I’ve seen some gaslighting in my time, but the new book from transgender professor Grace Lavery takes the biscuit. It is almost entirely about Lavery’s penis – as confirmed by its title, Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis – and yet if any of you dare to refer to Lavery as a man you will be branded a bigot. It has page after depressing page about Mr Lavery’s cock – how shriveled it has become since he started popping female hormone pills, how it ‘does very little but flop around’, how it occasionally ‘takes a stab at stiffening’ – and yet anyone who says ‘He must be a bloke, then’ will be denounced as a foul transphobe deserving of cancellation. It goes on and on about boners and ballsacks and the ‘Lacanian phallus’ – imagine Jay from Los tontos getting a PhD in Queer Studies – and yet woe betide those who refuse to bow down to the idea that this dick obsessed with his dick is in fact a woman. Literally, legally, actually a woman.
I have never liked the term male privilege, but it’s hard to know what other term to use to describe a man writing a book about his ‘bellend’ – he uses that word – while fully expecting that everyone will acknowledge his ‘womanhood’ – he use that word, too. His womanhood of him is his most ‘cherished’ thing, he says, which I found shocking because I had assumed it was his knob of him. If male privilege means anything, surely it is the fact that a dude can publish a book whose front cover features a photo of him with a five o’clock shadow and an iffy wig and still demand that everyone refer to him as ‘Miss Lavery’ . Even my use of the male pronoun in this review will be considered by some a heinous act of anti-trans bigotry, but if you think I am going to say ‘she’ and ‘her de ella’ de ella about someone who describes getting a hard-on while watching Riverdale and who goes to a sperm bank to ‘make a deposit of liquid silk’ (Jay!), then you are off your rocker.
Lavery is an associate professor of English at Berkeley in California. (Jesus Christ.) This book is about his gender transition. It is one of the most misogynistic books I have ever read. The way it talks about women and their bodies is repellent. Lavery tells his doctor he wants ‘titty skittles’ – that is, progesterone supplements to ‘enlarge one’s breasts’. Hot tip for Mr Lavery: women don’t refer to their breasts as titties. He talks about the ‘leaky boobs’ of those ‘sour’ feminists and Mumsnet users who are critical of the ideology of transgenderism. Yeh, why can’t you old hags have pert titties like Mr Lavery apparently does? He writes of his ‘phantom pussy’, which is probably just the ‘inguinal canals into which my testicles retreat when frigid’ but to him it nonetheless feels like a ‘subcutaneous cluster of nerve endings and open space, roughly oval’, like a vagina . Oh sure, exactly like a vagina. When did it become acceptable to write about women’s bodies in such a deluded, degraded fashion?
Strikingly, Lavery uses the word pussy a lot. So much so that it’s in the index. It would be easy to put this down to the infantile manner of many identitarian activists, who love shocking over-50s by saying pussy, cock, clit, jizz (another word Lavery uses a lot; there’s an entire chapter on his ‘splooge’, as he calls it). But there’s more to it than that. Lavery seems obsessed with porn. Part of her memoir of her is written in the style of pornography. He comes up with porn names for Dickens’ novels (eg, ‘A Tale of Two Titties’ – again with the titties). He describes at length the first porn he ever watched – Edward Penishands – and seems to recognize something of his own gender dysphoria in the way Edward Penishands flits ‘back and forth between grotesque phallic overcompensation and almost girlish, butterfingered flimsiness’. Girls are flimsy, don’t you know? He even includes a still from the film, showing Edward Penishands fisting two supplicant women. You start to understand not only why he says pussy all the time but also why he seems to have such a fetishised view of ‘womanhood’ – to the extent that when he first transitions he puts on a ‘slutty denim skirt’. Well, women are sluts, right?
I think his use of the word pussy is also an act of cynical disassociation. He is disassociating the vagina from womanhood, and reimagining it as a feeling, or just an indistinct fleshy thing that can appear anywhere, including in the scraggy part of a deluded man’s scrotum. Lavery knows he will never have a vagina, but a pussy? That pornified vision of the vagina? That reductive view of women as holes that need filling? that I can have. He writes about his ‘secret hole’ and counsels: ‘[B]elieve that you have a pussy there, imagine it… and if you imagine it, you can do things with it.’ It is testament to both transgenderism’s and porn culture’s degradation of women as people with ‘front holes’ – as people with titties, people who bleed – that men can now openly fantasize about having a ‘pussy’ and be praised as progressive for doing so. The dehumanization of women as ‘pussy’ is the prerequisite to their exploitation in pornography and the means through which their biology can be caricatured and appropriated by men who claim to be women. Porn and trans activism, as Mr Lavery perhaps unwittingly demonstrates, are not unrelated.
