Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive
My latest book Excluded (published by Seal Press) is out now! It has received rave reviews: Autostraddle recently named it as one of the “Top 10 Queer and Feminist Books of 2013” and The Publishing Triangle recently announced that it is a finalist for this year’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction!
This page compiles Excluded-related blurbs, reviews, interviews, previews, and accolades, links to excerpts from the book, a sneak peak of the Table of Contents and Introduction, as well as my Excluded-related blog posts. While my Fall 2013 book tour is over, you can listen to my Seattle book reading courtesy of Speakers Forum on KUOW Public Radio.
The book can be purchased from your local independent bookstore. Or it can be ordered online at independent booksellers such as the Philly-based LGBTQ bookstore Giovanni’s Room, the Chicago feminist bookstore Women and Children First, or Portland’s independent bookstore Powells.com. And of course, bigger online booksellers such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have it as well.
Back Cover Copy:
While feminist and queer/LGBTQIA+ movements are designed to challenge sexism, they often simultaneously police gender and sexuality—sometimes just as fiercely as the straight-male-centric mainstream does. Here, acclaimed feminist and queer activist Julia Serano chronicles this problem of exclusion within these movements. She advocates for a more holistic approach to fighting sexism that avoids these pitfalls, and offers new ways of thinking about gender, sexuality, and sexism that foster inclusivity rather than exclusivity.
Praise for Excluded:
“In her latest book, Serano elaborates on arguments from her first book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, putting hard-won lessons about feminism, queer politics, and gender to good use in a sharp and accessible essay collection. . . Her unique take on the nature-versus-nurture debate is refreshing for its candor and nuance, avoiding dogmatism on either side.”
“Serano’s ability to show the structural links between different forms of discrimination is eye-opening. Her new book is a must-read for anyone interested in equality, or just in treating each other more decently.”
“In Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, author Julia Serano’s vision of an updated and holistic feminism isn’t just about making some elbow room for those of us marginalized in the struggle. It calls for full and equal participation. The new image of feminism looks like all of us. . . [She] transforms topics mired in controversy and complexity and skillfully narrows them down. ”
“Julia Serano’s Excluded is interdisciplinarity done right. Part personal reflection filtered through postmodernist theory and the life sciences, part feminist manifesto, this collection of essays was born out of the making of her previous, highly celebrated book, Whipping Girl, and encompasses eight years of living, critical thinking and activism. . . Excluded is a landmark text that breaks the extant, watered-down theoretical ‘gender/sex/sexuality’ paradigm and offers a more holistic understanding of our ‘selves’ - of our gender, our sex, our sexuality.”
“Serano. . . challenges preconceived notions and debunks myths about gender and sexual identities that our own queer and feminist movements often don’t appear to deem worthy of fighting for. Utilizing her experience as an activist, and often sharing personal accounts of exclusion from queer and women’s spaces, she encourages us to reevaluate some of the mantras of our activism. . . Excluded is a great read for both the most enthusiastic advocates for queer and feminist causes and anyone making their first foray into this type of activism.”
--San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Serano is again simultaneously challenging and fostering the communities that she has been a part of, all while asking us to re-examine the theories, activist movements, and organizations that do just as much damage as it seeks to undo.”
“Excluded carries on from her remarkable 2007 book, Whipping Girl, in leading the discussion around trans rights, double standards and gender entitlement and does so with wit, warmth and insight throughout. Serano masterfully blends the personal with the political, even when she’s taking down the ‘perversion’ of that very concept. . . What I found was a book that’s consistently entertaining in its fascinating explorations of our overlapping identities and a writer more interested in building ever-larger activist communities than scoring points at ignorant oppressors. . . Excluded is a bracing and necessary antidote to our collective bad habit of viewing life through a fixed perspective, and it's one of the year’s best reads.”
