Feminism is alive and constantly redefining itself. It has long been an empowering roar fed by the voices of all kinds of women. Today, something else can be heard too. It’s the sound of thousands of women – transgender, transexual and intersexual women – who have found their own voice, strength and value with the help of feminism.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a renowned feminist, recently stated that the life experiences of transgender women can’t be the same as cisgender women, because, in her opinion, they have experienced male privileges before transitioning.
“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 that the world accords to men and then sort of change 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 as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I would like to explain why this is relevant for the trans community. From the beginning of our lives, we’ve had this ever-present feeling that we don’t belong. We feel as strangers in our own bodies. We don’t fit in with boys, we don’t fit in with girls. Boys are too tough for most of us. Girls see us as trustworthy friends, but never as one of them.
As we explore our own identities, we get our own dose of daily bullshit: “You should probably cut your hair, you’ll look manlier“, “You should date a girl. People are talking about how you’ve never dated one before“. The experience is, of course, different from person to person, but in the end most of trans women are treated like this before coming out openly as trans.
I can only agree with the part where Ngozi Adichie says that we can’t equate our experiences. But let’s keep in mind that feminism is made by a multitude of experiences.
“A trans woman is a person born male and a person who, before transitioning, was treated as male by the world. Which means that they experienced the privileges that the world accords men. This does not dismiss the pain of gender confusion or the difficult complexities of how they felt living in bodies not their own.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Trans women aren’t treated “as male by the world“. We are raised as boys – we are expected to look like one and act like one. But we never felt like one. Every time we were taught a new ‘boy code‘ or told that “a man shouldn’t waste his time on making female friends if it’s not to have sex with them“, we feel as uncomfortable as a cisgender girl would feel listening to that. Whenever we have a female role mode, we are told to get a manlier one. Whenever we buy feminine clothes or straighten our hair, we are told we look like fags. Our male friends make fun of us.
Sadly, that’s where our experiences as trans women equate to the experiences of cisgender women. People are always expecting us to behave a certain way, based purely on our gender. That’s why I don’t think experiencing male privileges for some time is enough to push trans women away from the rest of women.
I’m not writing this to raise my opinion over Ngozi Adichie‘s. Some trans women have benefited from male privilege before transitioning, but not all have. I’m writing this because trans women’s testimonies need to be heard so we can create an accurate and inclusive picture of the experiences of trans women. After all, having different life experiences shouldn’t separate trans women from other women. Some of us have experienced some kinds of privileges, but we are still contributing to the fight for equality. Some people are willing to share their time with people who need it, others contribute with their expertise and knowledge. We each need to be aware of our position and to do our best to help others from where we are.
It’s always going to be easier for someone and harder for the rest. I don’t think that should lead us to divide feminism. Controversial opinions should be used as tools to spark civilized discussion. Let’s bring something good out of this. Talking about our differences is what strengthens feminism. Plurality is what helps us to understand and support each other.
Cover photo credit: Stephanie Ecate