Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism
just announced: Outspoken is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction!
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Outspoken: A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism (published by Switch Hitter Press) is the third book by trans author and activist Julia Serano. In it, she chronicles her own personal evolution and the many shifts in transgender activism since the dawn of the twenty-first century. This collection compiles forty-eight of her previously unpublished and difficult to find trans-themed writings -- including her early slam poems and spoken word, essays and manifestos written contemporaneously with her acclaimed books Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity and Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, plus her recent work addressing differences within trans communities and activism. These pieces are augmented with thoughtful introductions and interludes that contextualize the issues at hand and previous periods in transgender activism. Combining elements of memoir, historical account, gender theory, and activist philosophy, this book is a must for anyone who is a fan of Serano’s work and/or has an interest in transgender identities, experiences, perspectives, and progress.
This page provides the book’s Table of Contents, part of the Introduction, and links to numerous excerpts from the book. Elsewhere you can explore the free online trans/gender glossary (with almost 200 entries!) that accompanies the book.
Praise for Outspoken:
Outspoken is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction.
Serano is known for her clear prose, well-reasoned arguments, and ability to straddle and unify academic and activist spaces within her writing, and Outspoken is no exception. Both new and returning readers will profit from this collection . . . Though Outspoken often reads as a theoretical and challenging (in the best way possible) work, it is also incredibly intimate and personal . . . Many of the pieces in Outspoken simultaneously invite the reader into Serano’s life while critiquing the tendency, often perpetuated by mainstream media, to view trans people’s lives through a lens of voyeurism. Though Outspoken is not a memoir in a literal sense, it presents the making of a visionary writer and activist who has made peace with her identity and has arrived at a nuanced and self-reflective understanding of social justice work that continues to evolve . . . Serano’s discussion of activism might be the most useful aspect of Outspoken given our current social and political climate in the United States. Her fearlessness in critiquing and generously examining social justice issues, such as cultural appropriation, the polarizing term “tranny,” activists’ use of language to shift gender norms, and the pros and cons of “identity politics,” from all possible perspectives is applause worthy.
Table of Contents:
Part 1: Performance and Poetry
1. Vice Versa
2. Ophelia Revisited
3. Either Or
4. Scared to Death
5. Small Blue Thing
6. Class Dismissed
7. Super Hero
8. Book Worm
9. Introduction to Draw Blood
11. Sleeping Sickness
12. Mix and Match
14. Period Piece
15. Draw Blood
16. Open Letter to Lisa Vogel
17. Fighting Words
18. Cherry Picking
19. San Francisco Bay Area Trans Performance and Activism
Part 2: Articulating Trans-misogyny
20. Her Own Femme
24. Trans-misogyny Primer
25. Whipping Girl FAQ on Cissexual, Cisgender, and Cis Privilege
26. 96 Percent
27. Talking Past One Another
29. Empowering Femininity
Part 3: Pathological Science Revisited
30. Psychology, Sexualization and Trans-Invalidations
31. Stop Sexualizing Us!
32. The Beauty In Us
33. Reconceptualizing “Autogynephilia” as Female/Feminine Embodiment Fantasies (FEFs)
34. Trans People Are Still “Disordered” in the DSM-5
35. An Open Letter to The New Yorker
Part 4: Communities and Disparities
36. Bisexual Does Not “Reinforce” Anything
37. A “Transsexual Versus Transgender” Intervention
38. Baby Talk
39. First Date
42. In Defense of Partners
Part 5: Differences of Opinion in Trans Activism
44. Considering Trans and Queer Appropriation
45. A Personal History of the “T-word” (and some more general reflections on language and activism)
46. On People, Polarization, Panopticons, and #ComplexFeelingsAboutActivism
47. Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited - Part 1: Who Exactly Does “Cis” Refer To?
48. Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited - Part 2: Reconciling Disparate Uses of the Cis/Trans Distinction
There is No Perfect Word: a Transgender Glossary of Sorts
an excerpt from the Introduction:
My original idea for this book was relatively straightforward: Since 2002, I have written extensively about transgender experiences, issues, and activism. These writings have taken many forms: performance poetry and spoken word, personal stories, blog posts and essays, speeches and keynotes, academic articles, and magazine and webzine pieces. While much of this work has already appeared in my first two books -- Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity and Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive -- many other pieces (including some of my personal favorites!) have not been readily available up until now. Much of my earliest work first appeared in various zines and my own self-made chapbooks, which are no longer in print. Other pieces were published online, but may be difficult to find given the Internet’s relentless prioritization of new content over old. Still others were written for a one-time performance or event, and have not seen the light of day since. So in 2014, I began digging through my old computer files, searching for these previously unpublished or difficult-to-find pieces, with the intention of compiling and publishing them together for readers who are interested in my writings and/or in trans activism more generally.
As I pored over these older texts, I was struck by how much trans communities and activism have changed over such a relatively short time period. While many pieces in this collection are as relevant now as they were at the time that I wrote them, others felt like rediscovering something that had been buried in a time capsule. Some of the earliest pieces espouse notions and language that were popular in the wake of 1990s-era transgender activism, but which have since fallen somewhat out of fashion. A few of the chapters describe community dynamics and debates that have subsequently receded or which now take on different forms. Even the pieces that I wrote about trans-specific psychiatric diagnoses during the latest DSM revision (during 2009-2012), while still quite pertinent, feel as if they are from a previous era, as much of the trans community has since turned its focus onto other concerns.
