‘She knows I support rights of trans people’ — Chimamanda details protracted feud with Akwaeke Emezi
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian novelist-cum-feminist, has penned a lengthy piece wherein she detailed her side of the story regarding her four-year feud with Akwaeke Emezi, an author she had mentored.
Emezi, whose parents are Nigerian-Indian, has earned herself several awards for her 2018 debut novel ‘Freshwater’.
Born in Umuahia and raised in Abia, Emezi identifies with the pronouns “they/them” after she removed her breasts as part of her journey to becoming gender-fluid.
Emezi had a couple of years ago partaken in a Lagos writing workshop staged by Chimamanda.
Having been a fan of Chimamanda for many years, the relationship between the duo appeared to have gone south after Emezi criticised her benefactor on social media over the ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ author’s unorthodox conviction about trans women.
In a 2017 interview, Chimamanda had addressed questions as to whether or not trans women are to be considered “women”.
The author had also dismissed the need to prioritise terminological inclusion while favouring an experiential view to it.
“My feeling is trans women are trans women. I think the whole problem of gender is about our experiences and how the world treats us. It’s not about how we wear our hair, whether we have a vagina or penis,” she had said.
“If you lived in the world as a man with the privileges the world accords to men. Then you switched gender.
“It’s difficult for me to accept that we can then equate your experience with that of a woman who has lived from the beginning in the world as a woman; who has not been accorded those privileges that men are.
“I’m saying this also with sort of the certainty that transgendered people should be allowed to be. Right?
“I don’t think it’s a good thing to conflate everything into one. I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women because I don’t think that’s true.”
“When she first made her transphobia public, I speak for those of us who genuinely loved and looked up to her, that shit broke our hearts. Me, I had graduated from her workshop + published a whole piece about it, I actually developed my nonfiction voice there.” —akwaeke emezi (@azemezi) November 16, 2020
“To now know that people will happily throw trans people under the bus rather than hold her accountable for her views? To be reminded that for so many people, CNA is untouchable and trans people are not worth deplatforming her? �” —akwaeke emezi (@azemezi) November 16, 2020
Having grown up as transgender in Nigeria, Emezi, however, reacted by referring to Chimamanda as well as JK Rowling as “transphobes” in a series of Twitter outbursts where she aired her disagreement with their views on transgenders.
Chimamanda: She could’ve called but Emezi publicly insulted me in Twitter outburst
Months after Emezi’s criticism, Chimamanda took to her website to put out a three-part publication in which she denied allegations of being transphobic.
The multiple award-winning novelist also argued that Emezi was well in the know of her opinion on the matter.
The author expressed her displeasure with Emezi while sharing emails the latter sent her in a bid to mend the cracks.
Chimamanda also accused Emezi of lying “manipulatively” in a manner that exposed her to “reputational damage”.
The author, who never mentioned Emezi’s name, stated that the subject had included her (Chimamanda’s) name in the biography of her book despite reacting “viscerally” to being referred to in the news as Chimamanda’s protege.
“I was okay with it because tbh, I agreed that my connection to her shouldn’t be used to sell my work. We do not stand for the same things. I didn’t and still don’t want her name on my books.” —akwaeke emezi (@azemezi) November 16, 2020
Chimamanda said she, as a result, sought to remove her name in Emezi’s book bio as she used it without consent.
She also alleged that this got her further attacks where Emezi said her parents’ “death was a punishment for her transphobia”.
Read Chimamanda’s full account below
IT IS OBSCENE: A TRUE REFLECTION IN THREE PARTS
When you are a public figure, people will write and say false things about you. It comes with the territory. Many of those things you brush aside. Many you ignore. The people close to you advise you that silence is best. And it often is. Sometimes, though, silence makes a lie begin to take on the shimmer of truth.
In this age of social media, where a story travels the world in minutes, silence sometimes means that other people can hijack your story and soon, their false version becomes the defining story about you.
Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it, as Jonathan Swift wrote.
Take the case of a young woman who attended my Lagos writing workshop some years ago; she stood out because she was bright and interested in feminism.
After the workshop, I welcomed her into my life. I very rarely do this, because my past experiences with young Nigerians left me wary of people who are calculating and insincere and want to use me only as an opportunity. But she was a Bright Young Nigerian Feminist and I thought that was worth making an exception.
She spent time in my Lagos home. We had long conversations. I was support-giver, counsellor, comforter.
Then I gave an interview in March 2017 in which I said that a trans woman is a trans woman, (the larger point of which was to say that we should be able to acknowledge difference while being fully inclusive, that in fact the whole premise of inclusiveness is difference.)
I was told she went on social media and insulted me.
This woman knows me enough to know that I fully support the rights of trans people and all marginalized people. That I have always been fiercely supportive of difference, in general. And that I am a person who reads and thinks and forms my opinions in a carefully considered way.
Of course she could very well have had concerns with the interview. That is fair enough. But I had a personal relationship with her. She could have emailed or called or texted me. Instead she went on social media to put on a public performance.
