Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says she has nothing to apologize for. Trans women say otherwise.
On Monday, Nigerian novelist and Beyoncé collaborator Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie defended comments she made to the U.K.'s Channel 4 News on the difference in experience between transgender women and cisgender women, the Guardian reported.
When asked whether a transgender woman was "any less of a real woman" because she was assigned male at birth, Adichie said that "trans women are trans women."
"I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experiences," she said. "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."
Adichie went on to say that because transgender women once presented male, their experience is too different from cisgender women's experience to equate the two.
Adichie stood by her comments two days later in a Facebook post to her author page, but the criticism was swift, especially from members of the transgender community.
Actress Laverne Cox criticized Adichie's analysis, saying it "isn't intersectional" to believe that "all trans women transition from male privilege."
Transgender activist Raquel Willis also took Adichie to task for her comments in the Root. Willis contended that while cisgender women and transgender women do have different experiences, it's impossible to expect all women to have the same experience.
"This is a slippery slope, and if we define the experiences of trans women in this way, then you're defining the experiences of cis women who may not be able to live up to your expectations," Willis said. "I am not interested in a three-fifths compromise on my womanhood."
Adichie did not address these comments from transgender women. Instead, during her Monday evening speech at the Politics & Prose bookshop in Washington, D.C., Adichie lashed out at what she perceived as "language orthodoxy" on the political left.
"This is fundamentally about language orthodoxy," Adichie said to the crowd. "There's a part of me that resists this sort of thing because I don't think it's helpful to insist that unless you want to use the exact language I want you to use, I will not listen to what you're saying."
Adichie also said that "cis" — short for cisgender, meaning a person whose gender assigned at birth matches their gender identity — is not a part of her vocabulary, and that she didn't know what intersectionality meant because it "comes from a certain kind of academic discourse."
She declined to apologize for her comments on Channel 4 News.
"I didn't apologize because I don't think I have anything to apologize for," she said, adding that the debacle "illustrates the less pleasant aspects of the American left." It's an argument that echoes rhetoric from alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who made a career of touting free speech on college campuses — and mocking transgender people in the process.
"There sometimes is a kind of language orthodoxy that you're supposed to participate in, and when you don't there's a kind of backlash that gets very personal and very hostile and very closed to debate," she said.
Adichie acknowledged that "of course [trans women] are women," but that "it's important for us to acknowledge the differences in experience of gender."