Here’s the proof, an x-ray of my fucked-up neck:
If I were an extrovert, I would stand on a street corner — like that guy downtown San Francisco near the cable car turnaround who is always talking about fornicators going to hell (what a pervert) — and I would hold Whipping Girl in my hand and thump on it like a Bible. And I would yell at the masses that the truth and the “werd” and the light are in this book, and they should fucking read it and attain enlightenment.
But, I am an introvert, so instead I’ll write this post.
I have thought long and hard about sex (no pun intended) and gender my entire life, and blathered on incessantly to everyone in earshot about the stupidity of the gender binary and gender roles and sexism and feminism and blah blah BLAH. For years I have done this. And yet, there were many things I hadn’t thought of. There were many things I could never put into words. But the brilliant Julia Serano thought of them for me, and worded them brilliantly for me. How nice of her.
The last time I read a book this intelligent, I wrote my only published book review which unbelievably is still online six years later: The Trouble With Nature: Sex and Science in Popular Culture Sex and Culture by Roger N. Lancaster. But since that could be taken down at any moment, I’ve reprinted the whole thing, for my convenience, below. This particular book demonstrates that comparing human sexuality to “nature” and what is “natural” is such so skewed that whoever claims they are doing so in the name of science is a hack and a dumbass at best.
Whipping Girl shreds ideas of gender just as the Trouble with Nature rips apart ideas of heterosexuality. There are several particularly well-thought-out concepts, which I will attempt to summarize here.
Serano describes gender as having three components: your biological sex (male, female, intersex); your perceived gender (how others see you); and your subconscious sex (how you feel inside). My entire life I’ve been trying to describe to people close to me something about me that I had no words for. The only phrase I could come up with “I don’t feel like a woman.” The responses were along the lines of “Does that mean you feel like a man?” (answer: no), or “What do you mean?” (answer: oh, i don’t know, never mind). I didn’t try to have this conversation much, being that it mostly confused people, including myself. Now I realize that what I was trying to talk about is my subconscious sex. Although my body is biologically female and I live in the world as a woman, inside, I don’t feel a strong connection to femaleness — at least, how it presented in the world around me.
This is one of the reasons that I was probably drawn to feminism. Well, along with the wrongness of the patriarchy and injustice of misogyny and how women are treated so poorly in this world. But feminism, back in my young adulthood, was also about woman not having to fit into predefined gender roles — which I already didn’t fit into. My interest in domesticity, babies, clothes-shopping, cooking, and the basic things that in our society represent femininity are low or non-existent. My interest in physical strength, sex, and computer geekery — which are supposedly guy things — are pretty high. So feminism works well for me in this sense.
Hanging around in the queer community also works for me. There are far, far less trite expectation of what a woman is or can be in the lesbian community, at least in my experience. And, the bonus of being in a dyke environment is that there isn’t this constant drone of women are like x, and men are like y, on and on, every FUCKING DAY. My god, why don’t straight people ever shut up about that? I hear straight women CONSTANTLY talking about their husbands being typically macho, or liking “boy things” (their words), or being lame at grocery shopping or cleaning, or being married is “like having another child.” ALL. THE. TIME. And giving me this knowing glance like I’m supposed agree with this garbage.
But here’s an interesting twist to this. I thought because my subconscious sex, as I now can call it, is androgynous that meant everyone’s is androgynous. I thought everyone was completely brainwashed to act out these gender roles that were not innate to anyone. Serano has showed me that this thinking is not, in any way, logical. Some people are naturally drawn to feminine things. Some women feel like a woman, through and through, and really are interested in all or most of the feminine things. In fact, it’s MOST women. That’s why society functions. Everyone is not a dupe (although it’s obvious that advertising does do a lot of duping). Serano clearly proves this because she, who was biologically a boy, who was socialized as a boy, who got every possible message that she was male — felt female. In fact, through reading her book, she clearly feels female in a way that I, person who is biologically female, do not. Now isn’t that fascinating.
The other topic she clarifies is the whole opposite sex idea, which she calls oppositional sexism. Now, this is a concept that I myself spend a lot of time being annoyed with (see two paragraphs up), but she explains it much better than I ever could. Since there are only two sexes, and they are OPPOSITES, that means that they do not share traits. This means that if a man does anything that seems the least bit effeminate, his entire gender presentation and sexuality can be questioned. For instance, as Serano points out, what would happen if a man put a barrette in his hair? Hoo boy, you know people would go nuts. On the flip side, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women worry about working out too much and ending up with muscles which are “too big”, because they don’t want to “look like a guy.” Even so, the opposite sex idea is compounded by the fact that misogyny is alive and well.
