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 experiences, it’s not about how we wear our hair, or whether we have a vagina or 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 men, and then sort of changed, switched gender, it is difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience to 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 to of course to say, this is…I’m saying this also with, sort of, a certainty that transgender people 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 the same as the issues of trans women, because I don’t think that’s true”. – Chimamanda Adichie (Channel 4 interview, Friday, 10 March 2017)
Firstly, we should thank Chimamanda Adichie for not ducking the debate within feminism over the place of transgender women in the gender universe. Like Germaine Greer and Jenni Murray, the BBC Radio 4 ‘Woman’s Hour’ presenter (who incidentally said the same thing in a 5 March, 2017 Sunday Times article), Adichie is saying she considers trans women as trans women and not as women. Of course, trans here refers to transexual or transgender women.
Secondly, she’s right to observe that being a voice for gender rights, there is an automatic import to her words. Returning to clarify her thoughts on the matter is an attempt to ensure that she is not misunderstood following the criticisms she’s been receiving after the comment. She did not take back what she said earlier, she only further explained her position.
Thirdly, we note that non-binary trans persons (men and women) and trans kids are not part of the conversation. But those who’d like to accuse Chimamanda Adichie of ignoring them must appreciate that the question is based on trans women and was not about any other group. While it is fair to extrapolate from her response to the trans women question some sort of idea of what her views might be with regard to non-binary trans persons and trans kids, it’s safer to limit discussions to the question she was asked and her response to that specific question.
Fourthly, no matter what we think of Adichie’s position, she is entitled to her view without being called names. She seems stunned at being labelled transphobic, even as she thinks one can be transphobic while still supporting LGBTQ rights. To me, that’s a huge leap in logic. You cannot intensely dislike a class of people and still claim to be standing up for their rights. Of course, it’s quite possible to be transphobic and still stand up for the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and queers (that is without the ’T’ in the LGBTQ initialism), but you cannot be transphobic and claim to be standing up for the rights of transgender persons. So, anyone who admits to transphobia can still support the rights of the others in the group, but they are considered transphobic or trans-exclusionary precisely because they do not support the rights of transgender persons. So, the real question we should be asking in the light of what Adichie has said is whether her refusal to recognize transgender women as women is transphobia. I have looked at all the evidence publicly available and humbly reached the conclusion that she is not. She has never been reported before now to dislike transgenders, she has never campaigned against them, she accepts that they have a place in the feminist movement and she says she stands up for their rights. From a proper interpretation of her words, what I think is that she is trans-exclusionary. The mere fact that she excludes transgender women from being described as women makes her that. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on which side of the debate you are and/or what you consider good or bad, however, it certainly makes her view controversial. But, rather than calling her names, let’s agree or disagree with her view without being disagreeable.
Personally, I disagree with Adichie on this issue. I find elements of illogic and overanalysis in her position, which, as she keeps on trying to clarify it, amount to self-asphyxiation. On one hand, she believes trans-women, like other women, suffer oppressions and need to be protected, but, on the other hand, she thinks their transition from a position of male privilege and their lack of prior experience as women disqualify them from being women. This reasoning is reductive and essentially contradictory and this contradiction runs through all her arguments in defense of her position.
Also, the passive aggression against men is unnecessary because feminism is not and should not be seen as anti-men. Indeed, all progressive men must see themselves as feminists because it is in the enlightened self-interest of humanity to do away with the negative influences of patriarchy and the inexorable march of civilization indicates we are getting there. So, when you approach the issue of gender identity with regard to women from an anti-male standpoint, no matter how subtle, you lose some intellectual credibility, especially as men do not approach gender identity from the perspective of female behavior, presumed female privileges or female opposition. There must be something organic, something you have as a female to make you a woman; you cannot just identify as a woman purely because of some negative experience, something done to you by men or how the world treats you and so on.
The truth is men do not just wake up and decide they want to be women. They don’t just conclude on a whim that they want to switch gender, as Adichie erroneously put it. Transgendering is not a fashion statement or something done for fancy. It’s a painful journey that involves psychological and biological traumas until they achieve the objective of being who they really are because that is what it really is – a painful journey to be who they really are. It’s not a case of men raping women’s bodies “by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves”, as claimed by Janice Raymond, the fiery feminist author of the anti-transgender book, Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. To her, although rape is usually done by force, it can also be accomplished by deception as in the case of all men transgendering to women.
