Concerning Caitlyn and Rachel

My daughter has been home for two days and we’ve already had our first argument. She stomped off and went to bed before anything was resolved. Very upsetting to me, because, as my father used to say whenever emotion of any sort crept into a conversation, “I don’t want to argue!”  Which, for him, meant – I don’t want to have this conversation. The difference is (and I am constantly looking for differences between me and my father), I did want to have the conversation with my daughter last night. I just wanted it to end better.

In any case, it’s a thought-provoking topic – good blog material – so what else really matters?

I just finished reading “Three Days in April,” a novel by Edward Ashton (cancer researcher by day, spec fic writer by night). It’s a good read. Near future gumbo of nano-tech, gov conspiracy, biological modification, and the social challenges we will inevitably have to wrestle with as we continue to redefine what it means to be human. I say continue, because humanity is already making alterations, to the consternation of many.

It’s a great subject to explore in near-future spec fic – and, I thought, to explore with my daughter in after conversation. We were in the living room. I had just finished Mr. Ashton’s novel, and my daughter was browsing recent issues of The Week. She asked, “Did you read about Rachel Dolezal? That white women who was caught in the act of passing herself off as black.” And I thought about the growing capabilities for human modifications, and Ed’s novel, and Bruce..er, Caitlin Jenner, and made what I thought was sort of an innocent observation. That what science/tech makes possible, people will do. People will increasingly exercise the power (legal and medically sanctioned or otherwise) to change themselves into whatever form they like: one gender to another, one race to another, and soon perhaps, biological to hybrid. Look where we’re going with implants and prosthetics. They are doing head transplants in China. Brain wave control. They’ve sequenced the human genome, which opens the door to modifications at the genetic level.

I noted that Jenner’s transformation – and transgendering generally – has gained social acceptance. I said, if gender transformation is ok, then why not racial transformation? If I really feel like a black person trapped in a white person’s body, should I not be allowed to make that transformation? That’s when things went south. “Race is cultural,” my daughter said, not genetic. That kinda threw me off track, because it wasn’t really on point. Skin pigment, eye color, hair texture – these are distinguishing physical features that influence the way you are perceived and treated in society. Doesn’t matter if they are genetic or not – if they can be altered, there are people who will alter them. Consider leg extension surgery! Double eyelid surgery!

Anyway. The upshot seemed to be, transforming yourself from one gender to another is okay. Physically transforming yourself to exploit the cultural heritage or advantages of another racial group (because race is cultural, after all) is not ok. It’s a perfect example of the kind of issues we will have to deal with as human transformation – genetic, surgical, virtual – become more commonplace.

Which brings me back to Ed Ashton’s novel. The war between the Altered and the Unaltered. To the degree they can be distinguished. To the degree it provides unfair sympathies or advantages. To the degree it is deemed ethical. This is exciting stuff, people! Can’t wait to see where it leads…

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