As promotion for her new book, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently appeared on the U.K.’s Channel 4 where she was asked “Does it matter how you’ve arrived at being a woman? I mean, for example, if you’re a trans woman who grew up identifying as a man, who grew up enjoying the privileges of being a man, does that take away from becoming a woman? Are you any less of a real woman?” Her response has brought forth the undercurrent tension between trans women and the Feminist movement.
This was Chimamanda’s response, “When people talk about, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is that trans women are trans women. … 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.”
A wave of backlash quickly followed with Jamil Smith of MTV News saying that Chimamanda “should not use a woman’s plumbing to assess her identity”. On Saturday, Laverne Cox tweeted a series of messages saying, “My gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that…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 inter-sectional.”
But Chimamanda is not along in her beliefs. Germaine Greer, the Australian born writer credited as one of the major voices of the second-wave feminist movement, also faced significant backlash after stating similar beliefs and later explained, “Apparently people have decided that because I don’t think that post-operative transgender men are women, I’m not to be allowed to talk. I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure, what I’m saying is it doesn’t make them a woman.
As for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie she is sticking to her guns. In a new post on Facebook, the author defended her previous statements and added that the differences in trans women’s experiences do not make them any less valid.
“To say this is not to exclude trans women from feminism or to suggest that trans issues are not feminist issues or to diminish the violence they experience—a violence that is pure misogyny,” she wrote.
“But simply to say that acknowledging differences and being supportive are not mutually exclusive. And that there is space in feminism for different experiences.”
Our polarized attitudes towards trans women suggest there is still a lot to be understood. But will this controversy break new ground in dialogue between trans-women and women or prevent it from happening altogether?