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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity
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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

4.5 11
by Julia Serano

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In the updated second edition of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist, shares her powerful experiences and observations—both pre- and post-transition—to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and


In the updated second edition of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist, shares her powerful experiences and observations—both pre- and post-transition—to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole.

Serano's well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. In this provocative manifesto, she exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive, and how this “feminine” weakness exists only to attract and appease male desire.

In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about transsexuality, Serano makes the case that today's feminists and transgender activists must work to embrace and empower femininity—in all of its wondrous forms.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

With her first full-length book, biologist, writer and musician Serano positions herself as a Betty Friedan of the transsexual community. Making a case that trans discrimination is steeped in sexism and that trans activism is a feminist movement, Serano delivers a series of articulate, compelling and provocative essays that unmask many of the misconceptions surrounding transsexualism, gender and feminism. Where most books on the topic focus either on first-person accounts or clinical observations, Serano approaches her topic from multiple angles. Tempering her own experience as a transsexual woman with psychological documentation, historical research and sociological data, she explores the debate on biology versus socialization; the media's "lurid," "superficial" and "contrived" depictions of trans women; the psychology of transitioning; "boygasms" versus "girlgasms"; nonacceptance and marginalization of transsexual women by the feminist community; and the subtle shades of gray between masculinity and femininity. Though her writing is dense at times, Serano largely succeeds in breaking down complex issues and offering deep insights that will be valued by anyone interested in transsexualism or gender studies. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From the Publisher
“Serano takes to task those who categorize “femininity” as artificial rather than a natural gender expression. Her convincing analysis and personal revelations challenge us to recognize our own sexist notions.”
Ms. Magazine

"Julia Serano offers a perspective sorely needed, but up until now rarely heard." —Bitch Magazine

"An absorbing and essential achievement in both theory and biography.” —Washington City Paper

"Whipping Girl critiques media depictions of trans people, dismantles science's longtime characterization of transsexuality as pathology, and offers a whip-smart vision of a world that celebrates sexual difference.” —AlterNet"

Julia Serano is a careful and astute critic of the ways that trans women have been stereotyped and dismissed in popular culture, feminism, and psychology, and she repeatedly surprised me with her razor-sharp observations of the pervasive hatred of trans women and all differently gendered people. This is an important text for gender studies classes, as well as for therapists, journalists, and anybody who'd like to keep updated as a sex radical.”
—Patrick Califia, author of Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism

Advance praise for the second edition of Whipping Girl:

“It's official: Whipping Girl is a 21st century feminist classic. It's also a gift to a culture (still) struggling to face its own misogyny. Serano's writing is clear, gracious, and incredibly illuminating.”
—Jennifer Baumgardner"

Serano's thinking continues to challenge and delight—Whipping Girl is a foundational text that will prove to be timeless.”
—Jessica Valenti"

Having only just come out as Transgender, I was taken by a friend to a bookstore and told to buy Whipping Girl immediately. As I read, the revelation dawned on me that experiencing my gender could be full of self-empowerment and liberation as opposed to the fear and shame I had already spent a lifetime living with. Not only was this book a light in the dark for someone jumping head-first into transition, it also served as an essential tool to pass on to family and friends to help them to better understand what it means to be Trans. I'm forever thankful for this book and its author.”
—Laura Jane Grace"

Julia Serano is the wise, acerbic brain at the center of the transgender movement. The original edition of Whipping Girl forever connected trans theory to feminism and queer studies; this new edition updates that work as well as providing a compelling new preface that reflects the movement's enormous progress as well as the progress that remains to be made. Julia Serano is more than a brilliant writer and theorist; she's also a tremendously compassionate, humane woman whose work has enlarged the lives of all her readers. Urgent, contentious, generous, and brilliant.”
—Jennifer Finney Boylan, Author of She's Not There, and Writer in Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University"

Julia Serano did not invent transfeminism, but she's done more to promote its ideas and demonstrate its necessity than any other writer. Her analysis of the misogyny at the root of transphobia is vital. This book should be taught in every introduction to gender and women's studies class in the country—read it, teach it, learn from it, and act on it."
—Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History and Director, University of Arizona Institute for LGBT Studies


Praise for the first edition:

"Seminal." —Variety

Library Journal
★ 06/01/2016
An essential discussion of the connections among transphobia, sexism, and homophobia, this work popularized the term transmisogyny to refer to this lethal combination. While Serano's discussions of her own experiences may not resonate with all transgender readers, her political analysis is dead on.

