Rating (out of five): ΔΔΔΔΔ

A rare event has occurred in the area of gender studies, and that event is the publication of The Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman On Sexism and The Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano. Not often do readers have the luxury of reading a thorough, fairly objective yet personal appraisal of misogyny from a transsexual woman. In this segment I simultaneously present a review of The Whipping Girl while tying what Serano writes into some of my personal experiences with gender.

Julia Serano’s book courageously presents situations in which femininity is treated with sincere disdain. The Whipping Girl’s main focus is to show how transgender phobia is not based on dislike of persons who are transgender solely for those persons being transgender. Rather, transphobia is described as being based on the hatred of femininity. What is most striking in the book is how Serrano sheds light the ways in which femininity, in particular, is frowned upon within the queer community and explores how masculinity is often most applauded. When femininity is accepted in the queer community it is within the drag show setting where femininity becomes a show, an act to please an audience. Serrano repeatedly illustrates how society as a whole carries the perception that femininity is a farce created to please those who witness it.

To make this a little more personal, in my late teens I transitioned from female-to-male (FTM), and I identified somewhere between being a gay and bisexual male. To fully embody living as a male I underwent a series of physical alterations such as two years of testosterone hormone therapy and several surgeries that ultimately gave me a masculine appearance. But after two years of transition I began to have an experience similar to what Serrano herself describes in her book as going through. That experience being that my subconscious sex was misaligned with my physical body. In my early 20s, I decided to de-transition and live as a woman again because I came to realization that my subconscious sex is female, much like Serano.

Serrano’s explanation of the concept of “subconscious sex” is an eloquent description of what many transgender people experience. Subconscious sex as described in Whipping Girl is the mental understanding of what one’s sex is regardless of what sex the physical body is. Many people are born with their physical sex and subconscious sex aligned but transgender people often times have subconscious and physical sexes at odds with each other.

The concept of “subconscious sex” that Serano touches on not only correlates with a lot of transgender people but also with non-transgender people, or cissexual people, as Serano states. For instance, one can examine cases where non-trans women who have had masectomies feel the strong desire to have breast implants because they feel incomplete without breasts. The concept of subconscious sex could be part of an explanation for that desire. Serano also discusses the effect large amounts of testosterone has on someone whose subconscious sex is female and goes as far as using the term “testosterone poisoning”. Cissexual women also experience similar effects when misusing androgens to develop muscle mass.

While there is minimal mention of the problematic fetishization of masculinity and dislike of femininity in the queer community there has been little to no recognition of this phenomenon in the realm of gender studies. The Whipping Girl dissects the sexualizing of female-to-male transsexuals within the lesbian community and briefly discusses the misogyny within the gay male community as well. When I was transitioning from female-to-male, many people in the queer community not only treated me with more respect (I felt empowered) but I was also pursued sexually and in some ways treated like some kind of sexual force. This was vastly different from when I was a female lesbian in the queer community; while I was well-liked, I was rarely sexually pursued and not given nearly as much authority or respect as when I transitioned to male. And now that I am living as a woman again I experience the same shift of treatment where I feel less valued, less powerful, less attractive.

And, of course, the funniest part of this situation is that within the straight world that I now technically identify with… I am told I am too masculine. Serano writes in great detail on heterosexual attitudes about gender and how women are expected to be feminine and men masculine. From reading her book it is clear that there is still much misogyny in heterosexual society, even with feminist movements. Serano talks about how feminist gender deconstructionist theory considers femininity to be a social construct and how transsexual womens’ experiences contradict gender deconstruction theory. She berates those gender theorists who take transgendered experiences and maim those experiences to prove the theory du jour.

To sum this all up, The Whipping Girl is a meaningful read. Do I recommend it? Without a doubt. This book is an unsinkable ship in the turbulent sea of gender theories.

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