On Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and TERF Feminism

I’ve long admired Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I own the printed copy of her “We Should All Be Feminists” speech. Americanah forever altered my worldview and my perception of race, Half of a Yellow Sun even moreso. She’s aspirational as both a writer — prose more lush and evocative than most poetry! — and a person, so thoughtful and steadfastly brilliant. She can not only pierce the nuances of society, but unfurl them for the masses.

Unfortunately for me and her other feminist fans, she’s also deadass wrong regarding her recent comments about transgender women. The interview can be seen here, but for anyone unwilling or unable to watch the video, here are her comments:

“I think that trans women are trans women. 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 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 changed, switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with 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 have.”

Because Adichie is so respected in feminist circles, and because her response is so measured and complex, she has many self-proclaimed feminists leaping to agree with her, to point out that her perspective and analysis is correct, and decrying anyone who’s called her out for making such an exclusionary statement.

Because she is being exclusionary, despite her words having the veneer of respect, kindness, and inclusion. And unless and until she adjusts her comprehension of gender and womanhood to be an ally to our trans sisters, she will remain so. I hate having to call out someone I admire so much, but the safety of trans women is more important than my comfort.

In addition to being exclusionary, she’s also incorrect. The image she draws forth of a trans woman being a cisgender man who decided to *poof* one day become a lady is just a more benevolent version of the cruel, inaccurate caricature of the predatory man in a wig terrorizing girls and women in public bathrooms. It may be true that we live in a patriarchal society that values masculinity as paramount, but it is equally true that we live in a cis-heteronormative society so addicted to gender roles we use ultrasound technology to lock people in to the male/female binary 20 weeks before they’re even born.

For however many years they’re alive before they come out, transgender people are routinely misgendered by their family, friends, and society in general before they’re old enough to form words. It’s gaslighting on a monumental scale. That may not be society’s intent, but that’s the impact.

Imposing masculinity on trans women and non-binary femme people is analogous to force-feeding peanut butter to a starving person with a nut allergy. You’ve solved the problem of their hunger, but at the cost of the life you were trying to save.

I’d hardly call that a privilege.