An Investigation Into Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Feminism And Its Exclusion Of Trans Women

I became aware of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s interview on U.K.’s Channel 4 News on my Twitter feed over the weekend. Promoting her new book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Adichie commented on gender identity, specifically about trans women. “When people talk about “Are trans women women?” my feeling is trans women are trans women.”…

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I became aware of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s interview on U.K.’s Channel 4 News on my Twitter feed over the weekend. Promoting her new book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Adichie commented on gender identity, specifically about trans women.

“When people talk about “Are trans women women?” my feeling is trans women are trans women.” she said in the interview. If anyone was in doubt about the scope of Adichie’s feminism, that comment basically sums up her feminist politics and exposes it flaws.

The logic behind her transmisogyny, which is shared by cisgender women like Adichie, is that trans women were once men born into privilege, and their claim to womanhood is illegitimate because it is devoid of the lived experience that women have.

“It’s about the way the world treats us and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges of the world accords to men and then sort of changed or switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate to your 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 said further.

First of all, Adichie isn’t qualified to speak about trans women and their experience because she is insulated with the privilege that comes from cisgender hegemony. And trans women doesn’t just wake one morning and decide to “switch” their gender. Some don’t even “switch” at all. Clearly, Adichie doesn’t know how gender identity works: the perception of self that trumps biology and any kind of ideology.

Importantly, her disacknowledgement of trans women in her feminist work allows for a violence against trans women to thrive. As a cisgender man, I’m aware of my male privilege, whether I actively choose to benefit from it or not. Like Adichie, I don’t have the trans experience, which is why this brilliant piece by Nigerian-American non-binary trans writer Jarune Uwujaren is well-suited in deconstructing Adichie’s feminism in relation to trans womanhood.  

Adichie has shut down a white man trying to define racism with a swiftness and called out ‘the danger of a single story,’ yet here she is telling a single (inaccurate) story about trans women as a cisgender feminist who appears to have little knowledge of trans experiences.” Uwujaren wrote.

Even Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox took to Twitter to educate Adichie about her trans experience. “Narrative which suggests that all trans women transition from male privilege erases a lot of experiences and isn’t intersectional.” Cox tweeted.

Perhaps, this recent controversy by Adichie is merely a tactic to push out her new book; it is reminiscent of the natural hair controversy that stemmed from her last full-length novel Americanah published in 2013. Whichever the case, and given the huge platform she has, Adichie’s trans exclusionary view is dangerous and doesn’t embody true feminism.

Responses

  1. Cee
    I believe everyone deserves to be accorded full human rights devoid of oppression whether white, black, woman, man, trans, straight, bi etc.

    On the issue of the article, I do not hold the view that trans women necessarily come from a position of male privilege, and even if they do that it negates their experience of womanhood. For me however, it’s those biological bits like getting one’s period everyday since the pre-teens and the PMS and the cramps and all of that. That does make me think “these are the parts we dealt with”. But then I know trans women go through their own problems

    1. Morris
      And those problems, a cisgender (the grammar i learn on TNC) woman cannot understand.

      A question tho, @bernard, Did the contents of this book address anything ‘trans’ or did it just come up in the interview?