Excerpts from Excluded have appeared in the following publications:
Table of Contents:
1. A Word About Words
Part 1: On the Outside Looking In
2. On the Outside Looking In
3. On Being A Woman
5. Trans Feminism: There’s No Conundrum About It
6. Reclaiming Femininity
7. Three Strikes and I’m Out
9. Bisexuality and Binaries Revisited
10. How to Be an Ally to Trans Women
11. Performance Piece
Part 2: New Ways of Speaking
12. The Perversion of “The Personal Is Political”
13. Homogenizing Versus Holistic Views of Gender and Sexuality
14. How Double Standards Work
15. Myriad Double Standards
16. Fixed Versus Holistic Perspectives
17. Expecting Heterogeneity
18. Challenging Gender Entitlement
19. Self-Examining Desire and Embracing Ambivalence
20. Recognizing Invalidations
21. Balancing Acts
All of us have been excluded at some point in our lives. Perhaps because of our size, or class, or age, or race, or nationality, or religion, or education, or interests, or ability. And of course, many of us are excluded because of different forms of sexism—that is, double standards based on one’s sex, gender, or sexuality. Many of us are undermined and excluded by our culture’s male/masculine-centrism—that is, the assumption that male and masculine people and perspectives are more legitimate than, and take precedence over, female and feminine ones. And those of us who are gender and sexual minorities are stigmatized and excluded by our culture’s insistence that only “normal” bodies, and “straight” and “vanilla” expressions of gender and sexuality are valid. This sense of exclusion drives many of us to become involved in feminism and queer (i.e., LGBTQIA+) activism. We seek out like-minded people who share our goals to eliminate sex-, gender-, and sexuality-based hierarchies, and together, we work hard to build new movements and communities with the intent that they will be safe and empowering for those of us who have been shut out of the straight-male-centric mainstream. And yet, somewhere along the way, despite our best intentions, the movements and communities that we create almost always end up marginalizing and excluding others who wish to participate.
Sometimes we are consciously aware that exclusion is a bad thing, and we may deny that it is taking place within our feminist or queer circles. We may even resort to tokenism—pointing to one or a few minority members in order to make the case that our movement or community is truly diverse. But in other cases, we are blatantly exclusive.
Some feminists vocally condemn other feminists for dressing too femininely, or because of the sexual partners or practices they take up. More mainstream gays decry the presence of drag queens and leather daddies in their pride parades, and there is a long history of lesbians and gay men who outright dismiss bisexual, asexual, and transgender identities. Within the transgender and bisexual umbrellas, there are constant accusations that certain individuals do not qualify as “real” members of the group, or that their identities or actions somehow reinforce “the gender binary” (i.e., the rigid division of all people into two mutual-exclusive genders). And in most queer communities, regardless of one’s sex or identity, people who are more masculine in gender expression are almost always viewed as more valid and attractive than their feminine counterparts.
The astonishing thing about these latter instances of exclusion is not merely their brazen, unapologetic nature, but the fact that they are all steeped in sexism—in each case, exclusion is based on the premise that certain ways of being gendered or sexual are more legitimate, natural, or righteous than others. The sad truth is that we always seem to create feminist and queer movements designed to challenge sexism on the one hand, while simultaneously policing gender and sexuality (sometimes just as fiercely as the straight-male-centric mainstream does) on the other.
There have been many attempts to reconcile this problem. Newer feminist submovements have sprung up with the expressed purpose of accommodating more diverse expressions of gender and sexuality within feminism. More inclusive umbrella terms such as “queer” (meant to include all sexual and gender minorities) and “transgender” (meant to include all people who defy societal gender norms) have come into vogue in an attempt to move away from infighting over identity labels. And what were once simply called “lesbian and gay” organizations have since added B’s, followed by T’s, then a panoply of other letters at the ends of their acronyms in an attempt to foster inclusiveness. And while all of these measures have brought a modicum of success, sexism-based exclusion still runs rampant in feminist and queer movements.
As a transsexual woman, bisexual, and femme activist, I have spent much of the last ten years challenging various forms of sexism-based exclusion within feminist and queer settings. Over that time, I have come to the conclusion that we cannot Band-Aid over this problem by simply calling for more diversity in a general sense, or by petitioning for the inclusion of specific subgroups on a one-by-one basis. Nor do I think that we can blame this situation entirely on the human tendency to be tribal or cliquish (although admittedly, such us-versus-them mentalities do exacerbate the problem).
Rather, I believe that sexism-based exclusion within feminist and queer circles stems primarily from a handful of foundational, albeit incorrect, assumptions that we routinely make about gender and sexuality, and about sexism and marginalization. These false assumptions infect our theories, our activism, our organizations, and our communities. And they enable us to vigorously protest certain forms of sexism (especially sexisms that we personally face!) while simultaneously ignoring and/or perpetuating other forms of sexism. In short, the way we describe and set out to challenge sexism is irreparably broken. My main purpose in writing this book is to highlight these fallacies in our theory and activism, and to offer new and more accurate ways of thinking about gender and sexism that will avoid the pitfalls of the past.
This book is divided into two parts, the first chronicling instances of sexism-based exclusion within feminism and queer activism, and the second forwarding my proposed solutions to the problem.
