Who are we allowed to become? Children growing up today are likely to believe they can be anyone they want to be, and parents and teachers have grown fond of the phrase “Whatever you are, be a good one.” The emerging narratives of transgender children dovetail perfectly with this philosophy, children whose parents do not force them into a lockstep performance of the gender they were assigned at birth have become visible members of society. Yet the increased presence of transgender issues in our national conversation has prompted some to wonder—with or without their tongue in cheek, or in check—whether this is merely a sign of the times, a side effect of the chaos of modern life. If you can be born male and “become” female, some argue, then can’t you become anything else you want? And if you can be transgender, then can’t the label “transracial” apply, just as legitimately, to someone like Rachel Dolezal?
Dolezal has been in the national spotlight for a week now, and in that time the public’s opinion of her has never quite shifted, as it so often does in stories like these, to simple outrage. Before she became a public figure, Dolezal was most visible through her work as president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP—which is to say, hardly visible at all. Her life wasn’t relevant to the world at large until her white parents come forward to refute her identity as an African-American. Now, she is all anyone can talk about.