Of course, Adichie’s view isn’t as harsh as Raymond’s, but both views sprout from the notion that transgender women shouldn’t be trusted because they were once men. Yet, the so-called privileges unilaterally and stereotypically assigned to transgender women who were once assigned the male sex at birth may in most cases be non-existent. For instance, from the accounts of most, what they suffer from when considered as boys or men is gender dysphoria, which is the acute distress they suffer as a result of the incongruence between their assigned gender based on anatomy at birth versus the way they internally experience gender. That experience, as Laverne Cox, the ‘Orange Is the New Black’ star testified to recently when talking about growing up as a male before her transition, isn’t one of privilege but one of stigma and exclusion.
However, Adichie has airily dismissed this with a claim that her position that trans women experienced the privileges the world accords men before transitioning “does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own”. Really? But isn’t that just the point? Were they really in a position to enjoy these presumed privileges in their condition? Well, Adichie believes they were because, according to her, “the truth about societal privilege is that it isn’t about how you feel. (Anti-racist white people still benefit from race privilege in the United States). It is about how the world treats you, about the subtle and not so subtle things that you internalize and absorb”.
Without a doubt, this is a clear case of comparing apples and oranges. No anti-racist white man is sitting there enjoying these privileges and thinking ‘I should be a woman, rather than sitting here and enjoying all these’. None of them would be told that they look white but act black or that they possibly are black men in white skin. Unlike the males “living in bodies not their own”, the anti-racist white man is psychologically and biologically in a position to comfortably enjoy white privileges and male privileges combined. There is no incongruence between his assigned gender based on anatomy at birth versus the way he internally experiences gender. No one has any issue with his feminine body and his feminine mannerisms. His privileged racist white relations and friends only smile politely and roll their eyes over his bleeding heart as they quaff their beers under the cool shade listening to his predictable anti-racist rants. “He’s alright, his heart is in the right place, he wants to save the world! Hahahahahahaha!”, they’d mock uproariously! Yeah, that is the chap Adichie is declaring a co-equal with her transgender woman in her calculus of male privileges.
By the way, why bring in gender privilege politics and exclusive experiential binarism into a simple and straightforward issue of personal identity? Is this some persecution complex cisgender women aren’t keen to share with others in a misguided belief in sexist martyrdom? Do white women not have privileges over black women whether in America, Europe or anywhere else in the world? Does that stop white women from being considered women or feminists? Do their different racial experiences make the white females women and the black females something else? Bisexual women do not have the same experience with heterosexual women and disabled women do not have the same experience with able-bodied women, just as upper-class women do not share the same experience with the hoi polloi and Chimamanda does not have the same experience with Mgbeke who earns less than two dollars a day gutting fish in Ogbete market, Enugu, Nigeria. Now, if we are denying that trans women are women based on their different experience as women, why should any of the class of women mentioned above with different experiences be considered women?
The problem is Adichie claims to accept these individual differences and yet insists that these differences do not trump the collectivist idea that “women as a group have been treated as subordinate to men” and the general idea that “men as a group are nevertheless accorded privileges by the world”. But this thinking is patently unsustainable. As they say in law, you cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time. In other words, you cannot accept and reject at the same time. You either accept these individual differences as the criteria for our assessment or you reject them. There can be no buts because transgender women do not come into this as a group. They come as individuals and must be accepted on that basis.
Chimamanda Adichie thinks “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”. She says this is because “by making them mainstream, we might reduce the many oppressions they experience”. But she’s not comfortable with how this is being done. It feels “disingenuous” to her. “The intent is a good one but the strategy feels untrue. Diversity does not have to mean division”, she declared.
Now, let’s for a moment ignore the insult in describing an age-old position as impulsive, what is wrong if indeed transgender persons are trying to make trans issues mainstream? Is that a crime? Making minority issues mainstream is not the same as making those issues dominant. It only means peeling off the contrived stigma historically associated with that minority, so that it becomes normal. And why shouldn’t that be? Does she think someone transgendering from male to female has some male privileges they are reluctantly abandoning to suffer female oppression? If you acknowledge that they experience many oppressions being out of the mainstream, what does it cost you as a cisgender person to make their issues mainstream in order to do away with such oppressions or reduce them at least? Why describe transgender strategy as disingenuous or unreal as though this is a mere stylistic battle over how to make their issues mainstream? So, who determines this? Who is the judge of what strategy feels untrue and disingenuous and which is true and ingenuous? Weren’t these the same excuses used against women and blacks as they fought for equality and the right to vote? Aren’t these the same arguments now being used to challenge transgender people’s access to gendered public spaces? Most charitably, I see Adichie’s attack as one of form over substance and as far as we are dealing with the rights of fellow human beings, that can have no place in the equation.
