Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, the Nigerian born novelist and feminist, has created a stir with her views on the trans-gender issue that is so much in discussion currently. (See link to The Guardian article at bottom.) The problem occurred when she noted that a trans woman who had been raised a male certainly was not uninfluenced by the power that accompanies “male-ness” even if “he” has become a “she.” Adiche was roundly criticized by feminists and the Left but refused to apologize, merely noting that her critics had not listened carefully. She furthermore chided them for clinging to “language orthodoxy” without employing a discriminating ear, i.e. “critical thinking.” Adiche declared, “…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.” She pointed out that critical approach to speech and language is necessary and just because something we hear or read does not fit into our “orthodox” view of the world does not mean that it should be immediately dismissed. This point is often made of the Left about conservatives but Adiche called attention to its presence in liberal thought. For, this “uncritical ear” is a temptation to any vein of thinking.
Adiche, being a talented writer, understands the nuances of language and the whole of culture as she demonstrated in her excellent novel, “Americanah.” In this current controversy, Adiche is reflecting the belief in the bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.” She encourages us to listen better, open our hearts more than is our first nature, realizing that as we do so we might find something being said has more value than we first thought.
She declared, “If we can’t have conversations, we can’t have progress.” She understands that a closed mind, one religiously devoted to “orthodoxy,” is a conversation stopper or, better stated, a dialogue stopper. Conversation in the sense of mindless palaver…chatter…can go on endlessly without accomplishing anything. But the dialogue that Adiche has in mind is meaningful exchange of ideas the effect of which will lead to an opportunity to broaden one’s world view, or mind-set. Orthodoxy always brings dialogue to a screeching halt, best illustrated by the congressional impasse of my country.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from the newspaper article:
She suggested in an interview last week that the experiences of transgender women, who she said are born with the privileges the world accords to men, are distinct from those of women born female. She was criticized for implying that trans women are not “real women”.
“I didn’t apologize because I don’t think I have anything to apologize for,” she said on Monday. “What’s interesting to me is this is in many ways about language and I think it also illustrates the less pleasant aspects of the American left, that 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.
“Had I said, ‘a cis woman is a cis woman, and a trans woman is a trans woman’, I don’t think I would get all the crap that I’m getting, but that’s actually really what I was saying.