Giving Myself Permission to Be Myself

Welcome to our LGBT podcast This Queer Book Saved My Life! In this episode, we talk with lighting designer, radio host, and teacher Rachael Cady (she/her) about the book that saved her life: Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. It’s a collection of personal essays that debunk many of the myths and misconceptions that people have about trans women, femininity, and gender.

Rachael shares with us that, “for the first time I saw someone who was like me. It was incredible. It was an epiphany for me. Finally, I was able to give myself permission to be myself.”

And Julia (she/her) — the slam poetry champion,  spoken word artist, and musician, with a PhD in Biochemistry — joins us for the conversation. She explains why she wrote Whipping Girl, “The book felt necessary for me to write because I wrote it as I was making sense of the first time in my life I was actually moving through the world as a woman, but then I was also facing the day-to-day sexism and sexualization that many women face.”

Don’t forget to join us on November 10 at Lush Lounge and Theater in NE Minneapolis for our 2nd ever live event! We’re recording the new episode “From Unseen to Seen” with author and publisher William Burleson. It’s free, but we recommend you RSVP: https://bit.ly/liveatlush

Shout out time to Natalie Cruz, Bill Shay, Paul Kaefer, Archie Arnold., and Stephen D., for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Can you join them in helping to keep our podcast accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audience? Your sponsorship will directly support transcription services as well as website technical maintenance and all other behind the scenes tech stuff to keep us running and accessible. There are three monthly membership options you can choose from, starting at $5/month. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook.

TRANCRIPT

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: On today’s episode…

Rachael Cady: And in the course of that therapy I found Whipping Girl. And for the first time I saw someone who was like me. It was incredible. It was an epiphany for me. Finally, I was able to give myself permission to be myself.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I’m talking with Rachael Cady about Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. It is a collection of personal essays debunking the myths and misconceptions people have about trans women, femininity, gender, and sexism. And Julia joins us to talk about her motivations for the book and what she hoped to achieve with it.

Julia Serano: The book felt necessary for me to write because I wrote it as I was making sense of two different things. I was making sense of the first time in my life I was actually moving through the world as a woman, but then I was also facing the day-to-day sexism and sexualization that many women face in our culture.

J.P. Der Boghossian: My name is J.P. Der Boghossian and you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

J.P. Der Boghossian: Hello everybody, I have Rachael and Julia here with me and as we’re getting started if you haven’t had a chance to hear last week’s premiere episode of 7 Minutes in Book Heaven, we featured Taleen Voskuni and her upcoming queer rom-com Sorry, Bro. Be sure to give it a listen. And next week, we’re having a cross-over episode with the podcast DEI Is. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Is. If you enjoyed our cross-over event earlier this season with Queer Lit, I think you’re going to like this one too. A brand-new episode of This Queer Book Saved My Life! will be available two weeks from today. Also, cheers to Quatrefoil Library for their promotional support. Located in Minneapolis, MN they cultivate the free exchange of ideas and makes accessible LGBTQ+ materials for education and inspiration. Visit them at qlibrary.org.

Well Rachael, Julia hello. Let’s do some introductions, so Rachael how about we start with you, your name, pronouns (if you’d like) and a little bit about who you are?

Rachael: My name is Rachel Cady. My pronouns are she and her. I live in Kansas City Missouri with my partner Margaret of 17 years and our 3 dogs Cassie Tessa and Harley. I’m a lighting and video designer for the entertainment industry which means that I travel all over the world designing lights and video for theaters. I also do system engineering and media server programming for video such as big concert tours and corporate meetings and most recently cruise ships for some reason. I find myself working on cruise ships which I’d never done before. When I’m not doing those things, you can probably find me on the pickleball court. I’m obsessed with the game and have been playing it constantly for about 3 years now.

I played this morning. I also am on the board of directors of the Kansas City Center for Inclusion which is an LGBTQ+ community center here in Kansas City. I’m the treasurer and their IT chick. I also work at community radio station KKFI where I co-produced two community affairs programs: one an LGBTQ+ radio magazine called the tenth voice and a feminist talk show called Every Woman.Currently,I produce and host a show called Siren Song which is a femme and queer centered music program.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Thank you. Julia, would you like to introduce yourself: preferred name, pronouns and a little bit about your background?

