I went a bit crazy with ordering books a few weeks ago, overly enthusiastic and all from some slightly flawed thinking that because skiffy/fantasy books are ‘cheap’, I could order several in addition to a couple of non-fiction books. I’ll just leave that logic wherever it sunk to. As for the fiction stuff, the upcoming binge is probably my last for a while as there are too many things (like a history of black metal) due to be published that I desperately covet and want to stack on my shelves.
One of those I’d been waiting for with much anticipation was Julia Serano’s follow-up to Whipping Girl – A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, which I picked up a week and a bit ago. For an introduction, I shall say Serano is one of the most important writers on feminism, queer studies, identity politics, all subjects falling under the rubric of human rights.
As with the other couple of just-blogged books, I finished this one a couple of weeks ago, though they’ve remained on my ‘currently reading’ pile as a glowering reminded of their unblogged state. It’s a Saturday and a grey, damp, warmth-leeching 4º so with feet propped on heater I’m fulfilling my obligations to the printed word.
Serano and bell hooks would both be well-served being read together. What hooks elucidates in her ’70s and ’80s works on the structural racism and discrimination in Euro-American feminism, so does Serano on discrimination against trans women both in feminism, and queer and lesbian communities. As with hooks she is accused of being angry and divisive, or that her issues aren’t important to the central arguments of the groups. Perhaps this is why when hooks and Janet Mock met and talked recently it was obvious to both of them they were talking about the same thing.
Serano is angry. The first half of the book are essays written previously where she does not restrain her choice of words while describing systematic discrimination, bigotry, hatred as a bisexual trans women in supposedly progressive women’s communities. It’s definitely necessary, given that some of the most best-known names in feminism, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Elizabeth Grosz, Sheila Jeffries, Julie Bindel are all actively and extremely transphobic and transmisogynist, and Jeffries is soon to publish a ‘scholarly’ work equivalent to Raymond’s 1979 book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male.
Serano also describes and analyses the situation in the nominally queer lesbian feminist scene where acceptance and celebration of trans men is used to deflect from the animosity towards trans women, in a way reestablishing the separatism of radical feminists in the ’70s and ’80s, except this time it’s a deeply conflicted, essentialist and conservative “cocks are allowed provided you weren’t born with one”.
Against this, Serano who is also a biologist deals squarely to both the second-wave biological essentialism feminism and third-wave social constructionist feminism, which she defines in models of gender determinism and gender artifacturalism respectively, and proposes a feminism that would be self-regulating in regard to exclusionary or discriminatory tendencies as well as positioning itself within other socio-political struggles. What is tragic here is that thirty years ago bell hooks was writing much the same on ethnicity and feminism and instead of listening and acting, feminism went off on a crypto-nationalist bender for twenty years.
To reiterate, Julia Serano’s writing is some of the most important on feminism, trans issues, queer, bisexuality, intersectionality, generally an all-encompassing human rights thesis. As with bell hooks and Judith Butler (well aware of how ‘contentious’ she is thought of, go read Undoing Gender) (also well aware all three come from United States), without reading Serano any discussion of feminism and identity is fundamentally lacking and in all probability worthless.