Politics of Bodily Alterations: Why Bleaching Differs From Trans Body Modifications

To Sena, and those that genuinely seek answers. The suffering of Trans people is astronomical. In US and Canada, they are murdered at a rate higher than cis Black men. Trans people’s life expectancy is reported at about 30 years old, while cis people live up to about 78.To maintain moral principles that require us to reduce the suffering of our fellow human beings, I contribute this blog essay.

Marsha P Johnson trans woman advocate for Black civil rights, HIV access, and ending homelessness.
Marsha P Johnson trans woman advocate for Black civil rights, access to HIV medication, and ending homelessness.

If you can imagine the difference between a person getting nose surgery to be able to breathe again, and a person who gets a nose job to be viewed as more attractive within society, you understand fundamentally that even the same act can have completely different meanings depending on context. What is lacking in the comparison between bleaching and the actions that Transgender persons may take is just that: context. In a very real sense, Black people who bleach and seek to be more attractive to a colorist society that values lighter skin, represent the nose job. Conversely, Trans people who may choose to surgically modify their bodies are trying desperately to breathe again.  

Roots of Bleaching vs. Roots of Body Modification For Trans

The politics of bleaching cannot be discussed if we ignore social context. For the past 500 years Black people have suffered the humiliation of white supremacy, the equation of our skin color and physical features to an inferior human existence that deserved brutality. A juxtaposition was created as Black evolved to represent everything that white was not. If whiteness was brilliant, Black was stupid, if whiteness beautiful, Black came to symbolize ugly. As Black people globally heal from  the catastrophe of white supremacy that was coupled with imperialist war and violence, we attempt to regain dignity in affirming the beauty and truth of ourselves. We reject bleaching because we remember that Black is beautiful afterall.

On the other hand, Trans persons engage in body modification for a number of  varied reasons. Body modification is not the signifier of a trans identity. As Caitlyn Jenner and many trans people have discussed, being trans is an identity that may exist before or if one even begins body modification. So why the modification? It could be for a variety of reasons. It could be to fit better into a gender identity that one subscribes to but is not regarded as, and/or it could be for mere survival. In America, trans people, particularly trans women of color, are killed more often than cis Black men.

If not murdered, Trans people in US are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, face sexual violence, face harassment, have bladder problems from an inability to use public restrooms because of violence, and dramatically commit suicide.

Let that sink in.

In reaction to the attempt to survive, in an attempt to receive less hostility and contempt from society, some trans people choose to modify their bodies to be able to navigate society peacefully.

Impact of Bleaching vs. Impact of Body Changes For Trans Persons

Bleaching is institutionally supported. Meaning that those that bleach get more social, economic, and political resources from aesthetically appearing closer to the humans that have been deemed to have more worth. Bleaching is profitable for actors/actresses, market women who desire to sell more, women who seek more attention etc. Bleaching is not a quest for freedom from racial inequality, rather it is an attempt to participate in white supremacist racial hierarchies by placing oneself closer to the lighter, more valued bodies. And this phenomenon reflects current global social power structures that still value whiteness over Blackness.

Acknowledging that one is Trans and engaging in body modification however, exposes one to an insurmountable amount of violence. Inherent within the decision and journey for a Trans person to modify their body is an attempt at peace: internal peace with oneself and external peace from a violent society. Body modification is a quest for liberation. It is a subversive act that seeks to liberate individual trans persons from constricting gender rules that demand that people live up to a non-consensual assigned identity, and it is an attempt to disrupt gender roles that ignore individual desires and box people into predetermined life plans because of their genitals.

Bleaching and Trans body modification fundamentally differ not only because of the polar opposite social reactions, but because bleaching is rooted in oppressive racial politics and Trans body modification is rooted in liberation.

Some Sobering Stats

A reminder of why we should extend compassion even when one may not completely understand.

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2 thoughts on “Politics of Bodily Alterations: Why Bleaching Differs From Trans Body Modifications

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