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Showing 1-10 of 71 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 95 reviews
on July 22, 2016
I wish I had read this book 10 years ago. Nothing I've ever read has come even close to Whipping Girl in its articulation of how I feel about my sex/gender. It's like everything I've always known to be true painted to make the most beautiful painting in the world. Julia Serano is so on point all the time.

This is the book I'm going to recommend to friends and family or anyone who truly wants to understand the transsexual/transgender experience and who really wants to be an "ally". I also think this book should be required reading in academic settings. Definitely anyone who considers themselves a feminist should also read.
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on January 16, 2017
Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl details the author’s perspectives on gender. Serano describes her journey from awkward teenage boy, through crossdresser, and through her transition to a transgender woman. She discusses what gender means to her personally and her experiences in society. She discusses gender roles, myths about trans people, and the role of trans people in the feminist movement.

WHY THIS BOOK?

Transgender lives are political. 2016 saw the passage of North Carolina’s HB2, the “bathroom bill”; 2017 started with 5 more states proposing similar legislature. These bills say that individuals born with male genitalia endanger people in the women’s restroom. I never believed that, but discussions of trans people made me realize how little I knew. With Whipping Girl, I sought the transgender story.

THE GOOD

Whipping Girl is a fabulous book. I read Whipping Girl because I wanted to better understand life as a trans person, but it makes so many great points about gender for the rest of us. Part of the strength of Serano’s narrative is the fact that she has lived on both sides of our gender divide. Sometimes the success of Jewish entertainers has been attributed to their ability to be both insiders and outsiders; perhaps transgender women like Serano have an analogous experience with womanhood.

I can’t possibly cover all the things I liked about this book. It’s the rare book that makes me consider my own life differently.

Serano asserts the societal belief: most believe that men and women are equal, but many do not believe that masculinity and femininity are equal. We consider masculinity strong, natural, and unpretentious. Because masculine and feminine are opposites, we believe femininity to be weak, artificial, and pretentious. It’s a restatement of familiar arguments; masculine women are penalized for failing to fit the model of a woman, and feminine women are penalized for being feminine. I realized that I hold some of these beliefs. I have congratulated myself for rarely wearing make-up; I have sneered at female friends that dress up. I heard these messages growing up a lot. They are rooted in seeing femininity as a failing.

Serano describes how these societal beliefs complicate gender transition. She describes how mtf transgender people are viewed with suspicion. If masculinity is superior, someone who “trades down” voluntarily must have suspicious motivations. She describes how media shows many more mtf people than ftm. I hadn’t noticed, but it is true. Many of the roles with mtf people show them either as succubi seeking to entrap and damage men or as pitiful, funny failures. She cites a bunch of examples that I don’t know. My media experiences are with Orange is the New Black and Transparent. Hopefully that’s a sign of progress in the decade since this book’s publication.

Serano discusses nature versus nurture. Some believe that men are born masculine and women are born feminine (and thus, gender is nature). Some believe that we only exhibit gendered behaviors due to societal influences (and thus, gender is nurture). Serano argues that women are more likely to be feminine and men more likely to be masculine, but with a distribution of traits. In her model, gender expression is like height; on average, men are taller than women, but many individual women are taller than many individual men. Women, on average, gravitate towards stereotypically feminine behaviors like chattiness, but many individual men are more naturally chatty than many women. Femininity feels natural to most women, and masculinity feels natural to most men, but not all.

Serano talks about the process of seeing herself as transgender. Since childhood, she had experienced feelings that she was a girl. She calls it gender dissonance. She experimented with a lot of different gender expressions, eventually leading her to the trans identity. When she started taking hormones, that felt right. She describes it as her brain believing her body to be female. We don’t fully understand the relationship between brain and body, but to me, this seems similar to the so called “sixth sense” of proprioception, the awareness of one’s body in space.

Serano also discusses the horrifying history of transgender people and medicine. It’s full of icky stuff like doctors rating their patients’ attractiveness, and seeing society’s comfort, rather than their patient’s, as the most important outcome of transition. Trans people were forced to leave home and assume a new life to make others comfortable, meaning that they were forced to leave their families and support networks. Today’s bathroom bills fall into that history of putting society’s discomfort above the health of an individual.

THE BAD

The book is a decade old. Although mine is a 2016 second edition, the guts haven’t changed much. Whipping Girl is still super informative, but a decade changes much. For example, DSM V was published in 2013; it’s treatment of transgender issues vary substantially from the DSM IV discussed in the book.

The second half of the book discusses trans theory and feminist theory. Some other reviews of the book suggest that she is unfair to the feminist movement; I have no idea. Still, the first part had a real immediacy that the second part didn’t. It probably would be well-suited to the classroom, but didn’t add much for me as a reader just wanting to understand a different perspective better.

