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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoatin

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on
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 Transgenderism

?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 Chelsea Whistle

?...Through literate discussions of historical references, psychological and psychiatric studies and sociological data, the reader cannot help but receive an education...With Whipping Girl, Serano has, depending upon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.?
--Publishers Weekly

?...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.?
--Pink Magazine

?...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.?
--Lavender Magazine

?...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 spectrum.?
--Bitch Magazine


?If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.?
?Audre Lorde

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 transsexuals.

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 of femininity.

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 Gender Difference
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
13. Self-Deception
14. Trans-sexualization
15. Submissive Streak
16. Love Rant
17. Crossdressing: Demystifying Femininity and Re-thinking ?Male Privilege?
18. Barrette Manifesto
19. Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism
20. The Future of Queer/Trans Activism

About the Author

Julia Serano

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 website

Julia the scientist:
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 Biology.

Honors, Awards, and Stagemates

performed at:
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).

Self-published chapbooks:

On the Outside Looking In (2005).
Draw Blood (2004).
Either/Or (2002).

Anthology contributions:

BITCHFest : Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine, eds. Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2006).

Selected zines:

Transgender Tapestry
Bitch Magazine
Kitchen Sink
Other magazine
Holy Titclamps
The Big Ugly Review

shared the stage with:

Sini Anderson
Marc Bamuthi Joseph
Roger Bonair-Agard
Lynnee Breedlove
Fairy Butch
Deep Dickollective
Dave Eggers
The Fastbacks
Daphne Gottlieb
Gravy Train!!!
Nomy Lamm
Taylor Mali
Mates of State
Mike McGee
The Quails
Carol Queen
The Suicide Kings
Michelle Tea
Tracy + the Plastics
Tribe 8

Universities and Colleges:

UC Berkeley
Stanford University
UC Santa Cruz
San Francisco State University
Diablo Valley Community College

Interviews with her have appeared in:

The Believer
The San Francisco Chronicle

Workshops, classes, conferences, panels and presentations:

-- American Philosophical Association Conference (San Francisco, CA; April 2007): panel member on Intersection between Transgender and Feminist.

-- 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 speaker.

-- 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 speaker.

-- UCLA: outCRY! 2005 (Los Angeles, CA; May 2005): performance poetry presentation.

-- 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 speaker.

--APCA (Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities) Conference (Atlanta, GA; Spring 2004): "Unravelling Gender" ­ 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" ­ a workshop and performance poetry presentation on gender.

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 (2003-2004).

--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).

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