Adichie says transgender people should be allowed to be, but that sounds terribly condescending. They are not lepers, they are not people that should be locked away in a closet while the rest of us get on with feminism and life. They are who they are, not who they are defined to be by Adichie because gender identity is a personal thing. It is the identification that one’s personal sense of identity aligns with, be it masculine or feminine, or a combination thereof. It is not necessary that one should die with the gender assigned to them at birth because it could be wrong, as in the case of transgender people.
Perhaps, Adichie thinks transgender people should be allowed to be and the differences acknowledged because, after all, she’s opposed to violence against trans women. The irony is that this is the version of herself that scandalized her, the version that made her feel like a white person saying ‘I’m not racist, I supported civil rights’, the version that made her seek to clarify her comment. But of what use is the clarification if, as we have seen, she’s still insisting on these differences? We oppose violence against animals, but we don’t treat them like they are humans. Transgender persons are first and foremost humans and whichever gender they choose to identify with by virtue of their individual experiences should be their right.
Transgender people are not saying they are the same with people naturally born into the gender they identify with, they are saying they have exercised the right to identify with the gender they feel they truly belong to. Men and women born as men and women and who identify as men and women are free to say they are different, just as the transgender person is free not to see any difference. It’s their journey, their experience, not ours. We do not possess a special right to identify as a man or woman and so we do not have any right to deny others who wish to so identify. And, no, we should stop behaving as though we are doing transgender people a favour by being supportive, it’s the human thing to do, the decent thing to do.
Adichie says she can see how her saying that we should not conflate the gender experiences of trans women with that of women born female could appear as if she was suggesting that one experience is more important than the other or that the experiences of trans women are less valid than those of women born female. She says she does not think so at all but then added that she knows that trans women can be vulnerable in ways that women born female are not and that this is a reason to not deny the differences.
Yes, from all I’ve said so far, it’s obvious that I did get the impression that she sees the experiences of women born female as more important and more valid than the experiences of trans women. I thought that was obvious. Indeed, it is the purport of her case for not regarding trans women as women. Yet, in my analysis so far, I haven’t reacted to her on that basis. My position is simply that the importance and validity of the individual experiences of anyone identifying as a woman, trans or not, are irrelevant and should not be relevant in determining who is a woman or not. The only thing that counts is that the person identifies as a woman and in the case of a trans woman, it’s enough that she has undergone the procedure to so identify.
Also, I’m not convinced that Adichie’s reaction supports her claim that she knows “trans women can be vulnerable in ways that women born female are not”, because, if indeed she knows this, I would have thought the natural reaction to a more vulnerable group would be inclusiveness, rather than rejection. The natural reaction would have been to open up the umbrella for them knowing that their vulnerability is solely a result of their identity with femininity. I mean, what is the point of saying that we should not conflate the gender experiences of trans women with that of women born female if it’s not to make them more vulnerable as a minority? How does emphasizing the differences help the vulnerable transgender female? How does that help with preventing the scandalously high rates of violent hate crimes murders and murders against transgender women today? How does that help with the equally high rates of suicide amongst them?
Honestly, it’s funny that Adichie cannot see how contradictory her position is. She cannot be saying she’ll continue to stand up for the rights of transgender people while having no scruples denying them the most basic right to identify with the gender they’ve chosen, all because she’s keen on a differentiation based on some false dichotomy of experience. I mean, she’s saying the whole problem of gender in the world is not about “how we wear our hair or whether we have a vagina or a penis”, but about experiences; yet she balks at the idea of someone who had a penis claiming to be a woman after transgendering. Also, I truly wish Adichie understands the implications of saying diversity does not have to mean division because she is the one clearly creating that division with her dichotomization of gender along these unclear lines. Indeed, it is those who insist on transgender people not identifying with the gender they choose that run the risk of “reducing gender to a single, essentialist thing”. For someone who philosophizes about the danger of a single story, she’s really running against herself here.
Now, tucked inside Adichie’s attempt at clarification is something that must pass for a defens. Here is how Chimamanda Adichie put it: “Perhaps I should have said trans women are trans women and cis women are cis women and all are women. Except that ‘cis’ is not an organic part of my vocabulary. And would probably not be understood by a majority of people. Because saying ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ acknowledges that there is a distinction between women born female and women who transition, without elevating one or the other, which was my point”.