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. But I mostly held myself responsible. My spirit had been slightly stalled, from the beginning, by her. My first sense of unease with her came when she posted a photo taken in my house, at a time when I did not want any photos of my personal life on social media. I asked that she take it down. The second case of unease was her publicizing something I had told her in confidence about another member of the workshop. The most upsetting was when she, without telling me, used my name to apply for an American visa. Above all else was my lingering suspicion that she was a person who chose as friends only those from whom she could benefit. But she was a Bright Young Nigerian Feminist and I allowed that sentiment to over-ride my unease.
After she publicly insulted me, it was clear to me that this kind of noxious person had no business in my life, ever again.
A few months later, she sent this affected, self-regarding email which I ignored.
Friday September 15 2017 at 4.35 AM
Happy birthday. I mean this with all my heart, even though I know I have fallen (removed myself?) from your grace. It would be impossible for me to stop loving you; long before you gave me the possibility of being your friend you were the embodiment of my deepest hopes, and that will never change.
I think of you often, still – stating the obvious. I grieve the loss of our friendship; it is a complicated sadness. I’m sorry that I caused you pain, or to feel like you can no longer trust me. There’s so much that I wish could be said.
I pray this birthday is the happiest one yet. I wish you rest and quiet and abiding stability, and of course more of the kind of success that means the most to you.
I hope mothering X is everything you hoped and prayed for and more.
Have a wonderful day today.
About a year later, she sent this email, which I also ignored.
Thursday November 29 2018 at 8.42 AM
I realise this is long overdue and vastly insufficient, but I’m really sorry. I’ve spent so much time going back and forth in my head and my email drafts; wondering whether to write you, how to write you, what to say, all kinds of things. But in the end, this is the thing I realise I need to say.
I’m sorry I disappointed and hurt you by saying things publicly that were sharply critical, unkind and even disrespectful, especially in light of all the backlash and criticism you experience from people who don’t know you. I could have acted with more consideration towards you. I should have, especially given the privilege of intimacy that you had offered me. There are many reasons why I chose to behave the way I did, but none of them is an excuse. And I clearly realise now, after many, many months of needless sadness and angst and hurt and actual confusion, that I did not treat you as a friend would—certainly not as someone would to whom you had offered unprecedented access to yourself and your life.
You’ve meant the world to me since I was barely a teenager. It’s been very hard navigating the emotional fallout of the past several months, knowing you were displeased with me but truly not quite understanding why, then deciding I didn’t care, then realising that would never be true. I’ve always cared. But I was too mixed up about the situation to be able to make sense of it, or properly see past my own justifications. I’m sorry it took me so long to grasp how I let you down.
I realise that I don’t have room to ask anything of you, but I would be grateful for a chance to say this in person. Still, even if I never get that, I really hope you believe me.
Congratulations on restarting the workshop, and on all the other amazing successes of the past several months. I think of you often; it would be impossible not to. You look so happy in your pictures. I really hope you are well.
All my love,
I hoped never to hear from her again. But she has recently gone on social media to write about how she “refused to kiss my ring,” as if I demanded some kind of obeisance from her. She also suggests that there is some dark, shadowy ‘more’ to tell that she won’t tell, with an undertone of “if only you knew the whole story.”
It is a manipulative way of lying. By suggesting there is ‘more’ when you know very well that there isn’t, you do sufficient reputational damage while also being able to plead deniability. Innuendo without fact is immoral.
No, there isn’t more to the story. It is a simple story – you got close to a famous person, you publicly insulted the famous person to aggrandize yourself, the famous person cut you off, you sent emails and texts that were ignored, and you then decided to go on social media to peddle falsehoods. It is obscene to tell the world that you refused to kiss a ring when in fact there isn’t any ring at all.
I cannot make much of the hostility of strangers who do not know me – fame taints our view of the humanity of famous people. But the truth is that the famous person remains irretrievably human. Fame does not inoculate the famous person from disappointment and depression, fame does not make you any less angered or hurt by the duplicitous nature of people. To be famous is to be assumed to have power, which is true, but in the analysis of fame, people often ignore the vulnerability that comes with fame, and they are unable to see how others who have nothing to lose can lie and connive in order to take advantage of that fame, while not giving a single thought to the feelings and humanity of the famous person.
And when you personally know a famous person, when you have experienced their humanity, when you have benefited from their kindness, and yet you are unable to extend to them the basic grace and respect that even a casual acquaintanceship deserves, then it says something fundamental about you.
And in a deluded way, you will convince yourself that your hypocritical, self-regarding, compassion-free behavior is in fact principled feminism. It isn’t. You will wrap your mediocre malice in the false gauziness of ideological purity. But it’s still malice. You will tell yourself that being able to parrot the latest American Feminist orthodoxy justifies your hacking at the spirit of a person who had shown you only kindness. You can call your opportunism by any name, but it doesn’t make it any less of the ugly opportunism that it is.