Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman
Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
by Julia Serano
280 pages softcover - Seal Press (June 1, 2007)
A provocative manifesto, Whipping Girl tells the powerful story
of Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent
writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender
activist and professional biologist. Serano shares her 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. 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 activist must work to embrace and empower femininity
? in all of its wondrous forms.
?Whipping Girl is a delight to read. Julia Serano is a
careful and astute critic of the ways that trans women have been
stereotyped and dismissed in popular culture, feminism, and psychology,
and she repeatedly surprised me with her razor-sharp observations
of the pervasive hatred of trans women and all differently gendered
people. This is an important text for gender studies classes,
as well as for therapists, journalists, and anybody who?d
like to keep updated as a sex radical.?
--Patrick Califia, author of Sex Changes: The Politics of
?The demonization of femininity within feminist thought
has been a longtime bummer. Here comes Julia Serano, armed with
a killer intellect, ample humor, and fantastic personal knowledge
to rid our beloved feminism of some misguided conclusions, making
it a safer place for all of us. We desperately need this book.?
--Michelle Tea, author of Rose of No Man?s Land and
?...Through literate discussions of historical references,
psychological and psychiatric studies and sociological data, the
reader cannot help but receive an education...With Whipping Girl,
Serano has, depending upon your vantage point, either opened a
door into a new world or widened the scope of an already informed
discussion of gender, transsexuality and femininity. From either
perspective, her work is worth investigating.?
--San Francisco Chronicle
?With her first full-length book, biologist, writer and
musician Serano positions herself as a Betty Friedan of the transsexual
community. Making a case that trans discrimination is steeped
in sexism and that trans activism is a feminist movement, Serano
delivers a series of articulate, compelling and provocative essays
that unmask many of the misconceptions surrounding transsexualism,
gender and feminism. Where most books on the topic focus either
on first-person accounts or clinical observations, Serano approaches
her topic from multiple angles...Though her writing is dense at
times, Serano largely succeeds in breaking down complex issues
and offering deep insights that will be valued by anyone interested
in transsexualism or gender studies.?
?...Dissecting negative stereotypes of transsexual women
that appear in the media, in psychiatry and in the public eye,
Serano finds them rooted in the false assumption that femininity
is artificial and inherently inferior to masculinity - shaping
attitudes not only about transsexual women, but women as a whole.
WG makes the case that both femi-nism and transgender activism
should work to empower femininity.?
?...a compelling critique of the pervasive misogyny that
dogs trans women everywhere...?
--San Francisco Bay Guardian
?...clear, concise prose that invites the reader to examine
their own perceptions of transgender women and femininity.?
?...Julia Serano offers a perspective sorely needed, but
up until now rarely heard: a transfeminine critique of both feminist
and mainstream understandings of gender...[She] brings unique
insights to discussions of sexism and misogyny. In Whipping Girl,
she weaves theoretical arguments through her compelling essays
and manifestos in an attempt to bridge the gap between biological
and social perspectives on gender, and calls our attention to
the need for empowering femininity itself. In the process, she
takes feminist and queer communities to task for dismissing male-to-female
transsexuals while celebrating their counterparts on the female-to-male
?If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched
into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.?
When I first told people that I was working on a book based
on my experiences and perspectives as a transsexual woman, many
of them immediately assumed that I was writing an autobiography
(rather than a political or historical account, a work of fiction,
or a collection of personal essays). Perhaps they imagined that
I would write one of those confessional tell-alls that non-trans
people seem to constantly want to hear from transsexual women,
one that begins with my insistence that I have always been a ?woman
trapped inside a man?s body?; one that distorts my desire
to be female into a quest for feminine pursuits; one that explains
the ins and outs of sex reassignment surgery and hormones in gory
detail; one that completely avoids discussions about what it is
like to be treated as a woman and how that compares to how I was
treated as a male; one that whitewashes away all of the prejudices
I face for being transsexual; a book that ends, not with me becoming
an outspoken trans activist or feminist, but with the consummation
of my womanhood in the form of my first sexual experience with
a man. I am not surprised that many would assume that I was simply
writing yet another variation of this archetype. Until very recently,
this was the only sort of story that non-trans publishers and
media producers would ever allow transsexual women to tell. And
while I respect any trans woman who has been brave enough to share
her story with the world, the media?s narrow focus on the
most palatable or sensationalistic transsexual storylines has
resulted in making invisible the vast diversity of perspectives
and experiences that exist among trans women. And it has dumbed
down the intricate and difficult relationships many of us have
with our own genders and with the gender stereotypes that other
people project onto us because we are women and because we are
Other people who know me from my work as a transgender activist
and trans-focused performance poet might have assumed that I was
working on a ?transgender revolution? book: one similar
to those books by Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg, and Riki Wilchins
that influenced me so much when I was first coming out; one that
challenges readers to look beyond the gender binary; that encourages
all transgender people (whether they be transsexuals, crossdressers,
genderqueers, drag artists, etcetera) to recognize that we are
all in the same boat, all victims at the hands of the same rigid
cultural gender norms. While I do believe that all transgender
people have a stake in the same political fight against those
who fear and dismiss gender diversity and difference in all of
its wondrous forms, I do not believe that we are all discriminated
against in the same ways and for the exact same reasons. I have
found that the ways people reacted to me back when I identified
as a mostly closeted male crossdresser, or as a bi-gendered queer
boy, were very different from one another and yet again different
from the way people react to me now that I am an out transsexual
woman. The focus on ?transgender? as a one-size-fits-all
category for those who ?transgress binary gender norms?
