Julia Serano, the author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (Seal Press, 2007) was recently in Chicago to present her thoughts on “Transsexual and Trans Feminine Perspectives on Sexism.”
The May 15 talk combined Serano’s critique of current discourse on transgender people with personal anecdotes illustrating what she considered a widespread misogyny and sexism—against transwomen in particular. Serano drew parallels between the heterosexism experienced by people in same-sex relationships and the misogyny experienced by female transsexual women who identified as feminine women. She identified heterosexism as the idea that same-sex relationships or attraction are unnatural, and misogyny as the idea that femininity is inferior to masculinity. In addition, Serano identified the concepts of “cissexuals”—those who are born into and maintain a particular gender identity—and defined “cissexism” as “the assumption that transsexual gender identities and sex embodiments are less natural and legitimate than cissexual ones.”
Serano was very specific in her use of these terms in order to delineate the ways in which terminology about the transgender experience fails to reflect the different kinds of oppression experienced by specific bodies. For instance, according to her, the term “transphobia” is useful in discussing hostility towards transgender people, but it can’t describe the invisible forms of misogyny experienced by transwomen who identify on the feminine spectrum. For Serano, such terms don’t adequately address the prevalence of gender norms that also intersect with society’s misogyny towards women, not just transgender women.
According to Serano, transwomen in particular experience misogyny even from cissexual feminists. She gave the example of a female psychiatrist who, at a conference where she declared her “feminist consciousness,” went on to deride her transwomen clients for their feminine hairstyles and clothing. Serano related another instance of a man who turned to his female partner and loudly proclaimed about the transwoman in front of him on the street, “Did you see all the shit she’s wearing?”
According to Serano, such moments are quite common and reveal that “transmisogyny is beyond the pale of misogyny.” She called for a more critical appraisal of contemporary queer theory because, according to her, its principles of gender and queer fluidity sometimes make these embodied moments of misogyny invisible. Serano also called for thinking about the ways in which transgender people exist at the intersections between class, race, and gender identity.