Talking Penis with Grace Lavery

About the event

A memoir of gender transition and recovery from addiction, a dance across genres, a ripping-up of the rulebook, Please Miss is unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Grace Lavery is a reformed druggie, an unreformed omnisexual chaos Muppet, and a 100 per cent, all-natural, synthetic female hormone monster. How could her story be straightforward when she is anything but? As Grace fumbles toward a new trans identity, she tries on dozens of different voices, creating a coat of many colours. The result is dazzling, unique and unforgettable.

We are delighted to be publishing Please Miss and even more delighted that Grace will be joining us to talk to us about it. Journalist and critic Barry Pierce, whose writing has appeared in i-D, Dazed and The Times, will be in conversation with Grace.

From the blurb on Daunt Books website

Introduction

Daunt Books won a ‘four way auction‘ to publish the be-penised one’s memoir and thus they also got to host him running loose at the mouth on this night. Tickets sold well, with only 16 remaining when I sat down to write this introduction.

Pierce, the man interviewing Lavery, has an interesting oeuvre. According to him, the crappy reality TV show Slag Wars has a ‘real beating heart’. It features sex workers who humiliate themselves to earn the meaningless title ‘cock destroyer’. I watched the first five minutes of Slag Wars just to check it out and I can confirm standing at a bus stop is more intellectually stimulating. On the other hand, the apparent lack of male novelists aged between 25-35 is described by Pierce as if a disaster, and he is appalled that some people (apparently women) had laughed on Twitter about it.

The talk

Gracie girl shuffled out on stage looking bedraggled, eyes darting.  I was slightly worried that he might be having some sort of breakdown, but after a fawning introduction from Marigold of Daunt Books, Mr Staggering Penis happily came to life. 

Marigold introduced the interviewer Barry Pierce, who in person is so one-dimensional he could have been replaced by an Alexa machine, as ‘sometimes ruthless and always smart’.  It was Marigold’s predecessor who had bought Lavery’s memoir at the auction (which must be a bit like thinking you had bought a tractor, only to find out it was a broken lawn mower).  Marigold described the memoir as ‘singular’, which is fair, but ‘serious intellect’?

Lavery had been looking forward to this particular event and had quite a few friends in the room, including his oldest friend, but moreover his mother, who he dedicated the book to.  His elderly mum was sat near the front and he explained, to her and to us, that they had a ‘complicated’ relationship, but that he’d always known she was supportive of his work and transition.  He decided not to show her the book until it was too late to change it, however she loved the book. (She seemed happy to nod along.) Remember that Lavery pulled out of the debate with Helen Joyce, because of his mum’s distress about being tagged into conversations about his sex life?

Terf Island

Bazza’s first insightful question of the evening was: ‘What’s it like being back on Terf Island?’

I’ve been having death threats, said Lavery cheerily, and then proceeded to tell us that a Canadian Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist, who was unhappy with his joke about the Queen, had told him torture was too good for him.

He’d gone to Exeter last week, which had been fine, but Brighton, well Brighton, Brighton had been fine too. And now Kensington. Kensington. Also fine.

Two years ago you couldn’t do an event in London without someone holding up a placard with surgical scars on, and he should know ‘cos he’s mates with Morgan M. Page, of the Cotton Ceiling workshop fame.

Whilst Lavery sat in the bookshop undisturbed, this was happening outside a Women Place’s UK meeting in Manchester

Terfing was a huge thing online. The most wealthy writer in the history of the world had dedicated her life to this ‘bizarre cause’, and he implied that Rowling had somehow been manipulated into that position.

Lavery feels that there are somewhere between 500 and 2,000 terfs and that we all make sock puppet accounts to make ourselves look legion. Because trans people had been so marginalised in society they weren’t well defended against the ‘rapacious capture’ of institutions, led by a small number of activists, like Maya Forstater.

So, in conclusion, (he had now been talking for more than five minutes) things weren’t so bad at all. In fact, the arguments of terfs were so superficial, under any examination they fall apart. He had been booked that day to go on to Woman’s Hour, and his mum was going to go with him, but because BBC staff had COVID it had been cancelled and rescheduled. Right.

Lavery ‘can’t wait’ to discuss with Emma Barnett that the term ‘sex based rights’ is a ‘really weird and misleading misrepresentation of the history of feminism’ and, of course, that ‘adult human female’ isn’t as self-evident as people think it is.

