Why I Support Chimamanda’s Statement on Trans Women

Chimamanda broke it down the way it was necessary for it to be broken down. In her words she “put her defensiveness aside and clarified her thoughts.”  SHE IS NOT HERE TO PLAY OR BE MISUNDERSTOOD.  These are my thoughts on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s post regarding her interview and the “backlash” it created.   Her response was so exciting for me to read, its like Chimamanda is in my head and in my life…She wrote…

“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.”

According to some Chimamanda was “wrong and dangerous” to say that trans women are different from women.   This particular gender issue is a hot topic especially in birth work and reproductive justice, in fact I recently resigned from a birth justice organization because I could NEVER say that a man had a baby (trans man) nor would I stress myself trying to comply with gender pronoun demands, especially not in a birthing space.

I have had a hard and emotional time communicating my point of view without having words like privilege and trans phobia thrown at me.    Chimamanda, my shero, heard my distress and so eloquently and precisely shared my sentiments regarding the impulse to say that trans women are women just like women born female are women, she says:

“The intent is a good one but the strategy feels untrue. Diversity does not have to mean division.”

Diversity does not have to mean division, just like integrated does not mean united.  For the same reason why being color blind is wrong.  We have to stop thinking erasure is justice.

“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.”

It is not a coincidence that the person saying this is African, I think it is my African culture radar that stood alert and uneasy when I started hearing and joining discussions about removing the word “women” from birth work to replace it with”birthing person.”

Most (if not all) African languages are “genderless” meaning they do not assign people or inanimate objects with gendered pronouns like he, she,her etc.  It is a hard concept explain, an even more difficult one to imagine and even though gender is known to be a social and cultural construct discussions in the U.S. exclude other cultures unless aspects of “gender-less” cultures are being appropriated.   Adichie states:

“…saying ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ acknowledges that there is a distinction between women born female and women who transition, without elevating one or the other”

You can also distinct between man and woman without elevating one or the other, though this has never been the  case in the U.S. where men had all their civil rights before women. In contrast Yoruba culture did not historically define women as lesser than man.  For example Voting was never a men only event, kingships and other positions of power were not first reserved for men and then given to women at a later date.  So west African feminists are very aware of womanhood as autonomous and independent of men.

For the skeptics out there, I know there are many gender issues and injustices against women in African cultures I speak up and live up against these injustices daily, but I think it is important to give credit where it is due, especially to a continent whose cultures are as exploited and discredited as Africa’s,  and the truth is American girls and women would benefit greatly from learning the African concept that womanhood is powerful and autonomous.  Subscribe! I will be writing more about this…

Read Chimamanda’s full response here.