When Rachel Dolezal, the embattled ex-NAACP chapter president who presented herself as African-American, told NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie that she cried while reading about Caitlyn Jenner’s journey because it “resonated,” she sparked a national debate about “transrace,” and “racial fluidity.”
Dolezal also made some members of the transgender community livid for dragging them into what they feel amounts to little more than a circus sideshow.
“It’s very upsetting,” writer and LGBT activist Danielle Moodie-Mills told TheWrap. “As a black lesbian who’s spent her professional life working on advocacy and expanding the dialogue on trans issues, this is extremely offensive to me.”
Moodie-Mills says comparing the two does a disservice to transgender people who’ve risked everything to live an authentic life: “Trans people are committed to telling the truth about who they are, while Dolezal is a fraud.”
During her NBC News interview on Tuesday, Dolezal acknowledged darkening her skin and perming her naturally straight, blond hair. She’s also claimed to have been the victim of several hate crimes, something the Spokane Police Department has not been able to verify. On her application to join the city’s police oversight commission, Dolezal identified herself as multiracial, even though her parents say she’s of Caucasian descent.
She went on to tell “Today’s” Matt Lauer, “I identify as black.”
When she brought up the subject of Caitlyn Jenner’s recent transition during an interview with Guthrie the next day, it touched a nerve with many in the transgender community who felt her comment made light of their struggle.
“It’s not just offensive, it defies logic,” transgender writer and advocate Meredith Ramirez Talusan told TheWrap. “Transitioning is really hard. There are legal issues, hormone therapy and surgery. There are physical, psychological and economic costs to this process. All Dolezal had to do was stay in the sun and check a different box on her job application.”
Mental healthcare professionals who specialize in gender identity have suggested that Dolezal’s alleged deception may signify a deeper problem.
“Being transgender is not a choice, but lying about your race is deliberate,” said Casey Weitzman, a licensed therapist specializing in the transgender community. “If she were to come to my office I would definitely want to explore the reason she wasn’t transparent about her identity.”
While Dolezal’s comment about Jenner sounded harmless to some, many in the transgender community worry it could have at least one very serious consequence.
“She hijacked the conversation about trans people,” Moddie-Mills said. “We’re having a very important conversation in America around trans issues thanks to people like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, and here comes Rachel Dolezal and sucks up the oxygen in the room.”
So Caitlyn Jenner is OK but Rachel Dolezal is an abomination? #devilsadvocate
— J.R. McGrail (@JRMcGrail) June 12, 2015
— Pharrell Season (@PharrellSeason) June 12, 2015