Weeks before the second addition of her book Whipping Girl hits the stands, Julia Serano is already contemplating her next writing project. The San Francisco based transgender activist and writer isn’t one to shy away from new projects. From studying biology and fighting for feminism, to blogging and singing, Serano does it all — but with a mission.
Her latest gig includes speaking at Webster University’s “Embracing Diversity and Inclusion: Critical Conversations” conference. Accessible to all audiences, Serano uses her own experience to highlight how unconscious perceptions shape our views of people and gender.
You’re speaking at Webster University on March 1st. What exactly can we expect from the discussion?
The discussion is called “I’ll See It When I Believe It: On Perception and Gender Entitlement.” The conversation is meant to give people some insight into this process that we all do — automatically, unconsciously categorizing everyone we meet as either women or men and immediately placing different assumptions on to them — in the hopes of moving towards a world where we don’t place as many standards on people based on their gender. In it, I use a lot of personal stories about my transition from male to female, about differences that I’ve personally had before, after and during that experience.
It seems very autobiographical.
It’s part autobiographical, part how we learn gender and how we perceive other people.
I also talk about how we, starting from childhood, learn to understand gender. The idea is to unlearn some of these things we have learned and that’s been ingrained in us ever since we were young.
Your background is in biology; you have a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia. How exactly did you get involved in writing and activism?
My interest in activism and in writing came about trying to understand my own experiences as someone who has faced discrimination because of my gender. It grew organically.
But because I have a background in biology, I recognize that all biological traits are human traits that also comes from a mixture of many environmental and social factors. Gender is such a complex trait, which is why we see so much diversity in the world.
In one way holistic means understanding that a lot of different factors go into making us human beings who have gender and sexuality, and that there is gender diversity. The other way of thinking about making these movements holistic is a lot of the time activist movements think that they can forward the movement if everyone does this or that. And a lot of times that kind of fixed thinking ignores the fact that people within the movement are different. I offer ideas of how we can challenge different forms of sexism or marginalization in the world, while at the same time not undermining people who are also a part of the movement.
In your book Whipping Girl: A Transexual on Sexism and the Scapegoat of Feminity, you explore the idea that transgender activism is a feminist movement. What do you think is the current status between feminism and trans issues today?
In general there is a expectancy within feminism that transgender issues are important. We are both working towards eliminating double standard, and having gender equality for everybody. I identify as a feminist and am inspired by feminists that came before me, that weren’t trans.
There is a small percentage of feminists whose particular views are that transgendered people are antagonistic to feminism, and a lot of the time they got a lot of media attention. For example there was a college that decided to not perform the Vagina Monologues in order to not offend transgender people. This gets cited over and over again. In actuality, a transgendered version of the Vagina Monologues that was based on actual trans women’s stories, has been performed several times. And still, this one example gets pointed out to create this raging battle between feminism and trans people, when in reality most trans people and feminist understand that we have common ground.
The second addition of Whipping Girl comes out in March. What’s new about it?
The main difference is that I wrote a new preface where I talk about writing the book in historical context. When I started writing it about 10 years ago, trans activism and the landscape of where society intersected with the trans community was very different. I wanted to put it into historical context for new readers. I wanted to put it in context and talk about the many changes that have happened with regards to transgender acceptance. It also has a snazzy new cover.
About a year and a half ago I started writing fiction from the perspective of a particular person, Kat Cataclysm. She had aspects of me, but also had her own background that was different from me. The fiction is a bit more silly and surreal. It’s something I’m excited about.
Tell me about your music project, *Soft Vowel Sounds*.
Before I started writing, my particular interest was music. I played in a band called Bitesize from 1997 through the early 2000s. Once I started writing and still had a day job, music kind of was out on the back burner. But in the last couple of years I’ve had more time to work on my music.
*Soft Vowel Sounds* is a solo, lo-fi music project, meaning it’s me recording in my bedroom. It’s always going to be a bit more of side project next to my writing, but I’m hoping later in the year to start working on a second record.
Julia Serano will be speaking at the Webster University “Embracing Diversity and Inclusion: Critical Conversations” conference on March 1st at 12:15 p.m. Further information and registration can be found here. V
By Romana Mrzljak