Excluded, by Julia Serano

Reading questions by Silviana Amethyst, written Fall 2020

I have these available as pdf's, too!

Block One

The first block of content in our four-session reading group for Excluded is entirely from Part 1: On the Outside Looking In.

In the first six chapters, A Word About Words through Reclaiming Femininity, Julia Serano lays the foundation for an argument about inclusion in social movements. Specifically, she describes her own experiences as a white, able-bodied, normatively sized transgender femme bisexual woman, and how those experiences are examples of a larger structural framework. Her experiences are her own, as yours are yours.

Look for moments of exclusion, and the circumstances that lead to it. Focus on your own experiences, your own intersectional identity, and how exclusion relates to normativity.

Questions for before you read Block 1

These questions are intended for you to use, to help focus your mind and heart before engaging with the first block of reading the introduction thru chapter 6.

  • Define homogeneous and heterogeneous.
  • Discuss their relationships to groups of people, and inclusion.
  • What does it mean to be marginalized?
  • Describe your current view of intersectional identity, and how it relates to social interaction and movements.
  • What does it mean for something to be normative?

Reflection questions for while or after you read Block 1

The first chapter of the book (not including the introduction, which is valuable) sets up the terminology used throughout the book.

  • Does Serano use terms in ways you don't?
  • How does her mindful use of umbrella terms act to create inclusion?
  • Describe yourself, using her lexicon.

In Chapter 2, Serano describes her experience at Camp Trans, a protest of the active exclusion of trans women at the Michigan music festival.

  • What lesson do you take away from this chapter?
  • How did her arguments about exclusion resonate with you?
  • How have you excluded people from your own activities?

Reflect on the statement "it's hard to write about being a girl", in the context of On Being a Woman.

Chapter four, Margins, is a description of the ways Serano's identity intersected with her experience as a skin cancer patient.

  • How have your identities intersected with your most challenging experiences?
  • What are three ways you can act to make the settings you control -- e.g. your classroom, your office, your home -- more welcoming to those with differing identities?

In the context of Transfeminism: There's No Conundrum About It, reflect on how single-issue activism begets exclusion.

  • Describe how approaching feminism with an intersectional lens can broaden inclusion.

Chapter six, Reclaiming Femininity, is an examination of femininity's uses and receptions.

  • Debunk the statement "femininity is artificial".
  • Debunk the statement "trans women reinforce gender stereotypes."
  • Debunk the statement "trans women take up too much space."
  • Describe the role of double standards in these statements.
  • Reflect on subversive identity.

Block Two

The second block of reading for our four-session reading group consists of Chapters 7-12.

I deliberately included the Chapter 12 -- the first chapter in Part 2 of the book: New Ways of Speaking. This is to spur the discussion to start to move toward understanding not just examples and understanding of exclusion, but also a start of a theory of inclusion.

Questions for before you read Block 2

These questions are intended to get you primed for Block 2 of Excluded.

  • Describe your sexuality. Are you sexually attracted to people? Who are you attracted to, and why? What's the difference between bisexual and pansexual?
  • Describe three ways to be an ally to trans women. Repeat for people of color, persons with disabilities, and people who are non-normatively sized. Now find an intersection, that one can apply to all of those identities.
  • How is your identity subversive? Must it be? Ought it be? What if it isn't?
  • How are you an insider?
  • How is your identity authentic? How do you know who you are?
  • How do you reinforce the gender binary?

Questions for during and after you read Block 2

Chapter 7, Three Strikes and I'm Out

  • What are some ways in which you find yourself coming out? Do you find it more an experience of boxing yourself in, or freeing yourself?
  • Describe a time in your life, when you learned a new word and applied it to your identity.
  • How does having a fixed view of ourselves and others set us up for challenge?
  • What assumptions do you find yourself making, such that others often have to come out to you about that assumption's trait axis?

Chapter 8, Dating

  • This piece, about dating as a trans woman, was written in 2010, a decade ago. What's changed? How do you think the world of swiping has affected this piece's point?
  • Find a statement in this piece that you took personally. Dissect it.
  • Find a statement in this piece that resonated with you. Dissect it.

