The Real Difference Between Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner

You all know that I’m fascinated by the case of Rachel Dolezal, a woman claiming to be “trans race” in the sense of born the wrong race and not in the sense of having adoptive parents of a different race. She claims that she was born white when she should have been born Black. And she went to lengths to present herself as Black. Of course believing in reincarnation, as I do, it’s possible that Rachel Dolezal was Black in a recent past life. I have come to believe that about myself, that I was recently an Indian Hindu in a previous life (I would never say, however, that that has given me any insight or right to speak on behalf of Indians). But I don’t know for Rachel Dolezal. It sounds like she had a lot of experiences in her life that led her to relate more strongly to the Black community.

rachel dolezal

The reason this fascinates me so much is that I have felt a strong temptation at times to attempt to pass for Indian. I get exhausted sometimes of standing out in my Hindu community. I don’t want to be remarkable. There are times that I’ve fantasized about what it would be like to not stick out everywhere I go. (Okay, not everywhere, just everywhere within a religious context, which is a big portion of my life). But then I remember that minorities don’t get to choose to fit in. And that is the crux of the issue, but I will get back to that.

Now my motivation is clearly not the same as Rachel Dolezal or a trans person of any kind. I don’t feel that I was born in the wrong body, I don’t feel like I should be Indian. I just sometimes wonder why I’m not and fantasize about how life would be easier if I were!

See Also: Hoping To Be Born Brown and The Disadvantage Of Being Born Hindu

With this situation, the question that comes up is what is the difference between this and being transgender. If people are “allowed” to change their gender or present a gender that they feel is more in line with who they are, why can’t people do that in other aspects as well?

I’ve been surprised to see my friends who are passionate about transgender rights be disgusted by Rachel Dolezal.

They say she is sick, needs help, should get therapy. Things they would never ever ever say about a transgender person.

My Black friends are disgusted by her. Angry and hurt. She did take opportunities away from actual Black women and spoke as though she had the experience of growing up Black when she did not. So that was definitely inappropriate.

On the other hand, she did put herself in the position to have the disadvantages of a less privileged position in society. In other words, people sometimes say that white people who admire Black culture (or any other culture they admire but are not part of) can never understand because they still have the advantage of their white skin. And Rachel Dolezal certainly tried to get rid of that advantage.

So I’ll admit that, though I’m a liberal, I end up wondering the same thing that you usually hear from conservatives:

If it’s okay to be transgender, why is not okay to be transrace?

Kat Blaque, whom I admire very much, did a video to address this question, claiming to state the difference between Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner. I’ve watched that video a few times and I just don’t buy her argument. Basically she says that the difference is that a transgender person is expressing their authentic self. They are changing their appearance to line up with the person they actually are.

But the thing is, she doesn’t know Rachel Dolezal’s heart. Why wouldn’t she be expressing her real and authentic inner self? Rachel Dolezal herself certainly believes that is what she is doing. I don’t think we can measure the appropriateness of this behavior based on what someone’s true self (lower case self) is because we can’t know someone else’s heart.

I finally figured out what I think makes this different.

It is entirely about privilege. It’s about being able to go one direction but not the other. When it comes to transgender, sometimes someone born with male body parts feels that they are actually female and sometimes someone born with female body parts feels that they are actually male. It goes both directions.

In Rachel Dolezal we have an example of a white woman who feels they are actually a Black woman. But imagine if a Black woman were to say that she believes she is actually a white woman born in the wrong body and we all need to treat her as though she were a white woman. Could that happen? I don’t think so.

I think that is the crux of what is wrong with what Rachel Dolezal is doing. The way society is set up at, at least here in America, makes it relatively easy for us white people to immerse ourselves in other cultures and live as whoever we want. It does not give that same privilege to people who are not white.

I still struggle to judge Rachel Dolezal, since I do not know what’s happening in her heart. But I recognize that it would be absurd for a Black woman to say that she was born in the wrong body and is actually a white woman. I think we cannot accept the concept of being “trans race” until it is possible for it to go both ways (or multiple ways). It cannot be that only people in a position of privilege can express their true self.

However, I do not think that the entire concept is impossible.

New to this blog? Check out these posts:

What Makes Me A Hindu?

