The Lies They Tell

Grace Lavery discusses “Pleasure and Efficacy: Techniques of Trans Feminist Criticism”

About this Event

I post the blurbs for the events for completeness, without expecting people to really read through them. However, this one is really spectacular. Since when did L. Ron Hubbard have anything to say about women or feminism, or even transsexualism? What does Alcoholics Anonymous have to do with anything? Okay, so, Foucault is predictable.

And how can you base a whole lecture around the statement “She really knows how to have a good time?” It is a very is-a-table-really-a-table level of debate, isn’t it? You know, the ones that you had when you were 14 and thought, like Adrian Mole, that you were a secret intellectual.

However, if you are an academic anything seems possible these days, especially if your university is based in Tranada. The lecture was based on the introduction to Lavery’s upcoming book on ‘trans feminist rhetorics of technique‘. One that I won’t be reviewing to take the piss out of.

Pleasure and Efficacy: Techniques of Trans Feminist Criticism

“She really knows how to have a good time.” Such an assessment presupposes two premises, neither of which we conventionally take for granted: that following certain procedures will produce a good time, and that those procedures can be known in advance. In this lecture, I will explore the logical foundations of these claims, and their implications for the techniques of pleasure-giving and receiving that I take to be essential to the possibility of trans feminist thriving, and the focus of both suppressive patriarchal epistemologies, and anti-trans feminist thought. Through brief and critical readings in the work of the feminist eugenicist Marie Stopes, the cult leader and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and the anonymously published “big book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, I sketch an historiography of the “one weird trick your doctor doesn’t want you to know,”– by which feminists can create anew our own bodies, communities, and politics. In so doing, I aim to refresh Michel Foucault’s call in 1977, to “withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality,” and instead to rebuild our world with our own knowledge-practices, trained not on what satisfies, intrigues, or expresses, but on what works.

This is an online event co-hosted by the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies and the English & Drama Department at University of Toronto, Mississauga. It will be live streamed on the Centre for Ethics YouTube Channel on Wednesday, March 24. Channel subscribers will receive a notification at the start of the live stream. (For other events in the series, and to subscribe, visit YouTube.com/c/CentreforEthics.)

Grace Lavery is Associate Professor in the Department of English at UC Berkeley, and general editor of Transgender Studies Quarterly. She is the author of Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan (Princeton 2020), which won the NAVSA “Best Book of the Year” prize, and of Please Miss, an experimental memoir which will be published by Seal Press in 2021. Her essays have appeared in Critical Inquiry, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, English Literary History, and elsewhere. She is currently completing two books––one on trans feminist rhetorics of technique, from which this lecture is drawn, and one on the problem of narrative closure in the age of the sitcom.

Blurb from Eventbrite

A bit about Gracie

Lavery isn’t really someone that I have paid much attention to thus far. So I just popped over to his Twitter timeline to see what he was up to recently.

After (L) and before (R). Who ate all the pies, is the real question.

That’s right, attempting to troll another academic, by posting what he thinks is a devastating new photo of himself. As if anyone really cares. In fact, a further read of his TL reveals that he is quite obsessed with JCJ, Glinner and British terfs in general. Lavery is British so perhaps he is just missing home.

Lavery’s partner is Daniel Mallory Ortberg, a trans-identified female, who has written a ‘sparkling memoir about gender transition’ called Something That May Shock and Discredit You. So basically they are a straight couple, who abide by gender norms (albeit in reverse), who want to talk about their oppression as ‘queer’. Quel sorprise.

Also, isn’t this a bit weird?

The talk

After informing us that he had renamed the talk to One Weird Trick: Feminism, Realism and the Rhetoric of Technique, he asked us to think throughout of the slide below which was flashed up on the screen briefly. Because it was a trick. And thus Lavery’s first sleight of hand was performed! Ooh, who’s a clever boy then?

Image suggestive of the fetish know as ‘female masking’ – don’t google it!

Part 1 of the talk was How to Brainwash Yourself and suddenly the references to Scientology were all too clear. The slide below stayed on the screen for such a long time it was impossible not to be drawn to holding the gaze of the girl (fixed attention on a single point is hypnosis).

Lavery told us that since starting on spironolactone (an androgen suppressant) and estradiol (an oestrogen) in January 2018 his whole body and mind had been reprogrammed. He was actually now a woman. Which had changed his political commitments. Naturally.

A little diversion

This immediately got me thinking about, what is known as, ‘trans hypno porn’. I first heard about this from Hacsi Horvath who once posted a link to the videos freely available in YouTube. Steve Hassan, a renowned expert in cults, has described the videos as ‘weapons-grade mind control’.

There is a website entirely dedicated to the genre called Hypnotube.

screenshot

I couldn’t face a visit longer than a second but a tweeter who apparently had, described is as a series of rapid fire subliminal images of all kinds of sex, with messages spliced in between of the become a girl and you’re a naughty girl type-nature. As you can see from the greyed-out screenshot above it describes itself as ‘the free video hypno tube for the sissy hypnosis porn fetish’.

