Rachel Dolezal vs. Caitlyn Jenner: Can the two be compared?

Transgender vs. 'transracial': Critics say mainstream media is hypocritical for supporting Caitlyn Jenner while condemning of Rachel Dolezal. Can the two be compared? 

Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review via AP/File
In this March 2, 2015 file photo, Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, poses for a photo in her Spokane, Wash. home. Dolezal is facing questions about whether she lied about her racial identity, with her family saying she is white but has portrayed herself as black.

Before last week, the names Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal would never have been uttered in the same sentence.

But once it came out that Ms. Dolezal – president of the Spokane, Wash. chapter of the NAACP – has been falsely identifying as multiracial for the last decade, comparisons soon emerged among conservative commentators between transgender Ms. Jenner and “transracial” Dolezal.

Both Jenner and Dolezal, the argument goes, are presenting different identities to the world than the ones they were born with. But while many people have been quick to praise Jenner’s "bravery," they have been as eager to condemn Dolezal’s deceit.

“Just last week the President of the United States congratulated Bruce Jenner on his courageous decision to pretend to be a woman, and the entire left bursting into spasms of ecstasy over a collectively insane decision to ratify the notion that men can magically become women. Today, the entire left is struggling to explain how a white woman who identifies herself as black is not, in fact, black,” wrote Ben Shapiro in the conservative news outlet Breitbart.

And Sean Davis at the federalist.com also wrote:

"The Left and the media would have us believe that Bruce Jenner can become a woman by…changing his name, his wardrobe, his makeup, and his hair. How can you logically square the belief that Jenner is a hero while Dolezal is a mental case? Well, you can’t."

Those who are both critics of Dolezal and supporters of Jenner, however, insist there is a difference between being transgender and lying about one’s heritage and family.

Darnell Moore wrote on mic.com, “Some are carelessly equating the so-called ‘transracial experience’ with that of transgender people, ignoring, for one thing, that however socially constructed markers of racial divisions may be, skin color is hereditary.”

“To be clear, in attempting to pass as black, Dolezal falsely represented her identity,” Mr. Moore wrote. “Trans people don't lie about their gender identities – they express their gender according to categories that reflect who they are.”

Psychology and education professor of Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Derald Wing Sue told People that while there is evidence to support LGBT identity as a biological reality, the same case cannot be made for Dolezal’s claims about her race.

"Most people who are transgender, [when they are] as early as 4 or 5, believe already that at some level that they are a child born with the wrong anatomy,” Mr. Wing Sue said. “I don't see this [with Dolezal]. … I think [the comparison] is all an attempt to not really see the issue. The issue is deception, honesty and pretense."

The deception and pretense to which Wing Sue referred go beyond the boxes Dolezal checks on the census. Once she came under fire for misrepresenting her race, other claims she has made about her family and her past have been called into question as well. But while those inconsistencies add to the case against her, the “transracial” question is what has caused the most upset.

Twitter users used the hashtag #transracial to express anger that while a white woman can claim the benefits of being black, the reverse is not true. One user wrote, “Yall should have told me #transracial is a thing years ago I would have turned white and got me some of that privilege.”

Another said, “So if I say I'm #transracial and call myself white, do you think employers will finally call me back?”

And in reference to the Dolezal-Jenner connections: “#transracial isn't a real thing & it's degrading to trans people who seriously struggle & fight to be themselves & be accepted. Please stop.”

The Spokane NAACP has stood by Dolezal. The group said in a statement, “One's racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership."

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