It was irresponsible for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to talk about trans women’s experiences — and for the interviewer to ask her to do so.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — the mentor in my head, the current “It” black feminist, the self-proclaimed LGBT activist, the Nigerian queen of free thinking — recently aligned herself with the likes of Lena Dunham and spoke on something she had no business talking about.
She was asked by BBC’s Radio 4 Woman’s Hour whether trans women are real women. This was her response:
“When people talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is, trans women are trans women. I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experiences. It’s not about how we wear our hair or whether we have a vagina or a penis.
“It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change 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 as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.
“… 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.”
In an article today, she told The Guardian, “I have nothing to apologize for.”
I feel like someone, somewhere, has addressed this issue before. However, my aunty Chima missed the message. I’m here to tell her four reasons we are not having this:
1. It was irresponsible.
As writers, we share opinions, thoughts and narratives that people, copy, imitate and share. These words we put together can ultimately become our fans’ truths or perspectives about the things they cannot experience. What people do with that information is out of our control. They may keep it to themselves or teach it to school children.
Recognizing this, I would like to see more influencers hitting the “pause” button when people ask them questions that have nothing to do with them. In other words, there is a responsibility on the interviewer not to ask cisgendered women to speak or represent on transgender topics. There are surely enough trans people who are willing and have addressed this issue for themselves. Furthermore, it was Adichie’s responsibility not to respond. She should know that she cannot offer an answer, as she does not speak for all women.
2. It’s untrue.
Adichie claims that trans women do not share common, typical female experiences. It would be irresponsible of me to speak on the experience of a trans woman (see point 1). I am not sure of the shared experiences Adichie references, but here is what I do know: trans women are out here fighting for all the same women’s rights as everyone else. They are at the women’s marches, Planned Parenthood rallies and more. If trans women’s rights are protected, women’s rights are protected. Just like in order for all lives to matter, the black ones must count as well. It comes down to this assumption: if trans women have such a different experiences than us, why do they feel inclined to fight by our side? Furthermore, why don’t we share the same feeling of obligation?
3. It’s not on the feminist agenda.
As I pointed out, trans women’s rights are women’s rights. If we are fighting for gender equity, we are going to need all of the help we can get. For a feminist — excuse me — a widely lauded and accepted feminist to speak about trans women as some kind of subset of womanhood is dangerous. The people who are trying to assign bathrooms for trans people and limit hormone therapy are the same people trying to close Planned Parenthood and limit birth control for cisgender women. For one of them to get wind that our Beyonce-branded feminist icon sees transgender women as an “other?” That is all they need to set us back pre-Susan B. Anthony.
4. It sucks the diversity out of the trans community.
I first started to explore the issues trans people face with Orange is the New Black and Laverne Cox. And before I could grasp what was going on, here comes Caitlyn Jenner, who erased all the lessons that Laverne had eloquently established for the community. Here we have a person who accomplishes great things in the Olympics. Establishes great wealth and fame with his masculinity, and continues to bank on this masculinity and white privilege after she transitions: a television show, Vanity Fair cover, and presenting at the Espy awards. These are all connections that were made by Bruce Jenner in his former life.
I do believe Caitlyn is the example in Adichie’s head when she says “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.” Not everyone wins gold medals and transitions in between paid sponsorships for Herbal Essence commercials. This is not the norm. In the trans community, there is Caitlyn Jenner, and there is everybody else.
I have to disclose that, as a cisgendered person, I know that am inherently transphobic. I am sure that shows in my writing; I apologize if I’ve hurt anyone. I think it’s important to recognize that even though I am kind, respectful and polite, I have growing to do if I am going to be a feminist, LGBT ally, decent human being, etc.
For me, the greatest barrier to becoming an ally is not feeling safe to address my transphobia with members of the transgender community because of remarks like Adichie’s. Who would ever want to interact with a group of people who steal their voices and tell them how they should identify themselves? I hope that comments like Chimamanda’s do not create greater walls of anxiety and animosity betweens trans people and cisgender people like myself who just want to have a conversation around how I can help you feel more comfortable in the space I hope we can share one day. So allow this to serve as a message. On behalf of dope cisgender people: we are listening.