Julia: My name is Julia Serrano. she/her pronouns I am a bisexual trans woman. Basically I’m a generation X person. I basically grew up without. much background at all about anything Trans or Queer related. That was all very taboo back then. I had a very closeted childhood and began to explore that growing up. We could talk more about that later or not. I was also a biologist so that was kind of like my day job for a long time. I worked at UC Berkeley. I did my PostDoc there and I was a research specialist there for quite a while. Nowadays, I mostly am writing and doing writing-adjacent related work which makes less money but I have low overhead and I’m able to piece together a living out of doing that. The other thing is one of my main creative outlets , dating from way back, has been music. I’ve performed some music with my old band, Bite Size and now under the moniker Soft Foul Sounds so that’s a bunch about me and I don’t play pickleball but I’m a big baseball fan. So I’ve been watching baseball a lot lately. I just watched my Philadelphia Phillies play here in the San Francisco Bay Area and just get swept!

Rachael: I’m originally from Minnesota so I followed the Twins even though I’m here in Kansas City so I’m a big baseball fan too.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Unrelated question to the podcast but have either of you watched A League of Their Own yet on Amazon Prime? Do you like it.

Julia: Um, yay!

Rachael: Oh yes, We sure did, I did.

Julia: My partner and I are about at episode 4, so we’re watching it right now and enjoying it.

J.P. Der Boghossian: We just started it in our household as well. A question I like to ask all the guests that come on the show is around is what was your favorite book growing up? Rachel, what was your favorite book or stories to hear when you were growing up?

Rachael: When I was a kid I was a really big Charlie Brown and Peanuts fan. I devoured all of those books as a kid but there was a series of books by Matt Christopher who wrote these weird formulaic books about sports but there was always some kind of a magic part to it so some kids would be playing one of those tabletop hockey games and as they were playing it one of the skaters broke and then they went to go play their hockey game and sure enough that skater fell over on the ice and then they realized they had this sort of magic hockey game. He wrote a couple dozen books like that that all had this kind of weird magic element which just sort of caught me and I think that was the beginning of my love of science fiction and fantasy books and so those have always kind of been my favorite after that.

J.P. Der Boghossian: What are you into reading these days?

Rachael: You know what? I’ve been reading mostly plays because I’m gearing up for the fall season in theater. I’ve been reading a lot of scripts. I’m doing a one woman show about Frida Kalo. I’ve done it before but am rereading that script to try to get acquainted with it again. It’s hard because I don’t have a lot of time for enjoyment reading. It’s like I do a lot of reading just for my job.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Well, you’re very busy so that doesn’t surprise me. Julia, how about for you? What was your favorite book or stories to hear growing up?

Julia: I enjoyed science fiction. One that stands out for me was Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I really enjoyed. I enjoyed some science fiction but I also liked anything weird or surreal. I always liked, even before I understood what all the skits were about, I loved Monty Python. It was a nice marriage between weird, silly and surreal…plus a little bit of science fiction.

The other book and this is kind of dark was 1984. It really made an impression on me and for reasons that I think might not have resonated with other people.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Whoa!

Julia: Some people really like that book for reasons that I find problematic. They feel like they’re in the oppressive society.

For me, I remember reading about the main character and he was in a room and he was trying to write down his thoughts but was afraid that if he wrote his thoughts down that they would disappear. A lot of that aspect of it resonated with me so it was dystopian. The world was a little dystopian back then and so not my favorite book now, but that was a big influence on me back then.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Thank you and speaking of reading what we’re all here to talk about today. So Rachel, what is the book that saved your life?

Rachael: The book that we’re here for and the one that had a tremendous impact on me was Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. Let me sort of rewind a little bit and give you some background. I’m a trans woman. I started my transition in 2017 which is otherwise known as the year I almost didn’t make it through. I reached a point in that year where I was at a crossroads.