This is an ill-thought-out defense, incredibly inept. Adichie seems intent on avoiding the truth, which is that the problem is not with the semantics, but with the fundamental thought behind her statement. After making a substantive case for why she thinks trans women are not women, does she think anyone would buy a cynical declaration that “trans women are trans women and cis women are cis women and all are women”? Of course not! They won’t because everything she’s saying by way of explanation of her position indicates that she does not consider trans women as women. All she needed to say to the question: “Are trans women, women?” is “Yes” and no further questions would have been asked. She seemed not to realise that by saying “trans women are trans women and cis women are cis women and all are women”, she is still making a poorly-disguised distinction, which would have been worse because discerning people would have considered that response disingenuous in the context of the analysis she has made and the other explanations she has given already.
How can a world-class writer, a feminist of renown, say ‘cis’ is not an organic part of her vocabulary and in the same breath conjecture that it probably won’t be understood by a majority of people? Isn’t that a little too presumptuous? Isn’t it her calling as a novelist of repute to expose people to new vistas, new learning? What would it cost anyone listening to her to check up the meaning of the term ‘cis’ if necessary? Why further complicate matters by claiming that “saying ‘trans’ and ‘cis’ acknowledges that there is a distinction between women born female and women who transition, without elevating one or the other” and then concluding that this was her point? How? No, that is not her point! Her point is muddled up in this clarification, but we got her the first time. Her point in every way she has explained it, apart from this muddled up version, is that trans women are not women because they had male privileges and do not have the experience of cisgender women.
Frankly, the best one can make out from this jumbled position at the most charitable is to imply that by admitting that ‘cis’ is not part of her organic vocabulary, she is invariably admitting that she was not qualified to speak about this issue. In other words, what she should have done was admit that her position on this has not fully evolved and that she is no expert on the issue and would rather wait to be well-informed about it before responding. That would have been a more credible answer than the one she gave, if, in the end, she is going to be coming up with this type of excuses by way of clarification.
At this juncture, let me reiterate that the point I have made so far is that we only have one human experience and, as I implied earlier, we are striving as a civilization to remove those remaining barriers that reduce identity to a false default of natural inequality between the sexes. So, it is not helpful in such a context to effectively stigmatize transgender people with a separatist identification tag that only explains their journey, rather than their destination or settled identity. Why deny them womanhood when all that does is push them off the gender identity framework? Does Adichie think it’s fair for someone to go through the pains of becoming transgender in order to be a woman only to be put at arm’s length and told she isn’t what she wants to identify as?
Thus, advertently or inadvertently, as it concerns this matter, Adichie’s differentiation is a statement on the ‘oddity’ of the identity of transgender women. Once she chooses to describe them as anything other than women, she is invariably creating a cisgender hegemony. If you are not trans-exclusionary, you should have no problem whatsoever with a transgender choosing to identify with a gender of their choice as far as they’ve gone through or are going through the painful process to be so identified. You are not the identity police, so let them be free to be who they want to be. This is not denying that “to be human is to be a complex amalgam of your experiences” or that being born male has no effect on the transgender person’s experience of gender as trans women or vice versa, all of that are individual experiences that make up the human identity of the person, not his or her gender identity. Thus to frame this, as Adichie has done, as people saying that the person who is born female and has experienced life as a woman has the same experiences of somebody who has transitioned as an adult is a false debate. This debate is about the right of such a person, no matter their human experience, to be able to identify with the gender of their choosing once they make that transition. It does not take away anything from your experience as a cisgender person and it actually costs you nothing. Yes, Adichie is entitled to her view, but it won’t stop trans women from being women. It won’t stop them fighting for their place in the world as women.I have tried to understand why Adichie would hold a view like this considering she’s young. I’d thought about this being the kind of traditional response you will get from a continental African female not too exposed to the world of feminism or gender politics; but, of course, that does not pass muster because other women worldwide hold this type of view too. Then I’ve also thought about ascribing a much more ‘mischievous’ explanation to her comment. Is Adichie deliberately stirring up a hornet’s nest or initiating a controversy as part of a marketing gimmick for her new book, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions? But if this is the case, I don’t think choosing to do it this way is a wise move because if you want to engineer controversy as a writer, it shouldn’t be anything that should be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as diminishing your humanity and it shouldn’t be anything that will permanently keep you on the defensive and have you returning to clarify things or explain yourself repeatedly or have people question your intellect and so on. It can be very dispiriting once you’re on that trajectory. Besides, when we consider that the story of Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is of a feminist advising a mother on how to train her daughter in feminism, then with the slant of interpretation being presently given her comment, in no time critics would begin to claim the book is a dog-whistle for trans-exclusionary feminism since it’s obvious that the book will not be speaking to the experiences of transgender women and other women unable to or not interested in having children. To stop the debate getting into such messy terrains, Adichie needs to take a more inclusive stance on feminism.
