WHIPPING GIRL: A TRANSSEXUAL WOMAN ON SEXISM AND THE SCAPEGOATING OF FEMININITY by Julia Serano (Seal), 392 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN
Julia Serano's incredibly original text - equal parts essay, memoir, manifesto, study in etymology and critique of mass media - examines how our culture's disdain for femininity directly informs our view of trans women.
Serano's background as a biologist, performer and transsexual activist makes Whipping Girl insightful, in-depth and multi-faceted. It combines the readability of a memoir, the humorous sass of the best spoken word rant and a thorough, even-handed analysis of biology versus socialization not found in most gender studies books.
Most anti-trans sentiment Serano has had to deal with as a transsexual woman, she says, is probably better described as "trans-misogyny." She summarizes the myriad ways feminists and gay activists refuse to practise what they preach. For example, some feminists who rally against the objectification of women's bodies see no reason not to ask invasive personal questions about trans people's bodies.
At the heart of these offences is what Serano terms cissexism, the belief that transsexuals' gender identities are less authentic and "normal" than non-transsexuals - or cissexuals.
She takes to task prominent gender theorists like Judith Butler as well as the genderqueer movement bent on destroying the binary gender system, which ends up pitting gender-conforming and non-gender-conforming people against each other.
While offering critical insights or discussing painful personal memories, Serano never condescends or engages in "more oppressed than thou" rhetoric.
The book culminates in a call for alliances, leaving the reader with the hope that matters among the very divided queer, genderqueer, transsexual and feminist communities could really get better.
Rarely do I believe hyperbolic back-cover blurbs claiming "We desperately need this book." But this one's absolutely accurate.
Julia Serano appears at the Toronto Women?s Bookstore Monday (August 27).
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