A woman has a lot more leeway in terms of gender expression. This is because, as Serano clearly shows, masculinity is seen as natural and superior and femininity is seen as contrived and inferior. Masculinity is strong and femininity is weak. So, since expressing emotions is considered feminine, it is seen as weak. But anyone with any brains at all knows that expressing emotions is actually quite brave. This is why a woman can wear pants but a man cannot wear a skirt. A woman can wear any color that pleases her but a man has a small and boring palette to work with. Nay, he cannot even wear a teeny-weeny barrette. Etc. Etc.
Very importantly, this book is about the misogyny against trans women. Once again, with her irrefutable logic, Serano shows that the problems she experiences in society are mostly not because she is transexual but because she chooses to be a feminine woman. The banning of trans women from the Michigan’s Women’s Festival, while not banning trans men illustrates this well. How come a person who USED TO be a women can attend, but someone who IS a woman cannot? All arguments fail except one: the organizers of this event are uncomfortable with the idea of people who they see as men “choosing” to be feminine.
Serano’s experiences as a woman include two important points. One is the universal experience woman in our society have of strange men on the street telling them to smile. I’ve found this to be one of the most infuriating, condescending remarks a stranger can make to me. In the past, when I tried to explain this to men — and we are not talking stereotypical men — how misogynist this practice is, they could not fathom what I was talking about, even though no stranger had never demand that they smile. Further, Serano says that this is among the many condescending interactions she’s experienced as a woman. She says that women had told her to expect this, but she had no idea how constant it would be, and moreso, how belittling. I found these account to be painfully validating.
I realized while reading this book that in my life I had come to see the feminine as inferior. I myself had devalued it as well, because of my own aversion to it coupled with society’s “scapegoating” of it, as Serano says, made it seem like something to seriously avoid. And so here, now, I will freely admit: as a girl, I liked the color pink. A lot. It was my favorite color. I outgrew it, and now like many colors, but there it is. And another thing: I bought two skirts recently. I hadn’t worn skirts much in years because I felt they were too girly. But what’s wrong with being a little girly, anyway? I can still pack a punch or try to build a robot. One thing does not cancel out the other when we are not living the oppositional sex mindset. And girly is not an insult when we embrace the feminine.
Thanks to Ms. Serano, I will try to embrace it.
AND NOW… from The Nerge Archives:
The Trouble With Nature: Sex and Science in Popular Culture Sex and Culture by Roger N. Lancaster
Oct 21st, 2003 • Category: Sex and Culture
Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of me breathing. Yes, I can finally breathe because I have finally read a well-written, scientifically accurate and engaging Sex and Culture book, The Trouble with Nature. From the very first page I knew I was going to like this book, which begins with this quote by J.B.S. Haldane: “My suspicion is that nature is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose”. You can see from the get-go that this is not going to be another silly book about how men are naturally aggressive and women are naturally submissive, or some other crude nonsense. Not only that, but Lancaster is an engaging writer. Although the tone is academic — unlike that of the whimsical Dr. Tatiana, author of all-creatures sex-advice book Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice for All Creation — The Trouble With Nature is often humorous and never dry.
In fact, Lancaster spends much of the book not only disproving the myths about sexuality that are often shoved down our throats in the guise of science, but also tackling the erroneous habit of extrapolating animal behavior as an indicator of human behavior, as well as bad anthropology, the gender binary and other bad science or, as he calls it, “junk science.” If the reader learns one new word from this book (although there are several great words to learn from it) it would be “heteronormative.” This term means the single-minded nuclear family het-is-right thinking that we live with in our society. Heteronormative behavior is often taught to us as natural; all else is frequently presented as deviant. And this, of course, is bullshit.
On page 38, Lancaster says, “Heterosex… is ‘real’ sex, manifestly revealed in the design of the genitalia. (That’s what sex is for, isn’t it?) Everything else is derivative, secondary, artificial or tainted… the way homosexuals and lesbians invest their desires seems wasteful, frivolous, selfish.” On page 39, he begins his argument, “So what’s a fag to say, when speech about the nature of desire has been proscripted by such an exclusionary code… You and I have been forewarned — on the authority of science no less: It would be folly to flout this nature… We are thus invited to pick our place in nature as either variations on or deformations of a heterosexual design.” From there, Lancaster begins his systematic destruction of all these arguments about what is “natural,” which is really society projecting its views on what is “right” onto the world around us. Beginning with Darwin, he shows how scientists have frequently discounted any data that didn’t fit into their paradigm of gender roles or sexuality. In the section on “Our Animals, Our Selves,” he refers to Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, a great tome that shows that female animals are hardly ever monogamous and that there is plenty of queer animal behavior going on. This information has been suppressed or ignored until just the last couple of years, for it riles the patriarchy no end that there is nothing in nature to support the case for what is “right” and “natural.”