There is a cautionary tale with Germaine Greer, the great feminist and public intellectual who said basically the same thing Adichie is saying now in the mid-nineties. In 1997, after opposing the election of the physicist Rachael Padman as Fellow Newnhan College, Cambridge University where she’s a member of the governing board on the ground that Padman had been born a male and therefore must not be admitted to a women-only college, Greer was embarrassingly shot down by the staff and students who overwhelmingly supported Padman. The fallout was so bad that her campaign against Padman even in the press backfired when on 19 March 1998 her article, “A Sister with No Fellow Feeling” earlier published in the 25 June 1997 issue of The Guardian (which was an attack on Padman) was retracted as the charges she made against Padman were found to be false and her accusation considered groundless. After that shameful episode, Greer resigned from the College over the issue.
Ever since she’s attracted opposition all over and one of the main voices of the second-wave feminism has become something of an embarrassment in feminist circles because of what people consider her transphobia. About a year ago, she attempted to walk back her comment at the Monday 11 April 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Question and Answer programme, but, midthought, hubris and self-conceit took over and she was back defending the indefensible. It started with one of the panellists, the journalist Steph D’Souza (who tellingly introduced herself as a former fan) asking this: “When I was younger I found your work a great source of strength and inspiration. It helped me resist the limitations that society or even misogynists could place on me but I find really confusing views you’ve expressed that transgender women are not real women. Why do you believe there is such a thing as a real woman? Isn’t that the kind of essentialism that you and I are trying to resist and escape?”
Greer, started her response contritely and soberly: “This is so difficult. I agree that when I first was thinking about what is a woman I fell for the usual view that women were people with two Xs and men were people with an X and a Y, which made life nice and easy for me. And I now realize, partly because I’m not entirely immune to information, that this was wrong.” But she soon relapsed into a pitiful, incoherent defence of her offensive view, declaring that a transgender person could not know their real gender identity, because “you don’t know what the other sex is” and that it wasn’t fair that “a man who has lived for 40 years as a man and had children with a woman and enjoyed the services – the unpaid services of a wife, which most women will never know … then decides that the whole time he’s been a woman.”
The scandalized host of the show, Tony Jones expressed surprise thus: “At the beginning of your answer I thought you were digging yourself out of the hole and now I wonder if you’ve just shovelled it back in.” Greer had nothing to say except to obstinately and unreasonably insist, “I belong in this hole.” And she’s still there. In that hole. A relic. The problem with Greer isn’t that she’s being challenged by transgender persons, her challenge is coming from mostly cisgender women who find her comments offensive. That such a great feminist is being reduced to a transphobic caricature at the twilight of her life is depressing.
However, if Adichie is looking to a long, credible career in the feminist movement, she has a great example in Angela Davis who coincidentally was speaking on the same platform with her at the Women of the World (WOW) Festival in London on Saturday, March 11 , 2017. They spoke one hour apart with Davis speaking first. Angela Davis has lived an interesting, rollercoaster life. She’s been so many things. She’s been called an extremist, she’s been described by an American president as a terrorist, she’s been tried for murder, she’s been jailed and so on. But everyone within the feminist movement, no matter their politics, is united in seeing her as a credible feminist, a uniting figure in the women movement. The reason is simple. She sees the bigger picture, she is inclusive. Anyone who reads her or who listens to her speeches or talks on feminism would understand why. She reaches into places many in the feminist community will not reach and she says the right things to instantly connect. At the Women of the World Festival forum, unlike Adichie who was still clarifying her position with regard to trans women, Davis simply said: “When I say women, I also mean trans women – I’m trying to be inclusive here”. The applause was overwhelming. Her politics outside feminism may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she gets it with feminism. She knows the battle cannot be won with a house divided. She knows what counts. She understands intersectionality.
