Guest post: Reading Whipping Girl 5 – Who ISN’T Transgender?

Guest post by Lady Mondegreen

Time for another whipping of Whipping Girl. We’re on Chapter 1, Coming to Terms with Transgenderism and Transsexuality. As the title implies, it’s about terms, but Serano slips a lot of assumptions into the mix.

If you want to play along at home, we’re on pages 25 – 28.

Serano defines “transgender”–

While the word originally had a more narrow definition, since the 1990s it has been used primarily as an umbrella term to describe those who defy societal expectations and assumptions regarding femaleness and maleness;

Note that this definition would include Portia, Viola, Atticus Finch, Scout, me, and probably you, dear reader.

this includes people who are transsexual (those who live as members of the sex other than the one they were assigned at birth), intersex…and genderqueer…as well as those whose gender expression differs from their anatomical or perceived sex (including crossdressers, drag performers, masculine women, feminine men, and so on). I will also sometimes use the synonymous term gender-variant to describe all people who are considered by others to deviate from societal norms of femaleness and maleness.

The far-reaching inclusiveness of the word “transgender” was purposely designed accommodate the many gender and sexual minorities who were excluded from the previous feminist and gay rights movements.

Excluded? No evidence is offered for this claim.

At the same time, its broadness can be highly problematic in that it often blurs or erases the distinctiveness of its constituents.

You don’t say.

The broadness of the term transgender is a conceptual mess. It confuses issues that should be considered clearly.

For example, while male crossdressers and transsexual men are both male-identified transgender people, these groups face a very different set of issues with regard to managing their gender difference….

Thus, the best way to reconcile the nebulous nature of the word is to recognize that it is primarily a political term, one that brings together disparate classes of people to fight for the common goal of ending all discrimination based on sex/gender variance….

Pay attention to the work the political term “transgender” does in trans discourse. Speaking of which–

Another point that is often overlooked in discussions about transgenderism is that many individuals who fall under the transgender umbrella choose not to identify with the term

O really?

For example, many intersex people reject the term because their condition is about physical sex (not gender) and the primary issues they face (e.g., nonconsensual “normalizing” medical procedures during infancy or childhood) differ greatly from those of the greater transgender community.

Yet still Serano includes them within the “greater transgender community.” Here, buried in a dense forest of wordage, is an acknowledgement that intersex people are not trans and that they tend to reject the term.

This speaks to this ongoing tendency within trans politics to obfuscate the distinctions between sex and gender, as well as distinctions between actual physical differences or disorders and differences in personality or personal style.

The appropriation of intersex people’s reality and concerns is one example. When reading transactivists and their allies, pay attention to how often they use terms that belong properly to intersex people (e.g., the whole “assigned at birth” trope), and give mini-lectures about how not all people fit neatly into the biological categories male and female, however irrelevant that may be to the issue at hand.

Throughout this book, I will use the word trans to refer to people who (to varying degrees) struggle with a subconscious understanding or intuition that there is something “wrong” with the sex they were assigned at birth [!] and/or who feel that they should have been born as or wish they could be the other sex…For many trans people, the fact that their appearances or behaviors may fall outside of societal gender norms is a very real issue, but one that is often seen as secondary to the cognitive dissonance that arises from the fact that their subconscious sex does not match their physical sex. This *gender dissonance* is usually experienced as a kind of emotional pain or sadness that grows more intense over time, sometimes reaching a point where it can become debilitating.

Serano doesn’t go into detail here about her claim that “many trans people” suffer from gender dissonance because of their “subconscious sex”, but she does discuss her own experience later in the book. I will get to that in another post.

I look at Serano’s constant (and politically convenient) conflation of “sex” with “gender”, and the garbage-can definition of “transgender” (which can easily include everyone, everywhere), and I suspect that she, and the trans movement as a whole, care less about understanding specific disorders that cause people pain than they do about promoting an ideology and maximizing their political clout. The more distinctions – sex/gender, female/male, persistent brain glitch/self-expression – are blurred, the harder it becomes to scrutinize the movement’s claims. And the larger the number of people who can be included under the trans umbrella, the bigger the shady bandwagon.

Serano’s quest to include everyone and his little genderqueer sibling under the trans umbrella continues on page 28:

[M]any of the above strategies and identities that trans people gravitate toward in order to relieve their gender dissonance are also shared by people who do not experience any discomfort with regards to their subconscious and physical sex. For example, some male-bodied [Why not just say *male*?] crossdressers spend much of their lives wishing they were actually female, while others see their crossdressing as simply a way to express a feminine side of their personalities.

Yet again, Serano claims both groups as “transgender”. She continues,

And while many trans people identify as genderqueer because it helps them make sense of their own experience of living in a world where their understanding of themselves differs so greatly from the way they are perceived by society, other people identify as genderqueer because, on a purely intellectual level, they question the validity of the binary gender system.


Serano. People. You need to question more than the binary in “binary gender system”. You should not be promulgating and supporting gender by confusing it with sex.

As long as you do that, you are saying, “Yes, some people are male and belong to GENDER MALE (masculine), and some others are female and are belong to GENDER FEMALE (feminine), but me, I don’t.” You’ve simply made a show of opting out of it. As a privileged child of the West, this is easy for you, and it telegraphs your specialness to your friends, but the problem remains.

Let’s say there exists a binary system of stereotypes widely applied to the two most popular household pets. Something like this:

Cats are: cruel, selfish, beautiful

Dogs are: friendly, cheerful, stupid

Say you think these stereotypes are wrong, reductive, unfair, and harmful.

Say your response to this state of affairs is to proclaim


Tell me how that helps matters, because I don’t see it.

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