    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      True feminism recognises and embraces intersectionality and it cuts across different identity markers (race, gender, age, sexuality, class, etc.). When we practice feminism or advocate for women’s rights, we should make sure it doesn’t oppress a group while it elevates another.
  2. OJaySeenson
    All this talk of cisgender transgender whatever is just “this and that, more blah blah blah…” i wholeheartedly agree with chimamanda, and I strongly disagree with you and the sentiments you put forward in this article. I have three sisters, and I could never claim to understand what it means to be a woman, and I really do not think ripping yourself a new one suddenly makes you a woman. Having said that, maybe in disagreeing, I am making your point in a twisted way, and that’s OK. We can’t all agree… Diversity of opinion is necessary to maintain balance, I guess…But as she said, transwomen are just that: transwomen.
    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      Transgender is a valid gender identity, whether you choose to agree or not. Adichie’s comments re trans women gives a legitimacy to the discrimination, violence, and complete un-personing that trans women face. And your inability to conceptualise gender as a nuanced concept is a function of how our society upholds cisnormativity.
      1. OJaySeenson
        You misunderstand me sir. I believe they are people, and they deserve all the rights and privileges all people are entitled to. I would never be violent or rude to someone because they identify as trans in some way. And I won’t stand by and watch the same. I do understand that some people are not as reasonable as I am, and hence, the violence you speak of. I do wish this was not the case, and I am in a position these days where I get to educate people on tolerance, and I am glad for that. But see, the thing is, transgender is an identity. At least that’s how I see it. One can identify as a tree and stand in the sun all day waiting for leaves to sprout…But that does not mean that the person IS a tree. The person can have work done to mimic a tree’s appearance, and if the doc is good, the results will come out stunning. But that person will always be a person who looks remarkably like a tree. NOT a tree. That, right there, is a fact of biology, not something I made up. It’s fact, Sir…not cisnormality.
        1. Bernard Dayo Post author
          There is a dissonance in the way you seem to acknowledge trans people and their rights and implying later that the trans experience is invalid because of biology. Gender identity supercedes biology – hormones, genitalia, etc – and what I have come to realise is that a lot of cis people know nothing about this and how the society is set up to favour them.
          1. Stephen
            You’re all in your feelings over nothing. Nobody says their experiences are invalid, it’s being said that there are different from women’s and I agree. You talk of Chimamanda not being fit to discuss these issues. Unless youve gone through such transformation then you should shut up as your neither a woman nor trans
      2. Jade
        Bernard youre just throwing big words around for nothing, trans women are people yes but trans women nontheless. So a trans woman may not come from a background of privilege necessarily but what Adichie meant is the world wide regard (read privilege) accorded men be they white, black or green just because they are men. So after enjoying this male privilege while also mulling over if they really wanted to remain male or become female, they finally come to a conclusion to become a woman. Getting breast does not a female make, so does the trans woman know my ovulation struggles? my period struggles? getting stained? child bearing? breast pumping? and all the other minute things I have struggled with since i was 12 because female! no, the trans woman doesn’t, so while yes the trans woman is a person, the trans woman still remains just that A TRANS WOMAN
        1. Bernard Dayo
          Hello Jade. Have you asked any trans woman if they “enjoyed” male privilege pre-transition? Until you do, please don’t make this violent assumption Adichie made in that interview. And apparently you are erroneously basing womanhood on body parts and biology. Having a vagina doesn’t make you a woman. If you grew up in an isolated planet with no human contact and far away from civilisation/socialisation, you will be very unsure of your gender. “Am I man?” You’d ask every time. “Or maybe a woman. Or something in between.”

          Like I have been saying, gender is an oppressive social construct especially for trans people and does whose gender don’t conform to the norm.

  3. OJaySeenson
    By the way…What in all the parallel universes is a “non-binary trans”? *Sigh* it’s two things. No, three: one is you probably believe all this. Like this is your life and you’re proud of it, and chimamanda’s words touched a nerve. Or you don’t believe all this,and you’re just playing devil’s advocate…OR, you’re just trying to be as politically correct as possible…Yeah, no point to all this exactly…I am just kinda interested in where the roots of this article came from..
    1. Morris
      Apparently, non-binary trans means the individual identifies as male/female. What is privilege/luxury if not that?

      … Like Adichie, I don’t have the trans experience, which is why this brilliant piece by Nigerian-American non-binary trans writer Jarune Uwujaren is well-suited in deconstructing Adichie’s feminism in relation to trans womanhood. (Non-binary too cannot work, we need a binary trans’ pov).

    2. Bernard Dayo Post author
      I didn’t invent “transgender” or “non binary trans” but there are people who identify by these labels and delegitimising their experiences/existence because we don’t understand what their labels means is oppressive.

      Furthermore​, the thrust of my article was to challenge Adichie on her feminism which revolves around the progress and prosperity of only cisgender women.

