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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity Paperback – May 14, 2007
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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. "
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Serano addresses sexual feelings and being trans. This is a sensitive area and sheds light on questions not generally allowed in discussions of what it means in terms of sexual orientation/behavior to be trans.
The author goes deep into the discussion of sexism as the basis of not only homophobia and transphobia, but also the driving force behind patriarchy and the binary system. Sexism, as Serano sees it, insists that males are superior to females and that masculine characteristics are superior to feminine characteristics in both genders. Many women buy into this concept. Even feminists seem to agree, since they accept trans men into their society - they gain male privilege by transitioning - while rejecting trans women as "not real women."
As Ms. Serano states early in her book, transsexuals "lie at the intersection of multiple forms of gender-based prejudice." She discusses her rationale for this statement in her Transsexual Manifesto, identifying by her own experience and research the myriad forms of gendered discrimination experienced by transsexuals (and all gender variant people). The author calls for a rebellion against sexism in all its forms, but reserves a particular animosity for cissexism - the idea that those whose gender variance is at odds with their assigned gender are unnatural, unreal, and/or are trying to "put something over" on the dominant society.
The overwhelming societal and media attitude of fear and loathing puts tremendous strain on all transgender people, but even more so on transsexuals. Trans women are depicted negatively in most media, even when the media outlet thinks they are reporting "accurately" and compassionately. Surmounting the constant barrage of attitudes that transsexuals are "less than" the expectations of society puts tremendous pressure on the individual's psyche. In the discussion of sexuality and gender in Whipping Girl Ms Serano shows over and over why it takes a very strong person to admit to and undertake transition from their assigned gender to their inherent birth gender.
Anyone trying to understand their transsexual child, sibling, or parent should read this book. It reads somewhat like a Ph.D. thesis, but with more clarity than most sociological theses I have seen. This would seem an important work to include in any gender studies program.
Serano responded with meticulous care and penetrating analysis to every media-induced or reflexly stereotypical assumption I had about trans experience. (I didn't realize I had so many!) She doesn't guilt-trip--instead she helped me to see all the elements in my world that--of course--prevent almost all of us from "getting it" about transgender/transsexuality. Rather than challenging my feminist perspective, her insights deepened it as she shows how powerful a factor sexism plays in transgender oppression.
Serano writes with admirable clarity--still, even though I found an important insight on every page, " Whipping Girl" is undeniably a dense book to read through, and so it will not be as easily accessible as one would wish. Other books will be able to mine this one for a wider audience.
(Alas, the title and cover--in-your-face ugly and suggesting S&M more than trans experience--would have turned me off if a trusted friend hadn't handed it to me. I would have missed a brilliant, powerful and important book.)