Synopses & Reviews
A leading trans scholar and activist explores cultural representations of gender transition in the modern period
In Pleasure and Efficacy, Grace Lavery investigates gender transition as it has been experienced and represented in the modern period. Considering examples that range from the novels of George Eliot to the psychoanalytic practice of Sigmund Freud to marriage manuals by Marie Stopes, Lavery explores the skepticism found in such works about whether it is truly possible to change one's sex. This ambivalence, she argues, has contributed to both antitrans oppression and the civil rights claims with which trans people have confronted it. Lavery examines what she terms "trans pragmatism" — the ways that trans people resist medicalization and pathologization to achieve pleasure and freedom. Trans pragmatism, she writes, affirms that transition works, that it is possible, and that it happens.
With Eliot and Freud as the guiding geniuses of the book, Lavery covers a vast range of modern culture — poetry, prose, criticism, philosophy, fiction, cinema, pop music, pornography, and memes. Since transition takes people out of one genre and deposits them in another, she suggests, it should be no surprise that a cultural history of gender transition will also provide, by accident, a history of genre transition. Considering the concept of technique and its associations with feminine craftiness, as opposed to masculine freedom, Lavery argues that techniques of giving and receiving pleasure are essential to the possibility of trans feminist thriving — even as they are suppressed by patriarchal and antitrans feminist philosophies. Contesting claims for the impossibility of transition, she offers a counterhistory of tricks and techniques, passed on by women to women, that comprises a body of knowledge written in the margins of history.
"Written with Lavery's precision and daring, Pleasure and Efficacy is both a challenging theory of trans realism — developing the deep significance of DIY ethics and trans avowal over ontological approaches — and a lifeline of intellect and warmth in an era of transphobic violence." Rei Terada, author of Metaracial: Hegel, Antiblackness, and Political Identity
"There is a big secret about sex: it's rather easy to change. Worse, you might even like doing it. Grace Lavery's incisive critique of queer studies' romantic fantasy about the impossibility of transition announces not just an end to tired and defensive theories, but takes seriously the fascinating stakes of technique as wielded by those whose mundane reality has been fictionalized to ennoble their oppression. Arriving at a life not merely possible, but enjoyable, is but one of the many rewards of the trans pragmatism Pleasure and Efficacy lovingly embraces.” Jules Gill-Peterson, author of Histories of the Transgender Child
"Grace Lavery is a promiscuous and a polymorphously perverse reader of culture, theory, sexuality, and embodiment. Offering a series of ornate and stunning essays on trans realism, this book makes the case for reading George Eliot as trans, for reading transition as real, possible, and desirable and for creative critiques of the straight realisms that oppose the flourishing of trans life. Smoothly alternating between high and low cultures, Twitter and the archives of Victorian life, highbrow horror and lowbrow comedy, Lavery demonstrates complete mastery of the essay form while disavowing mastery itself. Prepare to be vexed, outraged, seduced, and entertained. Prepare to enter an alternate reality with Lavery as your charming guide." Jack Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure and Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire
About the Author
Grace E. Lavery is a writer and academic who lives in New York. Her book Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan (Princeton) won the NAVSA Best Book of the Year prize from the North American Victorian Studies Association. A noted scholar and prominent trans activist, she is the author of the transition memoir Please Miss.