Full Frontal Followup

Oy. Back, you say? I’m such a deadbeat.

Mkay, first some business.

I know that Jill’s post was mostly about unsubstantive criticisms of Full Frontal Feminism. I think that it’s fair to complain about arguments like, “Jessica is too pretty to talk about beauty standards,” to the extent that people are making them. However, a bunch of people in comments have started talking about, well, substantive criticisms of the book, as well as incisive posts about its scope and responsibility. Many other commenters have responded to ask where those are. Here’s a list of the ones I’ve read and the ones I found in comments. If I leave anything out, or haven’t seen a follow-up post on my new ancient computer, please link to it in comments and I’ll try to post it as an update.

But, um, speaking of unsubstantive, I would like to highlight this little excerpt because it made me laugh so hard that testosterone came out my nose and I haven’t even had coffee this morning:

Below is a really long comment that I wrote about Jessica Valenti’s new book, Full Frontal Feminism, which sucks. It’s been sparking a lot of debate all over the blogosphere. Among many other things, a male-identified blogger named Queer Dewd has used my comments about it to try and get revenge for a debate he lost with me way back in January.

Whee! I know, I know, it’s not Joey’s fault, but still. Ha!

I’m sure Queer Dewd (gotta remember that individuated spelling) knows I mean no disrespect to his gender identity. All in good fun! I think that he’s very masculine. In fact, he just kicked my ass.

Anyway, onto the posts:

Blackamazon’s post about what feminism and confrontation mean to her own life.

Blackamazon’s first follow-up, partly a response to Jill’s post.

Blackamazon’s second follow-up, also partly a response to Jill’s post.

Here’s Donna’s response to Jill’s post at The Silence of Our Friends.

Here’s Sylvia’s post at The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum.

And here’s a discussion about the language/tone of the book and whether or not it’s an effective way to reach younger feminists and potential feminists.

And Ilyka has a follow-up on that issue and on her own response to the book.

Wait, actually, now there’s more.

And Little Light in comments.

And some–bulleted–commentary from (ahem) Formal Feline Shorts.

And a post at Law and Letters about the image on the cover.

And here’s Nubian’s post from several months ago.

Way back when Nubian at the sadly-defunct Blac(k)ademic site posted about the Valenti Torso Picture, I wrote part of a post about the imagery–back then, the content wasn’t available, and I’m staying firmly out of pronouncements on that for now.

“Millot exploits transsexuals to promote an anti-transsexual ideology. The English edition of her book is packaged with a cover featuring a large photograph of a nude person who has breasts and a penis…The titillating nudity of a hermaphrodite is used to sell a book that dehumanizes people in gender transition. The presence of the penis also underlines Millot’s assertion that changing sex is not really possible. According to her, the person born male remains male, no matter how many female attributes “he” can display. The text is illustrated with, among other things, photographs of drag queens and Asian transvestite prostitutes. This promotes the idea that transsexuals are exotic and artifical (either because they are performers or because their gender ambiguity has a commercial motive). “The transsexual” is held at a distance from “the reader,” and because of that distance, it is of course safe for the narrator to say anything she likes about her remote subject.

–Pat Califia (at the time of publication), Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism

This was the passage that jumped into my head when I read the thread on Blac(k)ademic about the cover of Jessica Valenti’s new book.

It’s not just that it’s a comment on nudity and the potential for titillation and/or commentary. It’s, well, here: take a look at the cover of my copy of Sex Changes. That’s a photo of a sexy androgynous person, naked from at least the waist up, wearing a leather collar. This picture would not be out of place in a Del La Grace Volcano show. It’s not unlike, say, this picture. Here’s another cover–less skin, but still recognizable to anyone familiar with boi culture and imagery connected to fetishization of ft? people. If we are not meant to fetishize or objectify the person pictured, or by extension all people who look like the cover models, we are meant to recognize these images as sexually charged, and to recognize the sexual interpretations of trans and genderqueer bodies.

Then, of course, there’s the title.

Here’s the cover of another Patrick Califia book, Speaking Sex to Power.

Both covers of Sex Changes and the cover of Speaking Sex to Power feature images of white trans/queer/genderqueer bodies, and that all of them seem to read more towards transmasculine rather than transfeminine aesthetic tropes. This is true even though Califia attempts to present a more diverse picture of the community, even though Califia tries to place exclusion in a very cohesive context, and even though Califia devotes a great deal of attention to (for example) The Transsexual Empire.

The cover pictures are especially interesting because they are a sort of, I don’t know, reclamation of titillation. These pictures are of reappropriated bodies, a counter to she-male/he-she porn and to the clinical nudes that filled medical textbooks. These pictures are a message to young genderqueers and transpeople about their own erotic potential and their own pride. And yet, they have a very narrow focus. They just happen not to feature some of the bodies that have been most abused.

I spent last night at Sizzle, where I got to hear Julia Serano read from her new book, Whipping Girl, which tackles the issue of exclusion of transwomen. Serano talked about precisely this issue in a slightly different context: the tendency to exclude transwomen from communities like “queer,” “trans,” “femme,” and “LGBT.”

She also had one very incisive thing to say about the way the issue of inclusion is framed. She noted that complaints about exclusion–a policy, a speaker roster, a phrase, a panty-check incident–are often described as “divisive.” She herself has heard that word many times. The original act of exclusion, on the other hand, isn’t usually described as “divisive.”

I think that my response to the book would have been akin to Ilyka’s: it’s not something I would have picked up myself at any age. I am far less attracted to to theory than to story; the books I picked up were more along the lines of Two or Three Things I Know for Sure and The God of Small Things. But I’m not sure I ever really wanted a primer. I think that primers have their place, but that the criticisms of this one are well-founded–and the idea that a limited focus is uncontroversial simply because, well, the tastes of “sorority girls” happen to be informed by their society, too, doesn’t hold up.

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13 comments for “Full Frontal Followup

  1. May 19, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Welcome back.

  2. May 19, 2007 at 4:02 pm


    Thanks so much for providing the links to BlackAmazon, Ilyka, Sylvia, and the rest.

    As for individuated spelling, we have to consider the possibility that the Queer Dewd wants to be called Quare Dewd right now (see his blog).

    The substantive comments I made about Full Frontal Feminism are here.

  3. hk
    May 19, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    First, I admit it, I have not read the book, so really I shouldn’t be making a comment. Second, the day someone writes a book that all feminists agree is a good book is the day hell freezes over. Since I do not believe in hell, you can see how likely I think that is ever going to happen.

    Here is the quandary as I see it (yes this is totally my opinion). Jessica is a white and privileged woman. She wrote a book based on her experiences as a privileged white woman, so that is who the book will generally cater to, whether Jessica or anyone else likes it or not.

    Even if the book had an in-depth long section or sections regarding woc-specific feminism she would still be writing it from her vantage point, not as a woc. So unless she got a co-author to write that section of the book she would probably seem to sound condescending or be just plain wrong or something else. From my reading experience of the blogs and blog responses on this type of issue, this just seems to always be how the arguements end up going. I totally understand the arguement and agree that she, with her life experiences, just did not write a book that has a lot of meaning or use for woc. I just wonder if anybody thinks she could have been able to write this style of book and include anything truly meaningful for anyone but a general white woman that would have been good enough to not still be criticized? I dunno, and honestly I’m really kind of just wondering out loud at this point, so don’t beat up on me too bad for my comment.

  4. May 19, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Very OT, but Formal Feline Shorts is the best blog name ever.

  5. May 19, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    actually it’s Feline Formal Shorts, but agreed.

  6. Holly
    May 19, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    OMG I just wrote an e-mail to you being all excited about Whipping Girl, which I found a copy of today randomly while on a scavenger hunt.

    I don’t have a lot to say about FFF, other than that from what I’ve read hk’s comment makes perfect sense to me. I wouldn’t expect Valenti to be able to write about woc feminism or even issues of younger women any more than I would expect her to write amazingly and personally about trans feminism. That’s why we need more voices and more authors, not some sort of omnibus represent-everything collection. That’s why I was excited about Serano’s book. And little light is right, as usual.

    I was just looking at that cover of Sex Changes. It was such an influential book for me when it came out. And about that picture, that particular “against the she-male porn industry” view of how trans & androgynous bodies can be hot… I feel like there’s a whole generation, at least in some communities, of queers and trans people and most specifically, trans women, who have grown up into our queer bodies and our queer desires with pictures just like that as models. Honestly, they’re not bad pictures if you’re going to have a model, but you point out very well exactly what they’re not. My formed-in-my-teens-and-twenties notion of what’s hot, how *I* can be hot even, is very much along those lines and not along lines that are… you know, actually about trans women’s bodies. Or femininity — but then, I’m not particularly femme, so I don’t know if Serano or anyone else that has a more “reclaim the feminine” alternative is going to suit me much better.

  7. Rebecca
    May 19, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks muchly for bringing my attention to Whipping Girl. I’m really pleased to see that someone has written a book on this topic, and reading that website makes me think I should run out and pre-order it right away.

  8. Anonymous
    May 20, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Hello! I figured it would be nice if I signed your guestbook. I just thought that I would visit your homepage and see what all you have been up to, well – it’s awesome!

  9. May 20, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    JK: QD is, in fact, a “she,” really.

  10. W. Kiernan
    May 20, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    A “male identified blogger”? Ha ha ha! Anyhow, teh Quare Dewd don’t lose no debates, sonny.

    Regarding the book with a belly on the cover, I haven’t read it, of course, so I can’t tell for sure that most of this jade-colored criticism of it is a bunch of shit, but I strongly suspect from the tone of it that that might be the case. What ever happened to “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom,” huh? Now we wonder why our revolution never grows, killing motherfuckers for stepping on our toes.

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