has inadvertently erased the struggles faced by those of us who
lie at the intersection of multiple forms of gender-based prejudice.
And while I agree with many of the points regularly made by ?shattering-the-gender-binary?-themed
books, I have come to the realization that they only tell a part
of the story.
The idea that all anti-trans discrimination arises from the
fact that as transgender people we ?transgress binary gender
norms? does not resonate completely with my personal experiences.
As a somewhat eccentric kid, I was given plenty of leeway to opt
out of boy?s activities and to cultivate an androgynous appearance
and persona. I was sometimes teased for being different, for being
an atypical or unmasculine boy, but it was nothing compared to
venom that was reserved for those boys who acted downright feminine.
And now, as an out transsexual woman, I find that those who wish
to ridicule or dismiss me do not simply take me to task for the
fact that I fail to conform to gender norms?instead, more
often than not, they mock my femininity. From the perspective
of an occasional gender-bender or someone on the female-to-male
spectrum, it might seem like binary gender norms are at the core
of all anti-trans discrimination. But as a transsexual woman,
I would have to say that most of the anti-trans sentiment that
I have had to deal with is probably better described as misogyny.
The fact that transsexual women are often singled out to bear
the brunt of our culture?s fascination with, and demonization
of, transgenderism is a subject that has been ripe for feminist
critique for about half a century now. Unfortunately, many feminists
have been extraordinarily apathetic or antagonistic to the experiences
and perspectives of transsexual women. In fact, the few non-trans
feminists who have written about us in the past have usually based
their theses upon the assumption that we are really ?men?
(not women), and that our physical transitions to female and our
expressions of femininity represent an appropriation of female
culture, symbolism, and bodies. Besides being disrespectful of
the fact that we identify, live, and are treated by the world
as women, such flawed approaches have overlooked an important
opportunity to examine a far more relevant issue: the ways in
which traditional sexism shapes popular assumptions about transsexual
women and why so many people in our society feel threatened by
the existence of ?men who chose to become women.?
The intent of this book is to debunk many of the myths and
misconceptions that people have about transsexual women, as well
as the subject of gender in general. By turning the tables on
the rest of the world and examining why so many different facets
of our society have set out to dehumanize trans women, I hope
to show that we are ridiculed and dismissed not merely because
we ?transgress binary gender norms,? as many transgender
activists and gender theorists have proposed, but rather because
we ?choose? to be women rather than men. The fact that
we identify and live as women, despite being born male and having
inherited male privilege, challenges both those in our society
who wish to glorify maleness and masculinity, as well as those
who frame the struggles faced by other women and queers solely
in terms of male and heterosexual privilege.
Examining the societal-wide disdain for trans women also brings
to light an important yet often overlooked aspect of traditional
sexism: that it targets people not only for their femaleness,
but also for their expressions of femininity. Today, while it
is generally considered to be offensive or prejudice to openly
discriminate against someone for being female, discriminating
against someone?s femininity is still considered to be fair
game. The idea that masculinity is strong, tough, and natural
while femininity is weak, vulnerable, and artificial continues
to proliferate even among people who believe that women and men
are equals. And in a world where femininity is so regularly dismissed,
perhaps no form of gendered expression is considered to be more
artificial and more suspect than male and transgender expressions
I have called this book Whipping Girl to highlight the ways
in which people who are feminine, whether they be female, male,
and/or transgender, are almost universally demeaned with respect
to their masculine counterparts. This scapegoating of those who
express femininity can be seen not only in the male-centered mainstream,
but in the queer community, where ?effeminate? gay men
have been accused of ?holding back? the gay rights movement,
and where femme dykes have been accused of being the ?Uncle
Toms? of the lesbian movement. Even many feminists buy into
traditionally sexist notions about femininity?that it is
artificial, contrived, and frivolous; that it is a ruse that only
serves the purpose of attracting and appeasing the desires of
men. What I hope to show in this book is that the real ruse being
played is not by those of us who happen to be feminine, but rather
by those who place inferior meanings onto femininity. The idea
that femininity is subordinate to masculinity dismisses women
as a whole and shapes virtually all popular myths and stereotypes
about trans women.
