“Being KOREAN…”, a video uploaded by British internet influencer Oli London just three months ago. Coming out as a “nonbinary trans-Korean”, London is proud of who they are as a result of all the surgeries they’ve had to feel more comfortable with themselves. The reason why the internet is responding with harsh criticism, however, is that London has equated being “transracial” with being transgender.
London’s actions are a perfect example of cultural appropriation, transphobia, and racism all tied into one. Someone who is transgender is not the same as someone who just randomly decides to change how they look just to be a part of a racial minority with experiences and struggles that cannot be understood overnight.
What Is Transgender? What Is Transracial?
When someone identifies as transgender, they feel that their gender identity doesn’t match their assigned sex. They change their gender to express themselves better, identifying as whatever they feel more comfortable with. Some people may have an idea about their gender at just three years old, which may or may not align with their sex assigned at birth.
On the other hand, someone who is transracial will “identify as a different race than the one associated with their ancestry.” Recently on social media, some people have identified with this term. They change parts of themselves to match up with the race they are trying to identify as.
What’s the Big Issue?
The big problem is that transracial identification invalidates the struggles that these racial minorities face. According to a student response from a recent survey, there is no way to understand these struggles.
“However educated you may be about our culture and history, you would never truly face the same experiences. As a racial minority, I have faced challenges before and have been witness to the hardships others have faced, and I think that being able to change race to a minority is incredibly disrespectful to all our experiences. You may claim being one race, but wouldn’t have to face the same challenges, probably still having an advantage from your privilege.”Anonymous Student
Isn’t It Good to Change Yourself to Feel Comfortable With Who You Are?
Someone may argue that being transgender is the same as being “transracial”. They may think that because someone who is trans may “pick” their genders, it is okay for transracial people to do the same.
Unfortunately, this is a very uneducated opinion.
It may not be intentional, but this belief (and “transracial” as a whole) completely invalidates trans identities. People simply choose to change races, but that is not the same for people who change genders. They do not have that choice; they change how they present themselves due to the extreme amount of discomfort that they face. The dysphoria they experience is biologically backed up. There is no research proving that dissatisfaction with race and wanting to change it is a real and valid thing.
Since these two things are being compared, a majority of transphobic people aren’t taking transgender people seriously. It is feeding into their ammunition to invalidate trans identities.
Old Definition of Transracial
It should be noted that transracial had been referred to as the adoption practices where white parents adopted children of color. People have now misleadingly used the term transracial, completely invalidating this past definition.
Another student from the survey gave their opinion.
“I find what the internet did to the term to be disgusting. Not only have they mocked the trans experience but they have stolen and distorted a term held by POC individuals and it is frankly disrespectful.”Anonymous Student
Whether it’s obvious or not, the change in definitions has also hurt minorities.
Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation
Identifying as transracial is a type of cultural appropriation. When someone is appropriating a culture or race, they’re inappropriately adopting elements of a culture they are not a part of. When someone identifies as transracial, they’re picking bits and pieces of races, but never fully adapting it entirely. They may adapt the fashion from a culture, but they cannot adapt the discrimination that these races face.
This last opinion was from a student who had compared the difference between appreciation and appropriation for a culture.
“I understand if you really take passion in one’s other culture. I will use myself as an example. I am in love with Japanese culture: I love their food, music, movies, anime and so much more. Just because I like that, it doesn’t mean I have to get any face or body modifications to prove that I really enjoy their culture. Instead, I can maybe learn their language or find more aspects about their culture that I may find interesting and educate myself more on it. Hey, I can even go to Japan to see for myself. Notice how I didn’t not say anything about surgery or wanting to identify as a new race.”Anonymous Student
People are allowed to find aspects of a culture beautiful or interesting but they can’t just change into that culture because they like it. People can simply appreciate cultures, but not appropriate them.
What Can We Do?
Now that the differences between being transgender and transracial have been discussed; it is important to understand that these two terms are not synonymous. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know the difference, so it’s important to inform people of these differences.
Along with that, the voices of the racial minorities and transgender people affected need to be amplified, in order to understand the true impact of the transracial “identity”.