Julia Serano

American writer and activist

Julia Michelle Serano (born 1967) is an American writer, spoken-word performer, trans-bi activist, and biologist. She is known for her transfeminist books Whipping Girl, Excluded, and Outspoken.

Julia Serano in 2018



Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

  • Many cissexual people seem to have a hard time accepting the idea that they too have a subconscious sex — a deep-rooted understanding of what sex their bodies should be. I suppose that when a person feels right in the sex they were born into, they are never forced to locate or question their subconscious sex, to differentiate it from their physical sex. In other words, their subconscious sex exists, but it is hidden from their view. They have a blind spot. (5 - Blind Spots: On Subconscious Sex and Gender Entitlement)

Leftist Critiques of Identity Politics (2018)

Leftist Critiques of Identity Politics (February 25, 2018), Medium
  • There are numerous forms of marginalization that exist in our society: racism, classism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and so on. If you happen to be on the wrong side of any of these hierarchies, you will face many inequities and injustices. ... Some people are single-issue activists that are only concerned about a single form of marginalization, usually one that impacts them personally. Single-issue perspectives create a distorted view of the world, and lead activists to propose solutions that will help some people while hurting others and leaving countless more behind. ... In contrast, others of us take a more intersectional approach, recognizing that all forms of marginalization intersect with and exacerbate one another, and that we must challenge all of them simultaneously.
  • People usually gravitate toward single-issue activism because they are unconcerned about forms of marginalization that do not personally impact them.
  • The “principal contradiction” refers to the idea that there is some original or primary form of oppression that gives rise to all the others. ... Of course, there is really only one purpose for making such a claim: to persuade others to join you in your single-issue activist campaign, under the pretense that once your pet oppression is eliminated, all other forms of marginalization will subsequently fall by the wayside too. But the thing is, there is simply no evidence for a principal contradiction. ... There is no primary contradiction, just lots of different hierarchies that people may or may not endorse.
  • Here is how I describe the concept of privilege to skeptics: Do you believe that marginalized/minority groups face discrimination and are disadvantaged as a result? If the answer is yes, then another equally valid way of describing the same situation is to say that dominant/majority groups are relatively advantaged in comparison. “Privilege” simply refers to those advantages. One of the reasons why activists frame such matters in terms of privilege is to illustrate how *all of us* are impacted by unjust hierarchies and systems, even if it is not always apparent to us.
  • Once a person acknowledges that they possess some form of privilege, they are more likely to accept the reality that they are not in any way objective about the form of marginalization in question
  • I mentioned at the outset that I dislike the term "identity politics." This is because the phrase seems to suggest that our identities (rather than the marginalization we face) is the most salient feature of our activism. Indeed, this is probably why those who oppose IP-umbrella activism seem so fond of calling it “identity politics” in the first place. [...] In contrast, within IP circles, the term is often reserved for a specific brand of single-issue activism that completely precludes perspectives from those who do not share the identity in question.
  • Accusations that IP is inherently “narcissistic” and “divisive” have become quite prevalent among EC-centric leftists lately. [...] In addition to disregarding all forms of non-EC marginalization, accusations that IP activism is inherently “narcissistic” or "divisive" severely confuse cause and effect. After all, I’m not the one who is “obsessed” with my identity. [...] It’s the people who harbor anti-trans attitudes who are obsessed with my identity, not the other way around! While I would absolutely love to live in a world where my trans identity was not especially notable or worth calling attention to, these people insist on making an issue out of it. Furthermore, by making a distinction between transgender people (who they single out for discrimination) and non-transgender people (whose identities and experiences they respect), it is they (not us) who are the ones being divisive. Once we acknowledge this causality, it becomes clear that IP is not an expression of navel-gazing or narcissism, but rather a form of organized resistance against those who are actively trying to delegitimize and disenfranchise us.
  • I would love to live in a world where the word “transgender” serves the same simple purpose — a mere sharing of information about my life experiences — but unfortunately, it doesn’t. On top of being a descriptor, the word "transgender" is also politically loaded. But that is not my, nor other trans people’s, fault. As discussed in the last section, there’s a long history of people hating, ostracizing, and criminalizing us, and much of this history took place before words like "transgender," "transphobia," and analogous terms even existed. In fact, those terms were created in response to that marginalization, not the other way around. And even if I were to relinquish my trans identity, those people would still exist and continue to discriminate against me for supposedly being a sinner, or freak, or deviant, or for being delusional, or whatever other rationales they might concoct in order to justify their bigotry.

