2 min

Lashing out against the fear of the feminine

Julia Serano says sissies and trans women are natural allies

There is one thing that Julia Serano would like people to take from her new book, Whipping Girl.

“I would like people to understand how misogyny frames popular assumptions about femininity and shapes many of the myths and misconceptions people have about transsexual women.”

The words roll off her tongue. She has, after all, been working on her book for three years. So the statement comes naturally to her. Not so for others.

Mi·sog·y·ny: a hatred of women.

The definition itself is enough to leave one cold and silenced, if only for a moment.

Serano is an Oakland, California-based writer, spoken word performer, trans activist, and biologist. Her first full-length book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman On Sexism And The Scapegoating Of Femininity (published by Seal Press in June), is a collection of personal essays that examines the ways in which misogyny, particularly the dislike for femininity, frames many popular stereotypes and assumptions about transgender women.

As a MTF (male to female) trans woman and published writer, Serano has gained notoriety in transgender, queer, and feminist circles for her unique insights into gender-related issues.

Her other writings have appeared in queer, feminist, and pop culture magazines such as Bitch, Clamor, Kitchen Sink, LiP, Make/Shift, and Transgender Tapestry. She has been invited to speak about transgender and trans women’s issues at numerous universities and conferences, and her writings have also been used as teaching materials in university-level gender studies courses across the United States.

Whipping Girl is a no-holds-barred argument for a new perspective on trans-related issues. Through her own life experiences and literate discussions of historical, psychological, sociological, and psychiatric studies, Serano bravely takes on what she sees as the biggies: transphobia, transobjectification, transmystification and cissexual assumptions. Big words indeed, but Serano argues for a new language to discuss the issues facing our culture.

“Many gender and queer activists have recognized that certain words invisibilize their perspectives and have created new words to more adequately articulate their identities and experiences. In Whipping Girl, I talk a lot about how our language is cissexist — that is, it presumes that transsexual genders are less legitimate than, and mere imitations of, cissexual (that is, non-transsexual) genders. As an activist, I think it’s vital to have words that describe these complex forms of prejudice. After all, if we don’t have the words to describe these forms of marginalization, then we can’t begin to hold others accountable.”

Through a series of articulate, compelling, and provocative essays, Serano argues for femininity and inclusively. Finding that trans discrimination is steeped in sexism, Serano feels trans activism is a feminist movement that desperately needs attention — particularly in fighting the demonizing of femininity, in which femininity is seen as inferior to masculinity. Serano believes that this issue results in an overall attitude of acceptance for FTMs but a dismissive attitude towards MTF trans persons and in-fighting within the queer community. This in-fighting is seen in the challenge to find acceptance as a trans woman embracing femininity within the lesbian community.

As such, the transgender community struggles to find its place within the queer community and acceptance within the cissexual community.

Forging new ground with new ideas, Serano hopes her book touches people who are like her.

“I wanted to create space within feminism for feminine-identified people, whether they be trans women, femme dykes, gay or bi men, straight women, and so on. So much of sexism targets people who are perceived as feminine, and its time that we as feminists confront that.”