Trigger warning: discussion of suicide
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments about her understanding of what “transness” is set off a firestorm last month. In an interview, she said trans women live in the world with “privileges that the world accords to men” prior to transition.
I'm not sure if Ms. Adichie made these statements based on trans women she’s talked to or knows, but I know from my own experience and the trans women who’ve spoken out in response that this is just not true—trans women do NOT enjoy male privileges prior to transitioning.
The minute we voice or display any sort of "feminine" tendencies, we are immediately shunned and mocked and bullied and even murdered for it.
That's not privilege. That's misogyny and transphobia.
I was young when I first felt I was different. Around the age of four, I wanted to be the girl in the movies, the one that the men adored. But I didn't look like my sister or the girl in the movies. My father saw me one day running around the house with a long white t-shirt on, being super femme fatale, striding my stuff through the house. He yelled, "You want me to cut your d*ck off so you can be a b*tch.”
My spotlight was over then. I cried, and he pushed me to be a boy, the "man" he thought I was.
I went to high school living a lie. I was suicidal because I wasn't who I thought I should be. Then one day I met my best friend until today, NaTasha Bean. She said, "You don't look happy." I cried and something inside me said to tell her “I’m gay.”
She responded, “Ok and I'm pregnant.” We laughed hard! From 15-16, NaTasha gave me the strength to just live. I started wearing what I wanted and just being me. I got a job during the summer and started getting my hair and nails done.
When she asked me about it, I said, “I look gorgeous don't I?”
“You look happy—so you a b*tch now,” she replied. I laughed hard and asked if I could be a woman. She said we could look it up.
I started transitioning then.
My father disowned me when I told him I was a girl. I was a black kid in a household that uplifted the gender binary—there was no grey around, you’re straight, gay, woman, or a man. I was fighting to be seen. I attempted suicide twice and hid it from my family.
I was 20 the second time I tried to kill myself. A week later, I came home and told my mother I was transgender. She asked what that means. I didn't have the language then, and she yelled at me to go to my room and “figure out how you are before you tell me who you are.”
Those words stayed with me. I started researching and getting the language that I needed to explain who I am. I went back and told her and broke it down. She said, “I knew you were different but didn't know how different. You’re my child and I love you regardless.”
It took my Uncle Donnie to explain to my father that I'm his child and he should love me, no matter what. Uncle told him that at the end of the day, my dad didn’t want the world to hurt me, so why was he doing it? I've gone through a lot in my 30 years and have many more stories to tell about my life.
Coming up as a trans girl into a woman, I've never once felt male privilege.
And I’m not alone. Laverne Cox has talked on twitter about her own experience and there was nothing in there about male privileges as a child: “My gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that….Gender exists on a spectrum & the binary narrative which suggests that all trans women transition from male privilege erases a lot of experiences and isn't intersectional.”
Other responses I've seen were individual experiences or articles written by trans women on the subject, and they've said the same thing: trans women do not benefit from any male privileges.
I've also seen someone make a convincing, to me at least, argument saying that assuming trans women enjoy male privileges is like saying closeted LGBQ people enjoy straight/non-queer privileges prior to coming out.
The main issue I take with Ms. Adichie’s argument is that it does not seem to be based on experiences of trans women, but rather on her (valid) understanding of male privilege.
The fact is—this understanding of male privilege does not apply to trans women.
My father told me, “You're so smart, you're dumb,” and it has set with me to try to understand this. What this means is that you can over analyze something that is so simple to answer, like this: “Trans women are women.”
See, the problem with Ms. Adichie’s argument is the assumption that trans women enjoy male privileges by virtue of being born male. We need to get the knowledge and understand that body parts aren't giving leverage to womanhood, manhood, and personhood.
Then, Ms. Adichie doubled down on her words and said it’s “important for us to acknowledge the differences in experience of gender.” But the word “trans” is already giving what you need to understand the difference between the two.
And this difference doesn't make either experience of womanhood lesser than the other.
Furthermore, if you are a Black cis woman and your only reference on trans women's experience is Caitlyn Jenner, you are not only widely out of pocket, but also engaging in transmisogynoir by erasing your Black trans sisters. This contributes to the same culture that killed 5 Black trans women in February alone.
That said, I don't think Ms. Adichie is a TERF (a “trans-exclusive radical feminist”). But the fact remains that this stance is problematic; it is too similar to someone saying: "It's okay that there are differences between white and black people. We're just different and that's okay.”
While there is nothing inherently wrong with this stance, it just leaves too much to interpretation. Similarly, Ms. Adichie’s phrasing about trans women is vague enough that it can be used as fuel by TERFs and many others who do not affirm and support trans women.
If your stance is not based on trans women’s experiences, then I hope that you reconsider it.
Just ask trans women. Most of us are more than happy just to have conversations.
Photo provided by LaSaia Wade