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A Tale of Two Mothers: Chimamanda and Janet (̷...

A Tale of Two Mothers: Chimamanda and Janet (…and Laverne and Marsha, Too)

Photo courtesy of The Independent

 

I am a 22 year-old Nigerian-American writer; it surprises no one to learn that for me, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is #goals. Chimamanda has always represented everything my ideal life as a writer, thinker and woman could look like. I saw myself in the pages of her novel Americanah so clearly and so lovingly that I could never quite look at myself in the mirror with the same harshness again. A loud, proud and unapologetic Nigerian womanist, Chimamanda feels like home. She feels like all the powerful, badass, feminist women that the country of my blood has produced across time immemorial. So it was with a significant level of disappointment that I read about the recent controversy over statements she made about trans-women [the original interview can be found here].

Specifically, making the argument that the experience of trans-women is essentially distinct from that of cis-women due to what she believes is the male privilege they’ve accumulated as a result of being assigned male at birth. Adichie’s statements carried the ugly, dangerous and fundamentally misinformed implication that trans-womanhood is some “other” kind of womanhood, that it is tainted by the experience of dwelling in a “male-body,” and only contingently considered womanhood at all. It was my love for her that made my heart bleed while I watched the social media lashings she received for her comments, and further made me cringe when she refused to walk her statements back. And as deeply and as truly as those of us who look up to Chimamanda see her light and strength, we must also be radically honest in the confrontation of her (and our own) limitations. I believe this is an occasion where our fave simply has to take an L. But I do not believe that it’s impossible to deliver that L with Love.

Photo courtesy of People

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Janet Mock and all our trans-sisters are women because that is who they say they are.

Janet Mock is a goddess. Period. Every single picture of her takes my breath away. I’ve seen her speak live twice; her energy literally fills a room. Rumor has it her hair is that big because it’s full of secrets. But in truth, her physical beauty is the least striking thing about her—the lightning is in her eyes. You look into her eyes and you can see and feel the power of her soul.  And as if to erase any doubt, her first book, Redefining Realness, chronicles her journey from girlhood to womanhood through her experiences living and loving as a black transwoman. It is a soul-baring and spiritually bracing work; and you leave with a deeply transformative understanding of how much it costs to define yourself in a world doing its best to define (and therefore destroy) you. Janet Mock and all our trans-sisters are women because that is who they say they are. Who are you (or anyone) to say any different? To castigate this issue as one of “language orthodoxy” is disingenuous; we’re all writers here, we know that words mean things. We know that names mean things. No, our trans-sisters may not have walked in your exact shoes, but sis, are you sure you’re strong enough to stand in theirs?

Photo courtesy of Beyonce/www.Beyonce.com

Funmi Iyanda (@funmiiyanda) posted the image above on Instagram and included a powerful caption on ancient Yoruba notions of womanhood that I encourage everyone to check out. One segment that I think is particularly relevant and that I offer humbly to Auntie Chimamanda for consideration is as follows:

In ancient Yoruba land, the woman’s worth is closely tied to motherhood, but this is however not some simplistic, self-congratulatory child birthing—which lesser animals are capable of without fanfare. It is the ability to give life, nurture, energy and love to others, an ability which is only acquired upon coming into one’s full self and thus not exclusive to women who do not have or do not desire biological children.

I am a proud daughter of both Chimamanda Adichie and Janet Mock. Of both Beyonce and Marsha P. Johnson. Of both Laverne Cox and Viola Davis. Like so many mothers before them, these women have dug the deep wells of love that are the true essence of womanhood.  They have given birth to new realities and nourished thousands through their creative work, activism and steadfast commitment to being their truest selves. It is my humble opinion—as I look up to my trans-sisters—that the trans experience is literally one of transcendence. These sisters carry the confirmation in the inherent essence of their being, that it is at the level of our soul that we come to know our truest selves. That our black trans-sisters have a life expectancy hovering around 35 years of age due to the fatal violence enacted upon them tells us everything we need to know about how the world we inhabit (and that we as cisgendered people are complicit in creating and propagating through careless statements like Adichie’s) punishes souls that dare to stand in their truth.  At least, that’s what I’ve taken away from Janet Mock’s generous storytelling. It is our trans-siblings who by their very act of living redefine what is real, and give birth to a potential future where we are all free to be our realest, truest selves.  Any feminist praxis that relegates trans-women’s experiences as “other” is ultimately an othering of the self.  Don’t hurt yourself, beloved.


Holly Ajala is a writer and storyteller with a fierce belief in the power of effective narrative to inspire empathy in the face of difference, to propel the reach of social justice and above all, to challenge human beings to be more human. Follow her or Twitter at @123_serendipity and on Instagram: @123serendipity

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