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Why Did the UK Women's Prize for Fiction Ask One of Its Best Writers for Proof of Their Sex?

Illustration for article titled Why Did the UK Womens Prize for Fiction Ask One of Its Best Writers for Proof of Their Sex?
Image: Astrid Stawiarz (Getty Images)

Last year, writer Akwaeke Emezi became the first non-binary author nominated for the U.K.’s esteemed Women’s Prize for fiction, for their novel Freshwater. But on Monday Emezi said they will no longer allow their work to be considered for the award after the organization reached out to Emezi’s publisher and asked for their “sex as defined by law,” The Guardian reports.

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On Twitter, Emezi explained that when their publisher reached out to ask about submitting The Death of Vivek Oji, Emezi’s latest novel, the Women’s Prize simply wrote back, “The information we would require from you regards Akwaeke Emezi’s sex as defined by law.” “Forget about me—I don’t want this prize—but anyone who uses this kind of language does not fuck with trans women either, so when they say it’s for women, they mean cis women,” Emezi wrote. “It’s fine for me not to be eligible because I’m not a woman! But you not about to be out here on some ‘sex as defined by law’ like that’s not a weapon used against trans women.”

According to The Bookseller, last year the Women’s Prize for Fiction announced Akwaeke Emezi’s appearance on its longlist coincided with a policy around gender fluid, transgender and transgender non-binary writers.” And yet, asking for “sex as defined by law” is anything but.

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“As a prize which celebrates the voices of women and the experience of being a woman in all its varied forms, we are proud to include as eligible for submission full-length novels written in English by all women,” Joanna Prior, chair of trustees at the Women’s Prize, told The Guardian. “In our terms and conditions, the word ‘woman’ equates to a cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex. The trustees of the Women’s Prize Trust would like to reassert that we are firmly opposed to any form of discrimination or prejudice on the basis of race, sexuality or gender identity.”

Someone must’ve lost the plot—legal definitions don’t determine gender identity, last time I checked. Seems to me that there are far too many TERFs in positions of power in the U.K.’s top literary circles. I’m sure it is only a matter of time before JK Rowling feels the need to comment.

Senior Writer, Jezebel. My debut book, LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands, is out now.

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Somehow, without any real evidence, I am blaming JK Rowling.