Grace Lavery, associate professor of English critical theory and gender and women's studies at UC Berkeley, underwent gender transition to present as a woman since 2018 and fully believes that it is possible for a human being to change their biological sex to be the opposite. Lavery also believes that those who understand that women are identifiable by their bodies are "on the side of the patriarchy."
Lavery, a biological male academic who identifies as a woman, was featured on the BBC's Woman's Hour with host Emma Barnett. Lavery has famously said that "There is something about being treated like shit by men that feels like affirmation itself, like a cry of deligh from the deepest cavern of my breast… to be the victim of honest, undisguised sexism possesses an exhilarating vitality."
Lavery believes women are "a political category," and not identifiable by their bodies, and that the political category of woman has a "meaning" that "can change over time." Those who believe that women are a "biological essential category," Lavery said, "tend to be on the side of patriarchy," while "those who have claimed that it is a political category that is deployed to oppress a class of people" are feminists.
When Lavery was asked "can a woman have a penis," Lavery answered in the affirmative, but said the question was misleading because the question that should be asked is can the "class: women" "contain people who have penises," and Lavery said that yes, it can. The question itself is "bizarre and pointless," Lavery said.
Genitals are "just parts of the body," Lavery said, that don't signify male or female. This after the head of the UK's Labour Party, Keir Starmer, refused to say whether or not a woman "can have a penis," while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that men, whether they identify as women or not, should not compete in women's athletics.
Lavery was on the BBC show to pump Lavery's new book, Please, Miss: Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis. "Why open a book about transitioning to a woman with your penis?" the host of the program asked Lavery.
Lavery, with an unmistakably male voice, claimed that Lavery's goal was to "focus on the strange and unlovely aspects of embodiment that, strangely, have become a matter of broad political controversy, which is the question of a trans woman's penis."
Lavery said that this male body part is often spoken of with "embarrassment or shame," and that, essentially, it shouldn't be as it's just a body part and not particularly indicative of anything.
For Lavery, the "category of woman includes" people who have penises on their bodies. Lavery asserts that women are "a political category" and not a "biological being." This, Lavery says, is in line with feminism.
Lavery claims that those who believe women are "biological beings" are "on the side of patriarchy." Lavery thinks that women are a class that are not identifiable by their bodies and that there's no reason that the female entity without a definable body would not have a penis.
"Just to be clear," Lavery said, "the question 'can a woman have a penis' strikes me as, I think, a deliberately misleading construction. The question is intended to ask 'do you think that the class women can contain people who have penises?'"
Barnett asked Lavery about the "moment" Lavery decided he didn't want to be a man anymore. Lavery said "I felt those words leaving my body," about the moment.
"I would describe this as a spiritual experience," Lavery said. "It certainly felt like something that I was observing and participating in rather than directing. And it didn't know what it implied or what it would mean."
This set Lavery on a journey that would change Lavery's view of what women are to include Lavery and Lavery's penised, male body. It was after beginning to take estrogen that, Lavery said, Lavery "reorganized my sense of myself."
"The experience of being on hormones, or of changing my endocrine system," Lavery told the BBC, "was profoundly transformative, and really, completely reorganized my sense of myself."
Barnett asked about Lavery's post-transition experience in the past five years. It was after Lavery's transition that Lavery's partner, Danny, began to transition from female to male. The two are now married.
"I also understand you experienced some odd advice on how to behave as a woman," Barnett attested, and Lavery confirmed that this was try, and that much of it was "deeply misogynist."
This was evidenced for Lavery in evaluations from students taking Lavery's undergraduate courses. "One of the first things that I noticed, for example, was my first semester teaching and undergraduate class, since starting taking estrogen. The course evaluations that are anonymized that I got back from the students were profoundly different. So whereas before, people would always want to remark on my kind of intelligence or my synthetic capability, or whatever it was, in the new regime of things, people tend to more to refer to me being caring or generous or thoughtful, or these highly gendered and slightly offensive, diminishing terms."
Lavery attributes the comments on Lavery's feminine demeanor to misogyny, not to the effects of having been taking estrogen, a feminizing hormone. It's as though Lavery believes that there was no change wrought to Lavery's self outside of some innate, gendered spirit, and that Lavery must have stayed the same in integral ways, while only changing in appearance, despite saying that the taking of the drugs made them "happier."
Perhaps because Lavery does not believe that bodies have anything to do with the definition of a woman, Lavery believes that it is fully possible to actually change one's biological sex.
"You believe it's possible to change sex. Is that right?" Barnett asked
"I wouldn't characterize it as a belief," Lavery said, despite claiming that the realization that he was not a man was a spiritual one. "But I would claim that yeah," Lavery continued, "I would claim that it is possible to change that."
