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February 20, 2024 24 mins

Mia and Gare talk with Dr. Julia Serano, the author of Whipping Girl, about the forthcoming 3rd edition of the book and its wide ranging impact on how we think and talk about trans people

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Al Zone Media.

Speaker 2 (00:05):
Welcome to dick It app and here, a podcast about
things falling apart and putting it back together again. I'm
Mia Wong, I'm with Garrison, and it is my singular
honor and pleasure to introduce our guest, doctor Julia Serrano.
She is the author of many books, including Excluded, Making
Feminists and queer Movements More Inclusive, Sex Stop, How Society

(00:26):
Sexualizes Us and how we can fight back, Outspoken, a
Decade of transgender activism and Transfeminism, and most famously, Whipping Girl,
a new edition of which is coming out in March.
Doctor Serrano, Welcome to the show.

Speaker 3 (00:39):
Hi, thanks for having me.

Speaker 2 (00:41):
I'm really really I'm really happy you can join us.
So okay. Whipping Girl, I think is really the one
of quietly the most influential books of the twenty first century,
to the extent that in kind of classic trans woman fashion,
I don't think I don't think people realized that the
ideas that it introduced have an origin. So for people

(01:04):
who haven't read the book, and you should, this book
is great. I guarantee you have seen its influence. If
you've ever heard someone like who's not trans referred to
as sis, like, that's that's from this book. The concept
of misgendering is also from this book. The word trans
misogyny like also from this book. And this I think

(01:26):
gets at something from the twenty fifteen second edition preface
that you wrote, which is something I've been wondering about,
is what is it like to sort of experience writing
a book and have it just like ripple across society
like this.

Speaker 3 (01:41):
Yeah, it's uh.

Speaker 4 (01:43):
I was very much hoping, and you know, as I
was writing it, I was hoping that I thought that
it would resonate with a lot of trans female and
transfeminine people, and I hope trans communities more generally, and
the book. This is something that a lot of times
people who pick up the book now, like the twenty
twenties don't necessarily realize, is that nobody was reading anything

(02:04):
about trans people outside of feminists and LGBTQ plus communities,
and so I was basically just speaking to those groups,
and I thought it would resonate with some people. But yeah,
definitely it kind of went out into the world and
did a bunch of stuff that I wasn't necessarily expecting.
And I'm very glad that the book has kind of

(02:27):
touched a lot of people's lives and changed, you know,
kind of societal understanding and quote unquote discourses about trans people.

Speaker 5 (02:37):
So yeah, it must be kind of bizarre, like being
twenty years ago writing about you know, caniche term like
sis and now the richest man in the world thinks
it's like the most evil word.

Speaker 4 (02:53):
Yeah, it's quite bizarre, and I do want to definitely
kind of clear this up, but I kind of make
this clear in the preface. So I didn't invet like
sis versus trans like a that's like a prefix that
has existed a long time. And I've since seen other
people like point out, oh, this person was using it
in nineteen ninety something, or some German writer like coined

(03:18):
cis vestism or something like back a million years ago.

Speaker 3 (03:22):
So what I will say is that when I when
I put out the book, I was.

Speaker 4 (03:25):
Inspired by Emi Koyama, who was and is an awesome
activist intersex activists who's written a lot of really influential
trans related essays over the years, And it was from
her blog post that was the first time I saw
sis and trans and the idea of cis sexism. And
at the time it was while I was writing the book,

(03:46):
and it really I was like, oh my god, this
is kind of the overall idea. I was talking about
all these different facets of basically double standards between trans
and non trans people, and so I kind of grabbed
on to it, and I was really worried about it
actually because nobody, almost nobody was using those terms. It
was very niche at the time, and so the book

(04:07):
popularized that language. And so now it is kind of
funny every once in a while seeing yes overreactions by
SIS people to the idea of of SIS being a
slur or whatever. So yeah, and so yeah, so that's
definitely something that is kind of is the one thing
I one thing I did coin in the book that

(04:29):
has kind of also taken a life on its own
is trans misogyny. So that is something that kind of
originated with this book and particularly a chap book that
I wrote in two thousand and five that some of those.

Speaker 3 (04:41):
Essays became chapters of the book.

Speaker 4 (04:43):
And yeah, and so there are other ideas that kind
of are out there, Like I think it was one
of the first. I think it was the first book
to talk about like the idea of SIS privilege. I
misgendering is an idea was out there, but I kind
of dove into it a little bit deeper. So yeah,
so they're definitely things I was doing at the time
that I didn't know whether they'd be to abstract or

(05:05):
how they'd be taken up, and so, yes, it's been
very interesting.

