Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has attempted to clarify comments she made about transgender women after a controversial interview with Channel 4 News.
The Nigerian author and feminist came under fire after critics felt she failed to call trans women “real women” in response to a question about gender identity.
In the interview, which was broadcast on 10 March, she said: “I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experiences.
“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 that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.”
In a post on Facebook made on 12 March, Adichie, who has supported LGBTQ rights in Nigeria, wrote that she was shocked by accusations of transphobia after the interview.
“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,” she said.
“I think the impulse to say that trans women are women just like women born female are women comes from a need to make trans issues mainstream. Because by making them mainstream, we might reduce the many oppressions that experience.
“But it feels disingenuous to me. The intent is a good one but the strategy feels untrue. Diversity does not have to mean division.”
Adichie noted that in the Channel 4 interview, she had intended to highlight the treatment of women: “Girls are socialised in ways that are harmful to their sense of self – to reduce themselves, to cater to the egos of men, to think of their bodies as repositories of shame. As adult women, many struggle to overcome, to unlearn, much of that social conditioning.”
Many comments welcomed the clarification. One woman who described herself as transgender wrote beneath Adichie’s post: “It isn’t transphobic to acknowledge the simple truth that there are differences between women and transomwen. It’s just being sane and real, and I think it’s [a] necessary voice within feminist discourse that shouldn’t be dismissed out-of-hand'”
Others, whilst still critical of her views, suggested that Adichie may have been put in a difficult position by being “expected” – as a black woman in feminism – to speak about any experience where a person had been marginialised.
Raquel Willis, a prominent black transgender activist who spoke at the Women’s March in Washington, told Teen Vogue: “The stakes are higher for a black woman in feminism. I know that as a marginalised woman that in many ways when I am pushed up against a wall, it is difficult to distinguish who is trolling me and being oppressive or who is expecting me to have politics on where I’m not quite there yet.
“Sometimes thought leaders are expected to have an opinion on everything. As a Nigerian, black woman, and intersectional feminist, she [Adichie] is expected to speak for or know about any experience where someone can be marginalised and it’s impossible. It’s a lofty expectation no one can live up to.”
Willis suggested that this should serve as a lesson for the media to provide more space to trans women to share their own experiences, rather than to ask cis women what their opinions were of what the trans woman experience might be like.
“It wouldn’t have been remiss for her [Adichie] to say, ‘That’s not my experience and so I don’t feel comfortable positioning myself as an authority,” Willis suggested.