The news is the trough around which we all feed our identities. We go to the news not to know what is happening in the world, but to decide what conflicts are worth our attention. The fact is, it ain’t news unless it’s bad news. Sure, we might recognize that the media makes money in every click, and nothing sets fire to our fingers fasters than fear, but if we weren’t there to worry, the potboiler would pass and we’d move on in life. So what, then, do we make of all those headlines that don’t pertain to us — those that pull us in only because algorithms and chance found our feed?
This article isn’t about Ja Du, the transgender White Floridian that held the viral news cycle for a measure after she identified as Filipinx. It isn’t about the mistake she made condensing, fetishizing and appropriating a nationality, culture or “race.” It isn’t about that first sloppy bit of journalism that introduced her to the world, or the author’s terribly problematic statement that a person’s race (a non-white person’s race) makes them more “marketable.”
This isn’t about TEGNA, the company that was responsible for that inflammatory bit of journalism (though an exploration of what democracy means to their media profiteering might be worth a parenthetical break).
It’s not about the damage the less-than-ethical psychiatrist Keith Ablow or anti-LGBT Kansas Representative Tim Huelskamp caused by weighing in.
This article isn’t about Martina Big, Rachel Dolezal or Caitlyn Jenner who were each pulled into the story. Nor is it about the difference between the terms: transgender and transracial, or how so many outlets, save one or two, disregarded Ja Du’s transgendered identity even as they tried to protect it in general or as they correctly and respectfully denied the possibility of the transracialism.
This article is not even about the irony of life imitating art or the complex intersections between power, oppression and comedy.
Instead, it’s about the links between the links, about what ties together everything the other articles themselves are not about. This article is about the fear, conflict and power that makes the trans all so newsworthy.
Societies — at least insofar as they’re systematized by social science — function most only to reproduce themselves, defining what is and isn’t a proper or possible role, and partially structuring the lives of citizens by creating categories and chronologies. So long as the structure functions, and the masses move along accordingly, resigned and compliant, there is not conflict — no change, no news.
Although order assumes oppression, schism is always assured.
If there is one rule that supersedes the schemes of social order, it’s that we find singularity in selfhood. No socially constructed categories or rules of race, gender or class can define our difference. No roles or regulations of identity can tamp our human diversity down.
So, again, what of those headlines and the problem they presuppose? Why, exactly, is it so “bad” that clickbait creators like TEGNA seek to flaunt their attention-grabbing quips in front of America’s consuming majority?
It’s all a matter of the “trans.” The “trans” is, in the end (or perhaps at the start), a sign of schism, a signal that hegemony is unsuccessful in full suppression and that supremacy might soon be at an end.
If humanity resists homogeneity, might Ja Du be a hero calling attention to the strictures of racial classification, bravely breaking free of the binary? Shouldn’t “we” — the smart ones who see the falsity of gender and love the “T” in LGBT — celebrate another rupture of a socially constructed category?
Our society is not one based on absolute equality. There are hierarchies built right in and there are structures that bind and oppress more than the individuality. But what reproduces them is not always so evident.
In this case, it’s very much the fight for individuality and rights that define the world over and against identity, difference and race that reproduces oppression.
The critiques of Ja Du’s transracial identity are warranted, but not all for the right reasons. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, a closer look at Ja Du’s Facebook support group reflects exactly that kind of hyper color-blind individualism that reinforces white privilege. The trans she seems to employ is not in service of upsetting the setup, but just reproducing another kind of privilege.
But as I said earlier, this article is not about her. Because whatever power and privilege she and her band of transracists might ever wield pales in comparison to media conglomerates capable of reproducing oppression by undermining the true power of the trans — those that pepper the trough of conflict with pablum and opprobrium, as it were. This article is about the media’s power to appropriate the trans and derail its good work by associating it with a cause founded in privilege — and trick us into thinking that structural change toward equality for the groups most oppressed in our society is a conflict worth calling bad.