Lavery couldn’t remember the name of Sarah Ditum, who had ‘trashed’ his book in the Times, never could Bazza, who muttered under his breath in a stage whisper ‘oh god, I don’t know her name’. Lavery is still upset that Ditum pointed out he’d gone out of his way to mock women who were worried about autogynephiles using the loos. Such women deserve ‘sisterly mockery’ he told us.

Though we should try to engage these people, Lavery preached, failing to mention that he had pulled out of a debate, that he called for, with the journalist Helen Joyce. Institutions were being captured in the absence of a popular movement. Media and academia were being overrun by this ‘incredibly marginal idea’ (i.e. biological sex). Lavery couldn’t see a way out of this mess unless someone got up and explained why the ideas were wrong. He’s very capable of doing that, by the way, but mostly he just wanted to have fun.

Twitter

‘Do you miss Twitter in any way?’ asked Bazza.

Lavery had been kicked off Twitter for saying that he hoped the Queen would die. And then began a rehearsed, but to be fair, fairly funny spiel about it.

Are you seriously saying you want this walnut of a woman to grow smaller and smaller and smaller, but still remain the Sovereign Head of State, like, no one wants that, everyone wants that woman to die.

Lavery on the Queen

He tipped his cap to the GC activist who tweeted ‘Misogynist Lavery wishes death on 95 year old working mother’. Lavery had read a lot of Marx, so he knew that the Queen was not a worker.

But really he didn’t miss Twitter all that much. Had we heard about this guy who had gone to the Ukraine to cover the Russian invasion and come out as ‘queer’, yet was only attracted to women? Lavery asked the audience. Yes, most people had. (See examples of Starr’s output below, it really is quite impressively facile.)

Lavery had thought it was a dumb thing to say. But somehow, especially on Twitter, when a dumb person, but especially a ‘dumb gay person’, and especially Andrew Sullivan, who made the comment below, in response to Starr’s ‘revelation’ …

‘Is anyone recording this?’ asked Lavery with a fraction of caution.

The Andrew Sullivan ‘ass-eating’ anecdote

Well, apparently last summer in Province Town, when Gracie was there, and Sully was too, and apparently the reason why they’re happy to keep him (Sully) around (that is the in-crowd of rich gays), was because ‘he was really good at eating ass’. Lavery wondered what would make someone ‘super talented’ at that. Personally Lavery didn’t have any special skills in this area, preferring instead to own a ‘certain gusto’. He also took the opportunity to remind us that his mother was in the room, calling her ‘mom’ with an affected LA twang. I looked over at his mum. She hadn’t walked out. But of course she hadn’t. This is her golden boy.

‘Whatever happened to rimming?’ wheedled the professionally paid interviewer. Bazza told us that he once also got to ask this question to Dennis Cooper (see end of this article) and that everyone was just a wimp now and preferred a cleaner version (which directly contradicts Cooper’s answer that it was about violence).

Lavery wanted to draw a correlation between ‘eating bussy’ (i.e. butthole) and ‘eating pussy’ and the ‘ways in which non-quantifiable nouns are used in relation to the transitive verb to eat‘. Bazza expressed amazement at Lavery’s precocity and that he wanted to bring back rimming. Practically licking his lips, he was.

Glinner

‘Did you hear that Graham Linehan was crying today?’ was Bazza’s next incisive question.

‘What was he doing!?’ squealed Lavery utterly delighted. Bazza gloated that Linehan had lost his marriage and that it was ‘totally’ Lavery’s fault. The thing that Lavery is most proud of, is being responsible for getting Glinner kicked off twitter (which he didn’t).

Ray Blanchard

Lavery, acting as if he were a veteran of the interview circuit (his tour was in its third week), confidently told us that when you were interviewed at the BBC, they would always wheel a transphobe out to call you a rapist. He fantasised this would happen when he (doesn’t) do Woman’s Hour. For example, when Shon Faye went on Newsnight, he’d been faced by Ray Blanchard.

Blanchard had compared gender transition to ‘demonic possession’ claimed Lavery. ‘That’s kinda cool,’ said Bazza. ‘I know,’ squealed Lavery, ‘he’s not wrong,’ adding his female partner has a Satanic tattoo.

