Changes one world
Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal each has self-idenified as something they were not. Each has inherited genetic characteristics but has altered their cultural characteristics to become something different. Caitlyn is transsexual, while Rachel is transracial.
Genetic makeup is determined by your birth. Caitlyn was born Bruce because he had male genitalia. Dolezal was white because her parents are apparently white.
But your cultural identity is shaped by more complex factors. Gender is largely what society defines it as, behavior not biology. Well before modern sex reassignment surgery, some men dressed as women and women as men. The surgery makes the cultural construction physical, forcing us to confront the reality directly. What exactly is the self?
Others have passed for different races as well. Since being light-skinned confers more advantages in Western society than being dark-skinned does, many pass for white if they can. Although more rare, some whites have passed for black as well. Most notable was Effa Manley, the only woman in the baseball Hall of Fame. She was inducted for her career in the Negro Leagues. She, like Rachel Dolezal, was a white woman who passed for black.
Historian Thaddeus Russell believes this cultural shift started with blackface minstrel shows, which he said were not racist, but a crude way for the masses to appreciate black culture. Then it progressed to jazz hipster, Motown lovers and now hip-hop culture. Dolezal does not dream of performing in the cafes of Paris like Josephine Baker, but rather being featured on the cover of Ebony magazine with her $2,000 updo as a competent, upper-middle-class, black woman. Like, allegedly, Elizabeth Warren, she used her self-identification to obtain race-based benefits. Dolezal insists she is black, which crosses a line for some people. But transsexuals also live on a continuum from part-time transvestitism to full-time surgical realignment. Should Dolezal be blamed for gaming the affirmative action mess we created?
Genetics does not determine racial identity. In fact, race is not genetic. There really is no gene-based race except human race. The traits that differentiate races and ethnicities are based on geographical and cultural development and adaption far more than the minor genetics involved with the levels of melanin in the skin or how the skin wraps around the eyes.
Modern medicine has made the future for the Caitlyn Jenners of the world brighter. Now people really can construct a physiology around their self-identification that defies genetics. Medical advances could even one day allow childbirth for transsexuals. Unlike Dolezal’s story, the Bruce-to-Caitlyn life story has been met with a sense of wonder by the world, not head-scratching wonderment.
Both stories illustrate the individuation that our increasing wealth and education allow. Every generation can expect to have the opportunity for even more self-exploration and experimentation. The mentality of the herd that enabled survival of our species since the Ice Age is being cast off and replaced by the self-creating individual. There are still vestiges left, of course. Collectivist thought often dominates much of our PC big government world. Race- and gender-based violence still exists, but the united outpouring of love after the Charleston massacre reveals the revulsion most feel about hatred of superficial differences today. Outspoken racists like Dylann Roof are thankfully more rare now.
For libertarians, the next big step will be the ability for individuals to choose their own government. Most today cannot even imagine what that will be like. But then again, no one could imagine only a few years ago what Caitlyn Jenner would look like, either.