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.
If you are a strict social constructionist when it comes to gender, your mental model does not have room for women like Julia Serano. Serano provides a compelling model for how gender works without straying into gender essentialism, evolutionary psychology, or other lame psuedoscience.
Serano also debunks pop culture and academic approaches to gender, cross-gendered behavior, and femininity, and she talks candidly and bravely about her own experiences in a world where gendered meanings are assigned by others rather than simply performed by the individual.
Her points on the way media and society have handled transsexuals (or really any male-born individual showing feminine tendencies) over the years definitely hit home. She attacks the notions that gender is either innate or socialized, which should really be obvious as there are men socialized male who still lean towards the feminine and women socialized female who lean masculine. We as a society have, for no rational reason, always placed femininity as something lesser than masculinity. From the trans experience, women attaining to be men are accepted as completely rational while men attaining to be women are derided and told there is something wrong with them, that there is something wrong with wanting to be feminine, being female. Serano looks to the sources of this extreme wrong-thinking and tries to find a way past it.
A book that anyone who has any interest in transgender issues would do well to read.
It's a very thought-provoking book, combining her personal experiences with an extensive academic lit review. Not a Trans Issues 101 book, which I appreciate. (Of course, I am already very sold on rejecting the gender binary, so I found it very easy to get into this book.)
Serano also articulates a critique of Eugenides's novel Middlesex that hit right on something that perturbed me about that novel when I read it but was never able to explain to the novel's fans.
There are a few essays that are a bit repetitive, but overall this is an excellent read. Academically challenging in the best way. Recommended.