Lavery is hoping beyond hope that they bring Blanchard out when he (doesn’t) go on Woman’s Hour. To Lavery, Blanchard appears to be a man who ‘enjoys the best of both worlds’, suggesting that he probably liked his ladies with a bit of salami on the side.

Lavery appeared keen to show his concern about the pathologization of homosexuality, probably because he wanted to emphasise to the audience his ‘queer’ credentials.

Back to Glinner

However, when Lavery (doesn’t) go on Woman’s Hour, if they bought out Glinner, he wouldn’t know what to say. He’d say, ‘Dude, are you okay? Do you need a drink?’ (which is funny because Lavery is the recovering alcoholic, now apparently hooked on exogenous hormones).

Bazza then reported how someone had once seen Glinner in the supermarket ‘buying a carbonara for one’. Lavery giggled and told us that he had Glinner’s address.

The author of the sitcom Father Ted hates me and decided a few years ago that I was a paedophile because I said I didn’t like teaching students over Zoom, that literally was his reasoning. I was approached by some UK lawyers and they were like, you should sue his ass, and I was like, yeah let’s sue his ass.

Grace Lavery

Lavery then said that because someone sent him a poem in a text, which had said ‘I wish I had a chocolate boy’ but it had meant to be ‘chocolate box’. Because of the existence of this misspelled poem, sent to him by text, the lawyers decided that the case against Glinner wouldn’t be strong enough. Quite a bizarre little tale.

However, because the case had already started, the lawyers had already passed on Glinner’s home address to him. ‘So I have his address,’ Lavery said coyly, ‘I don’t think I can legally publish it, but I’d like to’.

I’m a teacher, I’m a professor, so I’m asking an abstract question about political strategy. This is not – I’m not suggesting. I want to be really, really, clear, right. Is assassination a legitimate tool of political resistance? Right. What our are options, there, right? Do we think this individual is actually bearing any realistic responsibility for the harms against trans people in the world? The answer has to be no. He clearly isn’t. His career has fallen apart, he’s crying on the radio apparently, he’s buying carbonara for one. He doesn’t have anything to hurt people with. So, what does one do? If one isn’t going to do that? We’ll just have to ignore him somehow. But it’s so hard.

Lavery casually suggesting assassination

Lavery claimed that Glinner had found his dating profile and had published the personal ads which Lavery had posted when he was looking for people to have sex with in Los Angeles. (Remember Mum is still in the room.)

Bazza finally gets round to asking him if he wants to talk about his book

But in fact Lavery didn’t want to talk about his book, he wanted to read from it.  An incredibly long passage, as it turned out, the QI porn parody.  He asked if Bazza wanted a role, and Bazza was keen to be the effete Etonian.  It turned out Bazza didn’t know how to pronounce Cirencester.  

The reading included Lavery describing the porn film Edward Penis Hands at length, in which the actor had penis for fingers, instead of scissors.  Lavery unconvincingly told us he couldn’t remember whether he jacked off to the film or not. The reading ended with him having sex with a woman (or possibly a man) dressed as a clown.  I was still very aware that his mum was in the room.  

‘What kind of book is it?  Does it have an antecedence?’ fawned Bazza, conveniently forgetting that the title alone is a rip off of Dave Eggers’ book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Bazza is a book reviewer, so presumably he does know, or really should).  

Lavery told us it started with the question: Why am I doing this strange thing to my body?  He believes it’s part of ‘trans literature’.  People who identify as trans, he said, but especially ‘trans women’ are held to a higher level of scrutiny in explaining their lives.  

Bazza wanted to know, did Lavery think that trans stuff was becoming a bit uncool now?

For Lavery, Torrey Peters is cool because Peters is ‘hot’.  McKenzie Wark however, had slagged his book off in some periodical and made the criticism that Lavery’s book ‘felt outside of the community’ and didn’t share any love or community with other ‘trans women’.  Lavery believes that the criticism was levied simply because Wark hadn’t been invited to the book’s launch party. Bazza wanted to know if Lavery was going to start a feud in the trans literary world.  (Hopefully I can help.)  Lavery told us he definitely didn’t want to be Paul Preciado, and impersonated Preciado – ‘I’m forty-something and really cool’ in a Mockney accent.  Which was pretty funny.