I was either going to keep on living or just not be here anymore and through a whole bunch of friends and support I finally went to see a therapist and for the first time in my life sort of said the quiet part out loud to another human being: that I had this overwhelming feeling that had now just sort of gotten in the way of everything that I needed to be female. I wanted to be a woman. I wanted to lift my life that way and up until that point I had never really told anyone that it was this huge deep, dark secret and I lived this life of shame. I thought I was this pervert and I thought I had a fetish and I thought that I was just this kind of shameful person that had this horrible secret that I had to hide away from everyone. Julia and I are almost the same age. We’re both sort of gen Xers and so growing up in the 70s and 80s there wasn’t a lot of great Trans representation out there. I couldn’t point to the media and say oh my god, look at how amazing she is. What I was inundated with and what most of us were inundated with were tabloid portrayals of Trans folks and these tired tropes in the media of the Trans woman who is tricking the poor straight man into dating her and you know, the funny man in a dress trope. All of that stuff really worked on my brain to tell me that being a Trans person was terrible. I didn’t want to do that at all. This is what ties it to the book: the thought that really got me was this idea that a Trans woman was this woman trapped inside a man’s body. That’s the kind of explanation that I heard over and over and over again, growing up. When I thought about it, I was like, I don’t feel that way at all, not not even a little bit. I never felt that way. I’m not a woman. I look in the mirror and I see this boy. I see what everyone around me is telling me I’m a boy and doing boy things. I thought it was something else and honestly that one thought, that one idea that portrayal really worked on me and it led me to sort of, sublimate all of that stuff. Until I was almost fifty years old before I started my journey. In 2017 I started seeing a therapist and started sort of talking. The funny thing is I went to therapy to try to get myself to stop thinking those thoughts. It’s like, can you fix me? Can you make me not want to do this anymore because obviously this is a glitch somewhere. In the course of that therapy I found Whipping Girl and there it was in black and white in one of the chapters Julia Serano describes exactly what she was feeling and she had that same feeling about not feeling like a woman trapped in a man’s body.

For the first time I saw someone who was like me and it was so validating. It was incredible. It was an epiphany for me because I realized at that point that that didn’t matter. What I was feeling was valid. Finally, I was able to sort of give myself permission to be myself and that one point was just incredible. It was the first time I had ever seen it sort of laid out by someone else that I could actually see myself in a narrative. The other thing is after reading that book she goes to great lengths to talk about how Trans women in particular are a threat to men and Cis men and society because we dare to sort of fly in the face of this patriarchy and what it means to be a man. It’s like we turn our back on all of that stuff. She made it seem like and made it feel like it was okay to be a Trans woman and in fact to be a Trans woman and be out was an amazing thing. It was a powerful thing and when I finally came out in 2019, I made it my goal to be as visible as I could, because I knew just like that passage in the book, if I felt this way someone else is going to feel that way too. If they can see me and if I can sort of meet them halfway or touch them in some way or just see me being out in society doing things even just mundane things, it’s powerful. Every time I walk out the front door, it’s an act of defiance. It’s me telling everyone y’all were wrong about me and I was wrong about me too but here I am now. So those were the two big things that really really changed my life. I mean I completely changed the trajectory of my life in 2017 and I’m still here and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I love that! Julia, for our listeners who haven’t yet read your book, could you give a description of it for them?

Julia: Sure. I guess the way that I would typically sum it up is that, it’s a book that explores where transphobia and misogyny intersect. In the book I talk a lot about trans misogyny, which is basically the intersection of these things as they play out in Trans women and Trans feminine people’s lives. The book felt necessary for me to write because I wrote it a few years after I transitioned as I was making sense of different things for the first time in my life. I was actually moving through the world as a woman which was really an amazing experience. To finally feel like I was being me but then I was also facing the day to day sexism and sexualization that a lot of women face in our culture. I was also for the first time in my life being out as Trans. I had been Trans my whole life and people didn’t know but now I was out and a lot of the reactions I would get to being a Trans woman, they were very… It wasn’t like a lot of times people would just describe anti-trans discrimination as transphobia. People still do and that’s fine. That’s a very useful word for us to have. But I felt like almost all of the transphobia that I experienced came in the form of misogyny. It was not just people ridiculing me or feeling threatened by me because I was a Trans person, it was specifically because they saw me as someone who is a man who wanted to be or became a woman or expressed themselves femininely. To me, that felt like the central aspect that I feel had been missed by a lot of earlier trans activism which was really important to me.

I was very influenced by the 1990s era shattering the gender binary, Leslie Feinberg, Ricky Wilchens and other writers of that time and so that was all very important to me. I also felt like it wasn’t so much that people were discriminating against me because I was shattering the binary, it was the direction of my gender transgressions in their eyes and so that was a lot of what I was trying to experience. Then to get to Rachel’s absolutely wonderful story and I’m honored that my book made that impression on you and helped you in those ways. I was also trying to write the book that I didn’t have either and that I wish I had especially growing up back then where there’s this very strong so-called transsexual versus transvestite distinction and I remember reading early Trans stuff I had. I was able to get ahold of that and it was all horrible back then because it’s all written by very psychopathologizing people and I would be like oh well, you’re either a transsexual who’s like the woman trapped inside the man’s body who wants to get rid of their penis and they’re attracted to men and they want to live these nice little what we would now call heteronormative female life life trajectories and I was like I’m attracted to women. I don’t like my genitals the way they are. I still kind of enjoy some of the experiences I have from them and then you would see the other side and and the Trans rest state side is kind of how Rachel described it as kind of like, oh these are like fetishistic men who are into the putting on of women’s clothing and it’s just this sex thing right?

I mean that really messed me up and I later learned that there are other trajectories. I wrote about my own because that was my experience but that was also not very well shared. To this day I think a lot of people are more familiar with the canonical. ‘I always knew since I was four years old’ type of stories which are very true stories for a lot of people but not for everybody.

J.P. Der Boghossian: A lot of narratives around hormone therapy focus on its effects on the body. But what about our inner emotional life? After this quick break, I’ll ask Rachael more about the saving features Whipping Girl had for her.

[music]

To all our Teagan and Sara fans! Make plans to come to First Avenue in Minneapolis on Sunday November 6, at 8pm. Our local station the Current presents Tegan and Sara: THE CRYBABY TOUR with Tomberlin.

You can get tickets at AXS dot com. That’s A-X-S dot com.

Teagan and Sara’s new album Cry Baby dropped October 21. Also, of note to our listeners, they have a graphic novel called Junior High coming out in May of 2023!

So, Sunday November 6 at 8pm at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Buy tickets at AXS dot com. A-X-S dot com.

Lucious news! We will have our second ever live recording of this podcast at Lush Lounge and Theater on November 10th! Our guest is William Burleson, author and founder of Flexible Press. Flexible Press supports publishing under-represented voices, in the belief that at its best literature is often a catalyst for change. The event starts at 6pm, tickets are free, but we do recommend you RSVP. The link is in the show notes and on our website!

At Bookshop.org you can buy all the books that we feature on This Queer Book Saved My Life! We have a link to our Bookshop page in the show notes, and on our website. You’ll find Season one’s books and our Season 2 ones as we release new episodes. We receive a 10% commission on every book you purchase through our Bookshop page, so not only are you getting a life-giving new read, you’re also supporting us directly! Happy book buying!

J.P. Der Boghossian: Shout out time to Natalie Cruz, Bill Shay, Paul Kaefer, Archie Arnold., and Stephen D., for being This Queer Book Saved My Life’s first Patreon supporters. Can you join them in helping to keep our podcast accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing audience? Your sponsorship will directly support transcription services as well as website technical maintenance and all other behind the scenes tech stuff to keep us running and accessible. There are three monthly membership options you can choose from, starting at $5/month. You can subscribe at patreon.com/thisqueerbook

J.P. Der Boghossian: Therapy, good therapy, can provide us the opportunity to address and explore our queerness and gender identity. I ask Rachael about her experience as she shares how Whipping Girl came to her.

[music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Thank you. Rachel, I kind of want to go back to that moment of when you got the book. Was it your therapist that gave it to you or how did you find it?

Rachael: I found it because I was just looking for more information. The irony is I was positive until I wasn’t that I was not a Trans person. I absolutely devoured all information about Trans women and gender bending and all of that stuff growing up. I had read some other autobiographies and things. I was just seeking that out because I started in therapy and I thought I need to do some more work and so was seeking information and I just kind of did a search for it and found it.