Anyway back to the talk

Lavery told us that he had done a lot of reading of queer theory texts. The denial of ‘gender affirming care to trans children’ was nothing more than an attack on all transgender people. Lavery acknowledged that some critics thought ‘gender affirming care of children as an attempt to eradicate gay children,’ proving he does understand.

Lavery told us that he was going to talk about a eugenicist (Marie Stopes) and a charlatan (L. Ron Hubbard) though ultimately never gave us the lowdown on Stopes’ support for eugenics and Hubbard was given only a very passing mention in the Q&A.

… but if I confess to attempting to animate within realism, the erotic frisson that might derive from a fantasy of being brainwashed, I will feel myself safe, because George Eliot was unquestionably a trans author, and transition, whatever else it may be, can hardly escape the condition of brainwashing and those upon whom it does its work, would hardly wish it to.

Lavery blathering on about realism in fiction, oh and brainwashing, in a subliminal reference

Yep, you heard it here first (or maybe not). George Eliot was trans because she pretended to be a male author, the fact that women were not permitted to author books at the time is of course immaterial.

Lavery basically implied that men – when they identify as ‘transwomen’ – serve as an archetype for women and that throughout the history of literature such bodies were the sites of literal conflict over the control of flesh. In his book he would explore:

… the configuration of the transsexual woman as both the archetype and the confounding disproof of modern theories of labour.

Lavery, several painful minutes into the talk, signposting his anti-capitalist credentials

What did RuPaul mean by ‘you better work’?

In 1992 RuPaul had a hit single called Supermodel (You Better Work). After Lavery finished talking about the deeper meaning of the words ‘you better work’ (think: sissy porn) he had two ginormous sneezes (probably edited out of the posted video), requiring several seconds to compose himself. I must admit, I did laugh. A lot. Lavery was experiencing a major allergic episode throughout the talk, due to a new puppy he and his partner had acquired. Thus his magical words were punctuated with snorts and sniffs throughout providing extra comedy value.

Marie Stopes’ Married Love

Lavery did his best to communicate ‘outrage’ that Marie Stopes’ book about sex, called Married Life, published in 1918, was overtly focussed on male pleasure and that it only featured heterosexual sex. Naughty Marie was also not a fan of psychotherapy.

Lavery told us that one of the first synthetic oestrogens was produced from pig urine. A fact that seemed to make him happy. Lavery said that Stopes says in the book that she believes there is a link between menstruation and the desire for sex. For Lavery this meant:

… it may form a basis for the untested but widely reported claim by transwomen that they experience menstrual cramps.

Cue shriek of laughter from me

Getting the chance to read something out in Latin and sound really brainy

Lavery spoke about Jennie June, who he described as a ‘transwomen’, who described his sex acts with men in Latin. Lavery said one sentence roughly translated to ‘penetration of my inguinal canals’ (sounds painful). Lavery informed us that this was also known as ‘muffing’. He then read out the excruciating quote below. It’s basically highbrow Fifty Shades of Grey.

According to Wikipedia June described himself as a faerie, effeminate man or as an androgyne

Full throttle into tedium

… each winning should necessitate a fresh wooing.

From Marie Stopes, Married Love (according to Lavery, I haven’t double checked, should we trust him?)

This quote was treated to a full syntactical analysis. What did it mean? Like really mean? Finally, we had arrived at our is-a-table-really-a-table moment!

Lavery said the quote had:

… a vaporous sonic quality, an alliterative rhyme which twins two words even as it nudges their meanings apart.

Lavery over explaining

Rather than accepting the more logical explanation that Stopes was not permitted to use direct language to describe the sex act at the time she was writing, Lavery chose to believe that Stopes had chosen to perform a literary masterstroke of twinning:

… the two participle verbs in two ways, phonic and semantic [?], while differentiating both as chronological sequence and as logical procedure. In both cases ‘wooing’ is to proceed ‘winning’, even though ‘winning’ is the subject of the clause and has been mentioned first. Syntactically then, the sentence stretches backwards from ‘wooing’ to ‘winning’, pushing the ideas gently apart, as performing rhetorically the very touch that is being prescribed.

It might sound fanciful to suggest that the phrase ‘each winning should necessitate a fresh wooing’ imitates the digital stimulation of clitoris and labia …

Lavery fancifully conjuring up a specific image

Another little diversion

Indirect trance induction also grows out of storytelling and other verbal experiences. Cult leaders often speak repetitively, rhythmically, in hard-to-follow ways, and combine with these features the telling of tales and parables that are highly visualizable. They use words to create mental imagery, commonly called guided imagery.

