Julia Serano spoke about the deeply-rooted assumptions about feminism, as well as femininity and masculinity, that result in transphobia. Concordia's Women's Studies Student Association brought the writer, activist, biologist, and spoken-word performer to Concordia with the intention of reaching out to Concordia's queer community. Serano addressed several issues surrounding transphobia that can be ameliorated with feminist discourse.
One of the first problems Serano discussed was the idea that masculinity and femininity is something inherent to each person. With her immense background knowledge, Julia easily shot this argument down. As the author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity Serano knew that we experience gender stereotyping from a young age. Since we learn from society what kind of conduct and expression is “acceptable,” we internalize those behaviors. She told her audience, “It’s an oversimplification on either side of the [nature vs nurture] debate. Biology, culture and individual experience come together in really unfathomably complex ways.”
Next Serano talked about all the traits typically equated with masculinity: independence, maturity, rationality and practicality. This is problematic because we then automatically typify the opposite of those characteristics with the “opposite” of masculinity: femininity. Even worse, Julia noted that society views femininity only in terms of masculinity, and therefore expressing your feminine gender is only “for men.” She explained, “If you dress very femininely, there’s this assumption that you’re doing it in order to attract or appease or please men or masculine people.” Who says you can’t wear your favorite skirt or spend some time applying makeup for yourself? Maybe some of us really want to perfect cat eye make-up (even if we fail, time and again) because it’s fun! Who decided that you can’t express yourself for your own enjoyment and sense of comfort? (Spoiler alert: society! That’s who!)
This leads us to other unfair association of fakeness with femininity. Serano observed the frequent use of the word “impersonator” to describe a transgender person. “If you’re the media, if you’re someone with a very normative sense of gender, you see trans people as fake. If you believe that, then what better way is there to show that someone is impersonating someone than showing trans-feminine people? Because femininity is ‘fake’ and trans-ness is ‘fake’, and together they’re really, really, really ‘fake.’” We have to deal with feminine stereotypes if we ever want to deal with transsexual stereotypes.
Serano concluded that we must confront compulsory femininity and compulsory masculinity in order to move ahead as a society. We should not feel pressured to dress or look a certain way, but Julia also asserted that she does not believe women should neglect “stereotypically feminine” behavior in fear of upholding the patriarchy. We need to create an environment that allows everyone to feel that they will not be judged for their own personal gender expression. Although we’ve made progress over the years, Serano reminds us that there is still much work to be done. “A lot of the more subtle things like the assumptions that we make about people or the meanings that we project onto certain types of behaviours, those run really deep. And a lot of times, those fall outside of what people would call out.”
Photos via TheLinkNewspaper.ca, Goodreads.com, and GLBTHistory.org