For the month of May, we are reading Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, a writer, poet, performance artist, activist, and biologist. From 2003 to 2012, she was a research specialist at the University of California Berkeley. Whipping Girl is a collection of essays detailing "Serano's own experiences as a trans dyke in the first decade of the new millennium," many involving trans-misogyny, a term she coined to describe what happens when transphobia and misogyny meet. Serano writes, "When a trans person is ridiculed or dismissed not merely for failing to live up to gender norms, but for their expression of femaleness or femininity, they become the victim of of a specific form of discrimination: trans-misogny."
A provocative manifesto, Whipping Girl, tells the powerful story of Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist. Serano shares her experiences and observations—both pre- and post-transition—to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole.
Serano's well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. She exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive, and how this “feminine” weakness exists only to attract and appease male desire.
In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about transsexuality, Serano makes the case that today's feminists and transgender activist must work to embrace and empower femininity—in all of its wondrous forms.
- In Chapter 1, Julia discusses different terms used in the trans* community. Were there any terms or definitions that you were surprised by? Or disagreed with? Or challenged by?
- In Chapter 2, she discussed the media’s portrayal of trans people and the focus on superficial aspects of their gender identity. Do you think that those archetypes persist in the media today? Which did you find the most troubling? What did you think of the idea that cis people focus on the artificial elements of trans* gender identity as a way to devalue it?
- In Chapter 3, Julia talks about the controversy of before and after photos. What do you think about the desire to see the before pictures? Do you feel like you would be curious? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 4, Julia was generous enough to describe her transition. What did you take away from that description? Is there anything that stood out to you?
- In Chapter 5, she explains her idea of subconscious sex and how it relates to her experience. Can you explain her idea briefly? Do you identify with this? How do you think gender entitlement affects the way cis people interpret gender identity?
- In Chapter 6, she explains her Intrinsic Inclinations Model. Explain the model briefly. Do you agree or disagree? Explain. Could this model be universally applied? Why or why not.
- In Chapter 7, she talks about the interaction between psychology and trans people. What do you think of the perspective of the practitioners? What about the perspective of the patients? Why do you think there was the divide?
- In Chapter 8, she takes down cissexual privilege in an incredible way. What stood out to you? What surprised you? What did you identify with? What challenged you?
- In Chapter 9, she explains how academia and art uses trans people are a device to question conventional maleness and femaleness. What do you think of cis people using trans bodies to explain their own lives? What do you think that says about cis people?
- In Chapter 10, she explains experiential gender and why this challenges cis-women’s ideas of gender. What do you think when a transwoman says that she feels like a woman? Is there a common woman experience? Is there a natural experience to being a woman?
- In Chapter 11, she talks about people’s reactions to her not having bottom surgery and how it relates to our culture’s obsession with the penis. How do you think people’s focus on the penis relates to sexism? What do you think about the obsession with the penis vs the vilifications of the vagina?
- In Chapter 12, she talks about transwomen exclusionary policies in women only spaces. How did it feel seeing that so many prominent feminist thinkers are against transwomen? She suggests that a lot of the oppression transwomen experience has to do with oppositional sexism (a feminist issue) so why do you think feminists at the time were reluctant to take up the cause?
- In Chapter 13, she talks about the murder of Gwen Araujo and that she was accused of tricking her murderers into having sex with her. Julia goes on to explain that cis people view transwomen as liars about who they are. Why is it so dangerous to see transwomen as deceivers? Why is tolerance not enough?
- In Chapter 14, she writes about her experience of sexualisation as a transwoman. She identifies the dehumanizing effect of sexualisation; how do you think her experience differs from that of a cis-woman? How does this oppression delegitimize their identity?
- In Chapter 15, she talks about her desire to submit. What do you think about submission as it relates to sexuality? And as it relates to gender and femininity?
- In Chapter 16, she talks about love. What do you think of her love for transwomen? Can you identify?
- In Chapter 17, she writes about her unique perspective on male privilege and how that would contribute to feminism. What do you think of her perspective?
- In Chapter 18, girl stuff is dangerous. Agree or disagree? Why does girl stuff scare the shit out of men (e.g. purses, pads, etc)?
- In Chapter 19, she talks about the oppression of femininity. What do you think about her defense of femininity? What do you think of femininity? Do you experience oppression of your femininity?
- In Chapter 20, she expresses her views for the future of queer/trans activism. What is the view of the future? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have any ideas about the future for feminism and activism in general?
Discussion questions for Whipping Girl are written by Ann, of TOFemCo's Underwire Podcast. Feel free to use for your own personal discussions, but please credit us if you re-post or publish them elsewhere.