read as white or abled, and who identifies as/wants to be (genuinely unsure of the terminology to use here, I’ll go with “identifies with” because i’m transgendered and that’s what I prefer) disabled or of color. This erases poc-read people identifying as poc of different ethnicities, poc identifying as traditionally white ethnicities, and white people who identify with other traditionally white ethnicities. It also erases pwd-read people who identify as abled, or who identify as having different or additional disabilities than their bodies do.
THIS IS A PROBLEM.
Because it erases… well, most of the world. And that’s always bad.
But also, it frames the discussion as being about a group of people who just want to be oppressed because it’s just so much fun. Which is always problematic, because it’s a pretty classic derail used to dismiss marginalized people talking about oppression.
Identification as a pwd or poc isn’t, inherently, talking about oppression. I’ve known lots of POC who don’t feel oppressed for being POC, and lots of PWD who accept the oppression and never complain about it, or even think that it’s helpful or justified.
So when people simplify all discussion of transethnicity or transability to be about privileged people trying to appropriate oppression, they’re simplifying POC and PWDs’ identities to be all oppression, all the time, and nothing else, which erases a lot a lot a lot of things, because poc and pwd are three dimensional beings, who do a lot of cool things in addition to being oppressed. There is a lot of diversity among these groups, and simplifying it to a game of more-oppressed-than-thou is disrespectful to all parties involved (although I don’t want to erase the fact that some people do experience a whole lot more oppression than some others).
I want to point out that we’re probably talking primarily about situations that involve self-identification, and therefore often some dysphoria? Like, I feel like most people in this discussion are willing to admit that physical assignment isn’t all there is to gender; that biology isn’t destiny, and that other forms of identification are valid to have. This is still a weird, fringe position in a lot of places.
I’ve always felt really alienated by that discussion because for some people, it involves a lot more than gender. Like, a lot of people would be okay just being themselves as they are now, only another gender. And that’s fine! But to me, there are things like my age that have to be acknowledged in addition to my gender — I’m a girl in my late teens and I have a lot of psychiatric disabilities. And if any of those things weren’t true I’d feel a lot of dysphoria, because all of these things are congruent with my self-image — I’ve cut because the marks help my dysphoria, for instance. …Am I transabled for that? I don’t even know.
And my and my headmates’ identities have always, always had so much more to them than gender, and we feel extremely limited by trans discussions that only allow for gender because that’s not, at all, consistent with our experiences. We can’t act like our self-image would be consistent if only we were such-and-such gender because it wouldn’t, and that’s limiting and oppressive for me in spaces that recognize gender dysphoria but not other kinds of dysphoria.
And I want to talk about pwd identifying as not pwd. Because a lot of people do have trouble reconciling that, and I think it’s worth noting whether they feel like they’re not pwd because of the negative connotations that disability carries to them, or because it’s genuinely at odds with their self-image and causes them dysphoria. (I’m not saying that abled people should go around making this judgement, I’m just noting that there is some distinction.)
My inability to touch certain kinds of wood, for instance, sucks and has really negatively impacted my life. It’s related to sensory sensitivity which is related to autism, which is a body thing I can’t help. I can easily see someone not wanting to have it anymore because it sucks, and sometimes I get frustrated with it, but it’s never caused me dysphoria or been inconsistent with my self-image. This is a HUGE problem with the “acknowledge that that’s not you talking, that’s your disorder” — it basically encourages people to develop dysphoria over their disabilities rather than be proud of them and incorporate them into a positive self-image.
I could easily imagine someone who isn’t human experiencing dysphoria for the human things they can do like grabbing and using language, and also for the things they can’t do like cling to walls or eat rocks. Easily, if that’s their self-image. So it’s not that weird to me to think that someone’s self-image might be a human who can’t walk?
There’s this story of a 14 year old Dalit boy in Uttar Pradesh who identifies as an American scientist. (trigger warning on this link for what sounds like possible child abuse) As the story was reported, he forgot how to speak Hindi and now speaks English, despite never having actually learned English. There’s a video of him speaking English in the second link.
So to say that only white-read people can identify ethnically in ways that don’t match genetics is verifiably false. Somehow I don’t think he’s just faking fluent knowledge of English, and inability to speak his body’s native Hindi, because he really wants to wear dreamcatchers as earrings.
I’ve also never heard of a transabled person who ISN’T conscious of the way they use resources and the way that might impact people whose disabilities are related to their bodies. I feel like that’s a strawman that hasn’t actually happened. BUT, a lack of resources for disabled people is the problem, not the way certain people use them. This is the same argument that gets used against the completely imaginary problem of welfare fraud, isn’t it? The exact same one. The problem isn’t what individuals do with those resources, it’s the fact that there aren’t enough resources which is because of systemic ableism.
Another thing I want to touch on is the ability that maybe some people DO romanticize certain aspects of their identity in misguided attempts to reconnect with them. To use a personal example, when I cook Greek food I don’t have a whole lot of knowledge of things like regional variations. I could easily understand someone cooking what they think is — and present as — “ancient Greek food” but actually comes from Turkish colonization and is maybe a couple hundred years old. Or, like, lots of transwomen act in a way that’s very typical of sexist depictions of what women act like, and a lot of transmen become super douchey and broey. All of these things are genuine, if misguided, expressions of identity, and the fact that they’re misguided doesn’t make the identity itself invalid.
Very interesting discussion, and some valid points here.
I can’t speak for transabled/transethnic people, but I do know that the part about the kind of dysphoria that nonhumans experience is very accurate. I experience dysphoria for the things I can’t do, like fly or curl my head into my wings or move my feet in particular ways or glide on the water or eat with a beak, but, also for the things I can do, like speak. I actually do believe that it’s possible, that the reason I am autistic is because being born nonhuman in a human body caused my brain to react in a particular way, and, that particular way is the collection of traits that make a brain autistic. For example, the pain of particular sensation, the pain of particular sounds and the way my human ears process them, the uncomfortable and struggling feeling of speaking human language.
So, when people talk about “all the wonderful things you can do as a human, you should be glad”… it’s true that I am glad for many things I can do in a human body. But, these things also come with dysphoria. They are not a simple happy thing for me. They are a complicated mix of things.
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