Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Clarifies

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Clarifies

On her Facebook page this morning, Chimamanda attempted a clarification of her remarks that set off a controversy on transgender issues over the weekend.

Read and share your thought:

Because I have been the subject of much hostility for standing up for LGBTQ rights in Nigeria, I found myself being very defensive at being labeled ‘trans phobic.’ My first thought was – how could anyone think that?

I didn’t like that version of myself. It felt like a white person saying ‘I’m not racist, I supported civil rights.’

Because the truth is that I do think one can be trans phobic while generally supporting LGBTQ rights.

And so I want to put my defensiveness aside and clarify my thoughts. To make sure that I am fully understood.

I said, in an interview, that trans women are trans women, that they are people who, having been born male, benefited from the privileges that the world affords men, and that we should not say that the experience of women born female is the same as the experience of trans women.

This upset many people, and I consider their concerns to be valid. I realize that I occupy this strange position of being a ‘voice’ for gender rights and so there is an automatic import to my words.

I think the impulse to say that trans women are women just like women born female are women comes from a need to make trans issues mainstream. Because by making them mainstream, we might reduce the many oppressions they experience.

But it feels disingenuous to me. The intent is a good one but the strategy feels untrue. Diversity does not have to mean division.

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.

Perhaps I should have said trans women are trans women and cis women are cis women and all are women. Except that ‘cis’ is not an organic part of my vocabulary. And would probably not be understood by a majority of people. Because saying ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ acknowledges that there is a distinction between women born female and women who transition, without elevating one or the other, which was my point.

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.

I see how my saying that we should not conflate the gender experiences of trans women with that of women born female could appear as if I was suggesting that one experience is more important than the other. Or that the experiences of trans women are less valid than those of women born female. I do not think so at all – I know that trans women can be vulnerable in ways that women born female are not. This, again, is a reason to not deny the differences.

Why does this even matter?

Because at issue is gender.

Gender is a problem not because of how we look or how we identify or how we feel but because of how the world treats us.

Girls are socialized in ways that are harmful to their sense of self – to reduce themselves, to cater to the egos of men, to think of their bodies as repositories of shame. As adult women, many struggle to overcome, to unlearn, much of that social conditioning.

A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men. This does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own.

Because the truth about societal privilege is that it isn’t about how you feel. (Anti-racist white people still benefit from race privilege in the United States). It is about how the world treats you, about the subtle and not so subtle things that you internalize and absorb.

This is not to say that trans women did not undergo difficulties as boys. But they did not undergo those particular difficulties specific to being born female, and this matters because those experiences shape how adult women born female interact with the world.

And because to be human is to be a complex amalgam of your experiences, it is disingenuous to say that their being born male has no effect on their experience of gender as trans women.

Of course there are individual differences. But there are always individual differences. We speak of ‘women’s issues’ knowing that while there are individual differences, the truth of human history is that women as a group have been treated as subordinate to men. And we speak of male privilege acknowledging that individual men differ but that men as a group are nevertheless accorded privileges by the world.

I think of feminism as Feminisms. Race and class shape our experience of gender. Sexuality shapes our experience of gender. And so when I say that I think trans women are trans women, it is not to diminish or exclude trans women but to say that we cannot insist – no matter how good our intentions – that they are the same as women born female.

Nor do I think that we need to insist that both are the same.

To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid – and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.


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  1. Khaleesi
    March 13, 10:08 Reply

    GBAM!!!!! How could anyone not see this clearly? Even after reading the earlier article on this topic, i immediately understood that this is what she meant! People will always try to be mischievious. Miss Adichie, biko carry go!! you are a sage and have proven once again how seemingly unending your genius and intellect is!
    The nature of the trans woman’s struggle will always be different from that of the cis woman; they aren’t and can never be the same yet the reality of trans issues must never be ignored or trivialised. We can be inclusive while celebrating our diversity …

    • Dennis Macaulay
      March 13, 10:31 Reply

      Khaleesi don’t say that, she did not properly word her argument in the first instance. That point when she said that Trans women were Trans women was a low for her. She should have just acknowledged that they are women but experience gender differently and all this won’t be necessary.