Like other mainstream trans activists, Lavery promotes a view of ‘the feminine’ that strikes me as outdated and sexist. He talks about ‘presenting in a feminine way’. At one point this involves him ‘weeping desperately in a red dress’, like ladies do. One of the fictional parts of his memoir of him describes the ‘softness of [a woman’s] shoulder, quiet and feminine’. He describes masculinity as ‘swagger, passion, directness’, though he graciously acknowledges that these traits can be ‘feminine’, too. Women, you can be passionate and direct – Mr Lavery says so! It is completely inevitable that trans activists, given their belief in a mystical gender orientation that sometimes runs counter to one’s biological reality, often end up pushing visions of the feminine and the masculine that Betty Friedan was railing against 60 years ago. Parts of the book are unwittingly hilarious. Lavery writes about the ‘panic’ over trans women (ie, blokes) using women’s toilets, with gender-critical types pushing the mustached idea that trans women are ‘erotically fixated on the idea of women urinating’. Then, literally in the next paragraph, he says: ‘[But] going to the toilet is Kind of sexy? At least, I have occasionally found it to be so.’ My man, this is why they don’t want you in their loos.
For me, the most disturbing part of the book is its mockery of gender-critical women. Here, the misogyny is clear as day. First, Lavery compares gender-critical women to Brexit voters, in that Brexit voters want a ‘Pole-less nation’ and GCs want a ‘pole-less ladies’ bathroom’ (geddit?!). It is testament to Lavery’s conformist, hyper-middle-class prejudices that he bandies around the word ‘Brexiteer’ as an insult, knowing full well that the plummy, privileged millennials and zoomers who’ll read this book will nod vigorously along. ‘Oh yes, Brexit, gross. Those horrible gammon, what.’ I have described spiked as ‘TERF’ and as part of a new ‘class of activists who deride “identity politics”’ and who instead promote ‘a love of common sense [and] plain speaking’. Guilty as charged!
Then he has a pop at Mumsnet and it gets really ugly. The woke set’s loathing of Mumsnet is such a red flag. They just cannot believe that mother’s and other ordinary women are allowed to associate freely and have critical conversations. Shouldn’t they be in the kitchen or chest feeding their kids? Lavery says there is ‘something stranger’ underneath ‘the whole phenomenon of British gender-criticals’ – he calls it ‘the problem [of] leaky boobs and the school run, the revenge of feminist grievance against feminist pleasure’. The ‘sourness’ of these harridans who dare to say men aren’t women represents a ‘loathing of the trans woman as a figure of pleasure embodied’, he says. Then, instantly, he goes into a cultural riff on Mars Attacks, in which he discusses the ‘femmebot’ in that movie, whose ‘tits are ballistic weapons’ and who ‘refuses to share in the refractory period of post-historical coldness’. And there you have it, in black and white – the trans woman as the fabulously titted pleasure machine and the real woman, the bitches who skulk on Mumsnet, as coldness personified.
This is misogyny. On every level – from its implication that ‘trans women’ understand female pleasure better than those real women, who are gender-critical and ‘sour’, to its seeming contrast between the leaky boobs of feeding mothers and the ballistic tits of camp heroines. Cold, sour, saggy tits – it’s like listening to Bernard Manning. That use of the phrase ‘leaky boobs’ cuts to the rotten heart of trans extremism, where there is a deep envy of womanhood. Lavery knows that his ‘breasts’ of him, bestowed on him by ‘titty skittles’, will never leak (though he might get a bit of moob sweat, as blokes do). And so he seems to lash out against women whose breasts do ‘leak’ – ie, whose breasts are real. He even seems to envy the sexism women experience. Lavery has said that ‘there is something about being treated like shit by men that feels like affirmation itself… to be the victim of honest, undisguised sexism possesses an exhilarating vitality.’ Ladies and gentlemen, behold the Oppression Envy of the privileged woke elites, who long to be mistreated so that they might be elevated into the rarefied ranks of The Victimised.
I was tempted to refer to Lavery as the Rachel Dolezal of transgenderism. But actually, he’s far worse than Dolezal. To be like Lavery, Dolezal would need to go on endlessly about the glistening skin of blacks, and how she longs to achieve their full-lipped look, and how she longs to see and grasp those famous full-bodied black cocks. If Dolezal did any of that, we would recognize it instantly as vile racism. So why are so few people willing to call out the sexism of trans activists who believe that blokes can become women simply by announcing that they are women, simply by imagining that they have a pussy, simply by taking some titty skittles so that they can look like those sluts in porn films? Ms Dolezal is white, and Mr Lavery is a man. We just have to start saying this now, out loud.
Brendan O’Neill is spiked‘s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy