Julia Serano addresses trans-feminism

Alex Ajayi

Julia Serano, the innovative trans-feminist activist, biologist and author of “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity,” presented a lecture Friday, April 24 titled, “Trans-Feminism: A Performance and Discussions.” The lecture was sponsored by GLOW, and offered a trans-feminist critique on the socialization of gender and sexuality.
Serano holds a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from Columbia University and is currently a researcher at UC-Berkeley in the field of evolutionary and developmental biology. When Serano is not involved in academia, she is a voice against trans-discrimination and a revolutionary theorist, who exposes the intersecting forces responsible for trans-phobia.
As a male-to-female trans-woman, Julia Serano offers a unique and transcendent perspective to the woman question. As a self-proclaimed “double agent,” Julia Serano has experienced male privilege as well as the institutionalized oppression of women.
Serano spent a significant portion of the lecture defining terms, challenging preconceived assumptions regarding gender and sexuality. As a spoken word artist, Serano understands the power in words; as a result, Serano and others in the trans community have embraced the use of the words “cissexual” and “cisgender,” which are synonymous with “nontransexual” and “nontransgender.”
According to Serano, these words serve an alternative to the assumption that transsexual identities and sexual embodiments are less natural and legitimate than cissexual ones.
In Serano’s view, feminism is not a monolithic entity. As such, she believes the inclusion of divergent perspectives, especially the trans-feminist perspective, into mainstream feminist ideology is an important prerequisite to putting an end to sexism and heterosexism, which marginalizes and oppresses those who do not fit into the institutionalized form of sexuality.
Similar to the feminist perspective of many women of color, trans-feminism stresses the importance of intersecting oppressions, whether they are misogyny, classism, racism or trans-phobia. According to Serano, until this occurs, there cannot be progress toward deflating a social perspective that places femininity inferior to masculinity.
Serano argued that trans-misogyny, sexism that specifically targets people on the male-to-female spectrum, testifies to the negative connotations of femininity in our society. According to this view, trans-men are assumed to transition to gain male privilege, while trans-women are assumed to transition for perverted sexual reasons.
Serano believes this view is legitimized by the societal view that sexuality revolves around the penis; consequently, the thought of man wanting a vagina is unfathomable in our phallic-obsessed culture.
Serano ended her presentation with three powerful spoken-word performances. The first, “Ophelia Revisited,” addressed the fetishization of trans people who undergo sexual reassignment surgery, as well as the pathologization of the vagina.
“Submissive Streak” was the second performance. In this very dark piece, Serano shared her self-loathing rape fantasies and previous perceptions based on the idea that being a woman is contingent on being a victim of male sexual oppression.
Her last piece challenged the feminist scholarly notion that gender is a social construction, seeming to argue that it is easy for non-trans people to fictionalize gender when they are the ones with the privilege.