"What evidence do you have that sex isn't real? What do you base that on?" Barnett asked.
"If something can change, it's real," Lavery said. "I have no intention of saying sex isn't real sex is we all it takes is profoundly important. It shapes elements of our lives in important and contradictory ways. If it weren't an important aspect of embodiment, I don't think trans people would really put such effort into changing it."
"My understanding is that if we refer to testosterone, for example, as a sex hormone, and we put testosterone into a body that otherwise would be producing less testosterone and more estrogen, one is to some extent changing the balance of sexual characteristics and sexual traits in that body. Of course, when it's not changing chromosomes, of course, one is not changing primary sexual organs. But one is changing secondary sexual organs, which is a category that seems to have dropped out of favor these days, but which I still think is very important to people. It's actually the secondary sexual characteristics are breasts rather than genitals, parts of a body that are produced by sex hormones," Lavery said.
"There are those who will believe that you can never fully become a woman because you can't change your chromosomes," Barnett stated.
"Yes, those people are people who believe that a woman is defined by chromosomes," Lavery said.
Barnett brought up sport and athletic competition as evidence, "as proof that there is such a thing as the female body," and asked is Lavery could "sympathize with it."
"I'm not for a moment contesting that there is a thing called a female body. You're asking me whether I can sympathize with a position I've told you I don't agree with. So I guess my answer is yes, I can understand why people would hold the view that there was a naturally occurring, organic type. After all, that is what patriarchy tells us every day. And it is a very difficult view to get your head out of," Lavery said, equating the belief in reality, that there are female bodies, bodies that are identifiable as female, as a patriarchal construct.
"Are you saying every woman who believes that is effectively having their mind warped by patriarchy?" Barnett asked.
"I wouldn't use that phrase, I think that it is difficult to think one's way out of structures that one is informed of frequently," Lavery said.
For Lavery, who has been living as a woman since the transformative, spiritual experience in a Las Vegas hot tub in 2018, the fact that human beings can take cross-sex hormones, that "there are people who are living disproof of the notion that a sexual organism is a naturally self evident type."
And Lavery believes that feminists should oppose the idea of sex-based rights for women, essentially because feminists should believe that there is no difference between men and women other than gender, and that gender is a spiritual concept that can be separated from women.
This, of course, is the absolute conundrum and mistake feminism made. In trying to liberate women from sex-based stereotypes, women left those stereotypes available for anyone to pick up. And now Lavery has done so, and claims that those stereotypes are a spiritual reality that can be used to disguise his male body as a female one.
"I think historically, the notion that woman is a natural type deserving of specific and enumerated sex based rights is precisely what feminism was created to oppose. So the fact that we have reached this impasse or this confusion around what feminism is, is a historically interesting and significant development," Lavery said.
In defense of these views, Lavery cites Lavery's "20 years of active research and teaching in the field."
"The notion of sex based rights is a very recent phenomenon that hasn't existed for more than a few years," Lavery said. "It's a really bad deal for women. And I don't say that as a trans woman, I don't say that is anyone other than a scholar of feminism. It's got nothing to do with my own personal experience. I just I just think it's a really bad move in terms of the history of sex based rights."
"I don't think there are any grounds on which the state should make a decision about whether a person is a man or a woman.
"I think that that's a fundamental issue of civil rights. And I think it's a feminist issue of civil rights.
"So if that is a commitment that I have sort of come to on political grounds, it naturally occurs to me to try to ask the difficult counterexample questions and say, 'Well, what about prisons. What about sport? What about bathrooms?' And I have different answers to all of these.
"But again, none of them, I think, involve any kind of caveats.
"I think it is very possible for us as a community of people living in the world to get by without the government licensing womanhood or licensing manhood, which is essentially what for as I can see the gender critical movement is agitating for," Lavery said.
The gender critical movement, a movement of women who believe that women are adult human females, defined by their bodies, sex characteristics, reproductive function, and as being the opposite of men, is not advocating for the government to "license" womanhood or manhood, but is simply looking to not be erased, either in society, law, or reproduction, by men who think they have the right to colonize and redefine the female body to suit their own fetishes.
Women do not have penises, whether Lavery thinks they can or cannot have them. It is not a function of the patriarchy to believe that women exist as "biological beings," and it is not misogynist to know, fully, that female bodies are not male, and that neither is the reverse true.
Lavery plays semantic, rhetorical games to justify Lavery's belief that Lavery is female. Bodies are real and sexed whether we have the language to define and identify them or not.
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