      I’m happy she clarified tho, if I can get home early today I will pen my thoughts on intersectionalism

  2. bruno
    March 13, 10:25 Reply

    while i get most of where she is coming from.
    the truth is that trans women actually face a lot of misogyny. this male privilege she is referring to actually does not tolerate feminity. ask any effeminate gay man. the cult of masculinity is overtly and outrightly hostile towards feminity even in men. trans women don’t get half of the male privilege she assumes they do. I think it would be a good idea to familiarize herself with the experiences of a trans person before dismissing them as enjoying male privileges until transition. I think visibility is also part of the trans issue… it seems most people hear trans these days and think caitlyn jenner

    • Khaleesi
      March 13, 10:29 Reply

      Remember that not all trans women were effeminate men prior to transitioning; they therefore will escape the discrimination and bullying that targets effeminate men and are more likely to benefit from and enjoy the privileges that come with maleness …

      • Dennis Macaulay
        March 13, 10:33 Reply

        Khalessi you should read up Laverne Cox’s argument on Twitter to get a clearer perspective. Adichie fell into the trap of a single story which is sad because she warns us about the danger of a single story

  3. Edo
    March 13, 18:59 Reply

    Oh please! let us be logical! trans women are not XX like cis women hence technically are not women! besides Mr Dennis, Mr Opinion, people are allowed to have their own views about things no? We don’t all have to see things from your view. I believe in everyone having equal rights though. CNA did not goof in anyway.

    • Icarus
      March 13, 20:23 Reply

      You mean biologically not technically. Plus just like that biology teacher wrote, there can be a lot of biological reasons that will make one not to feel comfortable in their own body. This goes way beyond genetics being that genetics is nothing but a blueprint. The thing about human physiology is that it transcends beyond genetics only. There are a lot of things that can influence expression of things. One of them being that the Y chromosome doesn’t technically make one “male” instead it’s a gene ( the SRY-gene) on the Y-chromosome and that gene could be affected by other genes on the Y as well as X chromosome (or the SRY-gene may not even be present at all) . This isn’t even taking into account biological makers, hormonal changes or even psychology. It’s also due to these factors that someone with the Gene for shortness will end up tall, now will you say that the tall person is short because the genes say otherwise? The truth is that what we see as gender is nothing but a sum total of all these factors and how society interprets what they see.
      I understand that trans issues is a rather hard thing to wrap ones head around but that’s one of the reason this blog was created- to educate.

  4. Icarus
    March 13, 20:04 Reply

    The nuance in this article is on another level. Chimamanda is on another level.

    Dennis not everyone will be 105% politically correct all the time. The truth is that the main reason people are angry with that statement ‘transwomen are transwomen’ is that it’s not politically correct enough and the like CNA said their anger is very valid because of the need to make Trans more mainstream but the problem was that everyone was fast to jump on the train that she was transphobic without trying to see other explanations behind that statement. Although the statement was very vague and could be interpreted in different ways. Anyways she has clarified her thoughts and the world can rest.

  5. Nuel
    March 13, 20:29 Reply

    can u guys stop making mountain out of molehill… she has clarified her thoughts and should be respected for that!!! whether cis or trans women experience gender in a different way is subtle and quite dicey. I see no point of argument. what should be their concern is equal right and the violence against trans women…. the question of ‘experience’ is out of the question and overrated. y nt cure the epidemic instead of the symptoms. make una rest joor and take a bottle of vodka.

  6. Pankar
    March 13, 22:54 Reply

    Shoo? *wide eyes, protruded lips*, Vodka? That drink is evil. Careful.

  7. Pankar
    March 13, 22:59 Reply

    Anyway I had this same opinion as Adichie’s clarifcation after reading the first/ related post here, especially after the comments. And I think its just right, what she meant.. not discriminatory but definitely different, cis vs trans.

    Women should know better.
    She didnt goof at all.

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