Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
is my first full-length book! It is a collection of personal essays that debunk many of the myths and misconceptions that people have about trans women, as well as the subject of gender in general.
It was published by Seal Press in June 2007.
This page offers book reviews and interviews, an excerpt from the Introduction to the book, a sneak-peak at the Table of Contents, and a glossary of sorts... Back Cover Copy:
A provocative manifesto, Whipping Girl is a gripping, no holds barred account that debunks
popular misconceptions about transsexuality, while exposing the depth of the
cultural belief that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive. Julia Serano,
a transsexual woman, shares her experiences pre- and post-transition, revealing
at every turn the ways in which fear, contempt, and dismissiveness toward
femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender
and sexuality as a whole.
“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
Praise for Whipping Girl
“...Through literate discussions of historical references, psychological and psychiatric studies and sociological data, the reader cannot help but receive an education...With Whipping Girl, Serano has, depending upon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.”
“Serano takes to task those who categorize “femininity” as artificial rather than a natural gender expression. Her convincing analysis and personal revelations challenge us to recognize our own sexist notions.”
“Not since bell hooks has someone so turned feminism on its head and located the heart of sexism in such a revelatory way.”
“...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.”
“...Julia Serano emerges as a new voice in feminist thought - and nobody’s safe. Part transgender memoir, part feminist treatise, ...Serano reexamines a host of old-hat feminist issues with a view even third-wave feminism has failed to capture...What results is an absorbing and essential achievement in both theory and biography.”
--Washington City Paper
“Rarely do I believe hyperbolic back-cover blurbs claiming “We desperately need this book.” But this one’s absolutely accurate.”
“...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 feminism and transgender activism should work to empower femininity.”
“Serano’s collection of critical essays deconstructs socially accepted narratives on trans women in Western culture. . .It is also responsible for coining the term “transmisogyny” - the point at which transphobia and misogyny meet.”
“Serano brings her insight as a biologist and transsexual woman to bear in a thoughtful book on gender diversity. Whipping Girl critiques media depictions of trans people, dismantles science’s longtime characterization of transsexuality as pathology, and offers a whip-smart vision of a world that celebrates sexual difference.”
“In this collection of essays, Serano not only slams misconceptions of transsexuality. . . but also provides a searing interrogation of calcified ideas of “femininity” as frivolous and weak. A transfeminist manifesto for the third wave, this book shows just how revolutionary embracing femininity can be.”
Full-length book reviews and previews for Whipping Girl:
“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
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
Since the publication of Whipping Girl, Julia has written several FAQs to answer common questions some people have after reading the book:
In Whipping Girl, I use a number of words/phrases (e.g., cissexual and cissexism) that have only been used in activist circles up until now. I also coin a number of new words/phrases as well. My purpose for doing so is to help create and foster language that describes certain aspects of sexism and the transsexual experience that have not been sufficiently articulated in the past. Below I offer brief definitions - for more thorough descriptions/explanations, please check out the book!
Sexism that is rooted in the presumption that femaleness and femininity are inferior to (and only exist for the sexual benefit of) maleness and masculinity. It targets those who are female as well as those who are feminine (regardless of their sex).
Sexism that is rooted in the presumption that female and male are rigid, mutually exclusive, opposite sexes, each possessing a unique and non-overlapping set of attributes, aptitudes, abilities, and desires. It targets those who do not conform to oppositional gender norms. A number of previously described categories of sexism (e.g., transphobia, homophobia and cissexism) fall under the umbrella of oppositional sexism.
Sexism that specifically targets those on the trans female/trans feminine spectrums. It arises out of a synergetic interaction between oppositional and traditional sexism. It accounts for why MTF spectrum trans people tend to be more regularly demonized and ridiculed than their FTM spectrum counterparts, and why trans women face certain forms of sexualization and misogyny that are rarely (if ever) applied to non-trans women.
An obsession with male or trans expressions of femininity. I coined this term to describe how psychologists and sexologists have painstakingly categorized, described, researched and hypothesized about the etiology of male/trans femininity (while showing little to no interest in female/trans masculinity), but it could also be used to describe how our culture deems MTF-spectrum transgenderism more fascinating than FTM-spectrum transgenderism. In my book, I argue that effemimania is rooted in trans-misogyny.
The common, albeit mistaken, tendency people have to presume that every person they meet is cissexual (unless they are provided with evidence to the contrary). This transforms cissexuality into a human attribute that is taken for granted. It is an active process that invisibilizes trans people and their experiences.
The belief that transsexual genders are less legitimate than, and mere imitations of, cissexual genders. Cissexism is most typically enacted through one or more of the following processes: trans-fascimilation (viewing or portraying transsexuals as merely imitating, emulating or impersonating cissexual female or male genders), trans-exclusion (refusing to acknowledge and respect a transsexuals identified gender, or denying them, access to spaces, organizations, or events designated for that gender), trans-objectification (when people reduce trans people to their body parts, the medical procedures theyve undertaken, or get hung up on, disturbed by, or obsessed over supposed discrepancies that exist between a transsexuals physical sex and identified gender), trans-mystification (when people use the relative infrequency or taboo nature of transsexuality to mystify, artificialize or to other transsexuals), and trans-interrogation (when people bring a transsexuals identified gender into question by asking them to answer personal questions about their life story, their motives for transitioning, medical procedures they have undertaken, or when they obsess over what causes transsexuality - such questions reduce transsexuals to the status of objects of inquiry).
The privilege that cissexuals experience as a result of having their femaleness or maleness deemed authentic, natural, and unquestionable by society at large. Cissexual privilege allows cissexuals to take their sex embodiment for granted in ways that transsexuals cannot.
The active and compulsive process of assigning female or male genders to every person. For example, if I see someone and they appear male to me, I have just gendered them male.
An attempt to undo a trans persons gender by privileging incongruities and discrepancies in their gendered appearance that would normally be overlooked or dismissed if they were presumed to be cissexual.
The privileging of ones own perceptions, interpretations, and evaluations of other peoples genders over the way those people understand themselves.
The act of becoming irrationally upset or uncomfortable by the existence of those people who challenge or bring into question ones gender entitlement.
Sexism that is rooted in the presumption that genders and sexualities that are deemed subversive, radical, or transgressive are inherently superior to those that are more conventional. While this form of sexism is not prevalent in mainstream culture, it does proliferate in queer, feminist and radical circles.
Any persistent desires, affinities, or urges that predispose us toward particular gender and sexual expressions and experiences.
A subconscious, intrinsic, self-understanding that all people experience regarding their own sex embodiment. Cissexuals tend not to notice or appreciate their own subconscious sex because it is concordant with their physical sex (and therefore they tend to conflate for two). In contrast, trans people tend to be excruciatingly aware of their subconscious sex (as it is at odds with their physical sex). Trans people most often describe their subconscious sex as an intrinsic, inexplicable, deeply felt understanding that there is something wrong with the sex they were born into, or that they should be (or wish they could become) the other sex.
A form of cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment of their subconscious and physical sexes. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term gender dysphoria, which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance regarding ones sex with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.
Once again, look for it at your local independent book store! If you wish to buy it online, I recommend buying it from the Chicago-based feminist bookstore Women and Children First or the Philly-based LGBTQ bookstore Giovanni’s Room. Of course, it can also be purchased from bigger websites such as Powells.com and