Back in June 2015, Rachel Anne Dolezal resigned as president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP after it became public knowledge that she was a white woman who had presented herself as being a black woman, in spite of nothing in 400 years of her ancestry to suggest any such descriptor was appropriate. She argued that while she was born white, she identified as black, and as such should have her racial identity respected as such.
It’s important to note that this is very much different to mixed race individuals selecting their own racial identity. Selecting from multiple applicable racial descriptors compared to ignoring one clear cut racial category for one that doesn’t seem to fit at all are very different situations.
Much of the language she used to describe her life mirrored the established language of the transgender community, a community she actively compared her situation to on multiple occasions.
As such, many in the media began to describe Dolezal as Trans-racial, a term which she never distanced herself from. The media began to compare Dolezal’s experience to those of transgender individuals, and argue that if trans people deserve gender recognition then Dolezal deserves racial recognition. They argued that any criticisms of Dolezal should also be criticisms made of the transgender community.
The struggle of the transgender community was linked in to an isolated woman claiming her racial identity differed significantly from her genetic ancestry. If you want a more recent example, this week saw news circulate about Ja Du, a white florida man who “identifies as fillipino”.
In past battles for marginalised groups to receive wider acceptance, for example the push for gay rights, slippery slope fallacies were common, but easily dismissed. The arguments that allowing gay people to marry would lead to humans marrying or sleeping with animals, children, and inanimate objects certainly existed during that particular civil rights movement.
There is however one key factor that is making the fight for trans rights more difficult in regards to the slippery slope fallacy – The ubiquity of social media and 24/7 news cycles.
In the past, it was easy to argue “gay people getting married and a man marrying a dog are two separate things, one an actual fight for rights going on now and one a hypothetical that we can tackle if it ever comes up, but it’s not the fight we are currently having”. It was easy enough to point out that nobody knows anyone wanting to marry a dog, so it’s easier to put that hypothetical aside and avoid using it to argue a current real rights issue.
Mainstream discussion of trans acceptance really came to the forefront during the internet era. Internet message boards allowed trans people to find information, discover they were not alone, and were a major catalyst in the rise of trans awareness and visibility. The problem that comes with that is the internet opens up the world to the Rachel Dolezal’s of the world as fringe examples able to be used to discredit the trans rights movement.
If one person in the world claims they identify as a cat, or as a black person when they’re white, or as a toaster, whether claimed sincerely or in jest, they can then be cited to more effectively invoke a slippery slope fallacy. It makes it harder to separate out the transgender rights discussion from isolated fringe discussions and is seriously hampering the fight for trans rights.
The problem is, while fighting the slippery slope fallacy is still possible, it’s a lot more time consuming and emotionally draining than it previously was now. I can explain that Gender Dysphoria is a condition evidenced as existing throughout the entirety of human history, documented by the scientific community, with diagnostic criteria, treatment plans and proven effectiveness rates for treatments. I can talk about the fact that there is a huge variation in physical characteristics and chromosomal make-ups that make the gender binary a myth in humans. I can point out that there are potential explanations for the developmental process in the womb that can explain the existence of trans people. I can explain that there is evidence of trans people’s brains post autopsy more closely resembling those of their identified gender than their birth assigned gender.
I can point out that Rachel Dolezal’s case of racial identity shifting doesn’t fit any of this, and as such shouldn’t be directly compared. Same for Ja Du.
But it gets tiring. And there’s no guarantee it’ll work, because everyone can just keep pointing to Dolezal and Ja Du.
The Slippery Slope Fallacy is harder to fight in an internet age, and it’s a big factor in the current struggles the transgender community face.