Within the activist circles I run in, I routinely hear people accuse others of appropriation, or claim that certain behaviors or endeavors are appropriative. I myself have written about how certain people (e.g., cisgender academics and media producers) sometimes appropriate transgender identities and experiences (discussed more below). So I am certainly sympathetic to the concept.
- They erase the marginalized group’s voice and perspective (as trans people are depicted as merely symbols or metaphors, while our real-life circumstances and issues as a marginalized population are completely ignored).
- They exploit the marginalized group (as many a cisgender media producers have made lots of money capitalizing on the exoticness of gender variant lives, and some cisgender gender theorist have garnered success and built their careers upon interpreting trans people’s bodies and identities, without giving anything back to the trans community).
- They denigrate the marginalized group (in that cisgender media producers and academic researchers often outright dismiss or discount trans people’s self-accounts, fail to take trans people’s struggles seriously, and sometimes even blatantly ridicule or demean trans people in the process).
- A cisgender academic could carry out a research project that focuses on issues and obstacles that trans people are most concerned about. This project could be done in a way that respects trans people’s perspectives and opinions, and portrays us in a realistic manner (rather than relying on stereotypes or reducing us to metaphors). The final product (e.g., an article or book) could be described as appropriative in that it uses trans people’s realities, ideas, perspectives, and experiences, despite the fact that it amplifies trans voices and has the potential to create positive change for trans communities.
- There have been several instances in which cisgender students have attended school crossdressed in order to show support for a transgender classmate. Such acts could be described as appropriative, yet they are done out of respect and in support of trans people. Much like students who shave their heads in support of a student who is going through chemotherapy, such acts can help de-stigmatize and lend legitimacy toward the marginalized/minority group in question.
- Over the years, I have met a number of cisgender people who appreciate transgender perspectives and culture. For instance, they might have learned a lot from trans authors, and they may recommend those books to others. They might enjoy performances by transgender spectrum artists or patronize transgender film festivals. They do this out of genuine respect, and their actions do help to promote trans voices and to put money into the hands of trans performers and writers. Yet the person in question could be described as appropriating trans culture in a non-EED sense.
- Cisgender people who are partners of trans people sometimes start their own support or discussion groups. While such groups may focus a lot on partner-specific issues, they will also discuss how to be supportive of the trans people in their lives and how to challenge societal cissexism. Such groups may have a net-positive effect on trans communities, by directly supporting relationships in which trans people are involved, and by demystifying and de-stigmatizing trans sexualities and relationships. Despite these benefits, some trans people may claim that the group members appropriate trans identities (by positioning themselves as “trans partners”) and/or appropriate the oppression trans people face by discussing how it impacts their own lives.
[note: If you appreciate this essay and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page!]