September 11, 2011

Julia Serano on the transsexual separatists and crossdreaming

Those of you who have followed the transgender vs. "true" or "classical" transsexual debate, should take a look at Julia Serrano's recent article in the Transadvocate, and her following comment over at her new blog.

Serrno is probably one of the most influential transsexual activists in the USA today, and yes, she supports the transgender alliance of crossdressers, gender queer and transsexual people.

Activism requires alliances

She writes:

"...I have mostly avoided this debate because of the name calling, disparaging stereotypes and nonconsensual sexualization that are sometimes associated with it. But recently, I read a post where someone referred to me as being firmly in the 'transsexual' (rather than “transgender”) camp. This was the second time that I had seen such a claim, and frankly, it surprised me.

"Granted, in my book Whipping Girl, I argued that the transsexual experience is different from other transgender trajectories, and I also decried the manner in which some cissexual gays and lesbians appropriate transsexual identities. 

"But I never once advocated that transsexuals should completely split off from the transgender or LGBT communities. Rather, my intention was constructive criticism – I hoped to make those alliances more aware and respectful of transsexual voices and perspectives

"So, for the record, I am in the pro-umbrella camp, even though I acknowledge that sometimes umbrella politics are messy and less than equitable. In other words, I believe that the pros of umbrella politics outweigh the cons."

Why this is important

There are separatist transwomen who make serious, coherent and constructive arguments for why they do not want to be part of a movement that encompasses crossdressers, gender queer and homosexual people. They often argue that (1) they have nothing in common with homosexuals and (2) that they refuse to be forced into a club that do not fit their needs.

Fair enough. I am not going to repeat the arguments for why it makes sense to have an umbrella term here. I think Serano explains this well. But these arguments made by the constructive members of the separatist side are definitely legitimate.


Still, it seems to me that the majority of separatist bloggers and commentators are not against the transgender and LGBT umbrellas out of purely democratic or pragmatic reasons. They are against it because they do not want to be associated with people they basically despise. There is a lot of homophobia in these circles, and also misandry; but most of all there is a deep contempt for crossdressers.

Crossdressers are routinely accused of  being sexually obsessed perverts. They are considered men who harass women online and  in women's restrooms (sic!). It is therefore extremely important for these activists to explain that crossdressers and "autogynephiliacs" have absolutely nothing in common with post-op transsexual women.

As I have argued before, there is a huge difference between the male to female crossdresser who lives as a man and a transsexual woman. A large number of M2F  crossdressers and queder queer identify with their birth sex. They do not claim to be women, and should not be treated as such.

But there is one extremely big elephant in the room that these more vocal separatist do not want to acknowledge,  and that is that a large number of transwomen have a crossdresser/crossdreamer past.

This is why the Serano article is so important. Serano is a transsexual activist who not only acknowledge that the elephant is there. She does not hesitate to talk about it.

Serano on crossdressing and crossdreaming

I have a large number of blog posts in the pipe line, and one I haven't been able to finish is a post about Serano's book The Whipping Girl.

This is bad, because Serano is one of the very few transsexual writers who have discussed the relationship between crossdressing and crossdressing on the one hand and transsexualism on the other.

She does not deny her past as a crossdresser, nor does she deny having had erotic fantasies of the crossdreaming kind.

Serano's understanding

She believes the transsexual condition is caused by a conflict between the male persona a male to female transsexual is forced to present to the world and a female subconscious sex. This female subconscious sex may express itself in many ways, also as sexual fantasies.

I her book she says:

"For a while, I thought of myself as a crossdresser and viewed my female subconscious sex as a 'feminine side' that was trying to get out. But after years of crossdressing, I eventually lost interest in it, realizing that my desire to be female had nothing to do with clothing or femininity per se. There was also a period of time when I embraced the word 'pervert' and viewed my desire to be female as some sort of sexual kink. But after exploring that path, it became obvious that explanation could not account for the vast majority of instances when I thought about being female in nonsexual context."

After a phase living as the androgynous queer boy in the eyes of the world, Julia eventually reached the conclusion that her female subconscious sex had nothing to do with gender roles, femininity, or sexual expression. It was, as she puts it, about the relationship she had with her own body. Which is why she decided to transition.

The paradox

All of this means that Serano does not fit the traditional separatist enemy image.

Like them she demands respect for being a woman, not gender queer, a member of a third sex or a crossdresser. Like them she believes that her condition has a biological, inborn, core.

