A Timeline of Chimamanda Adichie's Controversial Remarks About Trans Women

Chimamanda Adichie has issued a response to the criticism she faced over the weekend for her comments about trans women.

Last Friday, a clip of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie during an interview with the UK's Channel 4 News began circulating. In the short video, Adichie is shown answering a question about the inclusion of transgender women in the feminist movement, and whether or not it mattered how someone "arrived at being a woman" in regards to feminism and femininity.

"When people talk about, ‘are trans women women’ my feeling is that trans women are trans women," she stated. "If you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that 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.”

She then elaborated on why she felt that it was limiting to "conflate" the issues of cisgender women, with those of transgender women, before stating that "gender is not biology, gender is sociology."

Adichie's comments sparked conversations about the experiences of trans woman and how they fit into the larger narrative of womanhood. Many found her comments to be exclusionary, and felt that it was not her place to speak on the experiences of trans women.

Following the release of the interview, Adichie took to Facebook in an attempt to clarify her statements.

"Of course trans women are part of feminism," she remarked. "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."

In response, trans actress and LGBT advocate, Laverne Cox, shared her personal experience with male privilege and touched on the importance of true intersectionality via Twitter.

I was talking to my twin brother today about whether he believes I had male privilege growing up. I was a very feminine child though I was assigned male at birth. My gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that. My femininity did not make me feel privileged. I was a good student and was very much encouraged because of that but I saw cis girls who showed academic promise being nurtured in the black community I grew up in in Mobile, Ala. Gender exists on a spectrum & 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. To suggest that is essentialist & again not intersectional. Many of our feminist foremothers cautioned against such essentialism & not having an intersectional approach to feminism. Class, race, sexuality, ability, immigration status, education all influence the ways in which we experience privilege so though I was assigned male at birth I would contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition. Patriarchy and cissexism punished my femininity and gender nonconformity. The irony of my life is prior to transition I was called a girl and after I am often called a man. Gender policing & the fact that gender binaries can only exist through strict policing complicates the concept of gendered privilege & that’s OK cause it’s complicated. Intersectionality complicates both male and cis privilege. This is why it is paramount that we continue to lift up diverse trans stories. For too many years there’s been far too few trans stories in the media. For over 60 years since Christine Jorgensen stepped off the plane from Europe and became the first internationally known trans woman the narrative about trans folks in the media was one of macho guy becomes a woman. That’s certainly not my story or the stories of many trans folks I know. That narrative often works to reinforce binaries rather than explode them. That explosion is the gender revolution I imagine,one of true gender self determination.”

Nigerian-American trans writer Jarune Uwujaren also penned a response to Adhichie's remarks entitled Why Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Comments on Trans Women are Wrong and Dangerous. Here is an excerpt form her piece:

To those people, I say this: your viewpoint is old and tired as hell. Trans exclusionary feminism is not new or interesting or nuanced or enlightened just because the normally on point Adichie failed to recognize that it is not her place to tell trans women who they are or how they live in the world. The feminist movements of our time have been historically weighed down by gender essentialism, cissexism, transphobia, and a belief that trans people are not who they say they are but who they are violently pressured to be.

You cannot fix your mouth to say you are an ally to trans people if you think Adichie’s decision to talk over trans women was appropriate. You cannot claim to shed tears for the trans women out here being killed while defending Adichie’s belief that trans women aren’t really women (and yes, that’s what she said) because that belief upholds such violence. You cannot talk about trans people as if we’re talking points or theoretical concepts and ignore our own words about our experiences with gender and call that allyship. Trans people are working, living, and speaking before your eyes about who we are and what we need—stop looking to cis feminists to dictate how you see and support us.

In short, you need to listen to trans people more than you need to speak for or about us. Anything else is further marginalizing a group of people who cannot afford to be further marginalized.

Yesterday, Adichie took to Facebook, once again, after debates over her comments continued to escalate. "Because we can oppose violence against trans women while also acknowledging differences. Because we should be able to acknowledge differences while also being supportive. Because we do not have to insist, in the name of being supportive, that everything is the same. Because we run the risk of reducing gender to a single, essentialist thing," she wrote.

"I have and will continue to stand up for the rights of transgender people. Not merely because of the violence they experience but because they are equal human beings deserving to be what they are."

She also spoke on the matter on Saturday during London's Women of the World festival.

Photo: courtesy of Natsai Audrey Chieza

100 Women: Natsai Audrey Chieza is Changing the World One Petri Dish at a Time

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textile manufacturing.

The bold jewel tones of OkayAfrica 100 Women honoree Natsai Audrey Chieza's silk scarves aren't the product of hazardous chemicals or silkscreen printing. Instead, they are the product of bacteria. Specifically coelicolor, a strain of bacteria found in soil that happens to excellently synthesize organic chemical compounds. Working in the trade for six years, the Zimbabwean materials designer quickly came to understand why the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Knowing that the most harm occurs during the process of dyeing fabrics, she decided to take action.

Chieza has worked with leading brands such as Microsoft, Nissan, and Unilever to usher in a new approach to science and design. Through her creative R&D; studio Faber Futures, the design innovator uses the process of creating with bacteria to assist in moving mankind away from our fossil fuel dependency. As the biopigment expert put it [last year during her TED talk "Fashion has a pollution problem—can biology fix it?"], in the future we must make sure that we are not "mirroring the destructive legacies of the oil age."