Chapter 9, Bisexuality and Binaries Revisited

  • Describe homogeneity/heterogeneity as it relates to sexuality, both monosexuality and BMNOPPQ: bisexuality, multisexuality, no-label sexuality, omnisexuality, pansexuality, polysexuality, and queer experimental bisexuality.
  • Reframe bisexuality. Try on one of the labels from BMNOPPQ.

Chapter 10, How to Be An Ally to Trans Women

  • Sum up this chapter in one word. Now, in three. Then in a sentence. Finally, in three sentences. Now, do this in reverse: three sentences, one sentence, three words, one word.
  • Apply this pattern to another marginalized community.
  • Apply this pattern to a person with several marginalized identities.

Chapter 11, Performance Piece concludes Part 1 of the book, On The Outside Looking In.

  • Debunk the statement "all gender is performance".
  • How is your gender fake?
  • Why is your gender your gender?

The last chapter in Block 2, Chapter 12, The Perversion of "The Personal is Political", is also the longest. It also appears in Part 2 of the book, New Ways of Speaking.

  • A primary point of this chapter is to examine the statement "the personal is political", and how when used in tandem with an assumption of homogeneity it causes exclusion.
    Make a cogent argument.
  • Compare and contrast heterosexism and cissexism. Relate them to other sexisms.
  • Define "gender artifactualization". Relate it to essentialism, performativeness, and expectations of homogeneity.
  • Serano makes three suggestions in the subsection called "Transcending the perversion of The Personal Is Political". (starting on page 134)
    1. Identify marked traits
    2. Cease forwarding gender artifactualization
    3. Stop pretending there is a gender system

What's the main point? What do we accomplish by taking these three steps? How can you incorporate these into your work as a leader or activist?

Block Three

The third of our four reading blocks spans Chapters 13, 14, and 15.

This block represents a significant argument about how exclusion arises, and how an expectation of homogeneity can lead to marked traits and double standards.

Questions for before you read Block 3

  • Mentally have the nature vs nurture debate with yourself. How does it resolve?
  • Why are you right or left handed?
  • Describe a double bind. What's the way out?
  • Describe three double standards in the world of gender and sex.
  • What does the term holistic mean to you?
  • How has shame played a part in your life?

Questions for during and after you read Block 3

Chapter 13, Homogenizing Versus Holistic Views of Gender and Sexuality

  • Carry out the argument that Serano makes in favor of a holistic view of gender and sexuality. Which parts conflict with your previous beliefs? What other forms of the nature-vs-nurture debate happen in our society? What happens when you apply a holistic approach?
  • Name the three tenets of the holistic model (pages 152-153)
  • On page 167, Serano describes the "biology-is-bad" mindset. What other similar mindsets exist in our society? What's a time you've fallen into one of those mindsets.
    How did you make it out?
  • As far as understanding sexism, what's the major point of Chapter 13? * *

Chapter 14, How Double Standards Work

  • Describe a marked trait.
    • When was the last time one of your traits was marked, and why? How did you deal with it?
    • When was the last time you marked another person's trait? Describe a tactic you can personally use to reduce the marking of traits.
  • Relate markedness to in/outness. Challenge outness and ingroups.
  • How often do you comment on marked traits? How often do you question marked traits? Why? Is it appropriate? Is it not? Are you sure?
  • Critique exoticism. Put down the idea that "she was asking for it."
  • Describe each of the double binds in this chapter. Describe a time when you experienced each, and find a way out. Relate each to a marked trait.
    • Invisible/visible
    • Credit/detriment
    • Disavow/Identify
    • Accommodating/angry
    • Afflicted/chosen
    • Dupes/fakes
    • Ashamed/shameless
    • Harmless/dangerous
    • Pass/reveal
  • What's the way out???

Chapter 15, Myriad Double Standards

  • How does intersectional identity relate to experiencing double standards?
  • How have you universalized and centered your experience in the last week? What de- centered you?
  • Relate: assumption, stereotype, hierarchy. Acceptance, expectation, heterogeneity.
  • Must we understand each other?
  • Recall the Plato's ideals. Refute them in the realm of the human.
  • On page 214, Serano writes: "... [T]he more closely associated a stereotype is with the group, the more likely a group member will be delegitimized for failing to conform to it".
    Apply this to your life, to the current political moment, to the pandemic.