In this book, I break with past attempts in feminism and queer
theory to dismiss femininity by characterizing it as ?artificial?
or ?performance.? Instead, I argue that certain aspects
of femininity (as well as masculinity) are natural and can both
precede socialization and supersede biological sex. For these
reasons, I believe that it is negligent for feminists to only
focus on those who are female-bodied, or for transgender activists
to only talk about binary gender norms, as no form of gender equity
can ever truly be achieved until we first work to empower all
forms of femininity.
Table of Contents:
Trans Woman Manifesto
Part 1. Trans/Gender Theory
1. Coming to Terms with Transgenderism and Transsexuality
2. Skirt Chasers: Why the Media Depicts the Trans Revolution in
Lipstick and Heels
3. Before and After: Class and Body Transformations
4. Boygasms and Girlgasms: A Frank Discussion about Hormones and
5. Blind Spots: On Subconscious Sex and Gender Entitlement
6. Intrinsic Inclinations: Explaining Gender and Sexual Diversity
7. Pathological Science: Debunking Sexological and Sociological
Models of Transgenderism
8. Dismantling Cissexual Privilege
9. Ungendering in Art and Academia
Part 2. Trans Women, Femininity, and Feminism
10. Experiential Gender
11. Deconstructive Surgery
12. Bending Over Backwards
15. Submissive Streak
16. Love Rant
17. Crossdressing: Demystifying Femininity and Re-thinking ?Male
18. Barrette Manifesto
19. Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism
20. The Future of Queer/Trans Activism
About the Author
Biography: Julia Serano is an Oakland, California-based
writer, spoken word performer, trans activist, and biologist.
Julia is the author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism
and the Scapegoating of Femininity (to be published by Seal Press
in June, 2007), a collection of personal essays that examines
the ways in which misogyny frames many popular stereotypes and
assumptions about transsexual women. Her other writings have appeared
in queer, feminist, and pop culture magazines such as Bitch, Clamor,
Kitchen Sink, LiP, make/shift, and Transgender Tapestry, and excerpts
of her work have appeared in The Believer, The San Francisco Chronicle,
and on NPR. In recent years, Julia has gained noteriety in transgender,
queer, and feminist circles for her unique insights into gender.
She has been invited to speak about transgender and trans women?s
issues at numerous univerisites, at queer, women's studies, psychology
and philosophy-themed conferences, and her writings have been
used as teaching materials in college-level gender studies courses
across the United States.
Julia the spoken word artist:
Julia is a poetry slam champion; during the years of 2003 and
2004 she qualified for the finals and/or semi-finals in Berkeley,
San Francisco and San Jose. She has since gone on to perform spoken
word features at universities and high profile events such as
the National Queer Arts Festival (in 2004, 2005 and 2007), The
San Francisco Pride Dyke March and Trans March stages, Ladyfest,
outCRY!, Femme 2006 and in the 2004 UC Berkeley production of
The Vagina Monologues.
Julia the event curator:
In 2003, Julia began to organize and host GenderEnders, a performance
series that featured the work of transgender, intersex and genderqueer
artists and allies. Over a three-year period, GenderEnders presented
twenty shows, including themed events (such as the first ever
Tranny Lovers Show, featuring the writings of trans people?s
partners) and five different benefits (together raising several
thousand dollars) for Camp Trans, a non-profit organization that
works for the inclusion of trans women in lesbian and women-only
spaces. Julia recently received a grant to curate "The Penis
Issue: Trans and Intersex Women Speak Their Minds", a ground-breaking
spoken word event that will take place as part of the 2007 National
Queer Arts Festival.
