I read Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (Amazon) pretty quickly – over the course of 8 days (most of which I was traveling). I sought out the recommendation because I was looking to better understand the experiences of trans women and their evolving (or not) medical support and rights. For context, I had considered myself moderately informed, but I was looking for something with more depth and breadth than anything I would find on Twitter.
This book was a confronting read, but incredibly helpful, and exactly what I was looking for. I learned a lot reading it.
Alongside it, I read A Safe Girl to Love (Amazon), which is a collection of short stories about trans women, written by a trans woman. My friend who told me about it suggested I might not enjoy it as I’m not a trans woman, however fiction – and other media like movies and TV – have the power to create empathy for people who are unlike ourselves. In practice, unfortunately, the centering of white men in popular media and the segregation of everything else to “special interest” creates a situation where everyone is trained to empathize with white men, and pretty much no one else.
Of course, stories about marginalized people should ideally be written by marginalized people, or it risks reproducing harmful stereotypes and tropes, or else, becoming a sort of fetishized caricature. Why are cis women who mock “men who write women” happy to uncritically consume the equivalent about our trans sisters? The section on media in Whipping Girl deconstructed this thoroughly.
One of the big things I wanted to better understand in this reading was dysphoria, and in that regard, both books were incredibly helpful. Whipping Girl outlines the idea of “subconscious sex,” and how that might be congruent (or not) with the sex our body is assigned by society. One important point she makes is that this idea of “a woman trapped in a man’s body” is a simplistic explanation for cis people. Or as another friend of mine, a trans woman, has quipped, “it’s not the wrong body, it’s the wrong society.”
The book focuses on transmisogyny (the particularized form of misogyny that trans women experience), and one of the recurring themes is femininity and how femininity is devalued. And while I was reading the book to learn, this was something that resonated powerfully with my own experience of being a woman in the world, particularly in male-dominated environments. Though, I have learned, trans women experience this from all quarters.
All in all, I definitely recommend it if you’re in the headspace for such a book. I learned a lot, and I expect that anyone who is not a trans woman would learn something too. Both books have inspired me to start thinking more about my own relationship to womanhood and femininity.
Thanks to my friend Naomi, who improved and edited this post.