The great thing about it is, it’s not because it isn’t an autobiography. There’s autobiographical bits to it which are awesome. It’s like a treatise on how Trans women are treated in society and why and she kind of delves into why that is. That was so fascinating to me because like Julia was describing, when I first came out it was like oh my god, I’m myself and I can do all these things, but I’m being treated badly in some situations. I’m experiencing the same things. All of my women friends have been talking about their whole lives and all of a sudden, it’s me. But there’s this other layer of also being Trans on top of that. That’s really hard to parse. I sort of just sought it out myself and then told my therapist to read it later, like you need to read this book. It’s going to help you.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Did they?

Rachael: Yes, they did actually.

J.P. Der Boghossian: That’s resonating with me. I used to work in LGBTQ Health Equity and there’s so much education that Queer people have to do in that patient provider relationship. So that doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m happy to hear that the provider was receptive.

Rachael: Yeah, love.

J.P. Der Boghossian: You had mentioned a passage earlier that really resonated with you. I’m curious, as you recall reading it for the first time, what were those important passages or sections that really resonated with you?

Rachael: It was the fact that I was reading her description of not complying with this trope of the woman trapped in a man’s body and that just it blew my mind because it was the first time I ever heard a trans person articulate their experience in a way that made sense to me. It was incredible because for the first time I felt I seen. I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel weird and perverted and all of that stuff. I reread the book to get ready for this podcast. It’s so awesome how it hits very differently now after I’ve transitioned. There’s a great passage about hormones and hormone replacements. Julia doesn’t go to the normal places where she talks about how it changes your body but talks about how it changed your mind and our outlook. One of the biggest things that resonated with me was the access to emotions. I was a fully fledged person before I transitioned but what I found out was what I used to think that happy was just me not being sad and after transition, happiness is like through the roof and sadness is way down there unfortunately. But now I have access to all those things which has then allowed me to have very meaningful and empathic relationships with people like that. I never did before. Everything was very on the surface and at arm’s distance. Julia describes that access to emotions as like a big changing thing and it’s incredible.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Thank you for that. In an earlier episode I spoke with Jennifer Finney Boylan and she said that when she first wrote her book, She’s Not There, it was for her Mom’s bridge club. With Whipping Girl, who were you writing for? Who did you see as your original intended audience?

Julia: I sort of saw it as concentric circles. So I felt very much like I was writing for Trans women and Trans feminine spectrum people more generally because I felt that while a lot of past authors had that experience I felt that a lot of the things that I was saying had been largely, not discussed or or maybe under discussed. I felt like when I wrote it and you never know when you write a book, what will happen when it goes out into the world, I felt like at the very least it would hopefully resonate with people of that experience. Then the next concentric circle that I was hoping to reach was basically Trans communities more generally. Particularly at that time, the only people who were paying attention to Trans people were either the greater LGBTQ Plus community or Feminism. I view this as due to proximity because we’re all talking about gender and marginalization and so there was at that time still a lot of consternation within more mainstream Gay movement about Trans people. Then there’s feminists some of whom historically have had very negative views about Trans people at least initially. Both those communities were starting to come around. More people were becoming more interested and understanding that oh, there’s actually a lot we can learn from Trans people and we can work to understand Trans people better. I was hoping it would also, in the perfect scenario, reach those people too. I was very happy that that was the case. That was basically everything that I was hoping for when I wrote it.

It has been very interesting for me, for at the time it was unfathomable to me, that anyone more in the general straight mainstream would ever pick up my book. Every once in a while, I’ll meet a younger Trans person who’s like oh, one of the first things I did was I gave my mom your book. I’m like really? Your mom’s going to get a whole lesson in like sexism and conditional. privilege and all these things that were very activist concepts that I was forwarding. I find it very interesting now but we have a lot more talk about marginalized groups and people. The idea of privilege is a lot more common that’s also in the mainstream culture. We’ll talk about that or we’ll talk about representation. I guess the culture has shifted and with that, it’s been very interesting seeing the book reach audiences who I never would have thought that the book would be of interest to them.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I don’t want to presume for authors whether they find the writing process to be hard or to be easy but book projects can be complicated. I’m curious as you got started, what was it about this book that you felt oh, I can keep doing this? What was keeping you going as you got into the writing process?

