Author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie faced criticism over the weekend for comments she made about trans women during an interview with British news station Channel 4.
During the interview, the award-winning Nigerian writer 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?”
This was Adichie’s response:
So when people talk about, you know, “Are trans women women?” my feeling is trans women are trans women.
I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experience. It’s not about how we wear our hair, or whether we have a vagina or a penis, 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 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.
And so I think there has to be — and this is not, of course, to say, I’m saying this with a certainty that transgender should be allowed to be. But I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one. I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women, because I don’t think that’s true.
Lots of people on Twitter were upset by Adichie’s comments.
Others were confused by the backlash.
Among those who responded was actress Laverne Cox who, though she did not mention Adichie directly, said she did not feel privileged growing up when her "gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that."
Instead, Cox argued that the experience of gender is different across the spectrum and that "there's no universal experience of gender, of womanhood."
"So though I was assigned male at birth I would contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition," she said, seemingly addressing Adichie's comments directly. "The irony of my life is prior to transition I was called a girl and after I am often called a man."
Cox urged people to instead embrace different stories and experiences.
Adichie responded to the criticism early Saturday morning, and reiterated that she did not mean to imply that trans women were not included in feminism — a violence, she wrote, that would be "pure misogyny."
But a few hours later, activist Aaryn Lang started the hashtag #MalePrivilegeDiaries on Twitter to encourage trans women to mock the ways they have experienced gendered "privilege."
"The moment Chimamanda begins talking about the privileges trans women are afforded before we 'sort of changed, switch genders' is what sparked me to create the hashtag," Lang told BuzzFeed News.
"My original thoughts were that I actually wish I had the experience of male privilege to protect me in my every day life," she added.
Trans activist Raquel Willis wrote a 22-tweet-long thread explaining her problems with Adichie’s argument.
“Chimamanda being asked about trans women is like Lena Dunham being asked about black women. It doesn’t work. We can speak for ourselves,” she began.
Willis said that cisgender (or cis) women — that is, a woman whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth — feel threatened by trans women in a similar way that white women have historically felt threatened by black women.
She also argued that while “folks raised as girls are plagued with oppression in a different way than people not raised as girls,” that “cis girls and women — in general — experience the privilege of being seen, accepted, and respected in their gender from birth.”
Willis wrote it was “nonsensical and *privileged* to require trans women to experience certain instances of oppression to prove their womanhood.”
Willis said she was not interested in “disposing of Chimamanda,” but instead argued that trans women and cis women need more space to speak to each other.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Adichie for comment.
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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