CNA, terfs and whitefeminism
This time around, the proverbial cat is definitely out of the bag. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (CNA) has made a public statement that she does not recognize trans women as women. The statement comes coated with a feel of pseudo-acceptance, claiming something along the lines of ‘let trans women and trans people be’. CNA’s foremost argument in making this claim is that those grown up and socialised as ‘men’ have male privileges and that their lived experience differs considerably from that of those born and socialised as ‘female’.
Trans women and male privilege : a myth well-busted
The fact that trans women do not benefit from cis-het male privilege has been clearly and succinctly explained by trans women, such as prolific writer Kai-Cheng Thom, and does not require further reiteration here. Instead, it is of interest to note how CNA, a world-famous feminist writer, makes the cisnormative gender binary her absolute and unflinching benchmark when referring to trans women [and if her ‘trans people’ interjection is to be taken in to account, all non-cisnormative people across the world].
Gender is as diverse as the world itself, and to reiterate the obvious, gender categories differ and vary from one socio-cultural context to another. This rich diversity of gender/s, despite substantive progress, is yet to be fully acknowledged, in any reasonable measure.
Most importantly, CNA is not, to my knowledge, a trans woman. She is a black woman, and her reading of gender/s based on a heavy reliance upon the gender binary goes against the grain of Indigenous feminist and women-of-colour feminist discourses, where a recognition of femininity as going beyond the Abrahamic gender binary is a core component.
Incitement of hatred and violence
By making this claim, there is no denial that CNA has effectively deployed her media exposure to cement the hateful and transphobic views of terfs, and simply, transphobic individuals inside and outside the academy and feminist circles. CNA, I am sure, reads world news, and is conscious of the tremendously high levels of violence inflicted upon trans women, especially trans women of colour, and very especially black trans women. By reducing the humanity of trans women (CNA being a cis black woman, the blow is a heavy one for black trans women who may not have the same level of exposure and fame as CNA), CNA contributes to and in a sense condones discrimination, torture, violence and murder of black trans women. Sugarcoated ‘let them be’ remarks are of no use, and are a total irrelevance, in a world in which transphobic violence is something more than disproportionate.
CNA’s view of trans women enjoying male privilege is deeply flawed and incorrect. It is an ill-informed generalisation. Trans girls assigned male at birth and socialised as male children, adolescents and subsequently adults, are faced with categorical denials of their girlhood right from the outset. It is a denial of who they are, their gender identity, which results in marginalisation, violence, and on occasion ostracism. I, for one, underwent a childhood and youth that felt extremely lonely and left out, not fitting anywhere I was told I belonged. When one is assigned male at birth, society, in both ‘North’ and ‘South’, society inherently makes it extremely challenging for you to affirm even the slightest bit of your femininity. There is no ‘male privilege’ that trans girls assigned male at birth enjoy, except perhaps in CNA’s [visibly limited] worldview.
This does not imply that trans people, especially trans women, including trans women of colour, are never complicit in misogyny. Far from that. As many writers have highlighted, some trans women internalise many of society’s cis-normative, heteronormative and misogynist claims and ways, making some of their words and deeds toxic to women — both cis and trans. This can be seen in white trans women looking down upon trans women of colour, trans women who have moved far in their medical transitions looking down upon and being highly discriminatory towards trans women at the early stages of medical transition or opt not to undergo [for reasons of their own] medical transition. In trans lobbies in the country I spend a lot of time in — Ireland — I am often struck by the fact that the involvement of trans women in the most important gender justice issue in the country at present — that of reproductive justice, is very wanting. Trans women have a crucial role to play in standing hand in hand with cis women, trans men and birth-givers of all gender identities in the ongoing and long-standing fight for bodily autonomy, especially in the form of a safe and legal termination when a birth-giver so decides.
Similarly, Trans women are best placed to enrich and expand the somewhat cisnormative boundaries of existing debates on the provision of reproductive justice, in terms of legislation as well as healthcare practice. As I have highlighted in previous writing, political and legislative structures and healthcare bodies have long upheld an absolute aversion against trans women’s reproductive rights. It is an area of trans rights that continue to be sidelined and somewhat seldom evoked, especially in relation to trans people of colour. Trans women can therefore take a lead not only in making a stronger case for trans women’s reproductive rights, but also strongly endorsing and actively campaigning for full reproductive justice for cis women and birth givers of all gender categories.
Inaccurate and incorrect statements, [non]arguments that strengthen the hands of reactionary groups such as terfs and whitefeminists have their place in the bin, whether it comes from an ill-informed reactionary or a distinguished author. Even when the person making that statement is a woman of colour, the articulator’s gender or colour of their skin does not add, in any way (as opposed to what mainstream — meaning, ‘whitestream’ — media is assuming right now), a semblance of accuracy to the claim they make.