We asked members of our community to borrow new acquisitions from the library in exchange for a review. Here is Gabriela Adamczyk’s review of Whipping Girl (2007) by Julia Serano:

“Whipping girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” by Julia Serano (2007) is a study of a trans woman’s experience in the US at the beginning of the XXI century, which has been described by many as provocative, classic and feminist foundational text. In her book Serano asks a wide audience of fellow trans women and feminists, but also academics and people unfamiliar with the field, to reflect upon how the social attitudes towards trans women can be traced back to misogyny.

Among a plethora of her reflections, experiences, arguments and analyses of media, I found the following couple to be particularly compelling. Firstly, her coining of a new vocabulary to describe and shape the discourse around trans people, trans women in particular, is a truly valuable addition to the English language. Terms such as oppositional sexism, transmisogyny and subconscious sex allow for a clearer articulation of her arguments, which in turn accounts for both their soundness as well as a smooth read. Her writing style frames this lexicon into at times academic and analytical, and, at times, personal and intimate rhetoric. The combination of both of these points of view flows naturally throughout the book and allows the reader to fully grasp her points, as well as makes reading a pleasurable experience. Serano’s personal accounts allow the book to avoid the authoritative voice and bring her own persona closer to the reader. Ultimately, she creates a reading environment, which is simultaneously welcoming to individuals unfamiliar with the said discourse, but also demanding of reflections and a change of the narrative around trans women.

Secondly, another, particularly heated, debate stemming from this publication regards the ‘origins’ of gender formation. Serano considers both views of biological determinists as well as those in favour of viewing gender as solely a social construction, and positions herself in between the two. She argues that precisely due to the fact that trans people’s subconscious sex, i.e. intrinsic inclination towards one gender or the other, supports the thesis that gender isn’t entirely a social construction. In other words, in trans people’s inherent need, often present from a very early age, to be and express themselves as either masculine or feminine, suggests intrinsic qualities in the human consciousness which may direct individuals towards one or the other gender. In stating so, Serano argues that there must be some inclinations, unrelated to social expectations of gender expression, which propel certain, but not all, people to associate themselves with either femininity or masculinity.

However, she simultaneously acknowledges presence of people who find themselves in between the two categories for a variety of reasons. Even though her arguments clearly stem from a trans woman’s point of view, Serano doesn’t leave other groups unmentioned or doesn’t dismiss their experiences, but strongly asserts that they are not hers. Through building her case with her personal experiences, she introduces a sense of subjectivity, necessary in modern production of knowledge, and is honest with her readers about her point of view.

To conclude, I believe that “Whipping girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” is a fantastic read and undoubtedly deserves its spot as a foundational feminist text. Having read a bit of (intersectional) feminist theory before, “Whipping girl” wasn’t completely novel, but I still managed to gain a lot from Serano’s arguments and experiences. As trans perspectives are notoriously overlooked in both mainstream media and feminist movements, it’s crucial to make space form them in one’s own education. I also think that Serano does a splendid job of not only making arguments and expanding English vocabulary to convey the trans experience, but of bringing women together, which truly manifests the book’s activist nature.