Speaker 2 (05:10):
Yeah, I wanted to talk about misgendering a bit because
I think it's become this word that just means not
saying someone's pronouns correctly, and I think that's, at the
very best, like an incredibly reductionist and simplified version of
the analysis that you were presenting. So I guess I
have two questions here. One can you briefly sort of

(05:30):
talk about what you were trying to get at when
you sort of did your analysis of the process of gendering?
And two, what do you think about the way that
it's kind of become flattened into this I don't know,
kind of weirdly narrow thing in modern discourse.

Speaker 4 (05:47):
Sure, and a lot of the misgendering definitely dovetails with
the idea of passing, and a lot of my kind
of diving into it in a particular way I came
from critiques that I had other trans people had as well,
but I kind of you know, put them together in
a particularly in the Dismantling I think it's dismantling Sexual

(06:09):
Privileged chapter where I kind of go through all these
steps that lead to miss gendering, because I think people
talk about trans people passing and also the people will
talk about other marginalized groups passing is whatever dominant majority group.
The term obviously had long been used with regards to
people of color passing as white and in kind of

(06:31):
white racist you know, us and other societies. So it's
an old term, and a big problem with it is
that it makes it sound like we're doing something active,
that trans people are actively trying to deceive other people,
with huge scare quotes around the word deceive. And I
really wanted to highlight to people that actually all of

(06:54):
us very unconsciously and very compulsively gender every single person
we meet, or at least that's how we're socialized to be,
and you know, you can work towards getting, you know,
overcoming that, but I wanted to really highlight the fact
that we see people, we automatically gender them, and that
puts people who do not quite who your presumptions are

(07:19):
wrong about it puts us in difficult situations.

Speaker 3 (07:22):
It's a double bind.

Speaker 4 (07:23):
Where do you reveal what you supposedly really are or
do you just allow people to read you that way?
And it works out very differently, for instance, between trans
and say cis gay people, because when cis gay people
talk about passing is straight. Their passing is something that
they know that they are not. Whereas for a lot

(07:45):
of trans people, if people read me as a woman
and I understand myself to be a woman, there's it's
a very different dynamic because it's not like I'm not
hiding anything, but people are presuming what I'm really passing
as is I'm passing assist and people are assuming I'm
this gender when the trans is the thing that I

(08:06):
might need to or feel like I need to clear up,
or other people might put pressure on me to either
tell them that I'm trans or be accused of deceiving them.
So that's a little bit of kind of how I
was approaching it when I started working on that idea
and really stressing the idea of you can't understand miss

(08:28):
gendering unless you understand that we make assumptions all the time.
We gender people very actively, and you know, so trans
people are often just reacting to that and dealing with
that double bind.

Speaker 2 (08:44):
Yeah, and this is something that I think is interestingly
discussed in the book about like kind of this this
issue with some of the sort of prevailing gender theories
which thought of which think about sort of like Naitian
gender is pure performance. But you know, and this is
I think, like the argument that you were making that

(09:06):
I think is really interesting is that something that I
think is is very obvious to trans people is that
so much of gender is how people perceive you and
how you know and stuff that like you don't have
any control over. It's how people sort of gender you.
It's how people like construct a gender around you in
ways that you don't really have control over.

Speaker 4 (09:27):
M Yeah, and that was a big thing. So in
kind of I was writing the book in the mid
two thousands, and so the nineteen nineties is when Judith
Butler publishes Gender Trouble, which Butler never said all genders
performance are all genders drag, Yeah, but that is but

(09:48):
that those are like slogans or sound bites that other
people took from their book, right, and they were very
popular at the time. There's also there's a famous sociological
article about doing gender, and so people were very focused
on the way in which we create gender by doing

(10:09):
it particular ways, and a lot of the slogans within
trans communities were sort of like, oh, well, you know,
I just have to do my gender differently, like more transgressively,
and that will like tear down all of gender. And
I felt that there was you know, that is an
aspect of things, and most of us, whether trans or cists,

(10:31):
most of us have had the experience of maybe trying to.

Speaker 3 (10:36):
Perform our genders in a particular way in.

Speaker 4 (10:38):
Order to like, you know, not you know, in order
in order to get by in the world, in order
to not be harassed by other people.

Speaker 3 (10:48):
So we've all had that experience.

Speaker 4 (10:49):
So while that's true, there's the other partner of that dance,
and that's perception, and we're all perceiving people very actively,
and we're like projecting our ideas and meanings onto them.
And I felt like that was being under discussed at
the time, and that was not only a huge part
of Whipping Girl, but that's become a part of a

(11:12):
lot of my other books, like including my most recent book,
Sextup how society sexualizes us.

Speaker 3 (11:17):
And how we can fight back.

Speaker 4 (11:20):
One way that I would describe that book is it's
talking about sex and sexuality not from what people do,
but from how we perceive and interpret sex and sexuality,
because there are a lot of unconscious ideas, often really
horrible ideas, really hierarchical ideas that are kind of built
into the way we view the world. And interrogating that

(11:43):
and so, yeah, that was a very big part of
both Whopen Girl and then my writings since then.

Speaker 2 (11:49):
Yeah, and I think I think that is something where
things have gotten better in terms of in terms of
how we think about gender, which I don't know, like
things aren't perfect, but it definitely it definitely improved things
a lot. Agreed, we're going to take an ad break
and when we come back, we're talking trans misogyny. We're back. Yeah.

(12:22):
So another thing I wanted to sort of talk about
was I think, in like exactly the opposite process that
happened to misgendering, trans misogyny has become a lot more
expansive than your original sort of kind of narrow conception
of it. And I think this has been changing a lot,

(12:42):
especially in the last about half decade or so. So
I was wondering what you think about the way that
this concept has kind of taken on a life of
its own in recent years and what it's been doing since.

Speaker 3 (12:55):
Yeah.

Speaker 4 (12:55):
So I feel like trans misogyny that there are a
lot of different dialogues and discourses about it coming, like
people coming from different perspectives with it, and some people
feeling like the word is doing things that I never
suggested it was doing.

Speaker 3 (13:14):
It's kind of.

Speaker 4 (13:15):
Hard to know like where to actually come in on this,
but for me, when I was first writing about it,
I was first just noticing that a lot of the
quote unquote transphobia that I was facing when people know
as a trans woman was actually a lot of it
was just misogyny, and a lot of it targeted like
kind of my femininity rather than my transness, And so

(13:41):
I wanted to write about that, and kind of the
way that I framed it in the book was, which
I think is a really useful kind of model for
thinking about it, is that there most of the types
of sexism that feminists have described over the many years
fall into two sort of camps, one of them being

(14:01):
oppositional sexism, which is the idea that men and women
are kind of perfectly opposite, mutually exclusive sexes that have
different interests and attributes and desires, and so a lot
of transphobia and homophobia are kind of like built into
this idea that men and women are completely distinct. And
then the other one is traditional sexism, which is the

(14:23):
idea that femalists and femininity are less legitimate than malness
and masculinity. And a lot of CIS feminists have kind
of viewed all of that as just sexism, right, But
when you break it down like that, it makes it
clear that the double bind that a lot of feminists
have talked about is actually kind of these two different

(14:45):
forms of sexism. So if a CIS woman acts appropriately femininely,
so appropriate with scare quotes. If a SIST woman acts femininely,
she'll be seen as appropriate, but she'll be dismissed because
femininity is dismissed in our culture, So that's the way
that she'll be delegitimized. Whereas if she acts in ways

(15:07):
that are coded as masculine, and if she acts assertive
or aggressive, then people will malign her for being kind
of a barrant or deviant, right, And so oppositional sexism
helps keep traditional sexism in place because you can say
that malness and masculinity or superior. But that only works

(15:28):
if you can also make a clear distinction between you know,
those people and people are female and feminine, and so
I think this plays out differently. And I want to
be really clear about this, because some people have interpreted
trans misogyny to mean that trans mail and trans masculine
people don't experience misogyny, which is something I have never said.

(15:48):
And obviously the fact that oppositional sexism is a form
of sexism, and obviously trans maild transmasculine people experience that.

Speaker 3 (15:58):
But also depending upon on how.

Speaker 4 (16:00):
You're viewed by other people, I feel like the same
double pind that affects this woman affects transmeild.

Speaker 3 (16:07):
Trans masculine people differently.

Speaker 4 (16:09):
Where there's this tendency, like in a lot of anti
trans discourses to dismiss trans masculine, especially transmasculine youth as
being merely girls quote unquote who are like you know,
misled or seduced by gender ideology, right, And there's a
lot of real anti feminine and anti misogynistic ideas in there.

(16:32):
In addition to the fact that it misgenders transmeild trans
masculine people. And then if trans maild trans masculine people,
when they experience transphobia, there's often you know, like they're
seen as deviant for kind of breaking that role, but

(16:52):
often the malness or their masculinity themselves are not, you know,
denigrated in the same way, because being male, being masculine
are seen as good in our culture. It's just that
if you trans male, trans masculine, it's like, well, you're
quote unquote just a woman, so you can't do it.
So I think it plays out in this very complex

(17:15):
way for a lot of trans mail trans masculine people,
I think for trans female and transfeminine people, because our
crossing of oppositional sexism also involves us kind of moving
towards the female towards the feminine, that there's kind of
those two forces intersect in a way so that it's

(17:36):
like exacerbated. And some of the ways I talk about
this in whomen Girl is that, well, we live in
a world where masculinity is seen as natural and femininity
is seen as artificial, and since trans people are also
seen as artificial compared to this gender people, a lot
of times we're viewed as doubly artificial. Furthermore, the idea
that like women are seen as sex objects, men aren't

(18:01):
seen as sex objects. Often are transitions or gender transgressions
towards a female towards a feminine are presumed to be
driven by sexual motives that can play out in all
sorts of ways. Whether this is the idea that we're
like hypersexual or promiscuous, or that we want to be
sexualized by other people, or you can see it a

(18:22):
lot with the kind of the transgender predator is often
coded as like a man who either has some kind
of fetish or perversion or is just literally deceiving people
to get into women's restrooms to do something horrific.