The first section, entitled “On the Outside Looking In,” is a collection of essays, spoken word pieces, and speeches that I have written over the course of an eight-year period (2005-2012), all of which, in one way or another, address the issue of sexism-based exclusion within feminist and queer settings, and offer my early formulations for how we might create more open and accepting movements and communities. It is a journey that begins with my activism fighting for trans woman-inclusion in lesbian and women’s spaces, and my efforts to articulate trans women’s experiences of sexism, both within these settings and in society at large. Later chapters grapple with femme and bisexual exclusion within various LGBTQIA+ settings. To be clear, this section is not meant to provide a comprehensive overview of the problem of exclusion. For one thing, the chapters are centered on practices of sexism-based exclusion—the hypocrisy of policing other people’s gender and sexual identities and behaviors within spaces that were supposedly founded on anti-sexist principles. Furthermore, they focus rather exclusively on forms of exclusion that I have personally faced as a bisexual femme-tomboy transsexual woman. In addition to those identities, I also happen to be a white, middle-class, educated, able-bodied, normatively-sized U.S. citizen—aspects of my person that are privileged in our culture, and which do not result in my exclusion. My focus on instances of trans, femme, and bisexual exclusion is not meant to suggest that these are the only, or most egregious, forms of exclusion—they most certainly are not, and I discuss other forms of exclusion in the second half of the book. Rather, trans, femme, and bisexual represent my vantage point onto the issue of exclusion within feminist and queer movements, and this is why I use them as my primary examples over the course of this book.
The second section of this book, “New Ways of Speaking,” is a collection of previously unpublished essays that forward a new framework for thinking about gender, sexuality, sexism, and marginalization. Here, I explain why existing feminist and queer movements (much like their straight-male-centric counterparts) always seem to create hierarchies, where certain gendered and sexual bodies, identities, and behaviors are deemed more legitimate than others. Of course, past feminist and queer activists have been concerned about these pecking orders, and they have often placed the blame squarely on identity politics, essentialism, classism, assimilationism, and/or reformist politics. However, such claims ignore the fact that sexism-based hierarchies are just as prevalent in radical, anti-capitalist, anti-essentialist, and anti-assimilationist circles as they are within so-called “liberal” feminist and single-issue “A-gay” activist circles.
Rather than blaming the usual suspects, here I show how sexism-based exclusion within feminist and queer movements is typically driven by what Anne Koedt once called the perversion of “the personal is political”—that is, the assumption that we should all curtail or alter our genders and sexualities in order to better conform with feminist or queer politics. This perversion of “the personal is political” can be seen in both reformist feminist and queer activist circles that seek to purge “less desirable” identities and behaviors from their movements in the name of political expediency, and among their more radical counterparts who denounce identities and behaviors that they perceive to be too “conservative,” “conforming,” or “heteronormative.” In other words, both extremes share the expectation that their members will be relatively homogeneous and conform to certain norms of gender and sexuality. Such one-size-fits-all approaches ignore the fact that there is naturally occurring variation in sex, gender, and sexuality in human populations: We all differ somewhat in our desires, urges, and attractions, and in what identities, expressions, and interests resonate with us. Furthermore, each of us is uniquely socially situated: We each have different life histories, face different obstacles, and have different experiences with sexism and other forms of marginalization. So the assumption that we should conform to some uniform ideal with regards to gender and sexuality, or that we should all adhere to one single view of sexism and marginalization, is simply unrealistic.
One-size-fits-all approaches to gender and sexuality—whether they occur in the straight-male-centric mainstream, or within feminist and queer subcultures—inevitably result in double standards, where bodies and behaviors can only ever be viewed as either right or wrong, natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal, righteous or immoral. And one-size-fits-all models for describing sexism and marginalization—whether in terms of patriarchy, or compulsory heterosexuality, or the gender binary—always account for certain forms of sexism and marginalization while ignoring others. As a result, such models validate some people’s perspectives while leaving many of us behind. I believe that this pervasive insistence that we should all conform to some fixed and homogeneous view of sexism and marginalization, or of gender and sexuality, is the primary cause of sexism-based exclusion within feminist and queer movements.
In this book, I make the case that we should distance ourselves from these one-size-fits-all models, and instead embrace an alternative approach—what I call a holistic approach to feminism. I call this model “holistic” for a number of reasons. First, it moves away from the trite and overly simplistic “nature-versus-nurture” debates about gender and sexuality, and instead recognizes that biology, culture, and environment all interact in an unfathomably complex manner in order to generate the human diversity we see all around us. Second, this approach recognizes that each of us has a rather specific (and therefore, limited) view of gender and sexuality, and sexism and marginalization—a perspective largely shaped by our own life experiences and how we are socially situated. Therefore, the only way that we can thoroughly understand these complex phenomena is through a multiplicity of different perspectives. Third, this approach to feminism is holistic in that it provides a framework for challenging all forms of sexism and marginalization, rather than merely those that we personally experience or are already familiar with. I must admit that I was initially hesitant to describe this approach as “holistic,” as the word often evokes “new age” or “hippie”-esque connotations (whereas I am personally more agnostic- and punk rocker-identified). But despite these reservations, I feel that holistic best captures the totality of the approach that I will outline here.
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