Product Details

Da Capo Books
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5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

While I am proud of the fact that Whipping Girl was the first book to discuss trans-misogyny and the intersection of oppositional and traditional sexism, it seems clear in retrospect that it would have been a far stronger book had I extended my analysis to examine how these forces also intersect with other forms of marginalization (e.g., racism, classism, ableism, etc.). Today, numerous studies have been published that demonstrate how many forms of anti-trans discrimination (e.g., transphobic violence) disproportionately target people on the trans female/feminine spectrum, trans people of color, and poor and working class trans people, and that those who lie at the intersection of all three of these categories (as is the case for many trans women of color) are impacted the most severely.17 But back when I was writing Whipping Girl, there was a paucity of research into such matters, which is why this book (like most trans activist writings of the ’90s and ’00s) relies so heavily on my own personal experiences and observations in order to bolster my arguments. The writer in me recognizes that this informal and personal approach probably made the book more accessible and compelling for many readers. But the activist in me now readily sees how this approach left significant holes in my analysis. After all, I am not simply a trans woman, but rather a white, middle class, able-bodied, “generation X,” out, queer-identified transsexual woman who “passes” as cissexual living in a U.S. major city. Thus, while the anecdotes that I share here remain true and are potentially illuminating, it is important to keep in mind that they only tell part of a much larger story.
Similarly, when I was writing this book, I saw myself as an outsider who was rallying against the powers that be in the hope that people would start to take trans women’s concerns seriously. But now, a decade later, Whipping Girl is often used as teaching materials in classrooms, and it is sometimes deemed to be an “authoritative” text about trans people. Knowing this now, I fear that the frequent forefronting of my own personal experiences, and the specific focus on transsexuals and trans female/feminine people may give some readers a skewed view of gender-variant communities and issues. For example, Whipping Girl does not provide similar in-depth discussions about the issues and experiences of intersex people, non-binary-identified and two-spirit people, trans male/masculine-spectrum people, straight-identified trans people, trans people of color and other cultures, and so on. Additionally, increasing numbers of trans children are socially transitioning prior to adulthood (which was still rare back when I was writing this book), and their perspectives will no doubt differ significantly from trans people (such as myself) who have not had that experience. So I encourage readers to view Whipping Girl, not as “the definitive book” about trans people and issues, but rather as one trans perspective among many, all of which should be explored in greater detail.
While I believe that it is important to recognize and accommodate the many differences that exist among gender variant people, I also think that it is vital that we try to understand and work together with one another rather than view ourselves as opposing factions, or as existing at differing hierarchical positions. I feel the need to stress this because, in the years since Whipping Girl was published, transgender activism has increasingly moved away from the broad goals of “shattering the gender binary” and eliminating all gender norms (which would benefit all of us), and more toward an identity politics approach focused primarily on the concerns of trans people. And unfortunately, “trans people” is increasingly used in a manner that is synonymous with “transsexuals-only.” And the cis/trans distinction—which I forwarded here primarily to talk about double standards in how people’s genders are perceived, interpreted, and treated—is now sometimes used to promote a unilateral “cis people are the oppressors, and trans people the oppressed, end of story” narrative. I have discussed the many problems that I see with these trends in my 2014 two-part essay series “Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited.”18
Cissexism and trans-misogyny are pervasive problems in our society, and we most certainly should be focusing on them. But we should also recognize that they are both offshoots of much larger systemic forces—oppositional and traditional sexism—that to varying degrees impact everybody. And oppositional and traditional sexism are but two among a multitude of different forms of marginalization, and we should be working together to end all of them. Throughout Part 2 of my second book Excluded, I offer numerous strategies that I believe can help us challenge all forms of sexism and marginalization without erasing or ignoring any specific group’s experiences and issues in the process.
What follows is the book as it was originally written, albeit with a few small clarifying changes and corrections. After much deliberation, I have decided not to change any of the trans-related terminology that I used in the first edition, for the following reasons. In recent years, I have written extensively about a phenomenon that I call the Activist Language Merry-Go-Round—briefly stated, because trans people are highly stigmatized and face undue scrutiny in our culture, all of the language associated with us will also eventually face similar stigma and scrutiny.19 So even if I did try to update the original language, whatever supposedly new and fresh terms I might choose today in 2015 would probably be viewed as outdated or problematic (for some reason or another) within a few short years. Besides, all of the trans-related terms that I routinely use here (aside from words like “effemimania” or “subconscious sex,” which I coined in the process of writing this book) have long histories of being used in a positive or neutral manner, despite recent or occasional objections to the contrary. For readers who have questions or concerns regarding my use of language and/or specific terms, I have probably addressed them in one of my many transgender terminology follow-up pieces.20
Finally, on a personal note: When I was first working on this project, I remember explicitly thinking to myself that I was trying to write the book that I wish that I had had as a teenager or young adult—one that would help me make sense of both my inexplicable feelings that I should be female rather than male, as well as the conflicting societal messages that were constantly telling me “boys are better than girls” and “women are only good for one thing.” Given this, I am immensely grateful to have heard from many trans women and trans feminine people in subsequent years that Whipping Girl was that book for them. And quite honestly, I am astounded (in the best possible sense) that a book whose primary goal was explaining and empowering trans female/feminine perspectives has found praise and appreciation from so many readers who have not had that experience themselves.

