WWW Wednesday 7-17-2013

It’s WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

• What did you recently finish reading?

I just finished reading Georgette Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax. This book is memorable for two big set pieces: the arrival of Ajax (Hugo Darracot) at the home of his ancestors, when he discovers just how poor his aristocratic family’s opinion of him is, and resolves to live down to it; and the climax, quite close to the end of the book, when Hugo brings his many strengths and talents to bear to rescue his family from the consequences of their follies.

• What are you currently reading?

Currently I’m reading Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. This book was recommended to me by several trans people I met at Wiscon this year. I had had an idea of including a trans woman in a new series I’m planning, and asked their advice. They asked me how I planned to use the character. When I told them, they made it clear that my story would be seen as a huge faux pas in their community. As I read this book, I’m discovering just how wrong my idea was. Back to the drawing board there. I realized, too, as one does about every ten minutes, that my grasp of the norms and courtesies of the current discourse here was weak. (Hey, I used “discourse” in a sentence! I’m learning already.)

So that’s why I’m reading Serano’s book. Her approach is not autobiographical, as (she says) most trans memoirs or other nonfiction tends to be, but focused around a feminist political analysis. She takes a simple position: that social discomfort with and hostility aimed at trans women is not about their being trans, but about their being women; that women of any kind, born that way or not, gay, straight, or bi, receive some part of the same firehose spray of cultural disapproval because femininity expressed by anyone receives that disapproval.This makes sense to me.

Serano answers a question that I’ve always wanted to ask: why the trans person’s journey doesn’t get included much in the GLB discourse about problems with gender in our society.

Her answer: A popular view current in the GLB discourse is that gender is very fluid, occupying a wide range of outward expressions between masculine and feminine; this view sees gender as a social construct, imposed from without. My grad school work was all about social constructs, so I can relate to this notion. It jives with my desire to remake society via good ideas and sheer will-power.

Yet trans people experience their assigned gender very physically, with a profound inner discomfort that, for many, cannot be relieved except by a biological solution to move from left to right, male to female or female to male, a bald, un-fluid, uncompromisingly binary solution. For trans people, gender is about biology, not society. One is born one sex but feels like the other, and the body is sending a very large, unignorable message about that conflict. In other words, for trans people, it’s a hardware problem, not a programming problem.

This also makes sense to me. Fond as I am of theory and paradigm, I trust the testimony of my senses, and I refer to that testimony when I want to experience my own truths. When the body sends a message, it’s a good idea to listen.

Reading on. Will report back when I get another slap upside the head.

• What do you think you’ll read next?

Next I’ll probably read Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, edited by Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore, or, if my head is exploding at that point, I’ll take a break with another Georgette Heyer. I probably reread all of Heyer every year.

What about you? What have you been reading lately? Put the link to your WWW Wednesday entry in comments, or just tell us!




WWW Wednesday 7-17-2013 — 10 Comments

  1. Read: The Zero Stone by Andre Norton (Reviewed here)
    Reading: Earthman’s Burden by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson
    To Read: I’m not sure yet

  2. I loved The Unknown Ajax! It’s one of my favorites of her — most of them I can read or not read, but there are a couple which really cling to my memory as books I love to reread.

  3. Pingback: WWW Wednesday 7-17-2013 | planetpooks.com

  4. Those are two good ones–have recently read them myself. A third is Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, edited by Gilbert Herdt. I was very glad to be pointed to these as we’ve a trans house guest, and situations have come up where one doesn’t want to cause pain out of ignorance.

    Yeah, that’s one of the fun Heyers.

    Been reading Rick Atkinson on WW II, Paula Byrne on the details of Jane Austen’s environment, so to speak, and the Mahabharata, because it was time.

    • I think I have a book edited by Gilbert Herdt. darn, can’t find it. It’s called The Third Sex. That might be the one you’re talking about, actually, Sherwood. Bunch of essays about specific roles in specific cultures, then and now, that are outside sexual dimorphism…or aren’t.

      Berdaches aren’t actually outside dimorphism, I would think, because they’re persons who have chosen to cross from their assigned gender to the other gender, and stay there, living the rest of their lives as the other gender.

  5. Here’s Pooks Burroughs’ comments on all this:
    linking to a really interesting blog post by another Book View Cafe author, Mary Anne Mohanraj:

    I have had panic attacks from time to time when writing the Other, as all these people call it. You would think I’d stop. But I can’t seem to invent a story that doesn’t have some Other character in it, and lately (in Slacker Demons) it seems they’re all Other. So I’m getting it wrong, but I’m doing it in a big way.

    At times, my panic attacks have made me turned down invitations to write for anthologies–fancy ones with great following. At other times I just wade in.

    But I can’t seem to stop doing it.

    It is not permitted for a white writer to try to position herself as Other; the white girl’s difference is never enough, it’s always watered down compared to “the real thing,” and your “real” Other says, Yeah, right.

    So I won’t.

    But apparently I won’t stop writing this stuff.