Transformation and Tragedy

Caitlyn and Rachel
Caitlyn and Rachel

I’m in controversy corner again.

I like Caitlyn Jenner and I like Rachel Dolezal.

They’re dramatic.

One omitted* to his wives and girlfriends, one lied to her employers and the press; one appeared to change gender, one appeared to change race; one is a glamorous Republican, one is a wary liberal. In acceptable opinion one is revealing her true self and the other is a lying impostor, but they’re both roughly doing the same thing – they’re rejecting the roles they were born into and claiming the roles they feel more comfortable with; to greater and lesser success.

Beyond the soap opera appeal (both their former spouses are under attack) this triggers our fears about status, ownership, territory, meaning, dominance, oppression, authenticity and facts because in less conspicuous ways it’s a thing we all do – we all have inner wants and we’re all stuck negotiating a social self. Caitlyn cheers us up because she’s been allowed to carve out a whole new persona without becoming an outcast – it’s a classic Transformation; like a favoured mortal ascending to Olympus. She’s the American Dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She’s a consumer and up for consumption.  A winner.

There are 3 flash-points:

1. Wronged wives.

2. The Pronoun Police who could – beep beep boop – drive anyone up the wall.

3. Feminists who want to talk about female biology and who don’t want to talk about ‘lady brain’.

Rachel doesn’t have an equivalent of ‘lady brain’ to explain herself. Ideas about ancient race memories have fallen out of fashion (mainly because they went hand-in-hand with theories about racial supremacy and race degeneration).

There are 3 possibilities:

1. Imprinting/Attachment – she really does identify so strongly with her black community that she can’t think of her real self without pain.

2. Double Bind/Projection/White Guilt – she has issues with self-hate and isolation that she extrapolates onto racial struggles.

3. By accident or design she realized she’d make her paintings and diversity work more marketable by posing as black.

That she could be motivated by any/all of them makes her a Tragedy. An attractive, intelligent woman who could have been great but who brought herself down by fibs. Audiences are outraged and disgusted. They use ridicule and insults. They call her racist and a thief. They say she erased them and used her privilege. They worry about her. They think she’s crazy. They think she may have a point. They want her punished and they want her redeemed.

Cait and Rach are the Identity Politics Zeitgeist – but their stories have a deeper resonance. Tragedy and Transformation – two patterns that reach back to the ancient world – and prove – that however much we change we always stay the same.

*yes – I am using this word this way.


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