On the other hand she finds the transgender umbrella both intellectually and politically useful, and -- using her own life as an example -- she argues that many male to female crossdressers and crossdreamers may be women at heart.

In other words: She breaks down the absolute distinction between crossdressers and crossdreamers on the one hand and transwomen on the other. That makes Serano relevant for crossdreamers as well.

I strongly recommend her book to all crossdreamers who struggle with their gender identity. And if a book is too much for you, do at least read her article.


To me her conclusion as regards the solution to the current separatist wars is sound and wise. She says:

...we should respect the diversity of identities, sexualities and life histories that exist among those of us on the trans female/feminine spectrums. We should recognize that many transsexual women have been, or currently are, crossdressers, drag performers, androgynous, butch, or genderqueer-identified—such life experiences do not make a person any less transsexual. 

"Furthermore, cissexual women vary in their sexualities and identities, so we should expect transsexual women to vary in these respects too. Heterosexual transsexuals should stop trying to convince the world that all transsexuals are straight and want out of the LGBT umbrella. Similarly, queer-identified transsexuals sometimes play up the idea that transsexuality is inherently subversive and super-duper-queer in order to gain acceptance within queer circles (I should know, as did quite a bit of that during the first two years after my transition)—this erases the life experiences of our straight-identified trans sisters."


  1. Jack,
    I can make this short and sweet...

    Stop trying to ride the coat tails of the transsexuals!

    If you or anyone else want to cross-dress or "express a feminine side then fine! Go for it with my full blessings, but for God sake, be a man about it if you are not transsexual! Own up to it as an integral part of who you are and face the music! And if you don't like the tune that is being called when that happens, well then do whatever it takes to change it!

    There should be absolutely no reason on this earth that men cannot express a more feminine side to their being. There should be no reason a man in a dress cannot use the mens room. There should be no reason that men cannot wear garments that are not bifurcated if they want... A man should be able to wear make up and jewelry if he wants...

    But the way to making that happen is not to keep on with the conflating of feminine with female because is degrading and misogynistic to the nth degree!

    Worse of all, it is short sighted, self serving, and in the long run, destructive to all parties, both Transsexual and Transvestite alike!

    It leads far too many of those who should never go down this path into a life destroying end where they are perceived as neither men nor women, and it also endangers the rights of the men and woman who have no choice in this matter to correct!

    Don't think so? There are still three states in the union where a post operative transsexual cannot change their paperwork and the LGBT has been lobbying there to fix that?

    Please don't make me laugh! It has been more than trhee decades since the last state enacted laws to allow a corrected transsexual to change their birth certificate but what is the lobby doing?

    They are our there pushing in states where there were already laws to expand them to cover anyone who says they are the other sex to correct the paperwork to match... Which if you have not noticed is having a back lash that is making it much harder for us to do what must be done... With no risk to those doing the pushing!

    So no, I don't want to be part of your or Julies Umbrella and the sooner you get it the better we will all be!

  2. @ Miz Know-it-All,

    You insist on missing the point, don't you? I guess you have to, if you are to keep your distance from people like me.

    Here's the thing: I have no problem facing up to my inner woman. This whole blog attests to that fact.

    But this is not about being "feminine". I am actually not a crossdresser. My female side is expressed in other ways, which makes your neat division between "feminine" and "female" useless for people like me.

    This is also why your effort at belittling the attempts of me and my friends at understanding what we are experiencing won't work.

    I know that many of us have a lot more in common with transwomen than your nice little dichotomy allows for, even those that will or do not transition.

    Thank God we have transwomen like Serano, who are willing to admit to having been a crossdresser themselves, and who are also willing to use of their own life experience to help instead of deriding those that do not fit inside the simplistic binary!

    This blog is not about "riding the coat tails" of the transsexuals. it is about learning from anyone who have been forced to question the traditional "truths" about sex and gender.

    A large number of tranwomen have been both crossdressers and crossdreamers. That alone is reason enough for me and others to try and learn from them.

    That is the elephant in the room you refuse to face, because if you did, you would see that this is -- for many -- not about expressing "a feminine side", but a deep and existential struggle for a meaningful sense of self.

    The agony of the gender dysphoria -- no, sex dysphoria! -- experienced by many of my crossdreaming friends go beyond any struggle with "feminine" personality traits.

    "Own up to it as an integral part of who you are and face the music!" you say.