Julia: Well, specifically, a book contract. After transition, I was doing a lot of Slam Poetry Performance Poetry. A couple of the chapters in the book, (there’s beret manifesto and deconstructive surgery) and there are a couple more that actually started out as little 3 to 4 minute spoken word poems that I would do at spoken word events. I found myself, as I was trying to grapple with much larger questions about gender, sexuality and social justice movements, I started writing more personal essays because that gave me more room to unpack a lot of ideas.

It is kind of difficult to tackle complex topics. When I was first starting to do that I met the woman who became my editor at Seal Press. Her name is Brooke Warner and I initially gave her a scrapbook of my poetry figuring nothing would ever happen again because my publisher didn’t publish poetry. A lot of publishers don’t publish poetry. She got back to me and said, have you ever thought about writing personal essays? “I’m actually doing that now!” So very early on when I had basically a handful of spoken word pieces that became chapters and three other essays that came in the book, I showed them to her and then I got a book contract which was really surprising. This is also in a different time where I think a lot of publishers were more willing to take chances on relatively unknown authors than they are today. This was almost twenty years ago when this was happening. I had a book contract and I asked for the most amount of time they would give me which was eighteen months. I basically had a year and a half until it was due. I probably would have written way slower. It probably would have unfolded over the entire aughts. I ended up really having to finish it and it was definitely very difficult. I don’t ever want to be in that situation again. I was still working my full time job and so I would wake up every morning and I’d write for 3 hours before I’d go to work and then I’d come home and I would be doing research for what I was going to write. I also wrote a lot on weekends! That was just a year and a half of my life that I felt very sleep deprived throughout that whole period of time. It ended up being worth it. I’ve learned that deadlines are the worst thing in the world and sometimes they’re the one thing that gets you to finish the thing that you need to do after all.

Rachael: That’s very true I know in theater, it’s always the show’s going to open eventually. It’s like as a designer you never run out of ideas. You just run out of time and at some point you have to say yep, this is it. There it is.

Julia: Yeah, yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I Love that! You never run out of ideas but you always run out of time: that is resonating with me right now!

Julia: Very true.

Rachael: I mean I’m always going to fill the time.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Julia, when I talked with Carmen Maria Machado who identifies as Lesbian about her memoir In the Dream House which is about abuse in a Lesbian relationship, she said that the writing process wasn’t cathartic at all. It was actually kind of traumatizing to write that book. In another episode, I was talking with April Daniels who identifies as a Trans woman about her YA novel, Dreadnought and she said that she found the writing process as a way to take control of her life in a way that she hadn’t been able to get before but then the publishing was a shock because she basically lost all control. I’m curious, what has the writing process been like for you as a writer?

Julia: I think some of those early pieces around Whipping Girl particularly doing them spoken word style where I would get up on stage and so in addition to pouring your heart out when you’re writing it then you would get up on stage and you’d pull your heart out in performing it. A lot of those pieces were very cathartic for me. I also am thinking back to that time when I was really only out for about 5 years so it was all still very fresh and raw to me. I definitely think more than any other book that Whipping Girl did feel like there’s a lot of catharsis in the process of writing it. My later books, while I think they’re so good, I’ve had time to think about what I’m writing about. In in my new book, Sexed Up, there are some of my discussions about sexual harassment tthat I’ve I’ve experienced and people have been like that must have been so hard for you to write about. I’m like well, itt actually wasn’t because that was now fifteen years ago that that thing happened to me. With time I’ve been able to consider it and look at it. It was obviously something that happened to me but with some distance, where when I was writing Whipping Girl, it felt like all that stuff was still happening to me. I definitely think that Whipping Girl, in addition to being my first book, was all kind of new and novel at the time. It was definitely different. In addition to it being a new process for me to write a book, it was also I was very much in it at the time. With every book that I’ve published since then with Seal Press. they’ve been wonderful and they appreciate my work for what it is and they obviously make a lot of you know, editing suggestions and everything but it’s not.. It’s never been like, Oh this is all wrong. This is all horrible. You have to get rid of this chapter and get rid of this.. It’s more like I think you could say what you’re trying to say better if maybe you also explored this or maybe here’s another thing, a related thing that maybe you could work into this chapter that you’re doing. So it’s always been very positive. All of my experiences with them, thankfully. I know other authors who’ve had bad experiences so I feel lucky that all of mine have been good.