      1. Chiebuka
        Serious question. If a person identifies as non-binary; what exactly are they transitioning to or from?
        I don’t understand non-binary trans please.
  4. Jojo
    Can we just return to the world where men were just men and women just women? all these in-betweens are becoming confusing and difficult to handle because, it seems as though they require special vocabulary with which to relate to them with.
    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      JoJo. You are basically saying we should let patriarchy ruin our lives and I won’t be part of that ship. You can educate yourself. Read. Interrogate. Read again. It’s the only way you can un-learn.
      1. anonymous aboki
        Lewl, you need to tuck in your this your (thinly, veiled) arrogance.
        It’s pervasive the way this comments’ section is riddled with it, in your bid to engage.
        Sadly, your attempt to educate isn’t achieving anything, as no one likes or listens to a Know-It-All, even if they, you are spitting the truth/facts. Wyd???
        1. Bernard Dayo
          Hello Anonymous Aboki. My attempt to educate is achieving something because Ramatu (a commenter on this topic) said she learned a thing or two. That said, if I come across as arrogant it might be due to the frustration that grips me when someone doesn’t get my point or belittles the important of my article.
          Anyway, I appreciate your observation.
    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      Cisgender is the term for people who identify with the sex that they were assigned to at birth. Cisgender is normal, same as transgender (in this case this people disidentify from the sex they were assigned to at birth). Really don’t understand the annoyance.
    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      Deji. Your opinion comes from a religious worldview that is deeply limited. There are some many genders between and beyond the man-woman binary and apparently you are only regurgitating what you have been fed with. Google can help you understand gender better.
    2. Ramatu
      Do you know there are people born looking like one gender but having the genitalia of the other? Or both? Who created them? And like said, google is your friend.
    3. Ray
      lol. God, in His infinite mercy, made men, women, men and women who have gender identity disorder because they don’t feel like the second they are in the mirror (and yes, that’s a medical condition so don’t think all trans-people do it for fun), people with ambiguous genitalia (some of what we call hermaphrodites). So next time, you want to shame anyone for not sticking to their gender cos it’s ‘ungodly’, please ask God why He made some people that way.
  5. Larz
    I haven’t read the transcript of chimanandas interview so just going by what you say in this post.
    C.N. Adiche basically said a trans-woman is a transfer-woman. I am sorry what exactly is wrong with her statement. First of, she is not a trans-woman nor a grand-woman expert. Whilst there might be wins a rand-woman can benefit from a feminist movement, a feminist movement in it purest sense won’t cater to all a trans-woman wants. It is the same way we have feminist movements and the more niche black feminists movements.
  6. Bernard Dayo Post author
    What I can draw from this is how polarised the feminist movement is. White feminism, for example, concerns itself with white womanhood and pushes a politic that excludes black/brown women. What we have these days is that people weaponise feminism to carry out their own bigoted agendas. And on Adichie, her statement on trans women was wrong and exclusionary.
  7. Scodo
    Aye ma ti daru ke. I mean what has this world turned to? That means the people of Sodom and Gomorah were learners . Transgender, Bestiality, Polyamory, Robot Sex. Na wa oo
      1. Femme
        Your response is insulting and uncalled for. You need to understand that if you write, not everyone will agree with what you write. It is either you ignore such people or respond without using derogatory words/statements.
  8. Ramatu
    Hi . Surprising that this is the first time I am reading something from you. I must admit that I didn’t understand some of the terms before I read this. But this, and the ensuing comments, served to educate me. I love me some Chimamanda but I think she was wrong on this. I was surprised that she took that stand point but then again, there are so many types of feminism that finding another that excludes certain groups of women isn’t so surprising. My view is, trans women are women and don’t need to go through certain experiences to be qualified. Even among cisgender women, there are those who haven’t suffered the effects of patriarchy and misogyny. Would we, by that logic, say they are not women? The key line about feminism is inclusivity. When we get that right, we become better feminists. Thanks for writing this.
    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      Hi Ramatu. Thanks for reading, commenting, and learning as well. I write on pop culture for TNC but I’m passionate about social justice so you’ll find me putting out articles in that regard occasionally.
  9. Ihome
    I feel like a lot of people are misunderstanding what she said. Chimamanda said that you can equate the experiences of a trans woman to a woman born a woman. She didn’t not belittle their struggles, she said they have their own struggles. She didn’t exclude them from feminism, she said they have had different life experiences and as a result face different problems.
    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      Hi Ihome. Adichie made a distinction between trans women and women and that is almost unforgivable. Her comments were cissexist and altogether perpetuates transphobia, and I feel she is in denial on this. Even more, it seems to me that her concept of gender is binary and she also strikes me as a feminist who believes “male bodies” can’t be included within womanhood.

