A Timeline of Chimamanda Adichie’s Controversial Remarks 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.

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