J.P. Der Boghossian: I’m glad to hear that. Rachel, do you have questions for Julia?

Rachael: Well mostly, this whole time leading up this podcast, I’ve been trying not to act like a fan girl all over Julia Serano because this is such a huge honor for me to be on this thing! One of the things I loved was how you described the 2 binary genders male and female as not opposite genders at all and that these two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive of each other: there are overlaps between the two. That concept is so I don’t know, it’s so enlightening and it makes what you know a Trans person does when we transition and finally you know move into this new sort of place. It makes it seem so much more possible how you described it. You know the classic men are from Mars and women are from Venus: It’s like when you’re starting out it does feel like you have to get all the way to Venus. As it turns out Venus is down the road a little bit. You have to point yourself in the right direction. I was curious how you came to that? It seems like a revolutionary way to think about the binary genders.

Julia: I think some of it was just from the experience of transitioning. I think in one of the chapters I have the line, ‘in reality we’re all like one hormone prescription away from having people experience this as the opposite sex’, right? Opposite in quotes. Obviously, people’s experiences with hormones and how they’re perceived can vary. I wasn’t trying to be overly simplistic. I thought that I would have to do all this extra stuff in order to pass, like specifically dress more femininely or present myself more femininely and the fact is that at a certain point of being on hormones, people just started reading me as female when I was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans not even trying to pass and that made me realize that, oh this whole idea that like you’re saying that men from Mars and women are from Venus that you have to cross this giant chasm. In reality, there’s just so much overlap between women and men: the shifts in your appearance can make people just read you in a completely different way: read you as male or read you as female and I think it’s something that a lot of Trans people experience and also a lot of people whether they’re transident identified or not or people who are gender nonconforming often experience where if you’re in the store and you know one person says to you excuse me Sir and then somebody else later says have a good day, ma’am and that happens to a decent chunk of people. Not everybody. For a lot of people that never changes. Some of us have that experience where different people will perceive you or interpret you in different ways even though you haven’t done anything different. It’s only been one minute that passed and yet people will do that. So I think that for me that felt not only really useful for me to understand: Oh, I can just be myself and do this which felt like a huge weight off me. I can be the exact same person and not change as a person but also you know get to be female: get to be the way I’ve understood that I should be. That was huge! I felt like it really? I think it’s a really huge question for a really huge piece of the puzzle for all people because I think just knowing even if you’re someone who’s this gender who never transitions or who is only ever read as a woman or a man in their life just knowing that there’s actually not all that much of a difference between the sexes. A lot of it is how we’re interpreting people and seeing people just knowing that can give you a lot of insights into how we go about in the world. How we interact with people. Maybe we shouldn’t make so many assumptions or have expectations about people based upon the gender we perceive them to be because that might not be their gender or they might not have always appeared this way.

I think that is something that was a huge personal lesson for me in my transition and that I was very excited to kind of put it out there with Whipping Girl and also my new book, Sexed Up talks about a lot of these overlapping ideas of how we perceive and interpret people and that’s been something I’ve been very happy to get to share with other people who maybe haven’t had those experiences.

Rachael: Well, and then also calling cis folks to think about, how do they know they’re the gender that they identify as and pointing out that everyone has an internal sense of who they are and what sort of gender they are even if they’ve never questioned it is an important concept. Especially today when the big buzzword is how do you define a woman. What is a woman and in a lot of ways, it’s undefinable. Of course that then opens up a whole other can of worms. That idea that we all have this internal sense of who we are and what sort of gender we are is really an important concept. Especially for folks who’ve never questioned it.

Julia: I mentioned at one point in the book when I was trying to get that across and that still pops in my head today, is that you’ll often find actors who, it’s like this really big deal for them to be something they aren’t and you know some actors will gain a lot of weight or lose a lot of weight or build up a lot of muscle. They’ll train in the martial arts, they’ll do all this stuff to change who they are and yet of all these different films and TV shows that have come out where and it’s usually a male actor plays a trans woman. Occasionally it’s like a cis female actor playing a Trans man but none of these people take hormones. They’ll do all these other things to their body in order to take on this new persona and yet none of these people say I should go on hormones for like months in order to really method act this Trans experience. I think that tells you everything you need to know right? There’s something there that the average person if you said I’ll give you like $5,000,000 but you have to live the rest of your life as the other gender and you just have to do that. Some people might say yeah but they’d probably be very disappointed by that experience.

