Saturday, July 18, 2015

Am I The Me You See?

I took one of those online, Facebook quizzes that are supposed to tell something about yourself.  "Are you a Southerner or a Yankee?"  "What Type of Fantasy Character are You?"  "What Were You in a Past Life?"  
This one was "What Nationality are you Sub-Consciously?"  After answering the questions, this is the answer that popped up: 

You're subconsciously Japanese! Your deep respect for tradition and passion for progress make you far more Japanese than you may have realized. With a long and unique history of isolation from the outside world, Japan has preserved a fascinating and ancient culture amid a modern and thriving economy. Japan's tradition and radical technological progress are perfect for your unique approach to life. You are a perfect mix of the past and the future that only Japan could produce! You're health conscious, ambitious, independent and incredibly hardworking. You're bound by tradition but you're always looking forward to the next great idea. You are subconsciously Japanese!

Ok.  Not bad.  I wasn't even trying to get that answer.  This is one of those answers I'd post on my Facebook page, which wouldn't surprise any of the people who know me more than superficially.  
While being an admitted Nipponphile, though, it isn't thing included in my sense of identity.  Being "Male" has been with me for my entire life.  As has being an "American."  Being a "Nerd" was something that grew slowly.  At least in the positive sense, when I started embracing my nerdy loves and accepted that I was different when it came to things like that.  In recent years, looking around me, it seems that society is starting to catch up with me.  There are a lot more nerdy TV shows and movies being made, anyway.  We certainly seem to be living in a science fiction world. 
This week someone won an award for coming out with their new identity.  Caitlyn Jenner, who used to be known as Bruce Jenner, the gold medal winning Olympic athlete, won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  Since she announced to the world her transition from woman to man, Caitlyn has largely been lauded for her courage and supported in her efforts.  Some people have commented that it is easier for her to display such positive traits given her celebrity and economic means, though they have conceded in the next breath that the coverage of Ms. Jenner's life choice will probably raise awareness of transgender issues in a positive way.  
There was another person who transition whose expression of self-identity made the news, about the same time as Ms. Jenner's.  That was Rachel Dolezal.  She was the head of a local chapter of the NAACP in Washington State who, it was revealed, had been born and raised white.  One of the answers Ms. Dolezal gave when questioned about her parents revealing themselves to the public was that she considers herself to be black.  Due to the furor over the revelation about her ethnic heritage, Ms. Dolezal was forced to resign her position.  
I recognize there is a difference between these two stories.  When I heard the news about Ms. Jenner, my thoughts went something like "Good for her."  I do not have any experience with transgender issues.  I am, and half always been, a heterosexual male and feel no impulse to act differently.  But I've also had a live and let live attitude.  If someone feels that the expression of their genetic code is in error and has the means to do something about it, I have no problem with them doing what they can to address it.  
When the story about Ms. Dolezal broke, my initial reaction was more like, "Holy Crap, you're kidding."  I knew that it was going to end badly for Ms. Dolezal.  The end result of her resignation was inevitable.  
It was after a few days though, that I began to wonder why her fall was so inevitable.  The science fiction writer in me took a step back and thought, "Here we have two people who say that the expression of their genetic code does not correspond with who they feel they are inside.  Both are taking steps to correct that, and live in accordance with the identification they want others to use with them.  One, whose sexual expression  needed revising, has been praised for her courage.  The other, whose racial expression was revised, has had her mental health questioned and has been forced to leave the position that, according to the reports I've seen, she did very well at."  
Yes.  There are differences between the two situations.  The most obvious one is that of openness.  Caitlyn Jenner came out and told the world of her transgender nature.  Rachel Dolezal hid her transracial nature, and in doing so has been accused of "deceiving" people.  But if Ms. Dolezal had announced from the beginning that she was "Now Black," would she have been given the opportunities she had within the advocacy community she worked in?  I don't think so.  Gender is an identity that can be safely adjusted while Race is not.  At least as far as someone with Ms. Jenner's social position is concerned.  
I wonder if we will get to the point where our exterior identities will become as malleable and as changeable as our wardrobes.  This is taking a big leap off to the side but I am curious as to what that would do with other people's perceptions of us.  How would a group like, the Klu Klux Klan, for instance, go about their business if any given person who looked one race might be another "passing" for the day.  How would we treat the job applicant that showed up for the job interview as a man, but arrived the first day after being hired as a woman?  Both race and gender are loaded with societal preconceptions that limit and/or enhance one's standing in society, depending on what you have and what is happening around you.  
What would happen to me if, one day, I arrived at the office looking like a middle-aged Japanese man and I told everyone to call me Kumori Matsushita?  Would it help if I told them that they had no need to worry, that I was just dressed up for my trip to see the cherry blossoms in bloom?  


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