For Our Sisters! The Danger of Chimamanda Adichie’s Transwomen Narrative!
Recently, feminist author Chimamanda Adichie was interviewed and asked about trans women. 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?”
First off, who is this interviewer? And why was the question asked in such a gender essentialist way? In a way that was already rigid in its conception of gender? Asked in a way that granted Chimamanda a place and platform to pontificate the realness of trans women? Didn’t we already go over this in Janet Mock’s book “Redefining Realness?” Frankly, the question is a bad question. And by bad we mean harmful.
On the whole, Chimamanda’s response is dangerous. But to understand that danger it’s important to look at her response in two parts: 1. her commenting on the difference of experience between trans and cis women and 2. her slippery slope of generalizing the experience of what woman is. We know that there is no UNIVERSAL experience of womanhood or being woman. What needs to be investigated is, who or what benefits from creating a category that is called woman, that says you must have x,y, z experience to be part of? Hint: It’s not cis Black women who benefit.
It’s white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
As Black cis women, Chimamanda’s words can feel like validation, like affirmation. It feels good to be affirmed: “I am a woman and fuck this world that has historically told me that I am not and has tried to prove it through violence.” However, this affirmation, ironically, is stopping us from seeing the harm of her words. The fact that trans women’s womanhood has been made into a question is not okay. No one is disputing the difference of experience between trans women and cis women. It’s not about the difference of experience. Audre Lorde taught us, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” And it’s a whole other kind of violence to try to flatten and erase difference for the sake of a shallow and fake unity. BUT, Chimamanda uses difference to draw a conclusion. A conclusion that not only maintains the gender binary but also reinforces ideology that has underpinned violence against trans women.
It’s understandable wanting to uplift the experience of Black cis women and the historical contestation of our womanhood under white supremacist capitalism, but it does not serve us to act as the new architects of gender whereby we categorize and gatekeep people’s gender like it was done to us. When Black cis women are still fighting for the most basic understanding of “woman” to include us, our lives and bodies, it’s understandable that what Chimamanda said is affirming and feels like a dialogue we need to have. It’s actually not a dialogue we need to have. We should not have it. Because there is an answer. Trans women are women.
A “dialogue” creates a platform where trans women and gender non-conforming people and their identities are put forward as objects for debate. It opens up the question of whether we should trust or believe their experiences. We must. #trustblacktranswomen
We cannot grant any more room for liberal practices of “all ideas matter.” All ideas don’t matter b/c some ideas are bad and wrong and straight up dangerous.
Decolonizing gender, making space for trans women, does not mean denying our identities as Black cis women. That identity will always have material consequences. Maybe it is this fear of having our identity somehow ripped from us that’s motivating support for Chimamanda’s comments? We invite our community to sit with this fear if it’s coming up and investigate its roots rather than ask trans women to prove something to us. Why does it feel good to step into the category of woman and then close the door behind us? We critique whiteness for that all day. We know all too well what it feels like when someone says that you can’t have the reality that you have–that you aren’t who you are. So recognize that when you ask the question, “is a trans woman a woman?” or “are trans women any less of a real woman?” you are doing that same violence.
We also have to reckon with what happened during capitalist slavery to gender and how state power continues to influence our definitions for and understandings of gender. Why are we so invested in a myth that says binary gender has always existed in our communities–why are we so invested in erasing our ancestors? When we become gatekeepers and refuse nuance, both historical and contemporary, we allow the state to benefit and further its goals and violent thirst for gender-based oppression and the power to contort and control other people. This is part of why what Chimamanda said was dangerous. She and we are wielding our internalized colonized logics, perhaps unknowingly, against our kin.
We have to stop trans-exclusionary feminism.
*cover art: Transgender Women of Colour Mural in Ottawa by BlakCollectiv
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