"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."--provided by Amazon.com.
Every time this book talks about how privileged nonbinary people are in trans spaces I feel like I'm reading an account from a parallel universe. (It also does that super annoying thing where it mentions intersex people and gender variant people from other cultures but only to make points about white trans people, despite paying lip service to that being a bad thing when other people do it.)
Look, I'm not even going to get into HALF of this book's bizarre statements about nonbinary and transmasc people (it would get really repetitive), I'm just gonna hit you with a couple passages.
The moment when I decided this had gone beyond something that pinged my radar and into the realm of Something I Was Going To Talk About is a particular passage where in literally the same paragraph the book says "masculine girls can grow up to be lesbians, trans men, or heterosexual women" and "trans women can be bisexual, straight, or lesbian." And just. Wow. Weird how you knew not to call all AMAB people "men" but didn't do the same for AFAB people. There's also a passage that insists that the main point of friction between binary trans people and enbies is that enbies "feel that identifying outside of the male/female binary is superior to, or more enlightened than, identifying within it." Uhhhhhh sure. Enbies bullying binary trans people is a very common and real problem that is definitely happening in real life. Definitely. TOTALLY not usually the reverse. Nailed it.
Also, I was really excited to learn that transmasc people being objectified and misgendered by lesbians is (checks notes) "preferential treatment." Seriously. That's a real thing this book explicitly argues.
I'm inclined to say the book helps more than it hurts, and it's basically impossible to be taken seriously in trans academia if you haven't read it, but wow we can do better. And there are a lot of other arguments that don't hold water or seem to be coming from a very strange place, but I'm not even going to try to catalog every single one of them (it would be pretty unfair since I'm not trying to catalog every single argument I agree with, either). But none of those bother me as much as the fact that every time it mentions enbies or transmasc spectrum people I just find myself bracing myself to be its whipping enby.
I was told that my choice to wear makeup and feminine clothing is performative and superficial.
I was told that cis and trans women are the same despite the fact that their lived experiences are utterly different, both when trans women present as male and as "non-passing" trans or genderqueer. There are, in fact, vast differences between the lived expereince of trans women and those people assigned female gender at birth. You may not like that Ms. Serano, but your experience of living as a woman differs a great deal from my experience living as a woman and my experience probably has more in common with the lived experience of trans men and those whose genitalia is female but who are genderqueer. (Serano is SO dismissive of trans men! It is insulting.) Maybe Ms. Serano might consider whether that fact of shared lived experience had anything to do with the (in my opinion completely wrong) decision to not permit trans women to attend the Michigan Womyn's festival. (An event I have been to and found hokey and silly -- and lord the music was terrible. Lord save me from another Cris Williamson singalong.)
Serano mows over any facts or considerations that don't comport with her world view. She is elitist and entitled and illogical. Bad combo. Read this as polemic if you want, but if you are looking for social science or philosophy run.
I have other things I can rant about, but I will leave it here. I only read about 1/3 of the book so I am not giving it a star rating
If you are a strict social
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.
It's a very thought-provoking book, combining her personal experiences with an
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.
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.