Transwomen are women. Yet, still to this day many deny them access to belonging in this category. We are slowly noticing some signs of trans visibility in the media but the progress is slow, just like in our society. Now that the trans topic has been brought into discussion, many question the legitimacy of Trans people. What are they? How should we treat them? Which gender are they in reality? How do we get past the idea of their assigned gender and accept them in their present one? All of these questions are discussed but rarely with Trans individuals themselves. We should start questioning why it is for us to choose someone’s validity (or rather it isn’t).
An acknowledged writer and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is an icon for female empowerment. Her speeches and books are widely quoted among feminists and are a source of inspiration for many. Fragments of her speech We should all be feminists landed in the popular Beyonce song **Flawless and resonated widely among her fans. Her powerful words sent a message of inclusion for women and men in the fight for equality, which will make not only women but all of us beneficial. As gender is only a social construct, there are no biological factors which stop us from doing the same things for the same value. Adichie disclosed, however, a slightly less inclusive character in a recent interview with Cathy Newman for Channel 4, where she claimed Transwomen cannot be accounted for in females’ experiences as they had the opportunity to live with male privilege before. They are neither a man or a woman, they have a separate category because of that reason.
Is Adichie right? Many nod with approval at her words. Isn’t it true that Trans women were socially seen as men before? They were able to reap all the laurels of privilege they had and then they decided that being a man wasn’t for them. That is how it looks like from a cis person’s (who identifies with the gender they have been assigned at birth) point of view. This opinion in reality is less applicable nowadays. Yes, there are still many Trans individuals who realize their identity or come out of the closet late in life. That is what we always imagine in the case of Trans people. We see Caitlyn Jenner, who transitioned after having a rich and fulfilled family life and professional career and in fact lived with male privilege throughout most of her life. These kinds of situations are becoming rarer now. Many Trans folks know their identity very early in life and even start their transition before puberty. As they are aware so quickly, they have no way of experiencing the privilege of their assigned gender. Their queerness (whether it be them being Trans or actually being queer as in gender non-conforming, non-binary, etc.) is seen as unfavourable, and they are more often prone to being not accepted or even bullied or attacked. Their experiences are hardly the ones of privilege.
The idea that the matter of validity of Trans people is discussed by someone outside of the group, be it in this case cis women, is comical in a very bitter way. “Cis people have a tendency of boiling down transgender experiences into one born-in-the-wrong-body-and-then-changed-it narrative that doesn’t quite reflect my own story” says trans feminist blogger Kat Blaque. They can rarely see past the idea of a person’s assigned gender but still talk in someone’s behalf without knowing what they are living through. Trans people are tokenised without the ability to actually speak for themselves and defend their validity when it is denied. “I’m looking forward to the day when cis people stop asking other cis people to validate our lives, identities, and experiences and just do the obvious – ask us about ourselves” Blaque sums up.
This conversation may be all about words. But these words have a reflection in the reality that Trans people live in. As society continues to exclude Trans people and deny them rights in both eastern and western countries, our choices have real consequences in the Trans individuals’ quality of life. Every month news outlets report numerous cases of Trans people being murdered simply on the basis of their identity. Currently, during Trump’s presidency which works for many as an excuse and chance to be discriminatory towards certain groups, many states are introducing or reinforcing their bathroom laws which forces Trans people to use bathrooms of their assigned at birth gender. This triggers acts of violence towards them, as they do not look like the rest of the users of these facilities. If we continue to decide for Trans people how real they are and what rights to function and live they should have, we will see more of their blood on our hands.
The topic is not easy. Coming back to Adichie, her statement can be true for some of the cases of Trans experiences. Is this the experience of all Trans folks? No. But is experiencing male privilege a good thing for a Trans woman? This is debatable. “We can’t say if [Caitlyn Jenner] would come out as Transgender before her Olympic win, she’d be able to have the same success as she has now. […] Whether she enjoyed it or not, she benefitted from being seen as man. […] [But] living a lie isn’t a privilege, really. That while [Trans people] may have superficially benefitted from how the world saw them, being seen as a wrong thing isn’t a privilege, it’s an oppression” explains Blaque. We should reach to Trans stories because there is no more honest way to learn about the struggle we do not experience ourselves. Maybe then cis people will finally see that the question of someone’s rights should never be for them to determine.