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

One of the things I hate most is when people talk about shit they know nothing about as though they’re experts. We’ve all witnessed it. And Julia Serano is a woman after my own heart as far as this goes. Because there are certain experiences that need to be lived in order to be properly and fully understood. Here she is calling out all the so-called “experts” on gender and transsexuality for their ignorance and hypocrisies, and you can feel her anger.

So is this a book by an angry lesbian feminist? Yes. But the more you pay attention the more you’ll realize that this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s very much a good thing. Because one thing I didn’t expect this book to be was sad. To learn about all the ignorance this subject is steeped in and the very real negative effects this has on the great many people living it day in and day out is nothing if not upsetting. If the revelations herein don’t upset you, then I have to wonder how much you really care about this subject, and why then you decided to pick up this book. It should also be said that issues of feminism affect men, and likewise issues of transsexuality affect cis people. We’re all part of this world together and we don’t live in a vacuum.

This is a relatively new kind of gender-studies book in that it’s written by a feminist lesbian trans woman. This is a look not from the outside in, but from the inside out from someone who is in a position to experience discrimination, often perhaps unintentional, due to her inclusion in three different groups. To use the language of Hubbub‘s Emily Cockayne, she is an inpert, as opposed to an expert, as she relates to us her knowledge from first hand experience. She’s incredibly intelligent and makes her points very well, but she’s also completely unashamed of herself, and her personality – and anger – reverberate through the pages. This woman has earned her attitude and the right to speak authoritatively on this subject, and it’s for this reason that I really love this book.

Not only is this book heavily saturated in personality and real-life experience, but it brings to mind issues that many of us have probably not considered, as well as how these issues effect all of us as a whole. Julia Serano opens up and allows us to take a deeply personal look into her life as she experiences it and experienced it during the various stages that she went through on her journey to becoming the person she is today. This might sound especially appealing to those very curious people who want a look into something somewhat “taboo,” but while it’s definitely interesting, it also has a way of deeply humanizing this subject, and in the process showing us how very important it is for this to be done. Julia Serano is not only incredibly smart, but incredibly brave, not just in that she has been extraordinarily true to herself but in that she’s offered us the chance to see things from her own perspective in such an unashamedly honest way. By the end of the book you’ll no doubt see femininity and LGBT* issues from an entirely new perspective, and this to me is what makes this book an utter success.

Have a look at the video below for a discussion with Julia about her book.

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Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History – An Anti-Review

Hey look, another book review that will probably generate a lot of controversy! Bring it on Strangers, because I’m not going to get into that debate here; this is just about the book itself. Now I will say that I am pro-choice, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not. But my reasons for that don’t really apply to this discussion, and just because I’ve chosen a side also doesn’t mean I necessarily think a book like this should (without at least explicitly presenting itself as such), even if it agrees with me. It’s quite obvious that this book is pro-choice, and it cites some pretty horrifying facts of misogyny from times past (or present, who am I kidding?). It’s just that I think we learn the most effectively when there’s been care to equally represent both sides. Otherwise what are we doing but just congratulating ourselves on our so very enlightened view of things? The truth is, this book presents itself as explaining to us the history of this controversy, NOT the history of one side of the argument. That would be ok too, but if you picked this book up based on its title I imagine that’s not necessarily what you’re looking to learn here. I’m interested in the debate and I’m interested in facts. The opinions I end up landing on are based as much as humanly possible on facts rather than gut emotion. So I am going to have to fault this book for being somewhat misleading.

Once you get that out of the way, there are two reactions I have to this. “Holy shit this is fucking dry,” and “Wow, that’s fascinating!” This book is yet another victim to a great topic bogged down by just plain boring writing. Such a loaded topic should be at least a little fun to read, shouldn’t it? I don’t mean all-out sensationalism, but at least try to match the wild ride that is online arguments. Just, of course, with more information and fully researched points. Just because we want to learn while we read doesn’t mean we don’t also care about enjoying ourselves while we do it. Otherwise we’d probably sit in on an actual class that covers these sorts of things.

I wonder if I’m being unfair here by suggesting that this book be both unbiased and riveting. But I really don’t think I am. The documentary Lake of Fire proves that this is possible. This movie made a point to not try to sway its audience, but to portray both sides equally, in both all their glory and all their horror. The filmmaker’s efforts in my opinion were entirely successful. And it was one of the best damn movies I’ve ever seen. I think the fact that it was unbiased made it far more interesting, because not only does it really make us think, but it doesn’t shield us from the ugly side of our chosen side. And the ugly side is important, not just because it’s sure to get a rise out of us. Let’s not pretend that either group is a bunch of angels, because they’re not. If we don’t face the facts, and if we’re just not interested in the whole truth, then isn’t it a total waste of time to even bother? I really feel this book could have proven its point here by being entertaining, so because this means it falls short on two levels, well, just damnit.

I’m not being a hypocrite either. Obviously I’m not particularly interested in an unbiased recounting of slavery, or Nazis, or serial killers. But the difference is that society as a whole is pretty much done weighing in on these things. Opinion is now fact. It’s no longer a valid opinion that racism and murder are cool. But as much as pro-life people annoy the shit out of me, the fact remains that their opinion, at the time of this writing, is still valid. I don’t agree with it, but if so many people feel that way, shouldn’t we find out why? Besides, it doesn’t do much good to poke holes in an argument you don’t know much about.

And this was all written by the time I got to page 46.

I’m not in the mood to summarize what I’ve learned here, mostly because I just don’t feel like it’s a whole lot. There’s almost just too much information, it’s so complicated (legal stuff always is), and based on other reviews I question some of its accuracy. Misogyny in the past was very dark! Opinions about abortion, inextricably tied to opinions about women’s place in society, oscillated constantly with changing social issues such as war and women’s suffrage! Goddamn do I wish I cared more about the details. Keep in mind, I’m reviewing this from a layman’s perspective. I’m not a literary expert or an expert on this subject. Most likely you won’t be either, which is why my relatively uneducated, overly simple everyman opinion is so valid here. I’m NOT enjoying this book. And I’m starting to question how much longer I’ll keep trying to before I give up and try replacing it with a different one on the same topic.

What I AM learning, or maybe just bringing more to the forefront of my mind, is that “interesting” and “boring” almost don’t exist. They’re only in the mind of the beholder, more influenced by presentation than the qualities of the subject itself. It’s a moving target. Whether you care or not about a topic has everything to do with how the way it’s been presented so far relates to your personality. My personality would rather watch well-informed people fight about this on Facebook. I’m not as highbrow as I’d like to be. So with that, I’ll leave off here for now. If it works out in the end, I’ll update with a real review.

Rather just watch the movie? Check out Lake of Fire.