What Chimamanda Adichie Said About Trans Women Is Indeed Debatable

Wait a second! I feel like Chimamanda Adichie said “Trans Women Matter” and a firestorm of backlashers said “All Women Matter.”

As a cis gendered woman who stands wholeheartedly in solidarity with the LGBTQIA community, I grappled with the idea of writing this. I have never been moved to debate any issue related to trans people that did not work to further serve them or amplify their voices. However, the backlash Ms. Adichie is receiving from her interview regarding trans women is unsettling. The statement was simple.

“Trans women are trans women.”

Opposers suggest Adichie is attempting to invalidate trans women’s lived experiences. Women such as Laverne Cox and Raquel Willis have spoken out against Adichie’s comments in recent articles. Stories like Cox’s are important narratives that should be empathized with however, it seems delusional and unreasonable to challenge Adichie’s summation because such narratives exist. In fact, more harm is caused by disregarding the aspects of the experiences trans women (and trans men) journey through in order to live in their truth.

Objectification of the female body is an essential part of the conversation and should be debated. While gender does not relate to the body, a child whose body produces breasts between the ages of 8 and 13 years old, will have to deal with a completely different set of obstacles in a culture that degrades and sexually exploits female bodies. A female bodied teenager who gets a menstrual cycle will learn social and cultural rituals to avoid shame and embarrassment each month and may become pregnant as a result of sexual experiences. These people will deal with decisions related to their bodies and giving birth, that only female bodied people have to make. These kinds of experiences, especially in a patriarchal society, are distinctions that must not get lost by generalizing women’s experiences.

Trans women deserve social and political attention that are specific to ‘trans women’ and their explicit needs. The rise in violent assaults against trans women is evidence of this. Trans women need specialized attention in health centers, hospitals and in prisons. We can not attempt to serve a community in need by ignoring explicit details related to their bodies, which in many cases involve parts that are associated with male identities.

We can validate trans women’s experiences without tuning out the idea that the male bodies they were born in may have created a reality for them that was and is much different from cis gendered women. We should make space to listen to trans narratives and use their stories to continue to advocate for the rights and well-being of trans people but we cannot write off Adichie’s comment as one that is transphobic and unworthy of debate.

Jos Duncan