From there, Lancaster shows how anthropologists have made the same errors and biologists, referring to “primitive” cultures as “living fossils”(erroneous thinking to begin with), describe only those cultures attributes that shore up existing ideas on “normal” gender behavior. Margaret Mead was reporting the wide variation of gender roles years ago in her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, but she was one lone voice, one lone female voice, in the world of anthropology. Anthropology is now showing — thanks to female anthropologists — that our preconceived notions of what is male and female behavior among humans are highly variable. Diane Bell’s excellent 1984 book Daughters of the Dreaming shows how for years Western anthropologists assumed that Australian aboriginal women had a very minor role in that society. Bell’s book shows that aboriginal women, in fact, have an equal role in their society, but did not dispense that information to male anthropologists because they are not allowed to show their rituals to men.
From here, Lancaster shows how much of what it means to be human is learned behavior. It is impossible to know what a “natural” human would be, because a major part of what it means to be human is about human culture. Although Lancaster doesn’t point this out, this is also true in animals. Although it isn’t called “culture” in reference to animals, what we see as instinctual is often learned behavior. Perhaps you remember in Born Free when Joy Adamson had to teach the lion cubs how to hunt? Without a parental figure to teach them, the cubs were incapable of catching prey, something we all see as a natural part of a carnivore’s life. Human culture is so much more complex, and so many things that we see as natural — for example, macho men or coy women — is indeed learned from the world around us. Lancaster uses examples such as how cultures name colors and then relates it to cultures having a gender spectrum rather than a binary system.
In the biological realm, Lancaster delves deeper into the current fascination with genetics, and shows how study after study has had shoddy research and wild conclusions that always end up supporting the heteronorm — much in the same way Darwin did. It seems nothing’s changed in that department. Any results from studies about gender or sexuality will be skewed so that pop culture and the media can drone their same mantra ad nauseum: Men and women are different. (Oh, how original! I’m sure sick of hearing that, how about you?) He also shows how all the studies about the supposed “gay gene” or “gay brain size” are all crummy studies without merit, studies whose findings have since been disproven or impossible to recreate.
The last section, “End of Nature,” is the weakest part of the book. Lancaster goes from a strictly scientific viewpoint to examining culture directly. The writing is not nearly as sharp and the insights not nearly as astounding, but there is still much good information. Specific examples are shown of how junk science and heteronormative thinking invades every aspect of the media and pop culture, from television shows and car ads to the cover of Newsweek. This is no secret, but the examples and discussions are well conceived. Lancaster also points out an interesting dichotomy between the news media and pop shows on television. Whereas the news media maintains an authoritative and conservative tone, sitcoms now gleefully embrace gay culture in an almost light-hearted fashion.
The trouble with nature is that we are now, as a species, so far removed from it that we know very little about it. We project, derive, create and destroy meaning from our limited interactions with nature, but in the end nature and what is natural mystifies us. One thing is definite, however: none of us are natural in our gender or sexuality. Aspects of our culture influence us all — but we are all right when we are true to ourselves.
President Obama, perhaps you need this:
My cousin gave us one as a gift, and it’s very effective for removing pesky flies. Of course, having it on you at all times may be an obstacle, but isn’t that what the secret service is for?
There’s just way too many makeup tutorials on YouTube — who woulda thought? I stumbled across this one which is the most bizarre match of cutesy-girl-to-death-metal ever possible. Turn down your speakers and fast forward ’til she starts putting on the makeup.
For more nonsense like this, go here.
For reasons that will remain mysterious, the Republican Party has somehow gotten the idea that I am a republican. Ah, ha ha ha ha! They sent me a survey to complete as to the future direction of the Party. I would like to post here my favorite questions from this survey, although every one is pretty unbelievable. The bitter, dumbed-down, and antagonistic stance of each carefully-worded phrase is really beyond my imagination, but that’s probably because I have severely curtailed my reading of the news of late. In any case, for your reading pleasure, here are a few tidbits:
- Should the Democrats so-called Stimulus Bill with its wasteful pork-barrel spending be repealed? (um, they missed a couple of commas in that one, but anyway…)
- Should Republicans in Congress work to expose and eliminate new spending from Obama/Pelosi/Reid that amounts to welfare payments for Democrat interest groups?
- Should Republicans filibuster judicial nominees who bring a personal, left-wing agenda on social issues to their jobs as judges?
I kindly filled out the whole survey for them, because I’m a nice person. At the very end of the survey, it asks “Will you join the Republican National Committee by making a contribution today?” The third response they offer is “No, I favor electing liberal Democrats over the next ten years.” I couldn’t help but pick that one and write next to it, “You’re being facetious, right?”
And then I got a little slap-happy. They had a question you were only allowed to answer if you gave a donation — a policy I’ve never previously heard of. The question was, “Which part of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid agenda do you MOST FORCEFULLY oppose?” I just couldn’t help writing in, “Not supporting gay marriage.”
I’m sure my survey will go directly into the trash, but I had my fun.