Book review: Whipping Girl

This is kind of an old choice. Ages ago I was a part of a feminist book club which after a few meetings, sadly dissolved, mostly because it was run by undergraduate students who had to prepare for their exams. One of the books we’d planned to read just before the club stopped meeting was Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. Thus it was there, waiting patiently for me on my Kindle, for me to eventually give up on the idea that the club might ever reform and just read it myself.

Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

So let me say that this is a good book. It’s an excellent insight into the lives of trans women. Serano makes a lot of very valid points and she makes them very well. I think anyone seeking to understand the experiences of a trans woman would do well to read this book (or, you know, maybe talk to one, but whevs).

That said, I kind of think this text has aged a bit, and it isn’t the broadest of perspectives. Serano, quite understandably, leans heavily on her own experiences and those experiences of the people most immediately around her. So the focus is very firmly on trans women, particularly in California. Trans men, intersex and non-binary individuals get barely a nod, and anyone who exists outside of California is broadly ignored.

I also can’t bring myself to agree with one of Serano’s central assertions: That masculine and feminine behaviours exist regardless of culture and surroundings and that cis and trans women would mostly behave in a feminine manner even if never conditioned to do so. That, likewise cis and trans men would mostly behave in a masculine manner without being conditioned. I don’t buy that and I don’t think that there’s evidence for it. If there is, then Serano doesn’t provide it in this text.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be learned here. One of the sections I found more interesting was about how people exist according to different identities at different points in their life. Serano talks about being a feminine gay man, a cross-dresser, a boi and eventually a trans woman. She doesn’t worry about the transient nature of her previous identities, and nor should she, it seems to have been, for her, a part of growing up.

So, worth a read, and worth some careful thought, especially for anyone who’s totally unfamiliar with trans issues, but I do wonder if there are more recent, up-to-date texts that might be a better introduction for 2017.



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