I wrote a post on Jenner recently (below the post on the Polish Women Shamans and Witches) before the drama with Rachel Dolezal broke. But I had been thinking exactly along these lines and wondering what the implications of the arguments supporting Jenner would be if they were applied to a white person identifying as a black person.
Imagine my surprise when it happened in real life! Wow. Now the conversation is really interesting. You have some on the left who came out supporting Jenner absolutely who were horrified at Dolezal and her apparent appropriation of African-American identity. You have some on the right who understandably laughed at the philosophical and moral conundrum that has left the left with some ‘splaining to do when the comparison of Dolezal to Jenner is made.
Here’s my take.
First, let me get these necessary considerations out of the way:
Clearly, the Jenner/Dolezal debate has absurdly brought to light the nature of the often partisan, imbecilic, uninformed, and unproductive conversations of race and gender issues occurring now in this country.
Clearly, race and gender are terms that encompass legitimate historical, economic, and political categories which operate within cultural power dynamics. They are necessary terms that allow people not invited to the dominant race/gender party to identify and speak for themselves; to demand that history includes them and their ancestor’s voices; to insist upon social inclusion into areas of exclusion such as access to power, to resources, and to avenues of democracy — in other words these categories are necessary when fighting discrimination for those getting the short end of the power play.
Taking into account the legitimacy of the categories I just described above, I am going to say unequivocally that there is a difference between race and gender.
Gender has a biological, genetic, hormonal, and neurological component as a category that race does not. Since we are all one species originating out of Africa, the category of race does not exist outside of the human ways of naming tribal and historical affiliations as they manifest through diverse physical and societal attributes. Yet if you are born with female genitalia you have also been subject to particular societal biases and accesses to power, based not only on the other stuff I just mentioned, but precisely because you have female biology as well.
So there is another element to the gender question that is not applicable to the category of race. The physicality of race is that we are all the same except for the color of our coats, but the physicality of gender includes real differences in our biological make-up. Both need to be negotiated socially. However, the notion of transraciality really is more fluid than the notion of transgender precisely due to the this fact. So why the vehement view on the left, including some feminists, (of which I am a proud member) to the opposite?
This guy said it better than me
So now I am gonna ask these Thought Questions: I have only a few now but I am going to ponder this more and perhaps add.
-What if Dolezal had surgery to darken her skin to look like an African? Would she be accepted like Jenner who had surgery to make him physically resemble a female? If not why?
-What about Michael Jackson who surgically and through treatments went through the transition to appear Caucasian? Can he be accused of appropriating “whiteness.” And if not why?
more to come.
Just when I was feeling so alone in my dissertation work that is focused upon the retrieval of European women’s ancestral shamanic traditions, this wonderful Polish artist Katarzyna Maja published a photo essay on Polish Pagan women, Witches, Whisperers and Druids – Wise Women who feel the call to our ancestral ways and practice a deep female spirituality of relations TODAY. Rite Now!!!!. I got all teared up looking at these photos.
Notice the ancient motifs on the clothing and the accoutrements that they chose to adorn themselves with at the request of the artist in order to embody their power. These motifs are exciting to me because they are in alignment with my research (and others) on the Neolithic iconography and women’s shamanic traditions that is evident in the Gimbutas work and beyond. That these modern day Wise Women still find power in them is fantastic. It means the female lineages that were nearly annihilated in Europe live on and are ready to be re-membered. It means there is hope for retrieval. These images gave me so much joy! Please check into this artist, and read these Wise Women’s brief bios on her site and her comments as well.
Since these photos are published on Slate, I am going to put them here with all due respect and citing from that source as well.
Above: Left: Maria, a healer and a visionary. Right: Natalia LL, an artist.
Above: Left: Joanna, leads women’s circles and ceremonies for women. Right: Justyna, MA-URIAbove: Left: Elwinga, a Druid. Right: Anna, Babka, a Whisperer.
Below: Left: Bea, the one who listens to the woods. Right: Paraskiewa, a whisperer.
Now I am all Aquarian and anarchist and all that. I was born with the attitude “Eff thee man!” So I support the exploration of the contents of one’s consciousness. A main part of my dissertation focuses on the phenomenon of consciousness, and how grand and big it is and how it wants to understand itself through experiencing well…new experiences. I celebrate the great sacred gasp of discovery! I love that and I think this is the nature of what is divine about us as physical beings that are manifest as “God/dess” or Creatrix or however one wants to name that. I am also a pagan who believes that one should “do what thou will as long as it harms none.”
However, there is something seriously wrong with this picture that is Jenner. There is a giant difference between expressing yourself outside the lines of societal definitions of gender, and undergoing violent physical changes to your body that transform you into the ideal female as defined by patriarchal culture.
Please note Jenner didn’t transform into a “average” sixty something white woman did he? No, he got cut in a ten hour “feminizing” surgery to look like a much younger woman who embodies a patriarchal definition of what is attractive. WTF! Seriously, was it really his soul’s desire to become a woman at that age if he had not had the privilege of celebrity, money, and flying to the Riviera, being comped 50k in clothes by couture designers and then photographed by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz?
Hey sign me up!
And at the risk of sounding “intolerant” or non PC – gasp! – I do not think that Jenner, or any transsexual, is suddenly by way of surgery turned into a woman. Again, that doesn’t mean that I don’t support, or have compassion for, an individual’s journey toward liberation as it pertains to the wondrous and complex phenomenon of sexuality and gender. What I do mean is that just cutting and pasting physical parts, without living as a female in contemporary society, does not, by default, turn you into a woman. It is obviously more complex than that.
