On Why Trans Women May Be Offended By the Idea of Not Being Considered “Woman”

K N F
7 min readJun 17, 2018

By izenidak March 13

In a recent interview with Channel 4 News, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie offered (and quite inoffensively) that “trans women are trans women”. I mean, what a shit storm this created. As a matter of fact, it created such a shit storm that as we speak, Chimamanda is literally swimming through a river of shit trying to “clarify” her “perspective” on the matter.

In the interview, Chimamanda underlined her point by drawing on the ways in which the social identities we embody (embrace and perform) and those that are simply socially ascribed but are neither embraced nor performed, shape the way we experience the social world. In her own words she states, “so, when people talk about, you know, are trans women, women, my feeling is that trans women are trans women. I think the whole problem of the 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 the world accords to men, and then sort of change, switch 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 are. And so, I think there has to be… And this is not of course to say this is… i’m saying this also with, sort of, a certainty that transgender people… should be allowed to be. I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one. I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women because I don’t think that’s true. What i’m saying is that gender is not biology, gender is sociology”.

Because I interpret this statement as profound at the least, and intellectual at best, I can’t seem to comprehend the outrage.

Now, I have a couple of questions:

1) Should we not be directing our “attacks” at the interviewer for the way in which she framed the question to Chimamanda? She asks “staying with this issue of feminism, femininity, does it matter how you’ve arrived at being a woman? For example, if you are a trans woman who grew up identifying as a man, who grew up enjoying the privileges of being a man, does that take away from you becoming a woman? Are you any less of a real woman?”

I mean, this was such a leading question and Chimamanda would’ve appeared petty if she told the interviewer that she had no interest in engaging with such a “controversial” question. Nevertheless, Chimamanda responded to the “twisted” question as honestly and clearly critically as she could. Furthermore, with the interviewer suggesting that trans women “grew up identifying as a man” — this is actual grounds for an outrage. I mean, where are the “angry trans women” when you need them?

The entire trans community should be utterly offended by the fact that the interviewer is suggesting here, that psychologically, a trans woman’s gender was somehow initially aligned with their sex assigned at birth. In other words, the interviewer is suggesting that at one point or another a trans woman once identified as a man. However, based on the novelist’s explanation, I gather that she was actually referring to the way in which the socially ascribed identity of male ( whether or not the gender norms associated with this sex is embraced or not) shaped the advantages/privileges that person experienced or lived prior to their transition.

Furthermore, the mere thought that a person “becomes” a woman should’ve been the first indication that this Channel 4 interviewer either does not have an understanding of gender identity politics, lacks awareness of the language associated with gender politics or is simply feigning awareness for the sake of controversy, viewership, subscriptions, likes and shares. At the bare minimum, it is as if she did not do the necessary groundwork. If we insist on getting mad at someone, it should be the Channel 4 interviewer — btw, what is her name?

The trans community ought to be focusing their attention and attacks in the direction of the Channel 4 interviewer (as well). Identity-wise, not only is the interviewer visibly white but she presents as woman and female. As a matter of fact, I strongly believe she should’ve directed such an uneducated question to herself. This is especially because Black women for some time have not been considered “woman” or even “feminine”. I mean, it’s almost as if there is a number of common ground/denominators that women of trans experience and Black women share: the fact that we are invisible and hardly considered woman.

I’d actually like to hear how the Channel 4 interviewer would’ve responded.

I’m not even sure how i’d respond.

Should I even would want to care to respond?

2) Are we not entitled to our perspectives anymore? When did it become so blasphemous to respond with critical statements to controversial questions posed to us? Are we the followers of a cult? Is “dissent” not allowed? Did we miss the part where Chimamanda made every effort to be “politically correct” whilst trying to remain honest about her understandings of gender politics? Have we forgotten that she once declared that she does not consider herself an “authority” on the matter?

We ought to do better. As a matter of fact, we ought to be mad at ourselves for expecting her to think the way we think.

Now, I wish to go into the second segment of my commentary and, based on the responses to Chimamanda’s “alternative” or “different” point of view, a number of people may find this offensive. This is however, not my aim. Rather, my aim is to facilitate critical self-reflection and ultimately the heightening of one’s critical consciousness. Self-reflection is not often an easy process but it is essential in the process of “acknowledging” and “overcoming” or even “embracing” the parts of ourselves that we or others may find “problematic”.

I have a question to ask trans women, and in actuality, this question could be asked to anyone (including myself as I believe all social identities are flexible) who challenge traditional and dominant social identities with our mere existence or our embodied self-identities that do not necessarily fit into the status quo:

1) Why are we so eager to “perform” traditional identities if the self-identities we embrace are not traditional, and at the same time get offended when people ask questions?

For example, identifying as a trans woman yet wanting to perform “traditional” gender norms associated with being woman. This manifests itself in for instance, the “goal” to be a “beautiful, feminine” woman. The “means” by which this goal is achieved is through performances of make-up application, heel-wearing and essentially engaging in what a friend of mine describes as “hyper-femininity”. Before I go on, I probably should ask where I might find other “kinds” of trans women as perhaps my understandings may be clouded by the most visible type of trans women in western media: the undeniably beautiful Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, among others.

I’ve always wondered, if we agree that social identities are all socially constructed and are not biologically based, why do we insist on performing established norms if we are so unique? Is it simply because of our innate need to fit in — to identify with a group?

Socially constructed identities — whether embodied or not — are “not biology” as Chimamanda states, they are “sociology”. They are “sociology” because they are socially constructed and serve the function of enabling us to not only make sense of our social world, but also, to enable us to navigate our social world with the use of language and symbols which we attach to various objects and ourselves — the subjects.

Because these labels (and language in general) emerge with meanings attached, they shape how we experience the social world. That is, they shape how we treat (think and act towards) others and they also shape how we are treated. As a matter of fact, it is the outcomes of the interactions of our multiple social identities (race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, etc.), within a given context that form the basis of our unique social experiences.

We also must remember that the multiple identities we embody are configured differently. This is especially when we consider where and when our unique experiences emerge. They are so differently configured to the extent that an identity (your gender) that may be more important to you in any given context may not be as important to me as one of my “other” identities (my sexuality) in the same context. It is this fact alone that makes our experiences “not the same”.

I must say, I ask the question I asked knowing full well that the meanings of social constructs, labels or social categories change over time. I also ask in an effort to refrain from “making assumptions” about persons of trans experience.

See full interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP1C7VXUfZQ

What triggered my thoughts?

I live in a unique social, cultural, political and geographical context that has an emerging trans community fighting for visibility, tolerance and ultimately, understanding.

iMe

[edited]

Originally published at izenidak.tumblr.com.

--

--

K N F

Bsc Psychology and Sociology | MPhil Sociology | Experience Researcher