Speaker 3 (18:38):
So those are some of the ways that it plays out.
I feel that.

Speaker 4 (18:42):
Sometimes people view it in a cut or dried way
that either they'll assume that trans misogyny means that transnal,
trans massacuine people don't experience misogyny, which again is not
what that's about. Or sometimes people will try to make
really clear distinctions. There's kind of language like trans misogyny

(19:03):
affected versus trans misogyny exempt. Are the terms yeah, TME
and TMA, which are not terms I've used and which
or that I didn't coin them.

Speaker 3 (19:15):
They're not in the book.

Speaker 4 (19:16):
And I think that when I first saw that language,
and I've seen people use it in a way that
appreciates the fact that some people are non binary, so
it's a non identity based way. Sometimes this can play
out in a really cut or dried sort of manner
that you know, sometimes you know, whether it's intended this

(19:40):
way or not, it can make it seem that, like,
you know, just boiling down a really complex experience, people's
complex experiences with different types of sexism into some people
are privileged and some people are marginalized, which I think
is a more general problem that happens kind of throughout
all social justice movement.

Speaker 5 (20:01):
So yeah, and trans people are not alien to having
complex experiences be boiled down to three and four letter acronyms.

Speaker 3 (20:10):
So yeah, I mean I.

Speaker 4 (20:15):
Did this in Twitter form, so it was like a thread,
so like now, people can't access threads unless you.

Speaker 3 (20:23):
Have an account with Twitter. And it's from a couple
of years ago.

Speaker 4 (20:26):
But one of the things that I talked about was
I wrote this essay about ten years ago about how
sis and trans is kind of a useful. Those are
useful terms, but sometimes people fall in between CIS and trans,
and sometimes they can be used in a way to
talk about different double standards, like CIS people are treated
one way, TRANS people are treated another.

Speaker 3 (20:48):
But sometimes it can be used in like a sort.

Speaker 4 (20:49):
Of reverse discourse way, where it's like, you know, SIS
people of all the privilege, TRANS people of none of
the privilege, and it can be used to kind of
create this strict dichotomy that ends up excluding and invisibilizing
some people's experiences. And I feel the same thing is
happening with TME and TMA. So I don't think that

(21:10):
those terms need to necessarily be like, I don't think
there's anything bad about those terms per se in and
of themselves, but I think sometimes they can be used
in ways. And part of why I reference this this
SYS and trans essay that I wrote many years ago.
It appears in my book Outspoken. I forget the complete

(21:31):
title right now, which is but the reason why I
bring that up is so sometimes what happens is that
when people learn about sexism CIS, people might be like, oh,
I face the sexism right if I'm a woman and
I don't shave my legs, I'm facing s sexism, and
so then trans people say, yeah, but it kind of

(21:53):
plays out differently for us, And so sometimes in order
to stop people from kind of making those claims, which
I think it is true that you know, a woman
not shaving their legs, or if a man decides to
put on a dress one day, regardless of whether they're
sis or trans, they could experience says sexism or transphobia,

(22:14):
but it plays out differently for people who are actually members
of that marginalized group. And so then the marginalized group
makes the distinction even sharper, and it just kind of
becomes this escalating situation where the language and kind of
battles over it become even more intense. In a recent piece,

(22:34):
one of the most recent pieces, if you go to
like my medium site where my essays usually are now
is it talks about the trans mass versus trans discourse
in terms of what I call the cultural feminist doom loop,
where the doom loop refers to kind of these ideas
where everyone like both sides are trying to talk about

(22:58):
the reason why their experiences are legit, and then that
seems as though the other sides are not legitimate, and
then that kind of cascades in a way that ends
up not being very productive but takes up a lot
of energy on.

Speaker 3 (23:14):
Places like Twitter.

Speaker 2 (23:16):
Yeah, I think. I think that's something We've still seen
about one trillion times variety of toxic ways. But what
isn't toxic is the new third edition of Whipping Girl
coming out in March with you can ask your local
bookstore to pre order now and Yeah, join us tomorrow
for our discussion with doctor Serrano of the Anatomy of

(23:37):
Moral Panics. This is when it could happen here. Trans
people are great.

Speaker 1 (23:46):
It could happen here is a production of cool Zone Media.
For more podcasts from cool Zone Media, visit our website
polzonemedia dot com or check us out on the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can
find sources for it could Happen here, updated in month
at coolzonemedia dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening.

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