“I really think my tour is going to make a difference in the UK. I’m very arrogant,” said transgender scholar and writer Grace Lavery, with a bold smile. Lavery is an English teacher in Berkeley, California, but is best known for commenting on trans issues on Twitter, frequently engaging her critics in practice matches. Until recently, she was the most followed transgender researcher on the social network.
As an outspoken trans woman, she has faced false accusations of abuse, misogyny and even pedophilia from anonymous accounts. She’s unusually shy when describing how she first dealt with being called a misogynist in 2018. “At first it hurt me,” she admits. “I asked ten women I really admire to design me little knuckle tattoos so that I always felt like my hands were in service of sisterhood.” She raises her hands, showing the handful of hearts, runes, and squiggles inked on her knuckles.
When we first spoke, she was at home in California, rushing to give a talk at Stanford. Lavery was just weeks away from the UK leg of a promotional tour for his memoir, Please Miss: Stunning Penis Ripping Job. She planned to use it to change the toxic discourse about trans people in Britain, where she grew up. I told her that I hoped she would succeed, but she sensed my downcast tone. “Everyone is so pessimistic!” she exclaimed in frustration.
A former University of Oxford debater and regular Twitter provocateur, Lavery’s speech is brainy with a digital inflection, with both esoteric language – “archimedean” – and internetisms – “break that button like” – cropping up. in an informal conversation. He’s a hybrid of his academic background and internet personality, as his accent reflects both his British roots and his time living in the United States.
It’s no surprise that she’s championing the debate, both online and in traditional media. “I think we have a much better case than them,” she said. “Trans people should grab every camera pointed in our direction and exploit every opportunity.”
In February, Lavery lost access to its largest public platform. In a tussle with another Twitter user, who tagged the Home Office and claimed Lavery should not be allowed to enter the UK because she intends ‘to incite offenses to public order,” Lavery casually replied, “oh I hope the queen dies too,” earning him a lifetime ban.
She bristles at the suggestion that the ban is unrelated to her trans advocacy. “It’s sort of unrelated,” she concedes, “except I highly doubt this tweet would have been mass reported if I hadn’t been who I am.” Still, she’s able to joke about her “loss to the House of Windsor.”
With Grace removed from Twitter, the ire of her critics turned to her mother, Jane Lavery, who was bombarded with images of Lavery and her husband, Daniel Lavery. Jane told me she “was shocked that people thought I would be interested in pictures of Grace and Danny having consensual sex, and generally thought the level of argument that was leveled off was inane and nonsensical.”
One image shows Grace’s fist in Danny’s mouth and the other shows a bite on his cheek. They were pulled from a now-deleted private Instagram account for sexy queer pandemic photos led by Grace and her friend, author Yelena Moskovich. Twitter users who spam Jane have cited the images as evidence that Grace, whom they call male, is abusing Danny, a trans man, whom they view as a female victim.
“I don’t think biting is evidence of sexual abuse in a relationship,” Lavery argues. “I think people often bite themselves during sex. I feel like it’s pretty normcore. Seems super provincial to even refer to it as a kink. She laughs in frustration as she explains this, annoyed that those who call her an abuser seem to have little understanding of the violence she and Danny have personally experienced.
Her mother being targeted led Lavery to put more emphasis on safety, backing out of a planned debate with gender-critical feminist Julie Bindel over public concerns that might come forward. “I’m scared of people sending my mom pornography because I don’t think those people are acting within the usual confines of political advocacy, and I think those people are likely to cross other lines,” he said. she declared.
One of the most publicized engagements of his tour was an interview with Emma Barnett on the Radio 4 show woman’s hour, April 7. The BBC has been widely criticized for its reporting on trans people and its treatment of trans contributors. Lavery didn’t expect an easy ride. “I don’t see the BBC as a neutral organisation. I’m treating the BBC like a captured organization that we’re going to have to challenge, so that’s what I’m doing,” she said.
We caught up the day after her woman’s hour interview was recorded, in an Edinburgh pub, the city being one of the last stops of his tour. She was in a good mood. “I liked Emma Barnett,” she says, calling her a “thoughtful and diligent interviewer,” before describing some aspects of the interview that she found revealing.
“I was really struck by how what she has to say is the same question over and over again,” Lavery says, with this question having been posed to many politicians in recent weeks: “Can a woman have a penis?
“The question is designed to be grim rather than clarifying,” says Lavery. “We’re supposed to answer that question by saying, ‘Oh, you know, nowadays even women can have penises. What a crazy world we live in.
She was also surprised by some of Barnett’s assumptions in the interview, particularly that critique of gender is the mainstream feminist position, an idea Lavery says is “not true in the UK and laughable anywhere else in the world. world”. In fact, says Lavery, “the position that [Barnett] believed to be the normal, that is, a class of women found in nature and defined by their ability to reproduce, until about 2014 when Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the front of vanity loungehas been the definite position against which feminism has defined itself.
Her goals for the book tour are lofty, perhaps rooted in her need to be “the transexual who saves the world” as she wryly puts it, but she thinks trans people deserve more than many of them. don’t feel comfortable demanding. “The civil rights that we stand for – we are actually entitled to them,” she says. “They are not a gift.”
As the government backtracks on promises to ban transgender conversion therapy and end the marital veto for people trying to get a gender recognition certificate, it looks like trans people will have to fight harder than ever for their rights.
But although the media and government have intensified their transphobic rhetoric while Grace has been in the UK, she remains optimistic about the future of the LGBTQ+ community in Britain. His discussions weren’t interrupted by gender-critical protesters on the rare occasions they showed up, and the community isn’t as divided as they feared. She was particularly driven by the united front presented by LGBTQ+ organizations against the government, which continues to authorize conversion therapy for trans children.
“TERF and conservatives thought that by working together they could alienate trans people from our LGB brothers and sisters, and that just wasn’t possible,” she says. Having feared that Britain’s LGBT+ communities were as divided as they sometimes appear on Twitter, Grace is relieved to discover that “it looks much better in 3D”.
Please Miss: Stunning Penis Ripping Job is now available on Daunt Books.