Monday, March 13, 2017

Transgender 101 and a Response to Chimamanda Adichie

If you haven't heard, celebrated Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently spoke about trans womanhood and trans experiences. Many have defended her, but I think what she's saying is very dangerous. It even goes against the idea of "not having a single story," the soundbite that arguably pushed her into the international spotlight.

[Side note: if you're not familiar with what transgender means, or have questions about it, I highly recommend a guide written by one of my favorite writers, Sam Dylan Finch, at Everyday Feminism. The article is "Transgender 101: A Guide to Gender and Identity to Help You Keep Up with the Conversation," and it's helpful even if you do know what transgender means! Now, back to Chimamanda Adichie.]

Among her comments, she refused to acknowledge that transgender women are women, instead responding by saying that "trans women are trans women" and "gender is not biology, gender is sociology." The way she discusses trans issues is problematic for many reasons, all of which rely on the concept of intersectionality. By refusing to acknowledge that trans women are women (just like "black" women are women, "disabled" women are women, and any other descriptor of womanhood), she effectively others trans women and argues that their womanhood is different. This doesn't hold up for many reasons, but, to put it simply, she is reducing womanhood to cisgender womanhood, thereby creating a "single story" of what constitutes womanhood.

As a non-binary/trans femme, I have many problems with what she said. I'm further upset because her discussion of trans issues leaves out trans men and non-binary people altogether, reducing her idea of feminism to nothing more than gender essentialism. What makes it worse is that she's a celebrated feminist. Not only are her words given more weight from the start, but her academic background means that she is creating misleading yet valid arguments (technically speaking, meaning that her arguments follow a logical pattern). This does not make her arguments sound, though. Her main premise about trans women having male privilege is false, and the articles I link to below are written by trans women explaining the issues with that premise.

Like Raquel Willis says below, I am not interested in disposing of Chimamanda Adichie or shunning her in any way. However, it is important to hold her accountable, especially as a figure who has been instrumental in making feminism accessible to the masses and helping to push it into the mainstream. I hope that she takes the time to listen to trans women (and all trans people, for that matter), retracts her statements, presents a true apology to the trans community, and speaks on her growth and why her previous statements were wrong.

Raquel Willis' article, "Trans Women are Women. This Isn't a Debate." and her Twitter story response

Laverne Cox's response to Chimamanda Adichie

"Still Think Trans Women Have Male Privilege? These 7 Points Prove They Don't" at Everyday Feminism

"4 Reasons Your 'Harmless' Opinions About Trans People Aren't Actually Harmless" at Everyday Feminism

"No, Trans Women Are NOT 'Biologically Male'" at Everyday Feminism (especially wonderful because Riley doesn't scapegoat intersex individuals to make the case for transgender people)

As always, feel free to comment with any questions!

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