I’ve never believed that people can transition between races the same way we can transition between genders, but I haven’t been able to express why. I did some reading today and now I think I understand.

Though both are socially constructed, the process of construction is different in each case. You fall into racial categories based on who your parents are. This Medium article I read says that transracial as an academic term refers to children adopted by parents of a different race. That could mean that someone could grow up speaking African-American Vernacular English and feeling more closely integrated into black American culture without them actually being black or, moreover, experiencing the racism that their adopted family might.

Gender, however, is assigned at birth. Medical staff and parents observe a foetus or newborn’s sex organs and attach or assign a gender. Children are then trained, through deliberate and passive teaching influences, in how to express the gender they were assigned. Because these transitions occur only after birth, gender, in my view, has a looser grasp (relatively) on someone’s identity than race does. We derive gender from characteristics that foetus’ develop in the womb. The characteristics from which we derive race are set at conception because of our parent’s own characteristics.

Though both could theoretically be deconstructed in the future (and I believe that they should), it would have to be far in the future. Our society has internalised these constructs so firmly that it will likely take well over a century to root them out. I think that people are attached much more strongly to their gender than they are to their race (again, relatively). I feel overall like people are more ready to accept that deconstructing race would be a net benefit than they are to gender. Splitting people up into races is just bad. Its only function from its foundation is to make certain people’s lives worse than others. Modern-day racial thinking has a much more recent history than gender, which has had purchase in more places for longer.

I should qualify that by saying that gender as we know it today is not as old as we might think, nor even as widespread. Still, I think it’s easier to make a case for the continued existence of gender than for race. I mean, I still think we should try to dismantle it or at least to ease its rigidity so that nobody can be oppressed in its name any more, but I’d like to recognise that there are many well-intentioned people who are attached to their gender and don’t see it as inherently oppressive. Gender abolitionism is a field I’m interested in, certainly, but besides generally agreeing with what I believe to be its principles, I haven’t really done any more work on it at this point. Maybe I’ll write about it in future!

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