Episode 26: Trano-a-Trano with Grace Lavery

Corinna arranges a conversation with Grace Lavery, associate professor at UC Berkeley and outspoken trans activist. The result is almost as limitless and formless as what a “woman” is.

Grace Lavery: https://english.berkeley.edu/profiles/386

7 thoughts on “Episode 26: Trano-a-Trano with Grace Lavery

  1. My attempt to trim the fat from Lavery’s jawing cc’d from spinster:

    Pt 1.
    This is a fascinating conversation. Corinna is bringing up the main GC talking points about feminism and the definition of woman, GL is pretending it’s all new to him, and goes full postmodern retard, ie nothing means anything— “resists essence as a notion” and doesn’t find the question “do you consider yourself a woman” “interesting” (about 1/4 in.) He admits he doesn’t have female gametes, but being ‘the one that does the washing up’ would be interesting for him to discuss.

    In regard to context, Corinna discusses how she’s perceived “as a woman” and Nina asks “what does that mean” (eg assumed ineptitude at work, experiencing street harassment.). GL quotes Kathleen Stock that patriarchy produced the class of woman. Corinna asks ‘Why do females end up in the woman class, apart from masculinized women (DSD?)’ GL says he’s not a scientist but just the fact that gametes have replaced chromosomes in the discussion about sex class has changed over time [means the definition of woman is shifting.] GL doesn’t believe there’s a material basis for sex class determining class because so many people transition.

    Nina asks “are you regarded as a woman?” And GL evades, because it’s down to individual perception, and he’s perplexed about the perception of sex— that if one is treated a woman, whether by a lover, a stranger, or the state, they are a woman.

    “Is there a reality that exists outside of language or is language the whole thing?”
    He says yes, there is. “If a woman stands in a forest and there’s no one to treat her as a woman, is she a woman?” He says no. Nina asks what if there’s a woman AND a man and they reproduce, is that enough to assign them their classes based on biology? He says social reproduction would create a sex-gender system in that context. Corinna says there’s more to being a woman than how people treat you.

    GL defines patriarchy as the system that channels capital toward the class designated as male. GL admits he’s “the most overrewared transsexual in America.” He defines “resexing” as ’medical accomplishments to somatic changes’. Corinna says ‘That word [transsexual] is bad, according to the internet,’ GL dismisses this as only on the internet, explaining ‘patriarchy suppresses medical transition, that’s what TRA is for, that it’s not a medical category [transsexual] but changing one’s body.’

    He’s deliberately obtuse and tangential, but great work trying to keep him focused.

    Pt 2
    GL riffs more on patriarchy, that it dictates everything, and the only way to dismantle is for people to have absolute control, medically, of our bodies granted to them by the state and that only trans people are fighting for that, for their various personal reasons. He doesn’t think it’s true that patriarchy and anti-patriarchy, although it could be argued as such, is defined through binary sex as a zero sum game.

    When questioned regarding the discussion of developing a gender identity, if there is such a thing, different from natal sex, among trans people by Corrina, GL says he himself doesn’t and doesn’t believe most trans people believe in a gender identity, either. (?!) He doesn’t want to identity as anything, but believes he’s feminine because he was socialized only by female family members until he was 11, was feminine in boys school, then had a compulsion to cross dress in college, believing himself a woman. He quit drugs and alcohol for sobriety, estrogen and woke education and his pseudo spiritual goal is solving the world’s problems by eliminating sex in law. ‘Asking what a woman is,’ he says, ‘isn’t important because having the law define what your position in the social class produced to oppress you is bad.’

    In response to Nina’s argument about sex-based protections and sex-specific vulnerabilities taken for granted by women who grow up privileged, GL says “What should society use for the definition of woman?” He says there is no standard definition of woman according to cultural history that only law needs a single definition.

    GL validates her observations about sex differences as “massive,” says patriarchy “distributes this risk and suffering” to a single class of people and “isn’t organized to the interests” of women in menstrual pain, but with caveat that none of the mentioned sex differences are “definitive” since the entire sex class doesn’t experience all of them. “Instead of agitating for women,” he would agitate for “people who are vulnerable to menstruation” or “people who are vulnerable during intercourse.”

    He says womb transplants will have to change the meaning of what a woman is from just gametes or chromosomes. Corinna asks what about defining woman by who has natural or artificial modifications? Then GL delivers a wacky defense about that argument being used to make lesbians and butch lesbians less legitimate and delivering a speech about ‘feminism’s primary weapon for 100 years in America is resisting the notion that all women’s bodies grow in the same way and “a resistance to the distinction between natural and synthetic modes of organic growth’ and then mansplains that radical feminists are “obviously” wrong that femininity is artifice.

