Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has stepped into the midst of a hornet’s nest of a debate around gender identity when last week in an interview with U.K.-based Channel 4 News in which she stated that “transgender women are transgender women.” Adichie was in the midst of promoting her latest book, Dear Ijeawele Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.
After being criticized as transphobic for not simply stating that transgender women are women, she attempted to provide nuance to her position in a Facebook post, in which she wrote, “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.”
One of Adichie’s most vocal critics, Raquel Willis penned an article on The Root, pushing back on Adichie speaking for trans women and also her statement that gender is defined by experience. “Adichie invalidates trans women for not having a certain set of experiences,” wrote Willis. “When cisgender women do this, it reminds me of how white women in the United States were initially viewed as a more valid type of woman than black women.”
Adichie’s Facebook posts on the topics are exploding with comments and shares. There are those that view Adichie as dead wrong for not plainly describing trans women as women and just as many thrilled that Adichie has drawn a line in the sand.
How to describe one’s identity and the rights attached to said description often bring out very intense emotions in people. Everyone writes (including Adichie) as though there are absolute rules about what defines gender (and resulting privilege) when none actually exist. At the core, people are simply fighting to exist freely and have access to equal experiences and opportunities.
People should be able to declare themselves whatever they want and if that description changes in 20 years so be it. Because one truth is that there is no black and white, everything is shades of grey and mutable. However, as long as there is an overclass that holds onto power to the point where people are starved and exploited because of their color or gender or religion, there will be people fighting among themselves for what little scraps they can get their hands on and call their own, even if it’s all just words.