Rachael: Right? Exactly! There’s a great passage in your book about if you want to see how fragile masculinity is, ask this cis man to hold your purse for a while and see how far away from his body he holds it. Ask him to hold it for you as you try something on. That’s great!

Julia: There’s a funny story behind that one actually. I’m in college and my girlfriend in college didn’t know I was Trans. I was like really really super in the closet. One time we’re in a store and I think she was going to try on an outfit or she was looking at different things. She says ‘Here,could you hold my purse for a minute? I’m like sure and I put it on my shoulder and she’s like I told you to hold it, not to wear it.

Rachael: Right? Oh my God!

Julia: I had that opposite where I’m like oh, I’m giving myself away. I should do that and then I noticed every time a man was holding a purse, he would hold it far away from his body.

Rachael: Wow! I’ve actually done that. I did the same thing. I put the purse around me and I was like, oh that’s not right. Amazing

J.P. Der Boghossian: I’m doing my time checker thing. I’m curious, Rachel, what is next in life for you?

Rachael: I didn’t say this at the beginning, but I’m also an adjunct professor. So I’m teaching a class at the University Of Missouri, Kansas City in projection design.

J.P. Der Boghossian: You do all the things.

Rachael: My very next thing is I fly to Orlando and I’m teaching, doing training for folks at Disney World with media servers this particular company supplies. All the servers for their big extravaganzas. After that I’m back on a boat again for a week to Normandy and then to Iceland. We’re programming some of the shows on a new ship for Norwegian Cruise Lines. After that, I’m doing Frida in Cincinnati, so it’s busy. And I’m playing in a pickleball tournament next month too.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Wow. Julia, how about for you? What’s next in life?

Julia: I mentioned my new book Sex Up. I’m still doing a lot of promotion for it. This coming month I have another book reading and some college speaking events. I often do talks about other things that I write about so I am mostly coming off the the really hardcore writing, editing, proofing, initial publicity stuff into a kind of more calmer time but still doing book promotion stuff so that’s kind of where I am right now. I haven’t begun thinking but I’ve had multiple people say what are you going to write next? I’m like I don’t know. I just got done with this one! I have, as Rachel said earlier, lots of ideas. But I don’t have a deadline right now. So I still have plenty of time. I have lots of things I want to write about, particularly related to the state the world is in right now. Specifically, the way in which anti-Trans anti-LGBTQ plus and really all marginalized groups are subjected to a lot of backlash: Some of it being really scary like terrorism level scary in some cases. I’m looking to try to write both about some of those experiences or those issues. At the same time, trying to think about what I feel that I could say other than just saying here’s all this horrible stuff that’s happening these days. I’m trying to think of what can I bring to the thinking about some of what’s going on.

[music]
J.P. Der Boghossian: I’d like to thank Rachael and Julia for joining us on this episode.

You can buy Julia’s new book Sexed Up: How Society Sexualizes Us and How We Can Fight Back on our Bookshop page. You can also buy your own copy of Whipping Girl there as well. Links in the show description. On Julia’s website, juliaserano.com, you can read excerpts and reviews about all her books. You can also check out her solo music project Soft Vowel Sounds. Plus, if you’re interested in her poetry slam and spoken word performances you can find it all on her YouTube channel. Subscribe today. If you want to follow Julia on Twitter she is @juliaserano.

Rachael, amongst everything that she does, produces and co-hosts Siren Song which is a femme queer-centered music program on KKFI in Kansas City. We’re including a link to that as well in our show description. And you can keep up with all of Rachael’s work and shows on Facebook, she is Rachael KCMO.

Thank you so much for your time today. We’ll be back at Lush Lounge and Theater in NE Minneapolis on November 10th for our second ever live recording. We’ll be talking with author and founder of Flexible Press William Burleson. We’re calling the episode: From Unseen to Seen.

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And in the meantime, stay tuned to this space every Tuesday for new episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life!, 7 Minutes in Book Heaven, or our cross over episodes. And next Tuesday we are crossing over with the podcast DEI Is…!

Until then, see you queers and allies in the bookstores!