    Nina illustrates that she observes her and other women’s learned performance of femininity cues, and the failure to perform that is seen as butch. GL says even making statements about rejecting gender can be coded as a gendered behavior, meaning something different to a woke or a GC audience, but he repeats he doesn’t believe in gender and that “it’s a mistake to ontologize gender” OR sex.

    Nina points out his contradiction to his earlier statements about changing sex even if you do just a little self-medicalizing. He sort of agrees, as if he’s aware of his bullshit.

    He says estrogen breasts on a man are female breasts because “they’re breasts and that’s how we understand breasts?” [audible question mark]

    Corinna: ‘What about gynecomastia in men who have prostate cancer?’
    GL says “It’s complicated” and Buck Angel for example is a man because he passes.
    Nina: “That’s just how he looks…”
    GL says material reality is complicated because of the changing definitions of what male/female means, that if Buck is female “I don’t know on what grounds.”

    Good calm conversation! Funny though how he couldn’t keep from mansplaining feminism, women’s experience of sexual intercourse and having sex organs, trying to say there’s no universal definition of woman that all female humans have in common, and put women’s liberation and safety in the hands of modern medicine and TRA’s. Poor Berkeley students are paying to take courses about how they don’t exist except in how their breasts and willingness to wash dishes are coded. Not sexist at all!

  2. Skulhoney, thank you for this excellent summary. I appreciate the time that went into listening and responding.

  3. This is my new favorite pod! This ep and Karen Davis so far are top notch. Listened to this one while reading Helen Joyce’s book and it really drove home how bizarro world these concepts are, and how widely accepted in the US. Even though I got a liberal education myself and even wrote a paper on Derrida, my gender studies class at least had nothing to do with deconstructing language. Can’t wait to binge on more 🙂

  4. Hi Nina and Corinna! I honestly hope you are able to do some more interviews like this as I find when there is dialogue there is so much more opportunity for actual change – and at the least, understanding! I was surprised by a lot of the topics. Nina, I was very happy to hear you try and pin down some of Grace’s opinions in more clear (non-academic) language, even if it didn’t seem to be fruitful. One of the biggest barriers to having these conversations is speaking plainly, which includes breaking down academic language but also staying away from dogma, rhetoric and slogans, too. I would have really appreciated a conversation between Nina & Corinna to unpack the discussion and hope that is coming. Thanks to all three of you for being willing to talk to one another!

  5. Oy — I’ve only been able to listen to 2/3 of this podcast so far. Actually when Grace starts talking about Sedona and how estrogen made her feel more embodied, she actually starts sounding like a real person. Up until then, the only way I could keep my sanity was to think of these two quotes about males and knowledge.

    1. Re male approach to knowledge:
    “Men’s incapacity to link themselves directly to the spirit was what drove them to talk about the process of reaching knowledge. They haven’t stopped talking about it. And it is precisely this insistence on knowing how they strive toward the spirit, this insistence on analyzing the process, that gave them the certainty that being rational is a typically male skill.”

    p. 248 in Be-ing-Dreaming: An initiation into the Sorcerers’ World (1991)
    by Florinda Donner (the pen name of one of Carlos Casteneda’s students)

    2. Re male constructs of female issues:
    “When men attempt to manage Earth matters, like land and identity, they confuse themselves by applying Sky principles of height and distance. The outcome is as predictable as it is disastrous: Flighty rules result from their eagle’s-eye view, obviating ground matters, which look too small to make out from the vantage point of Sky. Unable to feel the rumblings of ne gashedenza (the sacred will of the people), which traditionally originates at the roots of the grass, they grab for the wind and blow hot air.” p. 97

    From “Slow Runners” by Barbara Alice Mann, pp. 96-97
    One of four essays in Make a Beautiful Way: The Wisdom of Native American Women
    Edited by Barbara Alice Mann (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2008)
    Barbara Alice Mann is professor of humanities at University of Toledo.
    Bear clan, Seneca.

    What’s really crazy (perhaps a joke on me) is that Prof. Mann rejects Carlos Castaneda’s work as both fake and appropriation of Native American culture. But both of these quotes resonated strongly with me when I read them (independently, separated by many years) as explaining many of my interactions with males over the course of my now-70 year long life.

    I’ll try to listen to the rest of the podcast. Bless all three of you for trying to have a conversation.

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