Grace Elisabeth LaveryJun 15, 2023
Pleasure and Efficacy
Of Pen Names, Cover Versions, and Other Trans Techniques
Princeton University Press 2023
In Pleasure and Efficacy: Of Pen Names, Cover Versions, and Other Trans Techniques (Princeton UP, 2023), 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 anti-trans 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.