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Feminist icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called out over remarks on trans women

Feminist icon Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called out over remarks on trans women

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie believes trans women don’t have the same lived experiences as cisgender women.

In a recent interview with Channel 4, Adichie was asked ‘Are trans women women?’

She responded: ‘Trans women are trans women.’

Adichie sat down with literary critic Ellah Wakatama Allfrey at the Southbank Centre in London on Saturday (11 March) night.

When asked by an audience member to clarify her earlier interview, she reiterated her stance.

She believes it’s ‘dishonest’ to ‘insist on saying that a person who was born female and has experienced life as a woman has the same experiences as someone who has transitioned as an adult.’

‘I don’t think it has to be the same thing in order for us to be supportive,’ she said.

She explains how she defends transgender people in Nigeria, but ‘I’m not just going to sit here and say that their experiences are the same.’

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Chris Boland/Flickr

Adichie cites the example of a 30-year-old man transitioning to become a woman after years of male privilege.

A woman is conditioned at a young age to have in-built shame for her body, she says.

Adichie stated: ‘A person who transitions at 30, hasn’t had that experience from childhood of your body being a source of shame.

‘They might have had it for different reasons, like gender confusion.

But not for the reason that you’re told by growing a breast, you have threatened something.

‘[Or for the reason that] you should be ashamed of having blood coming out of your vagina,’ she said.

Alarmingly, the crowd cheered after Adichie reiterated her remarks on trans women.

We don’t have to insist that in the name of being supportive that everything is the same,’ she said.

‘Chimamanda being asked about trans women is like Lena Dunham being asked about Black women’

It is not enough to illegitimize someone’s identity – to welcome them into the fold of womanhood but keep them at arm’s length.

Trans stories are varied and unique, it’s problematic to suggest male privilege excludes trans women from womanhood.

Transgender people are increasingly discovering their true selves at earlier stages in life and with greater awareness comes greater acceptance.

Actress and trans activist Laverne Cox responded to the idea of male privilege in trans women before transitioning.

Cox said: ‘Though I was assigned male at birth I would contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition.

Laverne Cox Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie
Laverne Cox Disney/Flickr

‘Gender exists on a spectrum and the binary narrative, which suggests that all trans women transition from male privilege erases a lot of experiences and isn’t intersectional.

‘Gender is constituted differently based on the culture we live in.

‘There’s no universal experience of gender, of womanhood,’ Cox tweeted.

Raquel Willis is a communications associate at the Transgender Law Centre and believes Adichie has no place in commenting on trans women.

Willis tweeted: ‘Chimamanda being asked about trans women is like Lena Dunham being asked about Black women.’

‘It’s nonsensical and privileged to require trans women to experience certain instances of oppression to prove their womanhood,’ she said.

Willis agrees cis women are plagued by oppression from birth but says trans women have even greater problems.

‘Trans women have been hypersexualized in the media, exploited for our bodies, paid less, denied healthcare and told our voices are invalid.

‘If you want to play Oppression Olympics, sorry cis women, you’re going to lose more often than not which is why this convo isn’t productive,’ Willis said.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on feminism

Although Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie believes conflating the issue of trans identity with womanhood is problematic, she maintains feminism is a separate issue.

Adichie said: ‘We can have a multiplicity within feminism.

‘Feminism is good for both women and men,’ she said.

Speaking to Allfrey, she recounts the major thread in her book: 15 tips on how to raise a feminist.

She said: ‘I have been feminist since I have been old enough to think.’

‘It took a lot of watching the world, noticing the little things, questioning them and not being satisfied by the world around me.

Gender is the basis for a system of oppression,’ she said.

She believes the way we construct masculinity results in boys feeling caged and repressed.

Adichie said: ‘We have to start to smash and dismantle the way we have constructed masculinity.

‘I think it’s toxic,’ she also said.

Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie
Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie Howard County Library/Flickr

She believes a radical shift in ideology is needed and proposes the idea of shaming men for not showing emotions.

She said: ‘What if we teach boys to be ashamed to not be vulnerable?

‘Teach girls that it’s okay for men to cry,’ Adichie said.

The onus is on both men and women to raise children as feminists, she says.

Adichie sees hope in the next generation, but believes there’s still a long way to go.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said: ‘The becoming continues, but it’s almost as if it is an endless becoming.’