Last month the sh*t hit the fan for Chimamanda Ngozi after she made some controversial comments about the extent to which the experiences and struggles of transgender women can be equated to that of women who are born female.
During an interview with Channel 4, treatment which set out to highlight the treatment of women, store Ngozi raised more than a few eyebrows with her response when asked if transwomen are women, to which she responded that ‘transwomen are transwomen’. Ngozi’s response suggested to many that she didn’t consider transgender women as ‘real women’.
This came as a surprise to many fans of Ngozi, who is a staunch supporter of LGBQT communities in her home country of Nigeria where homosexual relations still carry much stigma. The media outcry over her comments led many to believe that her opinions on such matters were at odds with what she claimed to support and stand for.
Although Ngozi has since apologised for any misunderstanding and offence that she may have caused due to her choice of words during the Channel 4 interview, her act of drawing a fine line between what divides us women who are born women from transwomen still remains a topic up for discussion.
For many in a society that is quick to criticise anything that steers slightly away from being socio-politically neutral, the debate around what it means to be a woman and womanhood continues to be sensitive topic.
Over the years, the trans community has faced many struggles from bullying to dysphoria to general discrimination and prejudice. For some, this is what led to outrage over Caitlyn Jenner receiving the Glamour woman of the year award in 2015 when so many other transwomen , like Laverne Cox, have been promoting the trans agenda for years and documenting the struggles experienced as a transgender person in todays society. Many felt that giving an award to Jenner, who at the time had been transgender for a few months, was more a call for publicity rather than an genuine effort to support transgender issues.
This goes back to the comments made by Ngozi, when questioning what makes us women. After all, the comments made by Ngozi mirror those by Elinor Burkett in a 2015 article where she claimed that ‘People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women shouldn’t get to define us… They haven’t travelled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails’. Does this mean then that because Jenner had only been a transgender for a few months that she’s not a ‘real’ transwoman because she hasn’t experienced the difficulties that others have? If you are to apply Ngozi and Burkett’s way of thinking, you may be able to apply this logic. But are such things ever so easy to define? What many people sometimes fail to realise is that just because you’ve only recently transitioned doesn’t mean that this isn’t something that has troubled you for years, and a large number of trans people face a various barriers that prevent them from taking these final steps. Whether it’s the financial burden, a lack of support from close friends or family or simply just issues that we may never know or understand.
The split opinions regarding the debate around transgenderism and womanhood, suggest that problems remain when discussing transgenderism and its relationship with traditional gender stereotypes. However this doesn’t mean that it something that we, as a society and individuals, should shy away from discussing. If anything, we should put it out there more and fuel the debate. This isn’t to say we will ever reach a black and white, unified answer on what it means to be a woman but the only way that we’ll gain a better understanding of the transcommunity in relation to conventional gender roles is by continuing to talk about it.
Written by Rachel Ummuna