This week we have a tale of two Jessicas, Both, sadly, Jewish. Jessica number one is someone who is no stranger to news headlines, a person in Canada called Jessica Yaniv. Having decided that he/she is a trans activist — and, importantly, rejected as such by other trans activists — this individual, formerly Jonathan Yaniv, has mounted a long campaign against various beauty salons in his home city of Vancouver.
Yaniv makes appointments for intimate body waxing without revealing that he/she still has male genitalia. Then, when the beauticians find out and refuse to perform this service — either because it is not something provided at their salons, or for religious reasons — Yaniv sues them, alleging gender discrimination and breach of human rights.
Last year Yaniv lost a complaint against three of the beauticians he/she had targeted. A human rights tribunal ruled against him/her, but last week he filed a civil suit against the same three women for almost £10,000. I am unsure what drives Yaniv, or what he/she gets out of his life as an apparent vexatious litigant. But his/her campaigns, it seems to me, have only damaged the trans community and polarised the gender debate. How can any court take such complaints seriously?
Jessica number two is a self-admitted fake, a woman called Jessica Krug, an associate professor at George Washington University, who last week revealed that rather than being black, as she has consistently claimed throughout her professional life, she is in fact a white Jewish woman from Kansas City.
The mystery here is how anyone, even the most credulous, could possibly have thought that Jessica Krug was black. Even the most cursory of looks would have told you different. She has skated around this manifestly large problem by claiming she was a “light-skinned” person with a mixed Latino and black background.
Krug appears to have jumped before she was pushed, as she was on the verge of being outed by suspicious black post-graduate students at her own university, where she lectured on Africa and the African diaspora.
In her self-serving apologia on the medium.com website, Krug wrote: “To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child.” Such behaviour, she said, was “the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation, of the myriad ways in which non-black people continue to use and abuse black identities and cultures”, adding that she had continued the pretence even in her personal relationships.
The killer quote from her disappointed critics came from an academic called Yarimar Bonilla, professor of anthropology and Puerto Rican studies, who conceded she had been fooled by Krug. Professor Bonilla wrote: “Kind of amazing how white supremacy means she even thought she was better at being a person of colour than we were.”
At the core of all this is the hot topic of self-identification and so-called “cultural appropriation”, whose fanaticism was felt by the singer Adele when she dressed up to celebrate Notting Hill Carnival.
So here we are, with a slew of mixed messages and a horde of disappointed followers in one of the most electric political climates we have known for years.
If I decide to tell people I am — oh, I don’t know, an octopus wrangler — does saying so make it so? Fortunately, my name is not currently Jessica.