Monday, March 17, 2008

Whipping Girl

The Lambda Literary Foundation’s list of finalists for the 2007 Lammies is out, and She’s Not the Man I Married didn’t make the cut. And I’m okay with that; it can be a little tiring to see how even trans people don’t seem to care, often, about how loved ones see/relate/deal with transness, but I’m getting used to it. Besides, I got my props the first time around, when My Husband Betty made finalist.

That said, Whipping Girl didn’t make the cut and that is absolutely 100% wrong. & I’ll tell you why.

Whipping Girl is, to date, the only book to address, theoretically, the uneasy relationship between trans people - specifically MTF transsexual women - and feminism, and that work was long overdue. It addresses sexuality, media representations, the historical pathologization of trans people by psychologists, the fetishization of tans women’s sexualities, the inherent misogyny of a feminist politics that mocks femininity, and then some.

It has been personally & politically important to me in confronting what remained of my own “natural attitude” toward my own gender, what Serano calls cissexism (and rightfully so) and proposes the concept of “subconsious sex” which did more to explain transsexualism to me than anything ever has — outside, maybe, of Betty’s “because” model.

It’s a real shame that this book was not recognized by the Lambda Literary Foundation. It will be considered a classic, revelatory and ground-breaking book in time; it’s just sad the Foundation’s judges don’t have the foresight to give it its due now.

Julia, personally: thank you. I always appreciate when anyone, with their words and logic and anger, can make me a little less of an asshole, and Whipping Girl did that in spades.

2 comments:

Justine said...

Sorry that She's Not the Man I Married didn't make the list. As a trans woman with a spouse I love dearly, it was essential reading for me, and for her too.

Thanks for the recommendation for Whipping Girl. I just put in a request at the local library. I'm currently fifth in the queue!

J. said...

Hi there. I've read Whipping Girl and agree with you: it is essential, ground-breaking reading. It is one of the best pieces of feminist writing I've ever read and addresses issues that were never addressed in any of the assigned readings from my college feminist theory classes - just a few years back. I'm really glad my friend loaned this book to me. I hope more people read it and learn to examine cissexual/cisgender privilege. It's helped me examine mine, even as I consider myself an ally and a fellow queer - and partner/fiance of a trans man. Since reading Whipping Girl, I examine more of the things I see and read, and I question when trans-specific issues are not considered or addressed in discussions or activist organizations labeled "GLBT." People assume too often that "gay and lesbian" rights/studies/organizations/etc. also include trans and bisexual experiences/issues/concerns by default, but they don't necessarily. Many times I've felt left out, or felt that my experience or my friend's experience was not recognized as valid or as worthy as other people's in queer groups or feminist groups (both in organizations and in groups of friends). They skim over and prioritize certain concerns sometimes at the expense of other people's rights, not valuing trans or bi experiences on an equal par with gay and lesbian experiences. Terms like "gay/straight alliance" sound nice, but they leave a couple of us out even in name!

Until feminists & fellow queers really start looking at and examining cissexism and transphobia, there won't be real "equality," just another system of power and control in place. Racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, classism, and all the other "isms" or forms of oppression are equally BAD. There's no hierarchy of oppressions, but they all work together to screw somebody... everybody. I'm glad Julia Serano got her voice out there by writing this book. I'm also really glad that she at some point states that she isn't trying to generalize or speak on behalf of all trans women, but wants the reader to understand that her experience is just one of many and not necessarily representative of all trans women. It's not the same experience as that of someone like my best friend who is trans and working-class, who hasn't had the same educational/socio-economic advantages or opportunities as Julia Serano has had. It relieved me that she didn't assume or claim universality from her own experience; that's important, and that's something [hetero/queer cissexual] people don't always get. It's not fair to generalize or assume things about a whole group of people based on learning from one person's experience, but it's valuable and imperative to learn from many people's experiences. And that's part of what makes this book so great... It tells one person's story along with a review of transgender research/history very beautifully.