Debunking “Trans Women Are Not Women” Arguments

I was recently interviewed by the New York Times about my work and writings as a trans feminist. From pre-interview conversations we shared, I knew that my interviewer planned to ask me about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments from earlier this year wherein she claimed that trans women are not women. So in preparation for my interview, I decided to revisit my first book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity and create a list of all the arguments that I made there to counter such claims. I would go on to make some of these points during the interview, although only a few were included in the final article (as it was edited for length). But since these trans-women-are-not-women claims recur on a regular basis (and are often forwarded by people who self-identify as feminists), I thought that it would be worthwhile to compile all my relevant counterarguments in one essay.

Preliminaries: regarding the term cisgender

Throughout this essay, I will use the terms cis or cisgender to refer to women who are not trans or transgender. I explain the logic behind this terminology in my FAQ on cis-terminology, and in two additional follow up essays that can be accessed here. Women who insist that trans women are not women often object to being called “cis women” under the false assumption that it somehow undermines their femaleness — this is not at all the purpose of this language. The sole purpose of cis terminology is to name the unmarked majority (similar to how one might refer to white women, or heterosexual women, or able-bodied women, etc.). In other words, referring to someone as “cisgender” simply means that they have not had a transgender experience.

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