Her interdisciplinary approach to biology and fashion has sparked spirited conversation about the future of sustainability and pollution in textiles. Here, Chieza expounds on her start, the pros and cons of creating something new and the urgency of change.

The following has been edited for length and clarity

Akinyi Ochieng for OkayAfrica: STEM and the arts are often conceptualized as separate worlds. However, in your career, you've managed to find the overlap. How did you, a materials designer, end up dabbling in biotechnology?

Natsai Audrey Chieza: I've always really wanted to work within the creative field. I used to work in architecture where I really enjoyed my education in a systems approach to designs and designing for multiple contexts. But I wanted to explore a different side of the design world, so I began exploring the skill and context of material flows, and how technology and futures fits within this framework of how we design.

For my own work and my practice, not having a scientific background made me try things based on what I understood about materials and what I understood about the interactions in which those materials existed in society. I'm interested in a political lens, an economic lens, and how textiles perform in reality. That's not necessarily the approach that a scientist would have taken. Now that's not to say that science isn't important—it's vital. But innovation can occur in that intersection.

Did you go into this thinking, "Oh, I'll figure it out. There must be a path to make this work"?

To be honest, when I started off, the field was not defined. I think I found something really interesting, which was about how biology was becoming a realm of design, and I just explored that as best as I knew how as a designer and non-scientist. It just so happened that around me there was a context that was imagined but enabled me six years later to say, "That's the industry where this work belongs" and stakeholders who give me a space to further my work in a creative and experimental. The path was never anything clear at all. I learned as I grew.

There's a phrase that is often repeated today: "You can't be what you can't see." But you have really created a niche for yourself. What are the benefits of entering an emerging space?

I think what's amazing is not having anyone or anything telling you that what you think is impossible. If you're carving a new territory then you must trust in your instinct and vision to effectively push where the work can be and where it exists. You're not asking permission to do anything. Of course the flip side of that is you have to bring people with you, and so part of you being able to do the work is convincing people that your vision has legitimacy and it's worth exploring, worth taking a risk to look outside of that box.

It's often quite challenging to figure out how to find the strength to push something that hasn't been done before. There's no precedent or rulebook to my work, but sometimes it's really nice to have a rulebook. [Laughs] However, I think it's made me a person who doesn't see challenges as obstacles that are in the way, but more as problems that can be solved. And I think that's the good thing.

Much of your work is about biopigments. What color excites you?

It's not really the colors that excite me. It's color as a cultural context that really fascinates me. I'm really interested in if a microbe is almost like this living factory that produces this pigment, and the technology can be shared and deployed with people as to how you work with it across the world, then what are the cultural interventions that can happen in South Africa versus in Argentina versus in the United Kingdom, based on this common microbe. I think that's always been what interests me the most, the context in which our materials exist. I think a really good example is indigo, and how from Japan to West Africa, indigo is just this really, really rich material, and the process and the craftsmanship that goes into it. I'm interested to see how the future ecology of making arises in response to biotechnologies across the world.

Where do you see yourself and your work evolving in the near or long term?

I'm sort of going through that growth moment where you've been working toward something and then you've arrived at that and you're like, "Right, what's next?" I think I'm fundamentally somebody that wants to use design as a discursive tool to understand how our technologies proliferate. My focus is really on the imagined life sciences and how they're going to become very much a part of all of our lived experiences, and particularly in the context of really urgent changes that are happening from a local level to a global level. From global warming and climate change to resource scarcity across regions, our response to what I think being able to design with living systems, can afford us in the future. So my work really is about understanding how to engage stakeholders across different sectors to grow a consensus around how we're going to leverage these sorts of technologies so that they can be technologies for good. That's really where this is going.

This article appears as part of OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018—a project highlighting the impactful work done by African women across the globe. Throughout March, we will be publishing a series of profiles, videos, interviews and feature stories on these inspirational women.

Click here to see the entire list of 2018 honorees.

Maia & The Big Sky LP cover.

Start Your Week Off Right With This Soulful Kenyan Collaboration

Maia & the Big Sky connect with Blinky Bill for "Pawa."

Maia & the Big Sky's music routinely blends soul and funk influences with the coastal rhythms of Kenya and features singing in both English and Kiswahili.

Maia's recently tapped into the vinyl revival wave as her 11-song Maia & the Big Sky LP is reportedly the first Kenyan album released on vinyl since the 1970s.

The Nairobi-based artist is now sharing the new music video for "Pawa," the album's leading track, which we're premiering here today. Directed by Chris King, the beautiful new clip sees Maia & the Big Sky taking over the TV airwaves and minds of all of those watching, freeing them from the "power" that controls them.

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Photo: Mídia NINJA

The Assassination of Marielle Franco and the Dawn of Brazil's New Civil Rights Movement

Marielle Franco was one of a new generation of black activists trying to overturn Brazil's entrenched and violent racism

The violence in Rio de Janeiro right now is akin to a war zone, with per capita death tolls resembling those from Afghanistan and Syria. Two weeks ago I traveled there for business and stayed in the relatively safe and trendy neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Each night of my stay, was abruptly awaken by long streams of gunshots and also fireworks from the nearby favela of Falett. The fireworks—as I learned from my local friends—were not a result of any celebration, rather a signal that either drugs, guns, or the police have arrived. This is the norm for many of the 763 favelas in Rio which houses nearly 25 percent of the city's population.

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