The speed at which trans activism has evolved is at least partly due to the cyclical nature of trans communities: Often the people who are most active and involved (especially in online settings) tend to be relatively new to the community, such as people who have recently “come out” as trans and/or who are transitioning (or have recently transitioned). And after a several year period of being passionate about, and absorbed in, conversations about trans identities, experiences, and activism, many trans people disengage to some degree, or move onto other interests or concerns. As a result, we (the community as a whole) tend to have a somewhat short memory span, even when it comes to fairly recent events in trans history. So rather than present this book as simply a collection of writings, I additionally set out to reconsider this recent past and to contextualize it for those who were not there to personally witness it.
In addition to providing glimpses into recent trans history, the pieces in this collection also chronicle my own personal transformation from a genderqueer musician who was relatively new to writing and trans activism when I first began, to a trans feminist author who is (in some circles, at least) taken seriously as a “gender theorist” (a designation that still sounds somewhat surreal to me). I have never been inclined to write a memoir or an autobiography, as the minutia of my daily life never seemed particularly interesting to me. But I am a huge fan of “behind the scenes” stories and documentaries that reveal the life events and thought processes that ultimately led some person(s) to produce a particular creation or endeavor. I am often asked about how I first became involved in trans activism, or how I came to write Whipping Girl, and so on, so I thought that it might be fun for me (and potentially interesting to readers) to share some of these backstories. More importantly, I found that these backstories significantly helped with my previously stated goal of historically contextualizing many of these writings.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, I have decided to format this book like a reader. The chapters cover a time span from 2002 through 2014. This is admittedly a little bit longer than a decade -- my apologies to literalists out there. The chapters are organized (roughly chronologically) into five parts: “Performance and Poetry,” “Articulating Trans-misogyny,” “Pathological Science Revisited,” “Communities and Disparities,” and “Differences of Opinion in Trans Activism.” Each of these sections represents an evolution in my perspectives and interests, and each begins with an introduction that provides the necessary backdrop to understand the matters at hand. Additionally, each chapter includes a brief introductory sentence or paragraph detailing when (and sometimes why) it was written, where it was originally published or performed, and other potentially noteworthy information. Other supplementary details and commentary are provided via the Notes section at the end of the book.
While some of the pieces have been edited for clarity, to reduce redundancy, or to include additional relevant information, for the most part they adhere to their original form. As a result, some of the language and opinions that I express in earlier chapters may differ somewhat from those that I forward in later chapters or have stated elsewhere. Since such differences are germane to my aim of illustrating how trans activism has evolved over time, I have tried to keep the pieces relatively intact rather than smoothing over these inconsistencies. To help readers navigate the shifts in language, and to aid readers who are relatively new to transgender identities and issues, I have created an online glossary called “There Is No Perfect Word: A Transgender Glossary of Sorts” that provides not only definitions, but commentary and resources regarding history and differing opinions about said terms.
The title of this book, Outspoken, comes from a line from “Cocky” (Chapter 10) in which I describe performing “my out-spoken word pieces” -- a purposeful play on words, given that I was primarily an out-as-trans spoken word performer when I began my forays into trans activism. “Outspoken” also accurately depicts my activist and writing style circa 2003-2007, which (in retrospect) I would characterize as forceful and, at times, in-your-face (in contrast to my subsequent work, where I have strived to be a little more diplomatic and circumspect). In the subtitle, the reference to “A Decade of Transgender Activism and Trans Feminism” is meant to highlight the fact that this collection represents a snapshot in time: Some of the ideas and language forwarded in this collection would likely seem unnecessary or a complete overreach to trans activists from previous decades, and they will also likely be regarded as quaint or outdated by trans activists in the future. And this is perfectly fine, as all activism is necessarily situated within a particular place and time.
This book is not intended to recap all facets of trans activism that have occurred over the previous decade. Many crucial trans issues and noteworthy events are not covered at all here. Rather, being a collection of my writings, it is often highly personal and disproportionately concerned with matters that were on my mind or that directly impacted me. There were countless other gender-variant people during this same period of time who were creating amazing art and facilitating positive change for trans people in the world, some of whom espoused ideas and perspectives that differed (sometimes significantly) from my own. For readers seeking a more comprehensive overview of trans activism as it existed during the early twenty-first century, I encourage you to consult the works of these additional trans artists and activists.
I should also clarify that this book does not contain all of my trans-related writings from this time period. Numerous pieces were left on the proverbial “cutting-room floor” -- these include writings that were not of the highest quality; slam poems that in retrospect were a little too gimmicky; essays about topics that I have been especially prolific about (e.g., trans woman-exclusion, psychiatric depictions of trans people) and which would only add further redundancy to this collection; and blog posts that were immediate reactions to current events in society or within trans communities, which may once have been relevant and timely, but which would not likely hold up today as stand-alone chapters. While not included here, many of these disregarded pieces can still be found on my blog and website.
Finally, since this book represents my own personal take(s) on trans activism over the last decade or so, it seems fitting to briefly describe my relationship with trans communities and activism prior to the events described in the book. What follows is not meant to be a stereotypical “trans narrative,” but rather a brief retrospective regarding where I am personally situated as a trans person within the course of transgender history.
other excerpts from Outspoken:
julia serano ©2002-2022