The Literary Horizon: Whipping Girl, Dude, You’re a Fag

Traditional masculinity and the policing of it thereof—it’s weird, toxic, misogynistic, and homophobic. No wonder queer lady me has a hard time grokking it. Redefining (or, rather, broadening the scope of) masculinity in the same way it redefined femininity, I think, is feminism’s next greatest challenge. And that’s where today’s features fit in—a transwoman examines how women and femininity are dismissed by our society as a whole, and an academic examines gender roles and views towards sexuality in high school.

Whipping Girl by Julia Serano

A provocative manifesto, Whipping Girl tells the powerful story of Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist. Serano shares her experiences and observations both pre- and post-transition to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole. Serano’s well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. She exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive, and how this “feminine” weakness exists only to attract and appease male desire. In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about transsexuality, Serano makes the case that today’s feminists and transgender activist must work to embrace and empower femininity in all of its wondrous forms.

via Amazon

This came to me by way of Melissa over at The Feminist Texan [Reads]—in her review of F ’em!, she mentioned that it was, essentially, required reading. It looks amazing.

Heather Palmer at American University absolutely loved it and how it broadened the dialogue about transwomen’s issues; Sandra Alland, writing for Xtra!, enjoyed it as well, especially Serano’s accessible but precise language (although she seems to think Serano invented “cisgender”, which was coined in the 1990s).

Whipping Girl was published on May 14, 2007.

Dude, You’re a Fag by C. J. Pascoe

High school and the difficult terrain of sexuality and gender identity are brilliantly explored in this smart, incisive ethnography. Based on eighteen months of fieldwork in a racially diverse working-class high school, Dude, You’re a Fag sheds new light on masculinity both as a field of meaning and as a set of social practices. C. J. Pascoe’s unorthodox approach analyzes masculinity as not only a gendered process but also a sexual one. She demonstrates how the “specter of the fag” becomes a disciplinary mechanism for regulating heterosexual as well as homosexual boys and how the “fag discourse” is as much tied to gender as it is to sexuality.

via Amazon

I don’t get teenage boys. The way they construct their masculine identities and play them out fascinate me from an anthropological perspective, especially since the masculinity they pattern themselves on is often so narrow and often defined against what’s perceived as feminine and, as the title very vividly points out in its use of the slur, what’s perceived as gay. I think this popped up on Feministing, but I can’t find the post.

Thomas at Yes Means Yes thoroughly enjoyed it, although he notes that the introduction, which makes sure everyone’s got a working knowledge of the theory, can stop the reader in their tracks. Hugo Schwyzer heartily recommends it.

Dude, You’re a Fag was published on June 4, 2007.

7 thoughts on “The Literary Horizon: Whipping Girl, Dude, You’re a Fag

  1. Whipping Girl has been on my wishlist for ages – I really need to get it! And I read several sections of the Pascoe this summer for my dissertation and it was fascinating and incredibly useful stuff. I should go back and finish it, as it’s well worth it.

  2. “Spectre of the Fag” is a hilarious phrase that underscores exactly how the fear of being considered homosexual in today’s climate is used as just another form of peer pressure.

  3. Masculinity and femininity will always be based on the narrow ‘traditional’ ideas of behaviour, and actually shouldn’t be ‘broadened’ but instead should be defined, men can look pretty, be nurturing and generally be ‘feminine’ that is the model of behaviour traditionally assigned to women, as can women be masculine, broadening the terms so that this isn’t so, completely mitigates the need for such words at all and in which case it would be better words like feminine and masculine not used.

    • That’s actually supposed to read “and actually shouldn’t be ‘broadened’ but instead should be defied” Curse you autocorrect.

    • See, I disagree. On a purely semantic level, masculine and feminine merely mean pertaining to either sex. Saying that, say, caretaking is feminine (be the caretaker male-bodied or female-bodied) insinuates that the action is inherently female and comes with the implication that a male person is crossing boundaries to do so. It polices the action. The terms can be problematic when their connotations come along for the ride, but they’re still used in discourse.

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