Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stirred the hornet’s nest in a recent interview by opining that transwomen are transwomen because their experiences are dissimilar from women’s, and having been born male they have benefitted from privileges individuals born female aren’t accorded. As expected, in an age where exaggerated moral outrage is encouraged, groupthink (more like zombiethink) is worshipped and dissent severely rebuked, Adichie received a lot of flak for daring to express an individual thought, one that isn’t sanctioned by the liberal left.
For her trouble, she was called transphobic, instructed to check her privilege and told not to speak for transwomen even though she’d been asked a question about womanhood.
So intense were the criticisms that she had to clarify her remarks on her Facebook page. In it, she wrote that while transwomen may have experienced difficulties as boys, it couldn’t be said that those difficulties are similar to the kind girls underwent, which normally entailed learning to shrink themselves, accommodate men’s fragile egos and view their bodies as a sinful vessel.
She also acknowledged that while using the prefixes ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ would have been placatory, the word ‘cis’ wasn’t ‘part of [her] vocabulary’ and that most people probably wouldn’t have understood it. Her post concluded with the statement: “To acknowledge different experiences is to start to move towards more fluid—and therefore more honest and true to the real world – conceptions of gender.”
If gender isn’t binary but exists as a continuum, then why assert that transmen and women belong in the same extreme categories of ‘men’ and ‘women’?
This insistence to deny differences for the sake of inclusivity led some colleges in the US to pull the plug on The Vagina Monologues because, in the words of HBO host and satirist Bill Maher, “it wasn’t feminist enough… You’re talking about vaginas, and not every woman who identifies as a woman has a vagina… How is [Caitlyn Jenner] going to feel if she goes to The Vagina Monologues? ‘You’re a monster,’” he added in mock indignation.
To be sure, drowning differing opinions and pretending that transwomen are the same as women born female doesn’t help anyone in reality, a reality where women born females are less represented in clinical trials, even though certain diseases in biological males manifest differently from biological females and both sexes metabolise medications dissimilarly. The bias favouring men over women stems from the fact that they don't experience hormonal changes from periods, making research results easier to analyse.
Bias is also the reason women are more susceptible to injuries in motor accidents as crash dummy designs are based on the male physique. Further, in certain cultures, foetuses missing a penis are aborted.
Pointing out these differences is the right thing to do, and doesn’t in any way diminish the rights or delegitimize the concerns of transwomen. It doesn’t in anyway exclude them from the circle of womanhood. If anything, it buttresses the point that gender is messy with undefinable lines.
There’s nothing poetic about being discriminated against, neither is there anything noble about illustrating, in a twisted show of one-upmanship, how one group suffers more prejudice than the other as social media users are keen to do. Because in the end, if one section of society suffers, we all suffer.
Lead Photo: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie/Facebook