Hi Chimamanda, I’m Trans So Let Me Speak for Trans Women
(Yes, malady it is possible)
First things first. I believe that all women, order whether they be trans or cis, black or white, poor or rich [insert our other differences here] deserve to do more than exist and survive. They deserve to lead happy, fulfilling lives. There is nothing I am more certain about. For far too long, the idea of being a woman has been defined by suffering; whether that be because we are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or the gender pay gap. It is time all of us women lived the lives that were rightfully ours – loudly and unapologetically and without shame, and (metaphorically) ran over anyone that got in our way. Can I get an Amen ladies?
Now that’s out the way, it’s time for my unpopular opinion. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the main reasons I believe all those things. She was the midwife at my feminist rebirth, and in some ways, I owe her my life. She inspired my departure from a very toxic situation. To say I admire the woman is an understatement.
I’m also sure I’m not the only woman that feels this way. So, what do when we get stuck between this rock and this hard place? A woman we hold the utmost respect for, seemingly marginalising other women. We are reminded that even those we place on the highest of pedestals are imperfect. This lesson is an important one in our digital age of political correctness and rushed Twitter apologies. The reminder that everyone (including us) can be problematic.
While I am not ready to ‘throw her in the bin’ as some Twitter personalities have suggested (in fact I might stand in front of the bin, ready to cut anyone who tried), I completely support the right of transwomen to speak for themselves and say why they found her comments hurtful, undermining and downright unfair. I stand completely ready to learn and be educated, and I have learnt a lot over the past few days.
This episode of a webseries highlights issues faced by a transwoman.
I need to listen and learn because my experience of womanhood and a transwoman’s experience of womanhood, while there may be similarities, are not the same. In the same way that I listened and learned when Katouche Goll shared some of her experiences of being a woman with a disability on a night out. Or the way I listened and learned when I spoke to two women about their FGM experiences. As women who want a feminist movement that leads to the empowerment of us all, we must recognise that our experiences are not all the same. We face unique difficulties. How else can we target them?
When I say, for example, that as a child I was singled out, taken aside and sternly told off for running in church because young ladies don’t do that, while a group of boys continued. Or I tell you about my intense embarrassment when I bought my first ever bras with my Mum at Marks and Sparks. Or the silent terrors that were my early periods, when I was convinced everyone knew, or that I would leak, or some other disaster would befall me. Not to talk of my current experience of being the only black woman in all of my university seminars.
These are some stories from my womanhood. Of course, there are also stories of triumph. But my stories will not be the same as yours. They might be similar– but it doesn’t even matter. If we are all listening to one another, and learning from one another, the feminist movement is strengthened not divided by our many differences. Isn’t that the whole point of intersectional feminism anyway?!
I’m convinced that this is what Aunty Chimamanda was trying to say, but take my views with a pinch of salt because I am not just a fangirl, I am a ride or die fangirl.
Feel free to take another look through and decide for yourself. After that – write your Twitter threads, think pieces and discuss with your friends.
Then get back to the important work; trying to live the happy, fulfilling lives we as women deserve.
Written by Izin Akhabau
Another weekend of defending my right to exist. This weekend, viagra 40mg author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told Channel 4 News she felt that trans women are ‘trans women’ rather than ‘women’ because she feels we experience male privilege prior to transition. The week before that (and presumably why Channel 4 felt the need to ask in the first place), approved Woman’s Hour host Jenni ‘I’m not transphobic but…’ Murray also said trans women hadn’t earned the right to call themselves women.
Both women fuelled a horrible ‘debate’ whereby my life as a trans woman is called into question. It’s exhausting – because you have to exert time defending yourself – and it’s awful – because trolls on Twitter start sending you horrible messages. One helpful person made a little poster out of an old author picture of me from four years ago before I started my transition saying THIS IS NOT A WOMAN. I mean…really? Who does that? Get a hobby! Go walk children in nature!
Privilege – the sort Adichie speaks of – it’s a nebulous entity at best and one that’s very hard to measure. Comparing privilege across groups is a wild goose chase. “Male privilege” is the societal benefits afforded to men whilst living in a patriarchy – a male dominated culture.
But if you’ve passed Feminism 101 – and Adichie fucking teaches that module so it was an unfortunate error – you’ll know that intersectional issues scatter privilege. Black men have less privilege than white men. Poor men have less privilege than rich men. Poor black women have less privilege than poor black men. Do you see where this is going?
It’s very clear to me – and I would have thought fairly clear to you – that a young trans person has less ‘privilege’ than a young cisgender person. Cisgender simply means ‘not trans’, you agree with the gender you were given.
My childhood was a muddle. I thought I was a girl only to be told I wasn’t. I tried to make sense of things by imagining I was a girl instead. When I didn’t magically turn into a girl, I continued to ‘act like a girl’ and was severely bullied all through my school career. Working with the options I had, I thought I might be a gay man for a few years, but still wanted to be a girl. Eventually, having learned what transgender was, I did something about it.
Frankly, I was in way too much of a dank psychological gender pit to ever fully enjoy ‘male privilege’. Someone who fundamentally doesn’t want to be male distances themselves from anything male. It’s a bit like Harry Potter and the sorting hat: he was offered Slytherin and all its privilege, but he chose Gryffindor. His conscious rejection of the privilege defines him. Similarly, I wanted nothing to do with being a boy and I paid the price in bullying and social exclusion.
Sure, I looked male if you squinted, but from childhood I was labelled a freak. I was too girly to be a boy. That’s just my experience, but I’m told other by trans men and women that their early lives were spent in a similar way. Trans kids are not experiencing the same privilege as cis ones, however we look.
What’s more, no trans person ever claimed to have had the same experience of gender or privilege as a cisgender person. It’s only because our society is default cisgender that you’re reading this thinking I have the first clue what it’s like to NOT be transgender. Not for a single day of my life was I comfortable with the gender I was assigned. I don’t know what it’s like to be you.
And you, vitally, don’t know what it’s like to be me.
It’s cheap to switch intersections around to illustrate a point, but I can’t imagine Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is dying to hear my take on what it’s like to be black. I can’t imagine Channel 4 News is ever going to ask for my OPINION on what it’s like to be black. Because I’m not black and I never have been in the same way that Adichie – and Murray – have never been transgender. Cis people have to stop speaking on our behalf.
Gender doesn’t need – and doesn’t have – gatekeepers. This is where the media needs to wise up. I have no idea why news producers are asking cisgender people for details of things they have no experience of. When it comes to trans issues, you can either get the experience from a trans person or an opinion from a cis person. Opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one. They’re neither facts or news.
This is the last time I can do this rant in a while. It’s wearing me down. You’re no doubt familiar with the term ‘gaslighting’, the effects of having your perception of reality continually questioned. With so many people asking ‘are trans women real women’ I started to wonder if my entire existence was a lucid cheese dream. But then you see videos like the one of Dandara dos Santos being murdered in a transphobic attack and you realise this is reality, and by calling trans women ‘less than’ cis women I guess we’re easier to attack in the same way that sex workers are ‘less than’.
After an awful weekend on Twitter, Malorie Blackman reminded me of an old Toni Morrison quote. She’s talking about racism, but it feels very true to me right now:
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”
She’s right. I can argue until I’m blue in the face and someone looking to get their ass on TV will question my reality in a cheap shot. I know how I feel. I know who I am. You don’t.
And so I’m opting out of this ‘debate’. I’m a bestselling author. I have a column in Glamour. I run a popular cabaret night. I have a Chihuahua. I have a family and friends that I love. I have my body and I have my soul and they are starting to match. I breathe the sea air and eat Haribo. I am real.
Written by Juno Dawson
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