Last week, it was revealed that Spokane NAACP president Rachel Dolezal, who had represented herself as black for the better part of a decade, was not actually black. Dolezal’s biological parents, both white, announced that Dolezal, too, was also quite white. And shortly after that, the Internet exploded.
In a post that has garnered quite a bit of attention, I asked how what Dolezal did was really all that different than what Bruce Jenner did: namely, playing dress-up in order to hide one’s true identity. In Dolezal’s case, she changed her hair, her make-up, and her wardrobe in order to give the impression that she was black. In Jenner’s case, he changed his hair, his make-up, and his wardrobe in order to give the impression that he is a female.
Dolezal was born white but wanted people to believe she was black. Jenner was born a man but wants people to believe he is a woman. The only difference between these two is the extent to which society is willing to accept their delusions.
A number of people took great exception to my article comparing the two individuals. I’m going to single out what Nick Gillespie at Reason wrote, because I think it’s fairly representative of the “the difference between the two is fraud” genre of explanation:
[Dolezal] has been misrepresenting herself as black when in fact she was born white. Her life is built upon a lie that she knows is a lie. That also explains reactions like those of Marc Lamont Hill above. Even if she is good at her job (which she appears to be, at least according to the NAACP), Hill argues she owes it to her constituents to be clear that she wasn’t born black. Perhaps more succinctly: Dolezal’s crime isn’t that she wants to identify as black, it’s that she’s denying the plain reality of her past (and doing so because to come clean would cause major problems for her).
Gillespie’s entire explanation rests on a rather obvious tautology: Caitlyn Jenner identifies as a woman, therefore there’s nothing at all fraudulent or deceptive or delusional about Jenner claiming that he’s a woman. Or, more simply: it’s okay for Jenner to adopt an identity wholly at odds with reality, history, and biology, but it’s not okay for Dolezal to adopt an identity wholly at odds with reality, history, and biology.
In order to accept Gillespie’s tortured logic, you have to believe that the statement “I am a woman,” from a person who is most certainly not a woman is not deceitful. Keep in mind that not only was Bruce Jenner born a man, he still has all the anatomical accoutrements associated with being a man since he has not undergone so-called sex change surgery. He is a man. To declare otherwise is nonsensical.
When Jenner declares, “I am a woman,” what he is actually saying is “I have feelings and emotions that society tends to associate with women.” However, he cannot actually feel like a woman because he is not, in fact, a woman. He has no concept of what it feels like to be a woman. As D.C. McAllister detailed for The Federalist, Jenner has experienced none of the things that actual women feel as a result of being female:
The celebration of Jenner “becoming a woman” is a fantasy. It’s artificial. It’s make-believe. It’s not authentic at all. It’s a mirage. Jenner has always fantasized that he’s a woman, dreaming of the possibilities of becoming what he imagines himself to be. But possibilities in life are only fantasies when they aren’t rooted in something real. You can’t become a woman without being a girl, complete with XX chromosomes that determine our sex. The man posing as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair is a delusional mockery of every woman who knows what it’s like to be a girl with all the pains, humiliations, and joys of actually growing up and becoming a woman—and each one of us, in different ways, has faced it bravely through every stage.
Gillespie then builds on his tautology by saying that the big difference between Jenner and Dolezal is that Jenner doesn’t deny he was born a man, whereas Dolezal went out of her way to give the impression that she was born black, going so far as to claim that a black man was her father. This explanation poses a rather serious problem for transgender people, because under Gillespie’s standard, any transgender individual who does not immediately identify as such prior to each and every human interaction is committing fraud.
Why is that the case? Because, according to Gillespie, giving the impression that you are X when you are actually Y is the definition of fraud and deception. And the only way to avoid giving the wrong impression if you are a man masquerading as a woman is to disclose your birth sex–I was born a man but now I identify as a woman–prior to any and all interaction with all other people for the remainder of your days on earth. Unlike Jenner, not all transgender people are given a national platform to announce their transition. Are those who don’t immediately out themselves as transgender “frauds” a la Dolezal? Gillespie’s rationalization would certainly seem to suggest that’s the case.
Let’s also apply the same announcement standard to Dolezal: had she announced her “transition” a decade ago, would she be no less delusional? Would that announcement suddenly make her a black person? I presume most people would say no, that would not make her a black person. Those people would be correct, because Rachel Dolezal is not black, no matter how much she protests to the contrary.
Gillespie’s rationale, however, requires the opposition conclusion. His rationale requires us to accept her declaration just so long as she admits she was born white.
“Dolezal’s crime isn’t that she wants to identify as black,” he wrote, “it’s that she’s denying the plain reality of her past.”
Using that logic, as well as the logic that Bruce Jenner’s declaration that he’s a woman makes him a woman, Rachel Dolezal must therefore become a black person upon the declaration that she identifies as a black person. Gillespie’s tortured explanation about how the two individuals are different doesn’t represent basic reason so much as it does obvious circular reasoning.
The real difference between Jenner and Dolezal is not fraud or deception, because they are both living out a lie. They are both delusional. The real difference is the extent to which society is willing to go along with their charades. The Danish author Hans Christian Anderson prophetically captured this dynamic 178 years ago:
As the emperor proceeded down the street, everyone exclaimed, “Goodness, the emperor’s new clothes are incredibly beautiful! The finest he’s ever worn! What a perfect fit!” No one wanted to admit that the emperor was naked, for that would make the person seem stupid or unfit for his or her job.
At last a small child said, “But he doesn’t have anything on!”
“Goodness!” said the child’s father. Then he turned to his neighbor. “Just listen to what this innocent child said,” he whispered, repeating the child’s comment.
One person whispered to another, and then another and another. Soon everyone was shouting, “But he doesn’t have anything on!”
The difference between Jenner and Dolezal is not fraud. The difference between the two is that Jenner has an influential army to help carry the hem of the cloak that isn’t there.
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