Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

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9781580056229: Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

In the updated second edition of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist, shares her powerful experiences and observations both pre- and post-transition to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole.

Serano's well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. In this provocative manifesto, she exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive, and how this feminine” weakness exists only to attract and appease male desire.

In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about transsexuality, Serano makes the case that today's feminists and transgender activists must work to embrace and empower femininity in all of its wondrous forms.

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About the Author:

Julia Serano is an Oakland, California-based writer, performer, activist, and biologist. She is best known for her 2007 book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, which garnered rave reviews The Advocate placed it on their list of Best Non-Fiction Transgender Books,” and readers of Ms. Magazine ranked it #16 on their list of the 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time.” Her second full-length book, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, was a Publishing Triangle finalist for the 2013 Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction. Julia's writings have appeared in over a dozen anthologies, and in magazines and news outlets such as the Guardian, the Daily Beast, AlterNet.org, The Advocate, Out, Bitch, and Ms. Magazine.

Serano's understanding of biology (she has a PhD in Biochemistry from Columbia University and worked as a researcher at UC Berkeley for seventeen years) along with her life experiences as a transgender woman give her a unique perspective on gender and sexism, and her writings have been used as teaching materials in gender and queer studies, sociology, and psychology courses across North America. Visit her website at juliaserano.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

While I am proud of the fact that Whipping Girl was the first book to discuss trans-misogyny and the intersection of oppositional and traditional sexism, it seems clear in retrospect that it would have been a far stronger book had I extended my analysis to examine how these forces also intersect with other forms of marginalization (e.g., racism, classism, ableism, etc.). Today, numerous studies have been published that demonstrate how many forms of anti-trans discrimination (e.g., transphobic violence) disproportionately target people on the trans female/feminine spectrum, trans people of color, and poor and working class trans people, and that those who lie at the intersection of all three of these categories (as is the case for many trans women of color) are impacted the most severely.17 But back when I was writing Whipping Girl, there was a paucity of research into such matters, which is why this book (like most trans activist writings of the ’90s and ’00s) relies so heavily on my own personal experiences and observations in order to bolster my arguments. The writer in me recognizes that this informal and personal approach probably made the book more accessible and compelling for many readers. But the activist in me now readily sees how this approach left significant holes in my analysis. After all, I am not simply a trans woman, but rather a white, middle class, able-bodied, generation X,” out, queer-identified transsexual woman who passes” as cissexual living in a U.S. major city. Thus, while the anecdotes that I share here remain true and are potentially illuminating, it is important to keep in mind that they only tell part of a much larger story.
Similarly, when I was writing this book, I saw myself as an outsider who was rallying against the powers that be in the hope that people would start to take trans women’s concerns seriously. But now, a decade later, Whipping Girl is often used as teaching materials in classrooms, and it is sometimes deemed to be an authoritative” text about trans people. Knowing this now, I fear that the frequent forefronting of my own personal experiences, and the specific focus on transsexuals and trans female/feminine people may give some readers a skewed view of gender-variant communities and issues. For example, Whipping Girl does not provide similar in-depth discussions about the issues and experiences of intersex people, non-binary-identified and two-spirit people, trans male/masculine-spectrum people, straight-identified trans people, trans people of color and other cultures, and so on. Additionally, increasing numbers of trans children are socially transitioning prior to adulthood (which was still rare back when I was writing this book), and their perspectives will no doubt differ significantly from trans people (such as myself) who have not had that experience. So I encourage readers to view Whipping Girl, not as the definitive book” about trans people and issues, but rather as one trans perspective among many, all of which should be explored in greater detail.
While I believe that it is important to recognize and accommodate the many differences that exist among gender variant people, I also think that it is vital that we try to understand and work together with one another rather than view ourselves as opposing factions, or as existing at differing hierarchical positions. I feel the need to stress this because, in the years since Whipping Girl was published, transgender activism has increasingly moved away from the broad goals of shattering the gender binary” and eliminating all gender norms (which would benefit all of us), and more toward an identity politics approach focused primarily on the concerns of trans people. And unfortunately, trans people” is increasingly used in a manner that is synonymous with transsexuals-only.” And the cis/trans distinction which I forwarded here primarily to talk about double standards in how people’s genders are perceived, interpreted, and treated is now sometimes used to promote a unilateral cis people are the oppressors, and trans people the oppressed, end of story” narrative. I have discussed the many problems that I see with these trends in my 2014 two-part essay series Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited.”18
Cissexism and trans-misogyny are pervasive problems in our society, and we most certainly should be focusing on them. But we should also recognize that they are both offshoots of much larger systemic forces oppositional and traditional sexism that to varying degrees impact everybody. And oppositional and traditional sexism are but two among a multitude of different forms of marginalization, and we should be working together to end all of them. Throughout Part 2 of my second book Excluded, I offer numerous strategies that I believe can help us challenge all forms of sexism and marginalization without erasing or ignoring any specific group’s experiences and issues in the process.
What follows is the book as it was originally written, albeit with a few small clarifying changes and corrections. After much deliberation, I have decided not to change any of the trans-related terminology that I used in the first edition, for the following reasons. In recent years, I have written extensively about a phenomenon that I call the Activist Language Merry-Go-Round briefly stated, because trans people are highly stigmatized and face undue scrutiny in our culture, all of the language associated with us will also eventually face similar stigma and scrutiny.19 So even if I did try to update the original language, whatever supposedly new and fresh terms I might choose today in 2015 would probably be viewed as outdated or problematic (for some reason or another) within a few short years. Besides, all of the trans-related terms that I routinely use here (aside from words like effemimania” or subconscious sex,” which I coined in the process of writing this book) have long histories of being used in a positive or neutral manner, despite recent or occasional objections to the contrary. For readers who have questions or concerns regarding my use of language and/or specific terms, I have probably addressed them in one of my many transgender terminology follow-up pieces.20
Finally, on a personal note: When I was first working on this project, I remember explicitly thinking to myself that I was trying to write the book that I wish that I had had as a teenager or young adult one that would help me make sense of both my inexplicable feelings that I should be female rather than male, as well as the conflicting societal messages that were constantly telling me boys are better than girls” and women are only good for one thing.” Given this, I am immensely grateful to have heard from many trans women and trans feminine people in subsequent years that Whipping Girl was that book for them. And quite honestly, I am astounded (in the best possible sense) that a book whose primary goal was explaining and empowering trans female/feminine perspectives has found praise and appreciation from so many readers who have not had that experience themselves.

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