OVERALL

Whipping Girl is an essential read if you want to understand trans people better. It’s also a great dissection of gender in society. I came away from the book wishing that people could be more supportive of one another. Trans people aren’t bathroom predators, they’re people in a tough spot. We are obsessed with men being men and women being women, and we mostly don’t even notice. Trans people challenge that obsession, and we see that some people would rather punish others than question their assumptions.
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on July 15, 2014
Julia seems to pour every fiber of her being into this book. It can be somewhat "heady" at times. Her point of view is interesting, she makes some great observations about feminism, gender & their roles in society. There is nothing to big for her to tackle in this book. It is not for beginners or the faint of heart as it elucidates some very controversial & complex topics. As the title says, I think Julia amply covers the subject in depth and detail. When I finished the book I had to get a bucket of ice water and stick my head in it to shrink my brain back down. It is well written and will keep your attention. Transgendered people can sometimes be maligned and misunderstood, Ms. Serano puts it into perspective taking into account all aspect of feminism and the correlation of this to trans. She shows that trans women are "real women".
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on August 2, 2013
This is a book that has really changed me. Other reviewers have remarked on Serano's specific discussions, so I'll be more general and personal. I am an 80-year-old lesbian feminist and I had a "liberal"/"accepting" attitude towards transgender/transsexuality. "Whipping Girl" rearranged my head and heart and sexual perspectives. (I now see gender/sexuality as immensely more fluid, at the same time that Serano helped me understand that our "intrinsic inclinations" of gender--our sense of who we are as gendered beings, unconscious in most of us, acutely dissonant in others--are essential aspects of our being quite apart from how we wish to exercise our sexuality. And I now see the issue of trans oppression as much more than how we should relate to a sexual minority--that there is a great deal to learn about all human gendering and sexism from an understanding of trans experience.)

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.)
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on March 28, 2017
Serano provides a first-person insight into what it entails to transition from cis-M to trans-F. She engages in the contentious issues relating to sex/gender and transition. Takes up the TERF (Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist) issues -- that "Trans women are not women."

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.
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on September 13, 2013
It's awesome - you won't be disappointed Ms. Serano shoots down reflexive excuses for our various forms of prejudice and bias regarding gender and femininity and provides a fresh lens through which these concepts are seen more clearly - just go read it, if you hate it you can send me mean comments in this forum - but as for myself, a newly out trans-woman lesbian, never knowing of anything related to 'feminism' ('first wave', second wave' or any other wave - I appreciated the clarity with which she defines her terms and allows me to understand these concepts in a way that was both understandable as well as appreciated by me.

Tetyana Swan
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on October 20, 2013
I really loved this book on several levels. It brought new concepts and terminology to help me understand some of the depth of our world, it was fun to read and at the same time was as informative and comprehensive as a college course textbook. Julia Serano helped me make it through my transition with much more confidence and preparation than I would have had without her book. Its a little ironic how she spends a very important portion of the book discussing how the media sexualizes transwomen by use of unnecessarily sexual and irrelevant footage, and the cover is only somewhat better than the token "putting on lipstick and high heels" imagery. In between the covers is 95% gold and only 5% eh.
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on February 12, 2013
Everyone should read this book. There's no one who couldn't profit from these ideas, as we are all effected by the way our respective cultures handle gender, and this is the most clear illumination of those ideas and the contemporary conversations we are having and need to have about gender. This book can be used to teach trans issues, gender, feminism, and identity. As a student, I was absolutely thrilled to dig into this book, and as an educator, I can't explain my excitement to teach this book and pass it on to others. This is an irreplaceable part of my collection and I am forever in debt to Serano for helping me not only deepen my understanding of my own little corner of feminism, but grapple with my own identity.
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on July 31, 2015
This is whole new territory for me, the trans* journey and understanding it. I needed desperately to educate myself more about this journey as a close family member has recently come out as trans. Julia Serano knows all the ins and outs of gender identity, how fluid it is, and how people identify their genders--or not. It's not easy reading, in one sense, but is essential for anyone who wants to educate themselves more about how trans* people experience their genders and their lives.
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on December 12, 2011
This is, without a doubt, the most eye-opening, most mind-blowing, most important book I have ever read! This book actually proposes (successfully, I believe) the equivalent to physics' Holy Grail -- a "Unified Theory", so to speak, but not of time and matter and the universe, but of sex, gender, sexism, and privilege. Ms. Serano takes on and destroys multiple gender and psychological establishments with her keen intellect, her amazing insights, and her brilliant wit, with just a touch of sarcasm and bitterness (which is clearly justified). I have never read anything like this before and I can't believe that I waited so long to read this book. It explains so much, and makes me hope against hope that society can change. I've read a decent number of books on gender and sex, and never has one spoken to me so plainly or made things so clear. Thank you, Ms. Serano!
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