A few weeks ago, I was among those who lambasted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for visiting this topic. My views have since changed. That is, I realized that I was ready to consider Adichie as transphobic because she was not fluent in the emerging vocabulary and discourse on sexuality and queer studies.
Increasingly, I am noticing that our tendency to quickly call allies transphobic when they articulate how they feel demonstrates how we are really wielding the privilege of being insiders to queer-academic discourse. Being insiders, we expect everyone to speak with fluency (knowledge) as we do.
In the article, the author admits to being angry. From there on, she expresses her frustration about emerging discourses that blur the lines between trans- and cis-women. Being an insider, I can say that her focus on physicality, pecs versus breasts, and anatomy shows her limited understanding about how insiders conceive what is gender — as a social construct. There is nothing wrong with having a limited knowledge at 23-years old. In fact, I admire her for bolding speaking.
Working with an insider understanding of gender as something different from sex — a distinction most people are not aware of, I know that the author is not consistent in characterizing what is a woman as gender, because trans-women — who she attempts to exclude — fit within those woman delineations.
I am therefore compelled to read her article — not as someone who is old as I am — nor as someone who is an insider as I am — but partly as a young woman writing — a woman who has a right to write honestly and generate conversations. Thus, I cannot expect her to write with the fluency of the academy — and therefore, I cannot read her work and use the critical audience of the academy alone.
I thus have to read her in a way that seeks to understand what she is saying: the emotions that stimulate her work and consciousness; the body of public sentiments that support her views; and how her energy and statement is not intentionally transphobic, but rather just trying to say, I — a cis woman — am very different from transwomen, and so I need my space of difference.
So reading her, I realized that her anger should not be dismissed as valid in understanding the literature she produced. Neither should a 23-year old who is taking on a big topic in this way be labeled as transphobic without acknowledging that she is ambitious. And of course, we should not (cannot?) ignore the validity of her experiences and internal logic that mirror public sentiments — largely due to the inaccessibility to the productions of queer and academic discourse.
What should we do then? I wonder.
I think we should agree that we are still learning about the trans community — and trans discourse. We are really in the process of cultivating a language of “new” existence and equality. I think we should also understand that many transwomen agree with this ciswoman.
These transwomen believe that their realities and histories are different from ciswomen, even as they resent any notion that they benefitted from male privilege. (But did they) (Some?) (All?) (None) These transwomen also believe cis-women have a right to their own spaces — because transwomen articulate their own right to their own spaces. At the same time, these transwomem argue that there are spaces that must always be shared by both trans- and cis-women for political and equitable reasons. What sort of singular space is this author appealing for?
For me, one of the deeper problems is that our conversations are so steeped in binaries of male and female privilege — conversations that often try to identify trauma narratives as weapon, credibility, compassion, and indeed a moralizing logic when engaging power hierarchies and solidifying relationship with peers, group members, and loved ones.
Yet, we should be mindful that trans-identity cannot always be so easily collapsed within these women and men binaries. Many have made this point — but as usual, these many have not been trans persons. When we will listen to their views? How will we hear what they have to say even as we think we are speaking for them?
Indeed, what about the views of transwomen who fully center themselves into the “singular” conceptualization of women? Similarly, what about transwomen, who identity as women, but do not want any ally to erase the validity of their experience when they had identified with the gender assigned at birth? And what about transwomen who are a calling for new theorizatoins of what it means to be the gender-constructed woman in the 21st century?
In the end, the author is indeed calling for cis-only spaces. Does she have that right? Could this act of speaking by a 23-year old woman who admits in her bio that she is “fighting depression PTSD and anxiety” be a pathway to self-healing — opening up discourse about fears to share education?
I would like to ask her whether she might already have such cis-woman only spaces. Could you perhaps look around you some more? I want to ask her. I would be also interested in learning what sort of nurturing does she need to occur in such singular spaces that would be disrupted by the presence of transwomen.