      So let me say this quickly: “woman” is a socially constructed gender category and no one is born a woman. Women are told they are women based on binary presumptions of body parts and socialisation. Lastly, cisgender woman should stop this gender gatekeeping on womanhood because it’s reductive and harmful.

  10. Ray
    Hi Bernard.

    I watched the video of that interview and I still don’t understand the uproar against it. I don’t think she said feminism shouldn’t include trans-women. In fact, She made valid points. Different people have different experiences and while A’s experience doesn’t diminish B’s, they are still not the same. What is wrong about calling Trans-women what they are? I agree they are women but I also believe the essence of how they really came to being women fully shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, trans-women should be proud to be identified as trans, even if only to encourage others who want to take the big step of transitioning. That said, when Chimamanda said it, ‘let trans-women be’, I believe she said so in recognition of the struggles of trans-women.

    I think the problem is a lot of people are prejudiced against Chimamanda’s vocality when these controversial issues come up. The woman has her own opinion to make whether it suits us or not. Which is why I have a problem with your ending comments, you mention it may all be a plot to publicize her book. Why can’t it just be a woman sharing her pov?

    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      Hi Ray. You possibly can’t understand the uproar re Adichie’s trans-exclusionary comments if you are cisgender and viewing it from a place of privilege.

      It’s problematic when we are fixated on the genitalia of trans people and wanting to probe into who they were pre-transistion. It doesn’t matter. And to be frank, Adichie’s idea of womanhood stems from a cissexist norm of female embodiment and this is deadly to trans women.

      1. Ray
        I am not viewing from a place of privilege. I’m speaking for a place that understands that people have different experiences and that doesn’t make any invalid.

        We do need to consider who they were pre-transition. What would our feminism be if we can’t acknowledge our past and know our history?

