Visions of Justice: Whipping Girl Author Julia Serano Considers How We Regard Gender Non-Conformity

Jackie Leahy ’14
Arts Editor

Tonight, at 7:30 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium, scholar Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, will give a lecture entitled “On Gender Entitlement and Perception.”

Transcending Gender, an advocacy group for gender-nonconforming students and their allies at Smith College, is sponsoring Serano’s visit. But, according to Kati Giblin  ’15, the group’s historian, it was actually Serano who contacted the group first, as part of an effort to reach out to gender related organizations at many colleges and universities.

“How we got her here? It’s kind of a funny story,” said Giblin. “Transcending Gender uses a gmail account, but Smith College sets up Smith accounts for every student org … We found out that we had another e-mail account with a handful of e-mails in it, and once we figured out how to log in, we found that Julia Serano had contacted us to help bring her to Smith! So in March, Claire Brown ’14, one of our two co-chairs, e-mailed her and asked if she would still like to visit. Of course, even though Serano has a busy schedule, she still wanted to come to Smith College.”

Holding a PhD in Biology and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia University, Serano is also a slam poetry champion, having performed at high-profile events such as Toronto Pride and the San Francisco Dyke March, and a musician: she is the lyricist/guitarist/vocalist for the critically acclaimed trio, Bitesize. But Serano’s visit to Smith will focus on issues surrounding the Smith’s recent controversial rejection of a transwoman’s application for admission.

“Serano will speak to ways in which transgender women are often perceived as women despite their assigned sex and ways in which this relates to the recent rejection of a transgender woman from Smith’s Class of 2016,” said Giblin. “As Serano herself states on her website, “As human beings, we tend to be focused on (and sometimes become fascinated or concerned by) how other people ‘do’ their genders. Yet we hardly ever take a moment to consider how we see and interpret other people’s genders.”

Serano’s lecture proposes to consider these interpretations of gender. The full title of her lecture, “I’ll See It When I Believe It: On Perception and Gender Entitlement,” sets a playful tone for the lecture, which Giblin hints will be more of a discussion. “Julia’s talks do typically involve long Q&A sessions, so bring questions and comments,” said Giblin.

Giblin believes that “here at Smith, [where] we talk a lot about how people present their genders … we rarely think about how we as individuals interpret the genders of others. Considering the recent controversy with a transwoman getting rejected from Smith, and the fact that Smith already has male-identified or non-binary students, I think it is important for Smithies to examine their own biases when interpreting other people’s genders.”

Serano’s talk will try to show what’s at stake in these acts of interpretation – her thesis is “that projecting expectations on somebody based on how you personally perceive their gender is “the root of all forms of sexism.”

Serano’s lecture promises to both educate and entertain. “Personally,” said Giblin, “I love to laugh, and Julia promises to bring a little bit of humor into this lecture … I am definitely looking forward to hear Julia’s entertaining anecdotes … laughter is the best teacher!”

“On Gender Entitlement and Perception” will be held in Weinstein Auditorium, Wright Hall at 7:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

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