Debunking "Trans Women Are Not Women" Arguments (2017)

Debunking "Trans Women Are Not Women" Arguments (June 27, 2017), Medium
  • Women who insist that trans women are not women often object to being called “cis women” under the false assumption that it somehow undermines their femaleness — this is not at all the purpose of this language. The sole purpose of cis terminology is to name the unmarked majority (similar to how one might refer to white women, or heterosexual women, or able-bodied women, etc.). In other words, referring to someone as “cisgender” simply means that they have not had a transgender experience.
  • Trans women differ greatly from one another. Perhaps the only thing that we share in common is a self-understanding that there was something wrong with our being assigned a male sex at birth and/or that we should be female instead. While some cisgender people refuse to take our experiences seriously, the fact of the matter is that transgender people can be found in virtually every culture and throughout history; current estimates suggest that we make up 0.2 – 0.3% of the population [or possibly more]. [...] In other words, we simply exist.
  • Like women more generally, many trans women are feminists. Feminism and transgender activism are not in any way incompatible or mutually exclusive. As feminists who acknowledge intersectionality, we believe that we should be fighting to end all forms of sexism and marginalization — this includes both traditional sexism and transphobia. Forcing trans women into a separate group that is distinct from cis women does not in any way help achieve feminism’s central goal of ending sexism.
  • Claims that trans women are not women often rely on essentialist (and therefore incorrect) assumptions about biology. For instance, people might argue that trans women are not “genetically female,” despite the fact that we cannot readily ascertain anybody’s sex chromosomes. Indeed, most people have never even had their sex chromosomes examined, and those that do are sometimes surprised by the results. Other common appeals to biology center on reproduction — e.g., stating that trans women have not experienced menstruation, or cannot become pregnant. This ignores the fact that some cisgender women never menstruate and/or are unable to become pregnant. Claims about genitals are similarly problematic: Women’s genitals vary greatly, and as with chromosomes and reproductive capabilities, we cannot readily see other people’s genitals in everyday encounters. If you and I were to meet, should I refuse to recognize or refer to you as a woman unless you show me your genitals? And frankly, what could possibly be more sexist than reducing a woman to what’s between her legs? Isn’t that precisely what sexist men have been doing to women for centuries on end?
  • While gender socialization is quite real, all of us are capable of overcoming or transcending the socialization that we experienced as children. And gender socialization doesn’t simply stop when one reaches adulthood: All of us are constantly facing gender-related social pressures, expectations, and obstacles throughout our lives. If you believe that these statements are true for cis women, then they also must be true for trans women.
  • Trans women do not transition out of a desire to be feminine; we transition out of a self-understanding that we are or should be female (commonly referred to as gender identity).
  • Trans women who are conventionally feminine are not in any way asserting or insinuating that all women should be conventionally feminine, or that femininity is all there is to being a woman. Like cis women, trans women dress the way we do in order to express ourselves, not to critique or caricature other women.
  • As a trans woman, I will be the first to admit that I cannot possibly know what any other woman experiences or feels on the inside. But the thing is, the trans-women-aren’t-women crowd cannot possibly know what any other woman experiences or feels either! Every woman is different. We share some overlapping experiences, but we also differ in every possible way. Every trans woman I know acknowledges this diversity. In contrast, it’s the cis women who attempt to exclude us who seem to have a singular superficial stereotypical notion of what constitutes a woman, or of what women experience.
  • Trans women are women. We may not be “exactly like” cis women, but then again, cis women are not all “exactly like” one another either. But what we do share is that we all identify and move through the world as women. And because of this, we all regularly face sexism. That is what we should be focusing on and working together to challenge. And as I said at the outset, forcing trans women into a separate group that is distinct from cis women does not in any way help achieve feminism’s central goal of ending sexism. In fact, it only serves to undermine our collective cause.

Transgender People and “Biological Sex” Myths (2017)

Transgender People and “Biological Sex” Myths (July 17, 2017), Medium
  • People tend to harbor essentialist beliefs about sex — that is, they presume that each sex category has an underlying "essence" that makes them what they are. This is what leads people to assume that trans women remain "biologically male" despite the fact that many of our sex characteristics are now female. However, there is no “essence” underlying sex; it is simply a collection of sexually dimorphic traits. Some people will presume that sex chromosomes must be this "essence," even though we cannot readily see them, plus there are non-XX or XY variants. Others presume that genitals are this "essence" (probably because they are used to determine our birth-assigned and legal sex), although they can vary too, and may eventually change (e.g., if one undergoes sex reassignment surgery). In day-to-day life, we primarily rely on secondary sex characteristics to determine (or more precisely, presume) what sex a person is — and of course, these traits may change via a simple hormone prescription. Like I said, there is no mystical “essence” underlying sex.
  • Sex is a collection of traits that, while generally dimorphic, can vary greatly in the population, and some can change over time. While the terms "male" and "female" have some utility, we should not view them as strictly dichotomous or mutually exclusive. Rather, “female” and “male” are best thought of as umbrella terms that describe groupings of people (or animals) who generally share many of the same traits, albeit with considerable variability and some exceptions.
  • The most infuriating assertion regularly made by the "trans women are biologically male" camp is that trans people are somehow "denying" or "erasing" biological sex differences, and that this hurts cisgender women/“biological females.” This is patently untrue. I can assure you that trans people are highly aware of biological sex differences — the fact that many of us physically transition demonstrates that we acknowledge that sexually dimorphic traits exist and may be important to some people! I would reframe things this way: Transgender people often have a more complicated relationship with our sex-related traits (as they may be discordant with our identified and lived genders), and thus the language that we use to describe or discuss these traits may seem arcane, or nonsensical, or unnecessary to the average cisgender person. And because they are unfamiliar with this language (and/or flat-out antagonistic toward us), some cisgender people will subsequently misinterpret this language and differing perspective as some sort of "denial."
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