Recently, while talking to a couple of old friends about the parental ups and downs of raising a trans teenager, I couldn’t help but put myself selfishly in their shoes, consider what that would be like and then quickly go mentally barfoot. As someone who finds parenting two girls and a boy not so much a challenge as it is a daily exercise in existential crisis, the idea of being a father to a trans kid, with all the attendant fears, anxieties, trials and tribulations that engenders, fills me with dread. But, like most of life’s challenges, if I were ever faced with it, I’d rise to it. The alternative, after all, is simply a lack of parental responsibility, love and empathy, and an unforgivable act of cowardice.
As my friends reminded me, with an air of desperation, no one chooses to become trans, such is the shock to that person’s internal, familial and social ‘system.’ But setting aside the ethics, morality, biology and psychology of it for a moment, suffice it to say that, whatever the ‘backstory’ is, anyone who makes the decision to transition in such a fundamental way, whether with total self-agency or mum and dad’s support, isn’t ‘playing’ the identity game. Wanting to change one’s sex is about as real as it gets. But can the same be said for race? It certainly can, if you buy into ‘transracialism’ to the extent that British-born social media influencer and singer Oli London has.
A formerly pasty-faced white guy, London claims to have spent £150,000 on between 15 and 18 ‘racial transitional surgery’ operations. He now not only identifies sexually as non-binary but racially as, er, well, he says, Korean. But from where I’m sat he looks like he comes from another freaking planet.
London puts his radical racial transformation down to an obsession with K-pop, spawned from his time living in South Korea when his favourite boy band, BTS, launched in 2013. After watching the band performing on TV, London says he was “just amazed” by them, but most of all by band member Jimin, whose name, along with surface racial and cultural elements, London has also appropriated.
While I’m a great believer in each to their own, live and let live and respectful cultural appreciation over rapacious cultural appropriation, as a middle-aged black man still navigating a world wrought with race politics, I have little or no sympathy for bored, spoilt, bourgeois westerners raiding the ethno-dressing-up box to escape the harsh realities of being, er, white, primarily as a means of making a quick buck flogging bubble gum, shampoo and gut-wrenching fizzy drinks.
On one episode of ‘Botched’ – a plastic surgery nightmare reality TV show – Dr Paul Nassif told London that he’d wind up with necrosis if he had another nose operation, having already undergone five rhinoplasties.
Having had work done on his jawbone, chinbone, cheekbone, nose, and eyes, London is getting ever closer to the level of ‘perfection’ naturally achieved by his idol, Jimin, whom he says he’s “obsessed” with, although hopefully not in a Mark David Chapman-type way. He’s admitted to feeling great for about two months after surgery, but once that high wears off, he starts thinking about his next Jimin lookalike move.
At some point, maybe after the sixth or seventh nip and tuck, you’d think someone close to London would have told him to pull off the transracial highway and take another, more pastoral or therapeutic path towards Korean culture, perhaps by learning the language, studying Buddhism or taking up taekwondo. Instead, we have the naff spectacle of him denigrating the South Korean flag with a rainbow-coloured version he launched via Twitter with, “This is my new official flag for being a non-binary person who identifies as Korean. Thank you for the overwhelming support it was so hard for me to come out as They/them/kor/ean.” Given the symbolic nature of the South Korean flag, London has fallen foul of natives who see this ultra-tacky move as cultural annihilation, let alone appreciation or even appropriation.
One irony that’s possibly lost on London is the extent to which skin lightening and Eurocentric cosmetic surgery is popular in South Korea, Japan and other parts of the Far East. For centuries, porcelain white skin has been revered by many in that part of the world, along with a less than BLM-style attitude towards racial diversity and equality. Of course, other parts of the world, notably bourgeois sections of West African and Indian society, have been known to overindulge in the caustic use of dangerous skin-lightening creams in pursuit of the futile western beauty myth. But transracialism, especially with the co-opting of the clinical community, is little more than minstrelsy or blackface on steroids, something London’s new cheerleader and wigger with attitude, Rachel Dolezal, would know all about.
Dolezal, you may recall, made global headlines in 2015 when it was revealed that she was a white woman identifying as black. This, in and of itself, was laughable; but Dolezal at the time was the president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington state. Thanks to America’s wide spectrum of Afrocentric skin colours and shades, Ms Dolezal, with her frizzy hair and ‘funky’ attire, was able to dupe her colleagues into believing she was black, as opposed to the NAACP knowing what she was and welcoming her with open arms as a sista from another mister. To put it bluntly, Rachel Dolezal was a fake, a phoney and a fraud. No wonder she identifies with London.
“I don’t know Jimin personally, obviously, so they can speak for themselves in that regard,” Dolezal told TMZ. “But I do think that the broader issue here is compassion and kindness, and that personal identity is not the big fish to fry when it comes to somebody’s personal choices or how they feel.”
Okay, one love. I buy that.
“I think that we need to focus on fighting the public outrage issues of police brutality, of deinstitutionalizing racism,” Dolezal continued. “Those are the issues that I think that we need to come together on to fight publicly, and to be kinder to people and fight a little bit less on social media against somebody’s personal choices.”
So, London turning himself into a Korean Ken Doll is a George Floyd moment? Gimme a break.
I get that human beings are playful, imaginative, social animals, and part of our personal expression and ‘individuality’ is to peacock by changing the way we look, act and sound, generally via fashion. This is why much of what is dismissed as ‘cultural appropriation’ is whining over-sensitivity by killjoys who want everyone to dress up in Mao suits or hackneyed national costumes, so the world either looks like Apple’s ‘1984’ commercial or a happy clappy ethnic Coca-Cola ad. Sorry, but I don’t work for Central Casting. I’ll wear what the hell I like, thank you very much.
Like London, Dolezal is in need of help. These people’s adoption of a foreign culture, on a largely aesthetic or surface level, has more to do with their rejection of their mother culture than an embrace of ‘the other’ for deep and meaningful reasons. And that rejection of the mother culture, more often than not, is a rejection of or rebellion against their parents. Black people, Koreans or whoever thus become proxies for a battle of wills against mummy and daddy, something which wokeism does well to prod and provoke. But today’s minstreling transracialists are an insult to those who, for a plethora of reasons, have found themselves exchanging their mother race for another race by way of ‘passing.’ Legions of Turks and Arabs have passed as Italians or Spanish to get work across Europe, black people have passed in the Americas to gain acceptance or curry favour just to get by, and what of the Jews who passed as gentiles to escape Nazi death camps?
I suggest the Londons, the Dolezals and all the transracial clowns who think that changing the construct that is race is one big fancy-dress party go watch Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of ‘Imitation of Life’ starring Lana Turner. It’s a melodrama classic, and for her role as an African-American mother raising a daughter who passes for white, co-star Juanita Moore became one of the few black actresses to be nominated for an Oscar. I used to watch that movie on TV in the 1970s with my father. He was half-Portuguese, half-creole. He grew up in a former British colony where race determined your lot in life. I don’t know if he ever tried to pass, but he’d always well-up when that movie came on. If only he was alive to see Oli London’s face…
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