What I learned this week about intersectionality and privilege

Two events this week have really helped me think about these related issues and the privilege I hold as an urban, middle class cis white woman without disabilities.

First, Natacha Kennedy gave a powerful talk to my local Labour Party on International Women’s Day about trans rights.  All the below is my understanding of what she explained.

There are two choices when a child discloses that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth. Acceptance or nonacceptance.

Trans people face a serious threat of street harassment and violence, even worse than what cis women face.  There’s an extremely high rate of mental health issues, self harm and attempted suicide among trans children and adults.

Changes are planned to the Gender Recognition Act to streamline the process of changing legal gender, making it cheaper and less demeaning. Self identification has been legislated for in several countries already including Argentina and Ireland. Emerging evidence in Ireland of a dramatic drop in mental health issues for trans people after this law change. There is NO evidence ANYWHERE that this law change has happened that men have pretended to be trans in order to enter women only spaces and carry out abuse.

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The second event was a conversation between authors Reni Eddo-Lodge and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as part of the Women of the World Festival in London at Southbank Centre.   Chimamanda shared an anecdote:

A white feminist actor was asked about her feminism. “Oh it’s not about me,” she replied, “it’s about the women of colour who are being oppressed.”

No! Both women found this deference to black women weird and false.

Better to say:  “This, this and this have all happened to me because I’m a woman in a patriarchal society. Now imagine how much worse it would be if I was black, or disabled, or trans.”

Trans women are women.  But women are all different and bring different life experiences to their feminism. This applies to trans women too, who have a deep experience of transphobia and oppression that cis women cannot experience for themselves.

This is what Chimamanda says she meant when she said trans women were different from other women. My only criticism is that I think she should have acknowledged the power imbalance by prefacing her remarks with a clear acceptance of trans women as women.

Chimamanda hates reading theory and finds it boring. She loves literature and memoirs; people’s stories; and has read a number of trans people memoirs.

I appreciated Chimamanda acknowledging her own class privilege (and cis privilege) and sharing that she felt a prickle of defensiveness when either issue is raised, which gave her some empathy with white people’s reactions to discussing race. She admitted it is hard to acknowledge privilege and harder still to act to lessen it.  I definitely feel that defensiveness and need to be aware of it and not project my feelings onto others or blame them for pointing out power imbalances and injustices. I will always make mistakes so want to get better at acknowledging them and doing better the next time.

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