    Well, that is your solution to the problem, is it not: To make the same choice as you have. To accept the same dichotomy that you have. If you really feel like a woman, transition, because if you don't, you are nothing but a man in a frock! There are no alternatives!

    For someone who object to being included into a linguistic category that does not fit your ideology, you are certainly more than willing to force others into your own.

    I admire you for the strength and the courage you have shown in making your choice, becoming a woman not only in mind, but also in body.

    But that choice is not for everyone. Each and one of us live within a complex net of relationships and responsibilities to ourselves and to others, and for most of us the world is not as black and white as you seem to believe. For many, living between the poles and out of harmony with their inner selves may demand an equal amount of courage.

    Get down from your high horse and show some heart! Among the readers of this blog you will find more "true" transwomen that you can imagine, and they need your help, not your contempt.

  3. Know about this ?

  4. @Anonymous

    Yes, I have read this, and needless to say these people are taking it too far.

    There is more to life than gender, and when you start rewriting fairy tales you are actually depriving your kids from extremely important cultural and mythological references. I guess the next will be Jesus and the six male and six female disciples.

    What they are doing is actually exactly the same as conservative religious groups are doing in both America and Europe: censoring books and literature that does not support their view of gender. Taking all the sex and the swear words out of books.

    Still, there is no doubt in my mind that the active campaigning of both feminists and homosexuals, accompanied by a general urbanisation and globalisation, has changed people's views of gender roles in Scandinavia.

    The turning point in Norway was when the Conservative Minister of Finance brought his husband to a dinner in the royal palace. No one blinked. At that point it was clear that a majority of Norwegians now consider homosexuality to be natural. This also tells me that what many consider inborn gender roles are shaped by culture, not founded in nature.

    Indeed, it was not long ago scientists argued that women had too frail a body to take part in the olympics, become doctors or politicians. It was considered unnatural. Now we now better. But we have other blind spots.

  5. Would it be possible for u to do a blog post or even a few lines in a post on jasper Gregory view on us being feminine males? Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  6. I just finished reading Julia's book "Whipping Girl" and she does a wonderful job of verbalizing all the random thoughts that I have trouble putting into words.

    She also does an excellent job of explaining discrimination, sexism, feminism and umbrella groups. How they relate to trans people. And why why they are important to us. I think I can now more intelligently debate issues based on her teachings.

    I have also read a lot of the discussions on "classic transsexuals" wanting out of the transgender umbrella. It seems to me that classic TS's:

    1. think that to be a true transsexual, you have to have had SRS.
    2. that to be a true transsexual you have to be passable. (Which leads to the idea that only good looking women are "real" women)
    3. if you're not a true transsexual, you're just a guy in a dress. (So, until a classic TS has SRS they must consider themselves to be guys in dresses?)
    4. they want to be considered to be real women. (So are they really transsexuals or cissexual women? If they are real women why are they even participating in this debate?)
    5. they want out of the transgender umbrella because classic TS aims are different than the rest of the group. (Umbrellas aren't always set up because each faction has the same aims, in this case the group was set up because each faction is discriminated against in the same manner. We can accomplish more as a group than as individual factions.)

    Classic TS's seem to think that their GID is different. They don't want to admit that there are other paths that one can take with GID besides SRS. TS's are out there post op, pre op and stealth. Classic TS's are a portion of the larger TS group. They need to get used to the idea and stop trying to say they speak for everybody.

  7. @Anonymous

    "Would it be possible for u to do a blog post or even a few lines in a post on jasper Gregory view on us being feminine males? "

    Yes, I just have to finish reading Butler first. By God, she presents some really hard to understand philosophy! It is very interesting, though, and I need to understand her before covering Jasper.

    By the way, it seems to me Jasper identifies as a lesbian woman...

  8. @Linsie

    I am sure there are transwomen who have not experienced crossdreaming, but there sure are a lot who have, and that means that there is a significant overlap between transwomen and crossdreamers.

    Serano does indeed describe this is good manner.

    For some reason most CTs avoid commenting on this fact.

  9. Jack,

    I'm sure that some women don't, but a large percentage of straight women fantasize about sex with men (I know my wife does). Why wouldn't trans women? So why can't CS's see they are just one part of a spectrum of transexual experiences. They should stop claiming that ALL transsexuals are not well represented by the transgendered umbrella. If they believe that they are misrepresented, they should do more to make sure that they are.

    Also, if CS's believe that they are real women, they should stay away from the transgendered umbrella and forums unless they want to help counter discrimination and promote feminisim.


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