"Is Transracial the New Transgender?: Rogers Brubaker's Trans and Other Useful Tools for Analyzing a Contemporary Vitriolic Debate" | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

"Is Transracial the New Transgender?: Rogers Brubaker's Trans and Other Useful Tools for Analyzing a Contemporary Vitriolic Debate"

Since June 2015, when then-President of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, WA, Nkechi Amare Diallo, more commonly known under her birth name Rachel Dolezal, was outed as White by her birth parents, the question of transracialism has generated considerable controversy. Partly because Dolezal's story broke out around the same time that Caitlyn Jenner went public about her transgenderism, the question whether transgenderism and transracialism are analogous or incommensurable has been a major point of contention between the critics of Dolezal and the defenders of Diallo. 

Case in point: in the fall of 2016, Rogers Brubaker, a professor of Sociology at UCLA and a specialist of questions of identity, published Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities, in which he used the contrast between the reactions to Jenner and to Diallo-Dolezal to reflect on the reasons why we view changing sex as acceptable whereas we view changing race as impossible. A few months later, Rebacca Tuvel, an assistant professor of Philosophy at Rhodes College, published "In Defense of Transracialism." She too centers her argument on the analogy between race and gender: the same reasons that lead us to defend transgenderism, she argues, should lead us to also defend transracialism. A month later, an open letter to Hypatia, where Tuvel's essay was published, was signed by over 800 academics; asking for the retraction of the article, the authors also used transgenderism as a central vantage point from which they staked their claims: for them, Tuvel's argument was doing harm to transgender communities.

In these two sessions, we propose to take a step back from the polemics as well as from the individual characters involved in order to reflect critically on the theoretical, ethical, and political questions raised by transracialism: what does it have in common with transgenderism? how it is different from it? is it the case that one can change gender but one cannot change race? Are the denunciations of transracialism a legitimate opposition to cultural appropriation? or are they comparable to the reactions people once had (and some still do) when encountering transgender people? In short: Is transracial the new transgender?

In the first session, on Thursday September 7, 5:00-6:30 we will read and discuss several essays, some of which predate the 2015 polemics. The goal is to take a deeper view of the breadth and depth of the question. Readings are available by request through pitt.box.com or directly from post-doc Rostom Mesli [mesli@pitt.edu]. Location: 501 Cathedral of Learning.

The second session, on Thursday September 14, 5:00-6:30 will be dedicated to Rogers Brubaker's contribution to this discussion. The Introduction of Brubaker's book can be accessed by request from Rostom Mesli [mesli@pitt.edu]. Trans: Age and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities can be bought from your favorite bookstore. In addition, some copies of the book are available from GSWS for GSWS affiliated faculty and certificate grad students. Location: 602 Cathedral of Learning.

On September 14, after the meeting, we propose participants available and interested to continue the conversation with dinner and drink. We will pick a restaurant close to campus and not too expensive so that anyone who wants can join.

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