This is a review of the second edition of ‘Whipping Girl’. Originally published in 2007, this is an updated version of Julia Serano’s manifesto of and thoughts about transgenderism. Now considered a classic in queer circles, the book’s collection of essays challenge various feminist theories and debunks a huge number of myths about transgender people. Simultaneously personal and theoretical, it is a book that I believe every feminist should read.
I’ll admit, I’m not a complete stranger to the topic, so I’m not sure if this is the best introduction to such tricky and charged problems. I’ve taken some queer theory classes at university, and I’ve come across quite a lot of feminist dialogue on the Internet, as well, so Serano’s terms and phrases weren’t all that new to me. However, I am in no way an expert in transgender issues, so I was hugely interested in a variety of terms introduced to me, including effemimania, subconscious sex, and cissexism. She also tackles transphobia, and how, when in relation to MTF transgender people, it is often just another facet of sexism. There is also the discussion of the de-medicalisation of transgender issues, which she believes is a bad idea, and how the idea of the ‘performance’ of gender is potentially flawed. One of the strongest areas of the book for me was Serano’s ability to balance between different schools of feminist thought, particularly the “born this way” school, and the “society is the root of all evil” school. She introduced a much-needed different point-of-view to both of these, which I found absolutely fascinating. I had never realised how non-inclusive traditional feminist views are – I thought I’d had a good grasp on my individual feminism, but now everything has completely changed. Which is great! Such tricky and personal concepts such as feminism should always be evolving, in my mind.
While some of Serano’s examples have been updated, her language has not. There is the near-constant use of transgender and lesbian slurs, which (correct me if I’m wrong) are no longer acceptable in today’s society. She does mention this in her preface, but I personally didn’t feel like she gave an adequate-enough excuse for not changing her language. The use of of the slurs was at times deeply uncomfortable, and distracted me from the extremely pertinent and interesting points she was making.
In all, I would highly recommend reading ‘Whipping Girl’. It is an absolutely essential book that, even if it doesn’t completely sway you, gives a required alternative feminist point-of-view. I will most certainly be reading more of her works in my quest to become a better, and more inclusive, feminist.