Lavery pretended to be hurt by Sarah Ditum’s review and claimed that he never wanted the book to be shocking.  Although he did choose the first page to compare his atrophied tumescent penis to a miscarried foetus.  Lavery claims this arose from Melanie Klein’s writing about the phallus and that these two forms have an intrinsic association (see here for an example of her work – she sounds nuts).  His two goals for the book were to make people laugh and make people feel sexually aroused.  

The Q&A 

An academic in the audience, on a temporary contract, wanted to know how to stay motivated until she got tenured. 

Lavery was going to support the University College Union action next week.  

Lavery made quite an interesting argument that universities were suffering ‘institutional collapse’ and that the publishing industry was in competition with them, and that no one quite knew how to handle the situation.  Job security was needed for those working in academia and more support for those doing original research.  Since he had been in the profession, the opportunity for research had totally bottomed out.  A lot of the teaching had been transferred to short term instructional labour and this in itself was stopping research.  The in-person teaching experience needed to be vigorously defended, as once things transfer online the space is forever lost.  

We have forgotten how to defend the university as a project for collective emancipation.  And I do believe it is one.  

Grace Lavery, not saying something stupid for once

I was really impressed with his argument and vision for education, but then he told us that he knew none of his students would form the next generation of Victorianists and that he was focussed on getting his grad students to incorporate creative work (then they should be doing a Creative Writing degree, which isn’t really a degree in my opinion). 

He had met with a trans person last week, H. Howitt, of the University of Brighton, who was in a funded PhD trans studies programme, but who did not have an MA and only had a 2:2.  Howitt was also in sex work. Howitt is writing a dissertation called ‘How we fuck’ which was based on 21 intimate interviews with trans people.  It was literally about the mechanics of how trans people have sex.  Howitt had also done some drawings.  Lavery believes this is what the new knowledge base of the university was going to be, ‘collective community-based knowledge programmes’. Or, put more simply, ‘I had a chat with some of my mates, and this is what they said and here are some doodles what they done’.

Which trans lit books would you recommend? And which wouldn’t you?

Leslie Feinberg’s Stonebutch Blues and Transgender Warriors. Torrey Peters. Lauren John Joseph, who had a book out the following week. Sybil Lamb. Jos Charles, a poet. Stephen Ira (the daughter of Annette Bening). Kay Gabriel, another poet. An audience member suggested Vivek Shraya. Harry Dodge and Maggie Nelson would also count. Belatedly he managed to remember that his partner had also written a transition memoir – Something That May Shock and Discredit You. He couldn’t think of any which were trash.

Jan Morris’s Conundrum had set the standard for what people had thought transsexuality was for about 40 years. Angela Morley was an example of a music composer who Lavery admired.

In fact, the names he mentioned were only a few of those available. How is it that this tiny group of confused men and women have the ear of the publishing industry? Marginalised, my arse.

Was TS Elliot into rimming?

TS stands for transsexual. TS Eliot is also an anagram of toilet. When you go to Times Square one of the signs says TS (tee hee). Lavery described Eliot’s poetry as ‘shit sucking’ and asked Bazza if he thought that was okay as a description. ‘Yeah, love it,’ Bazza said, his mind obviously still on dirty arses.

Which TV shows did he recommend?

He’d been watching old episodes of Eastenders. He’d loved the movie Spencer, which he’d reviewed for Bitch Media. Lavery wasn’t happy that Hadley Freeman him had profiled Christine Baranski (see here) and had opened her piece saying that people didn’t necessarily know Baranski’s name, but they knew her face. Lavery wrote a letter to the Guardian to complain.

Marigold popped up to describe the session as ‘heaven’ and that Lavery was available now to sign dedications in the book or that we could buy signed copies.


Seeing Lavery in person confirmed the impression that I got from reading his book, that he probably didn’t really want to be an academic, rather a creative, possibly a stand up. He’s the kind of person who just can’t stop lying, but no one ever told him – Stop! You’ve gone too far! Hence the reason why his mother was in the audience in the first place.


Postscript: Our Bazza posted my blog on his twitter feed! It’s always nice when people are generous enough to create new traffic for you. Bazza declared his utter delight at being compared to an Alexa machine and these whinges below. That’s right, someone who has reviewed Slag Wars, is confused by the purpose of my blog. Strange guy.


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