Block Four

Our final block of the book includes Chapters 16 through 21. These last chapters give us a framework and tools for inclusively challenging sexism.

Questions for before you read Block 4

  • We learned about marked traits, double standards, and double binds in Block 3. What are some ways to challenge these?
  • Describe a time you've changed your mind about a deeply held belief related to sexism.
  • How important are the words we use in our discourse?
  • Describe homogeneity, heterogeneity, and what real inclusion looks like.
  • How does cancel culture intersect with this?

Questions for during and after you read Block 4

16, Fixed Versus Holistic Perspectives

  • Describe how intersectional identity combines with single-issue activism to produce exclusion.
  • Apply the following statement to your lived experience, you leadership, your activism: "Human beings are way too heterogeneous for us to treat other people's experiences with gender and sexuality, and sexism and marginalization, as though they are proverbial "nails" that can be dealt with in a one-size-fits-all manner. Therefore, we must constantly be seeking to expand our toolkit -- in this case, by trying to uncover and understand the heterogeneity in people's experiences and in the myriad double standards they face."
  • Refute inherent/fixed meaning of traits.
  • What is feminism?
  • Elaborate on the strategies Serano gives, page 227:
    • Understand marked traits
    • Be familiar with double binds, recognize double standards
    • Dismantle rather than reverse hierarchies

17, Expecting Heterogeneity

  • What does it mean to expect heterogeneity?
  • Relate diversity at your institution to heterogeneity, tokenism, and exploitation. See also, On Being Included, by Sara Ahmed.
  • Who should we hear?
  • How have you been subtyped? How have you subtyped others?
  • Elaborate on the following statement (page 237), and apply it to your life and institutional work. "As activists, it is important for us to talk about our experiences and perspectives as women, queers, trans people, and so on. But we must refrain from viewing our groups homogeneously."

18, Challenging Gender Entitlement

  • Why do you dress the way you do?
  • Serano describes a realization on page 240, about a "hardline, self-righteous, cut-and- dried view of the world." Describe such a view you've had or currently have, and how you are working to change it.
  • What does it mean to be "ethically gendered"?
  • Serano raises the concept of "gender erasure" on page 247. What other forms of erasure exist? How does erasure lead to invalidation and marginalization?
  • Apply the BDSM concept of "safe, sane, and consensual" to institutional life, politics, and other areas of your experience. Relate to autonomy.

19, Self-examining Desire and Embracing Ambivalence

  • Discuss the statement (page 259) "[I]f we feel a strong sense of repulsion toward particular bodies, identities, or sexualities, that is usually a red flag -- a sign that we may need to further examine what double standards may be unconsciously driving that."
  • What empowers you? How can it be disempowering for others?

20, Recognizing Invalidations

  • How does language interplay with marginalization?
  • Do you identify as cis or trans? Something else? Why? Why not?
  • "How do we apply what we already know about marginalization to help recognize and analyze unfamiliar and unarticulated forms of marginalization?" (page 270)
  • Describe tactics to resist invalidation:
    • mental incompetence
    • sexualization
    • immorality
    • anomalous
    • inauthenticity
    • what others can you think of?
  • Consider the "pertinent questions" Serano gives on page 277, and how they can help overcome invalidations.

21, Balancing Acts

  • Describe the balance between abstraction and concreteness, in the context of holistic feminism and activism.
  • React: (page 284) "Sexism and marginalization permeate almost every corner of our lives, and thus there are a seemingly infinite number of different problems that we might wish to address, and different approaches we might take to counter them."
  • On page 287, Serano describes her spaces and organizations "for their own kind". What spaces serve that purpose in your lived experience?
  • Discuss call-out culture and cancel culture, in relation to heterogeneity and marginalization. Compare and contrast different approaches to calling.
  • What's up with my vagina?
  • What does Serano mean by "Stop using privilege as a device to undermine others"? (Page 296-297)
  • Is there any such thing as an evil oppressor? A righteous activist? Infallible or ignorant?

Concluding questions

  • Summarize holistic feminism.
  • What does it mean to be marginalized?
  • What are double standards, double binds, and marked traits?
  • Describe a mechanism for transcending single-topic activism.
  • What book will you read next?
  • What's your next action at your institution? At your home? In your personal life?