Did I Start Out Christian?

Why Am I Called “The White Hindu”?

New to Hinduism? Learn more here:

Hinduism 101: What Do Hindus Believe?

Can I Convert To Hinduism?

Your First Visit To A Hindu Temple

Super Simple Daily Puja

—-

Thank you to my wonderful Patreon supporters…

  • Brian Hanechak
  • Amit Agarwal
  • Don Moir

(views expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect opinions of my supporters. Links within the text may be affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase something I get a small commission for recommending it. I only recommend things I truly believe in)

new patreon ad for blog

Become a Patron!

"Wrong picture Vishnu rules over Sattva and Brahma over rajas"

The Three Gunas
"Amba I want to directly communicate with you please."

A New Hindi Learning App
"Watch the debate between Sri Sri Ravisankar and Dr. Zakir naik. You will find a ..."

Visiting a Mosque
"I am a Christian who happens to care for a Nepali Hindu woman. She is ..."

The Truth About Women and Hinduism

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Claire

    I’m trans. I see a distinct difference between these two things.

    There is mounting evidence that sex dysphoria has a biological cause. No less than 18x different studies (by world class researchers, published in triple A peer reviewed medical journals) show a biological basis. The brains of transgender women very closely align with cisgender women. The brains of transgender men very closely align with cisgender men. The brains of non-binary people quite often align with intersex people.

    The brain of an unborn fetus is bathed in strong doses of sex hormones in the final stages of pregnancy as part of development. The most popular theory about the cause of dysphoria is that hormonal imbalances cause the brain of the unborn baby to develop along a line that is subtly different to the body. This causes an incongruence that causes varying degress of distress, frustration and despair. Cross sex hormone therapy provides a great deal of relief to trans people.

    By comparison, I’m not aware of any hormonal imbalance between estrogen and testosterone in utero that can cause a baby to subsequently feel lifelong distress about their race.

  • http://TheInvisibleHindu.disqus.com jonbanks

    I can go in sooo many directions with this response, but I will try to contain myself. First of all I thoroughly support Ms Dolezal. As a black person who has often been ostracized by other blacks for not being “black enough” whatever in the heck that means, I can relate to her adopting and embracing another culture and applaud her for being able to pull it off. I laughed at the entire episode because whits bigots only look at skin color while black bigots seemingly only look at behavior and Dolezal clearly had it all down. In terms of outlook, behavior nuances and whatever other little mannerisms that I could seemingly never muster.

    As far as being Hindu, I can relate to that. I was talking to Indian guys several weeks ago and I told them about my BLOG and why I feel like an invisible Hindu. One of them looked at me and said, you’re brown Jon and that’s what matters. Then we all hi fived each other. It was very affirming and it felt great to be brown for a change. My problem is that I don’t speak Hindi well and that has to do, I am sure, with study habits more than anything else. I don’t stand out in temples until I open my mouth!

    Your statement about not being able to go both ways has merit and I agree, maybe so many would not be upset if the door could swing both ways. However there are as many white Hindus from Northern India as there are brown ones from Southern India aren’t there?? I have not researched so…

    Good stuff. In my next life I hope I return as an Indian Hindu, because spiritually I feel I have been one all my life but robed of the identity, which is a whole different topic.

  • Agni Ashwin

    But imagine if a Black woman were to say that she believes she is actually a white woman born in the wrong body and we all need to treat her as though she were a white woman. Could that happen? I don’t think so.

    Actually, Black women can live (and have lived) as White women. It’s called “passing”. It usually occurs when a Black woman is sufficiently light-skinned that she can “pass” for White and live as a White person in American society. (Black men can do this too.)

    “Passing” can happen because the definition of what it means to be “Black” in America is a definition that society invents, defines and redefines. Historically, being “Black” meant that you had some noticeable African ancestry. Of course, “noticeability” is in the eye of the beholder. To get around that subjective problem, states often defined a “Black” person as someone with, say, at least one Black grandparent. But people with one Black grandparent can come in a wide range of colors. Some such individuals might find that their skin is too dark to pass for White, while other such individuals might find that they can pass (especially if they move to a different state where their familial histories are not known).