A Review of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity tackles the damage that certain forms of feminism are causing to both transfeminism and feminism as a whole. Julia Serano sees that these forms do not counter oppositional sexism in addition to typical sexism. Also, she discusses the role that transmisogyny plays in attacks on the transfeminine taken as a whole. But, she also defends femininity as not bad in itself, and how attacking it does not advance feminism’s causes. The book is divided into two sections. The first is going over the ins and outs of theories on gender and on the transgender aspect of gender. It includes the transgender person’s portrayal in media, her own theories, and debunking false theories from sexology and sociology. The second part of the book examines what has failed in the past and what could work moving forward, including the aforementioned analysis of femininity.

The following are my thoughts on specific pieces of text based on my reading notes. Numbers in brackets [] are from Kindle pagination. An “@” symbol indicates were the thought occurred, and not with anything specific on the page.

[27] “And those of us who make the choice to live as the sex other than the one we were assigned at birth are commonly called transsexuals.” (author’s italics) “Transsexual” has gone out of fashion these days. It was originally used to refer to those that underwent medical procedures related to their gender. Even today it is still used by some in the UK. I commented here because some (me included) find it offensive.

[28] “And while this book primarily focuses on transsexuality, and more specifically on trans women (as that is my experience and perspective), it is not because I believe that transgender people who are not transsexual are any less important or legitimate . . .” Despite this admittance of usage, it does create an us (transsexuals) versus them (transgender persons) dichotomy.

[30] “Therefore, when a trans person transitions, their subconscious sex or gender identity essentially stays the same—rather, it is their physical sex that changes (hence the term transsexual).” I disagree. It is our sex organs that change not are physical sex because this would still leave chromosonal sex assignment intact, and these are physical aspect of ourselves.

[30] “I may refer to the sex that the trans person has transitioned to as their preferred sex, their identified sex (to emphasize the fact that it agrees with their gender identity), or their lived sex (to emphasize the fact that they now live and experience the world as a member of that sex).” I feel it should be gender here, and not sex. They are different. It is society that says sex equals gender, hence inviting confusion. Also, physical changes to our (I identify as a transgender woman) bodies does not change our gender it only affirms or confirms them.

[67] “Another way of saying it is that I feel my emotions more now; they are in the foreground rather than the background of my mind.” Could be an attention thing. The awareness of them increases, hence the more intention is given them, and hence a greater expression of them. This also makes more sense since everyone has the same set of emotions. But, not all are expressed the same in men and women.

[89] “. . . our inability to fully comprehend gender and sexual inclinations that we have not experienced firsthand . . .” Heck I don’t even comprehend my own gender, and for me it doesn’t matter all that much. I just know deep down in my bones I am a female.†

[113] “It is time for discourses in gender and sexuality to acknowledge this great divide, to move beyond the insolent rhetoric of gender entitlement and one-size-fits-all gender theories.” There maybe no one genetic factor for trans persons. First, the wide variety of how trans people found their gender. Some are like I have known like forever to those that only become consciously aware of it as adults. This quotes sets out the multitude of genes that maybe involved: “’Twenty-one variants in 19 genes have been found in estrogen signaling pathways of the brain critical to establishing whether the brain is masculine or feminine,’ says Dr. J. Graham Theisen, obstetrician/gynecologist and National Institutes of Health Women’s Reproductive Health Research Scholar at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.”1 This could be a large factor in the variety of transgender persons, if not all these genes are involved at once, which seems likely to me.

[@157] Serano mentions the gatekeeping of the past and of her present time. While moderated from the past, it still causes harm.

[185] “Once we understand cissexual privilege, it becomes evident that many acts of discrimination that have previously been lumped under the term “transphobia” are probably better described in terms of cissexism.” I will disagree in her assessment based on her example. While it might be cissexual privilege, it is also transphobic because when they are doing it on purpose. If someone is misgendered based on unconscious assessments that is cissexual privilege; If done on purpose it is transphobic.

[188] “Eventually, I realized that dwelling on “why” was a pointless endeavor—the fact is that I am transsexual and I exist, and there is no legitimate reason why I should feel inferior to a cissexual because of that.” Exactly.

[227] “Any claim that one has superior knowledge about womanhood is fraught with gender entitlement and erases the infinite different ways for people to experience their own femaleness.” A very good point.

[260] “In all of these cases, public confusion stems from the implicit assumption that we transition in order to become the objects of heterosexual male desire.” She related how this used to be a requirement in the gatekeeping criteria earlier in the book.

[267] Some go about “. . . assuming that there is a unified basis for transsexuality . . .” as some researchers declare, or as a dichotomy as others do. It is much more likely based on research actually done, that there are probably multiple pathways in the development of a transgender identity (see comment [113]). It would be a statistical anomaly if all these genes were necessary to be expressed for a transgender identity in everyone.

[275] “At some point, all of us who identify as female have to come face-to-face with our own internalized misogyny.” I fine it hard to believe it is “all of us.”

