Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said she has nothing to apologise for, and that she has always thought trans women are women.
Speaking on Channel 4 news earlier this month, the Nigerian writer was asked if “trans women are women,” and responded: “trans women are trans women.”
The 39-year-old added that trans women could not be placed in the same category as cis women because they had experienced male privilege.
The comments produced anger from the LGBT community, but in Washington yesterday, the author of We Should All Be Feminists refused to say sorry, and that she had been misunderstood.
“I didn’t apologise because I don’t think I have anything to apologise for,” she said.
“From the very beginning, I think it’s been quite clear that there’s no way I could possibly say that trans women are not women.
It’s the sort of thing to me that’s obvious, so I start from that obvious premise.
“Of course they are women but in talking about feminism and gender and all of that, it’s important for us to acknowledge the differences in experience of gender. That’s really what my point is.”
She told a sold-out audience at an event created by bookshop Politics & Prose that a culture of “language orthodoxy” was to blame for the backlash.
“Had I said, ‘a cis woman is a cis woman, and a trans woman is a trans woman’, I don’t think I would get all the crap that I’m getting, but that’s actually really what I was saying,” she explained.
“But because ‘cis’ is not a part of my vocabulary – it just isn’t – it really becomes about language and the reason I find that troubling is to insist that you have to speak in a certain way and use certain expressions, otherwise we cannot have a conversation, can close up debate.
“And if we can’t have conversations, we can’t have progress.”
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Adichie said that “gender is about what we experience,” and therefore the idea that cis and trans women were the same was “like the idea of colour-blindness”.
She said this concept was “a really hollow idea that if we say we don’t see colour, then somehow all the oppressions will disappear. That’s not the case.
“I think there were people who felt I was somehow making a point about the Oppression Olympics: you haven’t suffered enough. It’s not at all that.
“It’s simply to see that if we can acknowledge there are differences, then we can better honestly talk about things.”
In her appearance on Channel 4 earlier this month, she said: “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 of the world accords to men and then sort of changed or switched gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate to 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.
“I think there has to be, and I’m saying this also with, sort of, a certainty that transgender people should be allowed to be. But 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 trans women because I don’t think that’s true,” she added.
Host of the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, Dame Jenni Murray, recently suggested that trans women are not “real women”, speaking in a similar way about trans women having male privilege.