Thursday, August 02, 2012

Transethnicity

Update: Yup, it was trolling.


(via Feministe) Admittedly, the whole concept of "transethnicity" seems pretty preposterous on first blush. And really, this gives off the distinct odor of eau de troll:

i’m jun/june, a 16 year old autistic pangender asexual demiromantic trans-asian cat otherkin

Seriously? Anyhow...

Let's posit for a moment that somewhere there really is a person who earnestly believes all of that. What would it mean for em to be "trans-asian" or, more generally, is the concept of "transethnicity" even minimally coherent? Working by analogy, let's start with Natalie Reed's concise definition of the word "trangender":

An umbrella term referring to any identity that deviates from the assumed cultural norms of gender, gender identity or gender expression.

A parallel construction applied to the concept of "ethnicity" would look something like

An umbrella term referring to any identity that deviates from the assumed cultural norms of ethnicity, ethnic identity, or ethnic expression.

That definition is intelligible from a purely formal standpoint; the sentence isn't nonsensical. However, it implies the existence of cultural norms with respect to

  • Ethnicity
  • Ethnic identity
  • Ethnic expression

Which, since I'm not an ethnographer, I'll boil down to the following question: Are there norms for how a person of a particular ethnicity should behave and present themselves?

I'm inclined to issue a qualified "yes". One can certainly identify traditional modes of dress for many historic ethnic categories and, in some cases at least, make broadly accurate statements about contemporary dress ("Person from X tend to dress like Y"). It's reasonable to believe that similar statements can be made regarding comportment. So, at least on a very general level, the concept of "transethnicity" seems like it could be meaningful. Now let's look at jun/june's specific claims:

i knew that i wasn’t meant to be white — but i did not know exactly whichethnicity i was meant to be until i was exposed to Korean beings, and Korean culture (albeit a single aspect of it) for the first time. (the area in which i live is racially homogeneous and for the preceding 14 years of my life i had come into contact with very few BOC, and no Koreans). anyhow, upon seeing the Korean singers and observing their culture, i finally understood my true ethnicity. their appearance corresponded exactly to my idealized conception of myself (my proprioceptive perceptions and my mental image of my own body); their language, their gestures, their comportment, all seemed absolutely natural to me. it was like an adopted child meeting their birth family for the first time. and it was wonderful.

Again, setting aside the dramatic nature of the prose, the core claims seem to me to be defensible. The idea that someone might have an innate tendency to favor some modes of display or comportment over others seems unobjectionable. If it turns out that these modes differ markedly from those of the ethnicity into which they are born then there's a decent case to be made that the person is "transethnic". Where I do see a problem, however, is in making the jump from transethnic to "trans-<some other ethnicity>"; just because ey fails to conform to the norms of eir own ethnicity does not automatically mean that ey conforms to the norms of another ethnicity. The latter is a much stronger claim which, if its meaningful at all, must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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