I don’t think anyone who has not been born with a vagina, uterus, or female breasts, who has not been raised as a woman in this present day world, with the bleeding, the birthing, the menopause, the history of oppression, the often marginalized status, the different access to resources, the ever-present fear for safety, and all of the other complex and diverse ramifications of being a woman in this world today, can ever call themselves a woman even though they may choose to conform violently by way of surgery to attain particular physical attributes. Attributes that are not based in the physical reality of a sixty year old woman but of a manufactured narrative of a limited ideal of female sexuality and beauty. Sorry. To Jenner I would say that your consciousness is worth exploring and you should define yourself according to your will, but you have not lived life as a woman this time. You do not share the experiences of those diverse individuals who have been born women.
Now as a scholar I am going to say that woman as a category is not monolithic – we are not one thing, one voice, or one culture. We are as diverse as we are individual. Still, the one thing that does unify us as a historical and social category is our physicality and with that comes, just like it does for men, a particular perspective on life as physical beings. There is a power dynamic inherent in that physical distinction in this present time. Women, by way of being born with particular biology, although not limited by it of course, have experienced a different access to power due the parameters of that physicality.
This difference has translated into agency – or who gets to define who we are; and who has the luxury of doing so. And for the majority of us born women, even entertaining the luxury of thinking about any kind of change of that identity, much less the resources to make that change happen, are non-existent.
Here’s two links that say it better than I have:
My academic career, as well as fundamental elements of my spiritual journey, has focused upon the sublime and potent Neolithic art of Old Europe. These images transmit ancestral memory through their sophisticated but masterfully simple patterns. I added these this week to my dissertation. Themes here are women’s trance states as well as states of consciousness that facilitate shamanic shapeshifting.
Figurine Ensemble with Chairs, Isaiia, Moldavia (Precucuteni) first millennium BC.Joan Marler, “The Danube Script: Neo-Eneolithic Writing in Southeastern Europe,” Exhibition Catalogue (2008): 110.
Neolithic bone plate figurine from Gaban Cave, near Trento N. ItalyMarija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess : Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 103.
Late Minoan II, Knossos Crete, 15 Cent. BC.Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess:Unearthing the Hidden Symbols of Western Civilization (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 273.
While reading Mary Beth Moser’s (PhD) most excellent dissertation “The Everyday Spirituality of Women in the Italian Alps: A Trentino American Women’s Search for Spiritual Agency, Folk Wisdom, and Ancestral Values”
I came across a citation that kicked my butt.
But first let me explain, she, like me, is following the breadcrumbs as a women’s spirituality academic to research what the renowned scholar Lucia Birnbaum most profoundly described as following the path of our mothers.
Let me clarify: We are (re)looking at history through the lens of what our mothers and their mothers (our ancestors), went through and accomplished: what they thought, what they contributed to the narrative history (or were erased from), how they coped, and how they made culture, including such categories as ways of making food, making clothing, having and caring for babies, (and all that ancestral knowledge of herbs and women’s bodies, you right wing fucs) educating babies and being nurturing centers of culture and then keeping that culture alive through um…sustaining families.
If you think that ain’t important then divorce yrself from yr mother and yr favorite childhood food – mac n cheese and weenies, or fill the comfort food bill here, just fer starters.
Within these ancestral stories and within the discipline of academia (eff you who mistake method for content or who just don’t like the content after applying method) we find components of our subaltern history that we rigorously apply to what is a multidisciplinary approach to history (don’t get me started on backlash).
Now back to the citation that made my heart open as it was included in Mary Beth Moser’s diss and which describes my most earnest attempts of so many pages of trying to explain my methodology and ontology. This says it all for me.
Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart — your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.
Viviane Dzyak, Louise Pare, Elisabeth Sikie & Mary Beth Moser taken at the 2013 PNW Region AAR conference in Seattle. Creating webs of research and bringing into consciousness subaltern collective memory of women’s ancestral ways of being and knowing. Behind us is the visionary Gimbutas whose work on Neolithic art informs my research.
What I’ve come to understand is that a – the ideological war that is so extreme today is a psychic war and b – whomever controls the narrative controls consciousness and c- creation myths have the most quantum power – that is why fundamentalists created the false parallel between creationism and evolution.
Evolution is not a creation myth as is genesis, it is a theory of how all life is related on the planet and how lifeforms change due to genetic and environmental pressures. The xtian creation myth of genesis, while really being one of many similar creation myths that are not so unique in theme, and which holds a male deity (illogically) as first source of matter, has been interpreted to mean a static ontology.
So in this world view, with this interpretation of the genesis creation myth, everything comes to form intact. The theory of evolution doesn’t posit an original source, like the big bang theory for example, which would be a more apt comparison to genesis. In evolution, forms change and are interrelational to each other and their environment.
Ultimately, this false parallel represents a difference between the idea of stasis v transformation of matter. If everything originated intact from the mind of the txian god then the ways in which matter can be perceived as interrelational with the environment is, and should be, limited. If, on the other hand, all matter is infinitely dynamic, then moving outside of a set interpretation of what form is and how it can be in relationship to the environment cannot be limited.
This unlimited potentiality of matter (even as that term is shifting now in light of advances in physics, biology the life sciences, and some spiritual traditions) is what most threatens the fundamentalist xtian worldview because then creation moves outside of the peripheries of their static worldview, out of their limited view of what can be conceived by the mind of their god.
This fight for a static v a transformational world view represents a fundamental element in a holy war.