Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cissexism and Cis Privilege Revisited - Part 1: Who Exactly Does “Cis” Refer To?

For the record: this essay is intended to clarify misconceptions about, and to encourage more thoughtful usage of, cis terminology. Anyone who references this piece in their attempts to deny or eliminate use of the term "cis" (and its variants) is clearly misinterpreting or misrepresenting my views.

My first book Whipping Girl helped to popularize cis terminology—that is, language that uses the prefix “cis” to name the unmarked dominant majority (i.e., people who are not trans) in order to better articulate the ways in which trans people are marginalized in society. In 2009, I wrote a blog post called Whipping Girl FAQ on cissexual, cisgender, and cis privilege that explained my reasoning in forwarding cis terminology and addressed some of the more common arguments made against such language. That blog post ended with a section discussing some of the limitations of cis terminology and the concept of cis privilege—a topic that I will revisit in this two-part series.

Over the years, I have observed that many people now use cis terminology in a manner that is somewhat different from how I attempted to use it in Whipping Girl, thus leading to potential ambiguity—I will address such matters in this first essay. In the last section of this essay, I will suggest another possible model for describing how people are differentially viewed and treated with regards to gender non-conformity, and which may (in some cases) provide a more effective framework than a cisgender/transgender dichotomy.    

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Bi Visibility Day!

Given that today is the annual Bi Visibility Day, I figured I would mention that I am indeed bisexual. yay for me!

Also, I thought I'd mention that my recent book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive has a couple chapters about bisexual-umbrella activism, and about my coming out and my experiences as someone who is bisexual. One of these chapters, Bisexuality and Binaries Revisited, can be read (for free!) at the link. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

consider bringing Julia Serano out to your campus!

So a new academic year has begun, and as always, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to speak/perform at various colleges & universities this year!

If you are affiliated with a college - especially if you belong to a trans*, LGBTQIA+, women's, and/or feminist-related organization - please consider bringing me out to your campus. And even if you aren't associated with a college yourself, feel free to forward this onto people that you know who may be students or staff elsewhere.

For those interested parties, I have a recently updated booking webpage containing pertinent information, including short descriptions of some of my most frequently requested talks.

a PDF version of this booking info can be downloaded at this link:

Best wishes, -julia

Monday, September 8, 2014

Excluded excerpt of the day: What makes femininity “femme”?

My most recent book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive came out a year ago this month! To celebrate this fact, throughout this month I will post a series of excerpts and essays related to the book.

So today’s excerpt comes from the Excluded chapter “Reclaiming Femininity.” This chapter of the book started out as my keynote talk for the Femme 2008 Conference. And this final passage of the piece is meant to challenge certain notions about “femme” that sometimes proliferate within queer circles.
If there is one thing that all of us femmes have in common, it is that we all have had to learn to embrace our own feminine expression while simultaneously rejecting other people’s expectations of us. What makes femininity “femme” is not the fact that it is queer, or transgressive, or ironic, or performative, or the complement of butch. No. What makes our femininity “femme” is the fact that we do it for ourselves. It is for that reason that it is so empowering. And that is what makes us so powerful.
As femmes, we can do one of two things with our power: We can celebrate it in secret within our own insular queer communities, pat ourselves on the back for being so much smarter and more subversive than our straight feminine sisters. Or we can share that power with them. We can teach them that there is more than one way to be feminine, and that no style or expression of femininity is necessarily any better than anyone else’s. We can teach them that the only thing fucked up about femininity is the dismissive connotations that other people project onto it. But in order to that, we have to give up the self-comfort of believing that our rendition of femme is more righteous, or more cool, or more subversive than anyone else’s.
I don’t think that my femme expression, or anyone else’s femme expressions, are in and of themselves subversive. But I do believe that the ideas that femmes have been forwarding for decades—about reclaiming femininity, about each person taking the parts of femininity that resonate with them and leaving behind the rest, about being femme for ourselves rather than for other people, about the ways in which feminine expression can be tough and active and bad-ass and so on—these ideas are powerful and transformative.
I think that it’s great to celebrate femme within our own queer communities, but we shouldn’t merely stop there. We need to share with the rest of the world the idea of self-determined and self-empowered feminine expression, and the idea that feminine expression is just as legitimate and powerful as masculine expression. The idea that femininity is inferior and subservient to masculinity intersects with all forms of oppression, and is (I feel) the single most overlooked issue in feminism. We need to change that, not only for those of us who are queer femmes, but for our straight cis sisters who have been disempowered by society’s unrealistic feminine ideals, for our gender-variant and gender-non-conforming siblings who face disdain for defying feminine expectations and/or who are victims of trans-misogyny, and also for our straight cis brothers, who’ve been socialized to avoid femininity like the plague, and whose misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and so on, are driven primarily by their fear of being seen as feminine. While I don’t think that my femme expression is subversive, I do believe that we together as femmes have the power to truly change the world.
More excerpts to come! And you can find out more about the book (including reviews, interviews, and more excerpts) at my Excluded webpage.