Julia the musician:
As a musician, Julia is the lyricist-guitarist-vocalist for the
noisy pop trio Bitesize, who have released two critically acclaimed
CDs, toured up and down the West Coast and received college radio
airplay nationwide. More about the band can be found at Bitesize
Julia the scientist:
Honors, Awards, and Stagemates
By day, Julia is a biologist. She has a Ph.D in Biochemistry and
Molecular Biophysics from Columbia University and is currently
a researcher at UC Berkeley in the field of Evolutionary and Developmental
Femme 2006 (2006)
National Queer Arts Festival/ (2004, 2005)
LadyFest Bay Area (2004)
The Vagina Monologues (UC Berkeley, 2004)
Oakland Pride (2004)
San Francisco Pride Main Stage (2003)
San Francisco Dyke March Stage (2003)
Camp Trans (2003)
SF Transgender Day of Remembrance (2003)
Folsom Street Fair (2002, 2004)
San Francisco Poetry Slam Finals (2003)
Berkeley Poetry Slam Semi-Finals (2003, 2004)
San Jose Poetry Slam Semi-Finals (2003)
NXNW (1998, 1999)
Noise Pop (1999)
bEASTfest (2000, 2001, 2002)
Mission Creek Music Festival (2003)
Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating
of Femininity (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2007).
On the Outside Looking In (2005).
Draw Blood (2004).
BITCHFest : Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of
Bitch Magazine, eds. Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler (Farrar Straus
& Giroux, 2006).
The Big Ugly Review
shared the stage with:
Universities and Colleges:
Marc Bamuthi Joseph
Mates of State
The Suicide Kings
Tracy + the Plastics
Interviews with her have appeared
UC Santa Cruz
San Francisco State University
Diablo Valley Community College
Workshops, classes, conferences,
panels and presentations:
The San Francisco Chronicle
-- American Philosophical Association Conference (San Francisco,
CA; April 2007): panel member on Intersection between Transgender
-- The Association For Women in Psychology Conference (San
Francisco, CA; March 2007): paper presented on The Psychiatric
Sexualization of Male-to-Female Transgenderism.
-- Femme 2006 conference (San Francisco, CA; August 2006):
spoken word presentation.
-- 3rd Annual Trans March (San Francisco, CA; June 2006): guest
-- National Women's Studies Association (NWSA) Conference (Oakland,
CA; June 2006): panel member on the topic of Transfeminisms: Transgender,
Genderqueer, and Gender-Defiant Approaches to Feminism.
-- San Francisco State University (san Francisco, CA; October
2005): guest speaker in Social Aspects of Sexuality.
-- 2nd Annual Trans March (San Francisco, CA; June 2005): guest
-- UCLA: outCRY! 2005 (Los Angeles, CA; May 2005): performance
-- San Jose State University. Transgender Awareness Week (San
Jose, CA; May 2005): performance poetry presentation.
-- California College of the Arts (Oakland, CA; March 2005):
"Unraveling Gender" - a workshop and performance poetry
presentation on gender.
-- Notre Dame High School (Belmont, CA; February 2005): guest
speaker on transgender issues and experiences.
--University of California at Berkeley (Berkeley, CA; February,
2005): guest speaker for the Anatomy, Sex, and Gender section
of Female Sexuality.
--4th annual Genderblast Conference (San Francisco, CA; November,
2004) panel member on the topic of MTF Transitioning.
--University of California at Berkeley (September, 2004): guest
speaker for the Anatomy, Sex, and Gender section of Female Sexuality.
--LadyFest Bay Area (San Francisco, CA; August, 2004): panel
member on the topic of Trans-Activism.
--1st Annual Tranny March (San Francisco, CA; June 2004): guest
--APCA (Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities)
Conference (Atlanta, GA; Spring 2004): "Unravelling Gender"
&SHY; a workshop and performance poetry presentation on gender.
--New Word Series (San Francisco, CA; Fall, 2003): panel member
on the topic of Diversity in Slam Poetry.
--San Francisco State University (Spring 2003): workshop on
Slam Poetry/Spoken Word.
--Diablo Valley Community College (Spring 2003): "Unravelling
Gender" &SHY; a workshop and performance poetry presentation
Arts, organizing, and activism:
--Recipient of a Creating Queer Community grant from the Queer
Cultural Center (San Francisco, CA), 2007.
--Board Member for Femina Potens, a woman and transgendered-centered
art gallery and performance space (2004 - present).
--Outreach Coordinator for Camp Trans, the annual protest of
the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival trans woman-exclusion policy
--Organizer and emcee of GenderEnders, a SF Bay Area trans/intersex/genderqueer-focused
performance series and open mic (November, 2003 - September 2006).
--An organizer of San Francisco's First Annual Trans/Intersex/Genderqueer
and Buddies Community Picnic (May, 2003).