Review: Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Feminiity

by: George Marx

Julia Serano’s book is an excellent read for those interested in the intersecting issues of gender and sex related to femininity and masculinity.   Though the books intended audience seems more female, than male, it speaks to many issues that are highly relevant for us as men.  

Relating some of what the book says, reflecting upon myself:

1.    I’ve lived my whole life with the sex of being male,
2.    My gender identity is “masculine” or “male” – though part of this identity can be stretched –         (see  3. below),
3.    I don’t readily identify as “very masculine” e.g. with no feminine sides to me,
4.    I’m “hettish” – mostly heterosexual, though not completely so
5.    I’m cissexual – not transsexual – my identity as a boy and man has not changed substantively throughout my life, and
6.    With the possible minor, minor exception of not identifying as “very masculine” I have male cis privilege as well as additional privilege as White and Upper-Middle Class.

Julia Serano grew up knowing that her sex made her a boy.  Her gender identity was strained and unclear as she struggled with issues of whether she was a transvestite or what she was.   When she realized that she was a woman, she began to start fitting together as an individual who could find her own identity.   Her identity was not determined by her “body parts” but by how primarily she now saw herself and secondarily how others saw her.

Her book speaks eloquently of a lot of the issues that a trans woman faces both with being female and not being cissexual.   She is highly critical of how some feminist women in essence deny her identity a woman.

A quoted section: p.103  - “The very idea that there are ‘opposite’ sexes unnecessarily polarizes women and men; it isolates us from one another and exaggerates our differences.  It provides the framework for us to project other ‘opposite’ pairs onto female and male (and femininity and masculinity).  Thus, we assume that men are aggressive and women are passive; men are tough and women are weak; men are practical and women are emotional; men are big and women are small; and so on.   As a culture, we regularly buy into this way of thinking despite the fact that we all encounter countless exceptions that prove these assumptions incorrect: women who are aggressive, tough, practical, and/or big, and men who are passive, weak, emotional, and/or small.  This idea of ‘opposites’ creates expectations for femaleness/femininity and maleness/masculinity that all people are encouraged to meet, and simultaneously delegitimizes all behaviors that do not fit these ideals.”

How sexism intersects with these ideas is made clear with examples of both the:  1.) Effeminate (usually Gay) man and 2.) Petite, slender – transsexual/transvestite/drag women.    Contrasting is the image of the butch appearing woman (or short trans man who may not appear fully to be a man), who may be not be accepted fully, but aren’t strongly ridiculed and sometimes the victims of violence because of their appearance.

Serrano effectively discusses how the key issues for medical authorities (“gatekeepers”) accepting sex reassignment issues with “men” generally related to whether the prospective “woman” who appear to be a woman, while no such issues existed for women who wished to transition into being a man.   It was okay for a short woman to “become a man” but was largely forbidden for someone who did not come in wearing a dress and high heels and/or who “looked masculine” to similarly medically transition.

This book is very effective on various levels at reaching us related to issues of our gender and sex.   Towards the end of the book the author notes how significant parts of the “gender queer” movement of younger people can create new oppositional conformity oppressions of people such as “feminine” people.   The book is excellent at getting at how people confronting oppressions such as sexism and homophobia can unwittingly hurt others who don’t fit their images.

While the book is far from perfect, it is an excellent book for many.

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