          1. ThaLordSleeK
            Not really. It is simply an acknowledgement that we can not manufacture certain experiences for people who what not experienced them; since experience is the context here. Except you are saying the world is made of black and white and there are no grey areas. It is alright to think both sides of the divide are okay/believable/maybe right.
    2. ThaLordSleeK
      Everything was fine until the last couple sentences. It can simply be a woman sharing her point of view or it can be a woman doing business, publicising her book, it can be both and it can be neither. We may never know for sure. What I do know, though, is that everyone should have a voice; both for speaking out against certain injustices as well as for others to speak out against the first speakers in order to serve as checks on one another. It is up to us as individuals to be discerning.
  11. Empress Cyn
    I love Chimamanda really, i admire her but i have to disagree with her on this…trans women are women and trans men are men…the reason for having the trans is to identify that they transitioned, if people saw them differently the (trans) wouldn’t be there. They would simply be called men and women.
    Everyday trans people live in constant fear that they might be murdered, they go through depression and have suicidal thoughts, but someone wants to erase those experiences and make them seem invalid.
    Humans have such a diversity, if we were all the same how un-colourful would the world be?
    1. Bernard Dayo Post author
      Thank you Empress for your opinion on this. Trans people every day battle for recognition and inclusion in a binary transphobic society like ours and it’s important we bear this in mind.
  12. Phil
    The same reason there was an uproar about Rachael Dolezal claiming to be black is the same reason trans-women are trans-women. I respect their rights and will not discriminate or tolerate same in my circle of influence. But I maintain my stand that trans-women are trans-women.
    1. Bernard Dayo
      Hey Phil. Comparing Dolezal and trans women is contexually wrong. Dolezal forged evidences so that people could be buy into her “blackness.” She trivialised black struggle and the everyday racism black people go through by deliberating perpetuating blackface. On saying that you maintain your stand that trans women are trans women, you might as well discriminate against them if you can’t fully acknowledge their identity.
      1. mollie12
        Hi author. I’ve been reading your comments and I’ve come to the conclusion that you are too jaded on this issue to offer a really objective voice on the topic. To the regular thinking logical brain, this is exactly what it looks like – the Dolezal usurp. It is exactly the same way the LGBT tries to equate their struggle with that of the black race. The transgender struggle can never be equated to the years of oppression women across the ages have faced for belonging to a particular gender, just the same way the black struggle and the LGBT struggle can never be the same. Not every time this weird strain of politically correctness (that is nearing the intellectual equivalent of brain farts these days). Sometimes, just step back so you can get a better view of things. He who comes to an intellectual conversation must wear the toga of logic. Just saying.
      2. mollie12
        Hi author. I’ve been reading your comments and I’ve come to the conclusion that you are too jaded on this issue to offer a really objective voice on the topic. To the regular thinking logical brain, this is exactly what it looks like – the Dolezal usurp. Just replace transgender with the word “Caityln Jenner” in your article so you can understand the level of annoyance people are experiencing when you try to equate transgender and feminist issues. It is exactly the same way the LGBT tries to equate their struggle with that of the black race. The transgender struggle can never be equated to the years of oppression women across the ages have faced for belonging to a particular gender, just the same way the black struggle and the LGBT struggle can never be the same. Not every time this weird strain of politically correctness (that is nearing the intellectual equivalent of brain farts these days). Sometimes, just step back so you can get a better view of things. He who comes to an intellectual conversation must wear the toga of logic. Just saying.
      1. Morris
        Lol. Bernard, it’s both ways. You also don’t have to agree. You mentioned Dolezal’s circumstance was different because you learnt the details of the case. But even if she didn’t lie and alter evidences, would it still be different?

        One thing i think tho… Or let me ask a question, Do trans-women (since we are on the feminine gender) face the same feminist issues as ciswomen? Not pre-transition now. I mean, do they face the ‘same’ issues?

        1. Bernard Dayo
          Hello Morris. Women in general have different experiences. Even within cisgender womanhood, experiences differ but permit me to state again that trans women aren’t “lesser” women and that cisgender women don’t have a monopolistic hold on womanhood.
  13. Nix
    You might get through to people more if you didn’t speak in what most see as “millennial SJW” talk and seem arrogant doing so. Being a little bit older than you gives me more perspective, and I can therefore tell you that your fervor will only be appreciated within your safe spaces. You live in and write for a conservative society, so your sledgehammer approach to presenting and discussing your position could do with some of the impressive nuance you bring to understanding the issue. If, like me, your goal is educating your audience and not just reinforcing the walls of your echo chamber, you’d do well to engage in a more culturally-appreciative way, rather than your current “[email protected] you and your dumb beliefs” style.
  14. Bernard Dayo
    Hello Nix. “Being a little older” than me doesn’t necessarily make you smart, wise, or intelligent. But I do admit that I might come off as a little condescending in the way I previously responded to comments on here. It stemmed from my frustration. And my “millennial SJW” talk transcends the online space; I try to challenge gender norms and sexuality-based biases in my environment. I speak up against sexism and oppressive ideas about womanhood, etc.

    Lastly, an investigation doesn’t have to involve a backstory or a past. I used the word “investigation” because I was trying to find out why Adichie would make the distinction between transgender woman and cisgender womanhood, which she did based on a cissexist sex-gender binary.

  15. Nosa
    “First of all, Adichie isn’t qualified to speak about trans women and their experience because she is insulated with the privilege that comes from cisgender hegemony”

    Well, considering that you are also neither a woman or transgenderd and are insulated with the privilege that comes from the male gender hegemony, i seriously doubt that you are in anyway qualified to speak on the the matter or their experience also.

    I mean, if that is the logic you are going to stand by to make your point then you really have no point at all

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