Meet the Author

Julia Serano is an Oakland, California-based writer, performer, activist, and biologist. She is best known for her 2007 book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, which garnered rave reviews—The Advocate placed it on their list of “Best Non-Fiction Transgender Books,” and readers of Ms. Magazine ranked it #16 on their list of the “100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time.” Her second full-length book, Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, was a Publishing Triangle finalist for the 2013 Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction. Julia's writings have appeared in over a dozen anthologies, and in magazines and news outlets such as the Guardian, the Daily Beast, AlterNet.org, The Advocate, Out, Bitch, and Ms. Magazine.

Serano's understanding of biology (she has a PhD in Biochemistry from Columbia University and worked as a researcher at UC Berkeley for seventeen years) along with her life experiences as a transgender woman give her a unique perspective on gender and sexism, and her writings have been used as teaching materials in gender and queer studies, sociology, and psychology courses across North America. Visit her website at juliaserano.com.

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Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Julia Serano plows a whole lot of new ground. She is not the 'Christopher Columbus' of this world, but she is certainly the first, most intellectual person to get here. I have been a Trans-woman for years, and she taught me worlds of information. This is an absolute must-read for anyone that is interested in learning about the trans world. It is NOT so different from the world you know. It is your world.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read quite a few books on being trans, trying to figure myself out, but this is the first one I've ever read that really made me think this could be me. I love that the author's story is not conventional, and her theories about the difference between gender identity and inner sex are on point. Of course the book's primary purpose is to relate ideas about feminism in terms specifically about oppositional sexism and transmisogyny affect transpersons and the public in general. While these concepts aren't necessarily novel in and of themselves this is the first thing I've ever read that made feminism relevant to my life and easily could explain everything I've felt and seen in my own life. Highly recommended.
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Mireille72 More than 1 year ago
Julia Serano is incredible at describing the dangers of and prejudices against femininity. Men and women both tend to consider femininity frivolous when compared to masculinity, particularly in a trans perspective. That women would want to be men is understandable, because they are trading feminine weakness for masculine strength. But why a MAN would want to be a WOMAN and give up "his" power... She explains so much. As far as the genetic basis of it, I'm still not sure, but whether it is genetic or "choice" she really explains a lot. Props to Julia.