Margaret Thaler Singer, Cults in Our Midst, pg 156

Yep. By this point I had prostrated myself on the sofa and was yawning fully, sleepy and a bit giggly. In other words, in a state where I might be inclined to be more receptive to suggestion.

Bill Wilson’s Alcoholics Anonymous

And the suggestions kept on coming as Lavery flitted over to the topic of Alcoholics Anonymous. Originally published in 1939 it was simple guide to help recovery from alcoholism and the 12 steps are known the world over.

Lavery asked what the connections were between Wilson’s book, George Eliot and realism. Going through the 12 steps was sort of like ‘transition’. Depriving alcoholics of alcohol might be murder. Also, George Eliot’s mum might have been a drinker.

‘It works, it really does,’ was the sentence in Wilson’s book that Lavery thought was really loaded with meaning.

[The phrase] is both euphemistic and performative in the elocutionary sense. The phrase does something imminently that is more than [?] portative, ‘it works’ closes the gap between attempt and outcome, such that the ‘it’ that ‘works’ becomes none other than the ‘we’ that is working.

Please no one give him a Janet and John book

Part IV – This is not a joke … this is really happening

The photo above is of Tom Cruise and David Miscavige, the current supremo in Scientology. Because I am well read up on Scientology I know the photo was taken in 2004 when Miscavige presented Cruise with a Scientology junket known as the Freedom Medal of Valor. Miscavige praised Cruise and said ‘every minute of every hour someone reaches for LRH technology, simply because they know Tom Cruise is a Scientologist’ (page 447 of Going Clear by Lawrence Wright). It’s the kind of thing someone obsessed with Scientology knows.

So why had Lavery shown us this? What was ‘not a joke’ and ‘really happening’? Could it be he was referring to his own diabolical lecture during his actual lecture?

Perhaps, because he promised us that he wouldn’t ‘go on much longer, don’t worry’ and continued to talk about Stopes, Eliot and Wilson and the differences between them (which are completely immaterial and obvious as far as I’m concerned, given that they had all had different fields of work). He felt they all presented ‘techniques for transformation’.

He then referred back to the original image he had shown us, the ‘dermatologists hate her’ slide, with the woman peeling something off her face. This ‘one weird trick’ was a sales gimmick which offered a ‘mythic dream of transformation’.

What is being mimicked in this image indeed, is not finally the use of a commodity but the transformation of the body as the horizon of historical becoming itself. The image depicts transition as not merely possible but inevitable, as inevitable as the shedding of one’s epidermic [SIC] selves. Thank you. That’s all I got.

Lavery closes his woo garbage lecture

Question and Answer

One of the academics thank him for his talk describing it as ‘wonderful’ and ‘thought provoking’ (another shriek of laughter from me). Around 70 people had watched it live.

One of the academics asked Lavery a long rambling question. Lavery responded that he was most ambivalent to Marie Stopes of his three subjects, because Married Love, and the books it went onto inspire, promoted the idea that the ‘female orgasm is the point of sex’ (this rather contradicted his earlier point that the book was written as if for a man). He likened the female orgasm to the Holy Grail and had been impressed into the deepest grooves of Western culture. This, for him, meant that female pleasure relied upon male expertise. Lavery whined that women were under pressure to perform pleasure to ratify male skill. This is what was wrong with Marie Stopes’s 1918 book for Lavery. The fact that Stopes was giving women (and men) the knowledge about contraception and thus liberating them from endless pregnancies and babies, as well as lifting whole families out of poverty, was clearly the furthest thing from his mind.

Someone in the audience wanted to know about the techniques of transition. As part of his response Lavery told us that Scientology was fascinated by the language of technique and mental tricks. Adherents must practise repetitive exercises and used the example depicted in the film The Master where a character repeatedly touches a wall for hours on end. Lavery explained that this was ‘a technique which tells you something about your proprioception,’ which sounded like an endorsement to me, but then described it as ‘malicious’ and ‘anti-democratic’. Confusing.

It’s almost close to hypnosis, there are parts of it which are a little close to hypnosis, but again hypnosis without the foregrounding of hypnosis, hypnosis without saying it’s hypnosis. And is there anything really hypnotic about saying aim at the chevrons, don’t aim at the [?] bends, you know, just DO IT. You know, you can do it and then you can see whether I’m right or not, or whether the person who told me was right, you know. [Sniffs loudly]

One can only guess what he may have been be alluding to.

Another wanted to know what Lavery thought about the potential of psychoanalysis to change things. Lavery said that the feminist take on ‘penis envy’ utterly changed his views on psychoanalysis. Everything boiled down to this and ‘castration complex,’ which meant there was always a possibility of ‘transsexuation’. Even though something like Alcoholics Anonymous may appear to have nothing to do with sex change, all radical transformative practices ‘is on some level reducible to a question about transsexuation’.

So, there you go. Everything is about meeee!!! I wonder how many of his students are in the process of transition?


If you want to watch yourself, the edited version of the talk is available on youtube.


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