I would have to acknowledge that by the logic of what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie refers to as “prevailing ideological orthodoxy”, many would find problematic my writing of this essay. She is an LGBTQ-supporting feminist whose piece on LGBTQ+ humanity and “war” with other women does not necessarily warrant a man’s opinion.
My opinion, in defense of the famous writer, reeks of male chauvinism. Anyone who has seen or heard any of Adichie’s polemics or argumentation, including, of course, the very appealing Why We Should All Be Feminists, should not think the woman requires intellectual aid. Her substance is not sacrificed on the altar of style; the two are merged intimately in a delicate balance.
It is also not by chance that she continues to hit these heights. How many times is the same occurrence coincidental?
But here we are – I, with an opinion that is expressly in agreement with her fears, as expressed in Part Three of her recent headline-making post on her website.
The first two parts of It Is Obscene: A True Reflection In Three Parts, would still count as relatable material for millions who view themselves as victims of backstabbing. But it is in the third part that Adichie launches an onslaught on the malaise she seems to suggest the transgressions of the first two are based on. It is in this third part that she herself makes a case for concern and it is to that I wish to add.
Expectedly, the writer’s audience was triggered. Those who read and disagreed with her found a ton to slam, including but not limited to her supposed fault of transphobia. It would seem that was the chief problem Adichie’s detractors found – that the cishet identifying Nigerian-American woman was urging the alienation of trans individuals and other queer people.
Adichie defends herself, saying “[I] fully support the rights of trans people and all marginalized people”. I choose to take her at her word, having been a witness to all the goodwill she has strived to earn in defending LGBTQ humanity.
However, the writer has been one of the very few progressives and somewhat leftwing celebrities who have made it a point to emphasize their opposition to the installment of transwomen at par with biologically female humans. In many ways, we can trace Adichie’s troubles to 2017 after she said “transwomen are transwomen”, taking the risk to say she would not associate the completeness of womanhood to a man who transitions.
Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling and feminist author Julie Bindel, who has in the past described herself as a political lesbian, have made similar arguments. They have said they are not anti-trans and in the face of severe adversarial antagonism, have made the point that biologically female humans possess certain material conditions transwomen do not have.
Indeed, in the cases of Bindel and Rowling, they have both even said there is a social baggage that comes with growing up biologically female. Transwomen, especially if they are fully formed males who become women, do not have this social baggage.
Adichie’s trans arguments in 2017 and in 2021 have been considered a problem to the extent that she gives fodder to “bad-faith” actors who agree with her.
In the present brouhaha, Adichie is said to be in the wrong because the likes of Piers Morgan, Ben Shapiro, Claire Lehmann and other influential people who propagate centre-right or outright rightwing ideas through their media platforms, agreed with her. This accusation bore a pail resemblance with “show me your friend”, never mind that Adichie would probably disagree with any of these people eight times out of ten.
Those who have made that accusation have condemned themselves to the charge of puritanism Adichie abundantly raised in her work. How pure can you get? Can anyone be an appropriate shade of pure?
So what if Morgan agrees with you on one or two social issues? Is “Piers Morgan should not find you agreeable” really a sustainable framework for progressive posturing?
Apart from the problem of transphobia, she was also accused of bullying a marginalized group of people as she is seen to be an influential person with a substantial amount of following. There is very little doubt about her ability to have our attention.
I do not seek to absolve her of her perceived homophobia and sin of bullying. It is not as if I have the right. Rather, I am of the view that she was right about the deficiencies of the social justice tactic that seeks to tear the opposition into pieces and ends up tearing those the movement sees as inadequately loyal.
Often, I have found myself generally agreeing with the idea that marginalized people cannot afford to play by the terms and timescale of moderates and status-quo defenders. As the venerable James Baldwin asked: “How much more time do you [white people] need for your own progress [on the question of race]?”.
Feminism and the defense of LGBTQ humanity, I believe, cannot be effective if it defers the rules of engagement to the patriarchy and conservatism. To have patience with your oppressors and oppressor-adjacents is to have patience for eternity. And so sometimes, I theoretically allow the rancid nature of de-platforming, canceling and shutting down the opposition.
I would also have to own up to the criticism that I have not found the Golden Mean of platforming. That is to say, I do not know what exactly should get one de-platformed and/or canceled even if I say I understand the need for those defensive mechanisms. Is the alternative to allow all kinds of speech to prevail and trust people to move in the direction of educated and empathic opinions?
Adichie does not necessarily suggest that all speech must prevail even if she says many young people are “so terrified of having the wrong opinions” so they cannot speak. She is critiquing the tactic that progressives – those who have said the empirical evidence is behind them – have come to embrace.
I dare say that even the prize-winning author does not have an answer to the question of whether to allow all speech to prevail in the same way that I am bereft of solutions to that very problem. However, for me, this is the best summary of that Part Three:
People who depend on obfuscation, who have no compassion for anybody genuinely curious or confused. Ask them a question and you are told that the answer is to repeat a mantra. Ask again for clarity and be accused of violence
Adichie points out the trouble that many individuals have suffered while seeking answers from the radical section of the progressive umbrella. The writer suggests that the advocates of these ideas may not even know that which they advocate and are only chorus-singing.
But maybe they are not chorus-singing. Maybe, it is not that the radical section depends on obfuscation. Maybe they simply do not have all the answers – a scenario that is as human as a pimple on your face.
Progressive ideas – as is the nature of progressivism – continue to metamorphose with our knowledge of our existence. Nowhere is this fact more easily seen than in the science of our sexuality and general humanity. That is why I tend to see progressivism as an attitude in the reception of a constantly updated body of human knowing.
When we expect our knowing to be constantly updated, we are humble with whatever propositions we make because, in the larger scheme of things, those propositions are tentative – working definitions.
Humility breeds compassion, too.
I am not asking for a kumbaya around the fire. I am arguing that certain virtues transcend ideological blah-blah. But somehow, progressives – those who have been ridiculed as utopians – have the bigger reason to be compassionate individuals.
The writer is worried about the fact that the progressive movement has been radicalized so that it has traded its humanity for “emotional aridity” that is in itself a vehicle for seeking out perceived monsters. There is certainly very little compassion to go around since the confused and the curious are equated to people of bad faith.
In the end, Adichie, to me, was simply talking about the conditions of human interaction as a prerequisite of any progress whatsoever. It is really about ethics because even if you think she is transphobic, what are the odds of maliciously attacking her into an epiphany?