[287] “During a question and answer session at a gender-themed event I participated in, a trans woman brought up the intense ridicule a man can face for the simple act of wearing a pink tie.” I have always loved pink, but this is why I never wore anything that was pink or with pink in it, until I started to transitioned.

[295] “Interestingly, most trans women who fall under the category of “primary” transsexuals report knowing that they were or wanted to be female as early as three or four years old (that is, before gender constancy set in). In contrast, most “secondary” MTF transsexuals and crossdressers report discovering their cross-gender inclinations at a later age, often during puberty (after they had developed gender constancy).” These terms (primary and secondary) appear to privilege one group over another. Also, some can discover their gender much later in life unable to recognize it earlier in their life. This is my experience, so in a least one instant (and I know others reporting the same thing) this is the case.

[323] “Two possible examples of this [possible biological feminine traits] include feminine aesthetic preferences and ways of expressing oneself.” I could add a third—intuition. Although, here I think both men and women have them, a woman is more likely to notice and assess theirs. This could very well be a factor from socialization.

[328] “As someone who’s not interested in attracting men, I often enjoy dressing femininely; I simply feel more alive and self-empowered when I do.” I also dress for myself. And, my life is just better in a skirt.

[349] “Now, I understand the temptation for a marginalized group to turn the hierarchy that has oppressed them upside down, as it can feel very empowering to finally be atop the pecking order . . .” But, their not on top as they remain marginalize.

I enjoyed this book after too many second rate transgender Kindle Unlimited books, so it has earn 4 stars. I had a few things I quibbled about, mostly, language issues. The book was initially publish about ten years before this second edition, so I do not fault her language usage. I like her theory that gender identity is determined by both nature and nurture as it is said, although heavily weighted towards the nature side with some environmental cues seen as nurture. Her idea to defend femininity against two popular forms of feminism and their denial of transfeminine women is spot on. I was a bit surprised by this defense when earlier in the book it seems as if she has a problem with those transgender women that appear in a hyperfeminine mode (e.g. short skirts, high heels, excessive makeup, etc.)

If you are a transgender woman I feel you should like or at least appreciate what Serano writes in this book. This is not so true of transgender men, although I see no reason why they should not read the book. The only qualm is the book is over ten years old, and Serano has written other books that discuss some of the same topics as discussed in this book, but as I have not read them I can’t say what their worth maybe. However, my hunch is they would be just as good or better than this book, A second class of reader I would hope would read the book are those feminist that would deny the existence of transgender women. Their view is that we are just men in dresses, same as those who are religious bigots, even though they would not agree with each other on practically everything else. I think it could also be of interest to anyone who wants to understand feminism in a better light.

† I wrote this blog post on this: https://stephiegurl.home.blog/2021/03/19/whats-it-like/

1 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200205084203.htm

2 thoughts on “A Review of Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl

  1. Thank you for reviewing this! I read Whipping Girl over the course of the weekend last year when I finally accepted myself as a trans woman. It has emotional signifigance to me because of that but I welcome the critical comments you’ve made. I used to read so much, but since coming out to family, friends, and work I’ve lost the sense of urgency to read more.

    If you have the time or inclination to engage I was wondering if you wanted to expand on this comment: [275] “At some point, all of us who identify as female have to come face-to-face with our own internalized misogyny.” I fine it hard to believe it is “all of us.”

    I am curious because I find I am very much facing my own internalized transmisogyny and misogyny. I have the experience of being raised in a fundamentalist christian church, moving from that to embracing radical feminism, and then taking years and years to outgrow some of the fear and self-hating notions about gender and sex that I clung to for so long. So Julie’s comment on p 275 really resonated with me. But I would be curious about your view. (only if you feel like it).

    I just found your blog and I really like it. I’m grateful to you and so many other trans people who write like this. It is generous and brave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there Johanna. I am glad you found my blog, and I appreciate when someone like you reaches out and posts a comment.

      The point of my comment is Serano’s use of the term “all.” The philosopher girl in me doesn’t like an all inclusive term like this. It only takes one counterexample to make these statements false. I am such counterexample. I have never hated myself because I am a transgender woman. Years of depression sapped my self-love, but it was not connected with my transgender status. My series of posts on “Seeing through the Gender Fog,” explains this thoroughly.

      I am sorry to hear of your troubles in this area. I was fortunate to have been raised and lived in a very liberal environment. This difference in our life experiences go a good way to explain how we each views ourselves.

      I do appreciate your compliments and thank you for them. I am always hesitant to accept the label “brave.” In the case of writing my blog this is mainly due to the fact that I do not feel any shame or guilt about my gender experiences. Or else, I would have never wrote posts that talk about my early gender journey.

      All the best, Stephie

      PS – I just created this page with links to all my transgender and gender diverse book reviews on goodreads: https://stephiegurl.home.blog/transgender-book-ratings/.

      PSS – Feel free to contact me if you wish to further our conversation.

      Like

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