(note: this piece originally appeared in Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies, ed. Anne Enke, Temple University Press, 2012).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Excluded excerpt of the day: Proud to be a trans woman

So my most recent book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive came out a year ago this month! To celebrate this fact, throughout this month I will post a series of excerpts and essays related to the book.

So today’s excerpt comes from the first full chapter in the book, called “On the Outside Looking In.” It is about my experience at Camp Trans in 2003, back during a time when most queer/trans spaces (including that space) tended to be dominated by trans male/masculine folks and cis queer women (this is still sometimes true today, albeit less so than it used to be). The excerpt is from the very end of the piece, and takes place at the end of an emotional and often tumultuous week (for me personally, at least), and immediately after a Camp Trans performance event in which I performed my spoken word piece Cocky.

And after releasing all of this pent-up tension and frustration, I had one of those rare moments of clarity. It happened just after my performance, when one of my new friends, Lauren, came over to give me a hug. She said, “Your piece made me proud to be a trans woman.” And her words were so moving because I had never heard them spoken before. “Proud to be a trans woman.” And as I looked around the camp at all of the female-assigned queer women and folks on the FTM spectrum, I realized that in some ways I am very different from them—not because of my biology or socialization, but because of the direction of my transition and the perspective it has given me.

I am a transsexual in a dyke community where most women have not had to fight for their right to be recognized as female—it is merely something they’ve taken for granted. And I am a woman in a segment of the trans community dominated by folks on the FTM spectrum who have never experienced the special social stigma that is reserved for feminine transgender expression and for those who transition to female. My experiences as a trans woman have given me a valid and unique understanding of what it means to be both female and feminine—a perspective that many women here at Michigan seem unable or unwilling to comprehend.

At Camp Trans, I learned to be proud that I am a trans woman. And when I describe myself with the word “trans,” it does not necessarily signify that I transgress the gender binary, but that I straddle two identities—transsexual and woman—that others insist are in opposition to each other. And I will continue to work for trans woman–inclusion at Michigan, because this is my dyke community too. And I know that it will not be easy, and plenty of people will try to make me feel like an alien in my own community. But I will take on their prejudices with my own unique perspective because sometimes you see things more clearly when you’ve been made to feel like you are on the outside looking in.

(note: this chapter was originally written to be a spoken word piece, and video excerpts of my performance of it in 2005 (which includes the above passage) can be found here

More excerpts to come! And you can find out more about the book (including reviews, interviews, and more excerpts) at my Excluded webpage.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Excluded excerpt of the day: New Ways of Speaking

So my most recent book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive came out a year ago this month! To celebrate this fact, throughout this month I will post a series of excerpts and essays related to the book.

I figured that it would be best to begin with an excerpt (from Chapter 12) that explains what drove me to write the book:

As countless writers and activists have chronicled, and as my own essays in the previous section of this book attest to, exclusion is a recurring problem in feminist and queer movements, organizations, and spaces. Whether unconscious or overt, exclusion always leads to the same end result: Many individuals who wish to participate are left behind, and the few who remain often bask in the misconception that they are part of a unified, righteous movement. To put it another way, exclusion inevitably leads to far smaller movements with far more narrow and distorted agendas.
Those of us who face exclusion within feminism or queer activism will often focus our efforts on challenging the specific isms that we believe are driving our exclusion. In my case, this has led me to spend much of the last decade critiquing cissexism, trans-misogyny, masculine-centrism, and monosexism within the queer and feminist spaces I have participated in. Others have focused their efforts on challenging heterosexism, racism, classism, ableism, ageism, and sizeism within these movements. All of this is important work, to be sure. But honestly, sometimes I feel like we are all playing one giant game of Whac-A-Mole—as soon as we make gains challenging a particular type of exclusion, another type arises or becomes apparent. So while we may make significant inroads in challenging certain isms, as a whole, the phenomenon of exclusion continues unabated.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bringing an end to the “end of gender”

So next month will be the one-year anniversary of my book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive being released, and I will be celebrating by posting small excerpts of some of my favorite paragraphs and passages from the book on my blog over the course of September.

One of the passages I was planning to quote is very germane to the latest round of TERF debates, so I am posting it today instead.

Radical feminists who are opposed to trans people repeatedly offer this justification: They are trying to bring on the “end of gender” whereas trans people “reinforce gender.” Throughout Excluded, I eviscerate the “reinforcing trope” and how it is arbitrarily used as a tool within activism to exclude minorities/marginalized subpopulations within movements (including lesbians in the early days of radical feminism).

And in the following passage from the book, I point out how ridiculously vague and arbitrary such “end of gender” claims really are.