I’ve seen the term “transethnic” taken more and more seriously on tumblr lately, and so I’d like to address why you can not be “transethnic” in the same way that people are “transgender.” It basically comes down to one thing: Gender and Race/Ethnicity, despite being both socially constructed, are fundamentally different in how they work.
Gender is something that must be actively done. We do gender. There are certain things in our culture- clothing, behaviors, haircuts, speech patterns- that we have associated with gender. However, we actively participate in gender, in whatever way, depending on how we do things. If I have short hair, I’m seen as presenting my gender in a different way than when I have long hair. When I cross my legs at the knee, I’m doing gender differently than if I put my ankle on my knee. Most people don’t consciously do this, because it has been socialized in them since childhood to act this way. However, a lot of baggage comes with these actions and clothing and behaviors. People expect different things from you when you have long hair and a dress than when you have short hair and polos on. Our society likes to tell people how they SHOULD do gender. They like to tell people, “You’re a girl, so you shop in this part of the store and act like this and wear these colors.” But not everyone is okay with all the stuff that comes together in the package. Some people don’t like the package they’ve been handed at all and really hate being expected to use it. Then they see this other package and think, “That’s what I am.” And those are transmen and transwomen. And there are some people who like a few things from both packages, and even some people who want to throw away the whole idea that these things should come in sets and do their gender a la carte. And that’s all cool, because how you do your gender doesn’t affect anyone but you. And if doing your gender how you want makes you happy, than its the other people who have the problem. Depending on how a person does their gender, society has different expectations of them, and some want one of the sets of expectations, and some people want none.
Ethnicity works completely differently, because it’s not something you DO. Unlike gender, where we apply meaning to people’s actions, which CAN change, ethnicity is the meaning we apply to someone’s birthplace, parents, and skin color, which is something you do NOT change. There is nothing in ethnicity that is defined by actions. Two black people can act completely differently in every way and still both be black. Society defines them both as black because they were both born to parents of African ancestry, in a country that defines race by skin color, with dark skin. Ethnicity is less to do with the way people do things, and more to do with how people see you and the things you were brought up in. If you are black, society will see you differently than if you were white based on inaccurate stereotypes and historical baggage. Because of these stereotypes being applied, and that historical baggage, you have a different experience than people of other ethnicities. It has nothing to do with how you feel, or how you act, because race and ethnicity are not something YOU put on yourself. They are things society puts on YOU.
You see, you can only interpret your race based on how society views you. If I decided tomorrow that I was really, for example, trans-African American, I would be wrong. Sure, I may live in a largely black area, speak like those around me, like the same food and style of dressing as my black friends and listen to the same music, but that would not make me black any more than an African-American person who does the opposite would be white. That would be basing my identity on stereotyping another group, because the things we DO don’t define our race. When society looks at me, they see a white person. They interpret me as white, and base they way I am treated on that assumption. The reason people identify as a particular race is not to interpret their inner feelings, but rather to understand their racialized experience in society. Basically, there would be no reason to identify as white if I was not put in a certain place in society for being white, because I do not act “white”. I act in a way that has been affected by other people seeing me as white, and the privilege that has given me.
Transethnic is not a valid identity because race is not based on a person’s feelings, likes, dislikes, actions, or presentations. It is based only, ONLY on factors outside of a person’s control. Gender is something that is based on inner feelings, preferences, and presentations, so it CAN be changed because people feel and do these things differently.
I still have some to write on why I think all these new IDs are popping up, but I will get to that at a later time.