And that is what I recommend to Adichie. “The most important learning I do is learning from young people”, Davis humbly declared on that WOW stage. Anyone actually listening to the future of feminism today will know that intersectional feminism is that future. It’s what young people overwhelmingly understand and what they are fighting for because the discerning ones amongst them know that if you want to fight the multifaceted dimensions of oppression, you need to understand how it impacts many women with different identities at many levels. You need to understand that women are better served by inclusivity, rather than to be caught publicly handbagging over what is the proper gender identity of a victimized section of women. Intersectional feminism understands that feminism is not viable if it’s limited to merely fighting for equality between the sexes, because several factors make it quite impossible to arrive at that place for all women since women like the rest of society are themselves divided by race, religion, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation – all of which influence how they experience discrimination and oppression.
I believe Chimamanda Adichie’s obviously limited worldview of feminism would benefit from intersectionality. She cannot continue to see feminism as something only concerning the home and the place of the woman in marriage (to a man) or the woman as a mother in a domestic environment or the woman as a little girl being made conscious of her body or being made to feel ashamed about it and all that. Feminism has moved on and she has to move with it. She does not need the kind of controversy generated over this Channel 4 interview. Yeah, it helps in reviving the debate over the place of trans women in feminism, but this coconut is being broken on her head. Chimamanda Adichie is still young. She is making a name for herself as a credible feminist, but she can lose all her spark by this misguided but indirect attempt to misgender trans women. She needs to back off. It’s an unnecessary battle. Let people be who or what they want to be.
Having said all the above, I’m not proposing that Adichie changes her view per se, because, despite the overanalysis, she still has not been able to properly explain herself in a convincing and wholesome way. In other words, I sense that her view is still evolving, which to me is a good thing at this stage of her life and career. If she weren’t a feminist, her view as it is would have been credible; but as a feminist, this view is a little outdated. She has to understand that feminists before her who hold this view, or something close to this view, have actually done the feminist cause great harm, despite their earlier positive contributions to the movement. She cannot afford that. She has to accept that trans women are women because that is who they really are as their life before transgendering has always been and will always be about who they really are and who they want to be until they become. For instance, oppressed people fighting for freedom from oppressors do not begin with the mentality of the oppressors that they do not deserve freedom. They fight for freedom because they believe they are free people who should not be oppressed and that is how they succeed. Whatever life the transgender woman lived before she transgendered should not be glamorized as one of male privilege. Being locked in a body that your being does not approve of is no privilege. What Adichie should be saying is that as much as transgender women are women, for the purposes of feminism, they will need to unlearn habits and conceptions they’ve imbibed as men. It’s not a biological thing; it’s a consciousness thing. This will, of course, not apply to non-binary trans persons or trans kids as there will be nothing for them to unlearn by the time they’re becoming trans women.
Thus, my advice to Adichie is that she shouldn’t address the transgender issue anymore for now. She should say she has read most of the criticisms leveled against her position, despite her attempt to clarify her view, and that she is now in a position to take time out to review her thought on the issue by listening to more transgender persons. I say this because though I’m not one of those to accuse her of ignorance on this matter, a lot of that has been said already. This position will, therefore, be a humble and appropriate response. As she herself admits, she is only beginning to get to grips with the idea of being a voice for gender rights. She’s a novelist, not a dyed-in-the-wool feminist activist yet. She can afford to ask for time to configure her thoughts. Indeed, it’s too early for her to cast herself as a divisive figure in the feminist movement. She has the temperament and intellect to be a unifier and that’s what she should be investing in.
Of course, in saying this, I am conscious of the first thing I said here, which is that we must thank Adichie for not ducking the debate. There is no contradiction. Responding the way I’ve suggested here is not ducking the debate, it’s joining the debate at an evolving level. The mere fact that Adichie says her position is evolving would be news in itself and it will remain so until she makes up her mind firmly and then that becomes bigger news. Meanwhile, in the intervening period, the battle of ideas will rage on with many contributors hoping Adichie finally adopts their view and so on. Basically, it’s all going to help with the debate in a more positive way than this unnecessarily divisive outcome. I’m saying all this because Adichie is too young to be cast as an old-school feminist. She cannot afford to be seen that way if she wants to reach young people who should be taking the message forward. This is a lesson the organizers of the last Women’s March on Washington had to learn quickly. Intersectionality is and should be front and centre in the feminist movement and Adichie should begin to look at it. Unity is key to progress.