What should we think of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments on transgender women?

In an interview with British news station Channel 4, feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made these comments on transgender women. The full statement can be found here, but here’s an excerpt:

“I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges the world accords to men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman, and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.
And so I think there has to be — and this is not, of course, to say, I’m saying this with a certainty that transgender should be allowed to be. But I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one. I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women, because I don’t think that’s true.”

Shortly after, she posted this as a response on her Facebook page, in an attempt to clarify her comments:

“Of course trans women are part of feminism.
I do not believe that the experience of a trans woman is the same as that of a person born female. I do not believe that, say, a person who has lived in the world as a man for 30 years experiences gender in the same way as a person female since birth.
Gender matters because of socialization. And our socialization shapes how we occupy our space in the world.
To say this is not to exclude trans women from Feminism or to suggest that trans issues are not feminist issues or to diminish the violence they experience – a violence that is pure misogyny.
But simply to say that acknowledging differences and being supportive are not mutually exclusive. And that there is space in feminism for different experiences.”

Some find Adichie’s words problematic and troubling, taking them to imply that the experiences of trans women should be left out of feminist discourse. Others are quick to defend Adichie, emphasizing that the experience of cis and trans women really are different and that we shouldn’t get too lost in semantics (even though semantics are extremely important when we talk about gender identity). Transgender activist Racquel Willis’s Twitter thread on the matter approaches Adichie’s comments with nuance.

Whichever camp you’re on, you’re certainly better off than those who choose to look at these discussions with total apathy and indifference. This is a discussion we’re going to have for as long as the patriarchy exists, and the wealth of nuance this issue carries means our problems aren’t going to be solved with Twitter threads and unfocused infighting. That said, allow us to offer what our takeaway is from all of this, and what you should keep in mind when talking about how to welcome people in fighting against the patriarchy.

  1. Yes, the experiences of trans women and cis women are different, but just because trans women were born men, that doesn’t mean that they had it better. Gender dysphoria, to feel that you were born into a body that isn’t yours, comes with its own pain.
  2. Transgender people don’t just decide to “switch gender.” Many people suffering from gender dysphoria don’t have the resources to transition, and as a result face struggling for the rest of their lives, unable to genuinely express their identity.
  3. Sure, having a penis is probably going to get you pretty far in society, but let’s not forget the experiences of trans men. Again, transgender people face their own share of forms of violence and oppression.
  4. Feminism should be intersectional, which means different experiences should be welcome in the discussion. Your ethnicity, gender identity, or social classes should warrant your exclusion from feminist discourse.
  5. Part of making other women feel included in feminist discourse means acknowledging difference, which prevents discussion from deteriorating into a mere game of oppression olympics. Jumping through hoops to prove that you suffer more sounds like something meninists do.
  6. Transgender women don’t have male privilege. An article by Everyday Feminism explains this eloquently.
  7. In case we haven’t made it clear with the first three points, trans women are women. This shouldn’t be difficult to understand.

HEADER PHOTO via Wellesley College’s website.

Tags:
#gender #politics

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