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Grace Lavery on Her New Memoir “Please Miss,” Sex Writing, and the Trans Glamour of Nicole Kidman

Every trans memoir may claim to reinvent the subgenre, but self-identified “omnisexual chaos Muppet” Grace Lavery may have actually succeeded. Her new book, Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis, combines memoir, theory, and fiction, in a way that tells a new trans story — new because it is entirely Grace.

I talked to Grace about Please Miss, sex writing, strained family dynamics, and our mutual love of Nicole Kidman.

Grace: Oh my God so I’ve mistimed this.

Drew: (laughs) Okay.

Grace: I just stepped out of the shower. We can start talking now but just so you know for the next three minutes I’m going to be combing together a look.

Drew: (laughs) Do you want me to call you back?

Grace: No, no. I quite like the idea of being vaguely focused on a physical task while talking but yes I, um, that’s what I’m doing.

Drew: Great. I love a conceptual interview.

Grace: Exactly, right? That’s what I’m going for.

Drew: Well, to start off — when I do memoir-esque writing it’s almost always couched in film criticism which sometimes feels like a device and sometimes feels like a way of masking vulnerability.

Grace: Yes. (laughs)

Drew: And you obviously use a lot of devices that are more intricate than film criticism. How do you decide when to reveal information plainly and when something will be enhanced by that added layer?

Grace: Gosh that is an opening question.

Drew: (laughs)

Grace: It’s complicated because I know there is an enormous pressure — and the book is very aware of this pressure — to just tell the plain unvarnished truth. And there’s a kind of impatience that exists in the world — and I feel it in myself — that’s designed to make me feel like I owe the world the real story and that what I’m doing with these kinds of fictional flourishes is misleading or distracting. But it was important to me from the start to try to find other ways of thinking about disclosure. I want to insist that there’s something real and true and essential that could not be communicated except through what you’re calling devices. That’s a word I love and I’ve used myself but you could also call them pastiches or frames or frames within frames.

Part of the contention of the book is that you would know less about me and about the world if the book was all like the relatively straight-forward fourth chapter. But at the same time, there comes a point where it feels like I’m just avoiding the genre or pastiche of intimately disclosive writing. So by the time someone gets to the fourth chapter, I think they will have become acclimated to the book’s various different rhythms. There will then be something a little unsettling even about the moments of intimate disclosure. If it feels like we can finally relax then I think something has gone wrong on my end. This isn’t about which bit needs which but there is an answer to that question which is— okay this is going to sound super pretentious but I’m going to give you the answer.

Drew: Please.

Grace: (laughs) One of my favorite authors is this really weird German Japanese American poet and playwright and critic from the early 20th century whose name is Sadakichi Hartmann. He was a layabout and a fraud and a pornographer and he even ends up in the movie The Thief of Baghdad against Douglas Fairbanks. He spent a lot of his life preparing to write a memoir that he never got around to writing. But found among his papers after his death was this ten-page piece called Sadakichi’s Autobiography. It’s basically year-by-year a list of everything he did with one line of prose. So it’s just: 1876 — Arrive in Camden, meet Whitman, have fun. It’s just like very basic bullet points. So it’s seven pages of that and then there’s a page describing what he drinks in a usual day starting with a glass of champagne at 8 a.m. and then just constantly drinking throughout the day until he’s pounding brandy at 3 a.m. Then the final part of the autobiography is this collection of aphorisms called “A Few Points in Sadakichi’s Favor,” and it’s just a short list of statements that he would use to defend himself if his reputation was on trial. So one of them is like: He’s been a great and passionate advocate for American photography. Like say what you will about Sadakichi Hartmann he’s been a real advocate for American photography. And, for some reason, he thinks this is a point in his favor. And I think there are moments in Please Miss that feel a little like that. Like say what you will about Grace Lavery, but at least she had this breakfast with Cecelia and it kind of went okay.

There are moments that retreat to a kind of theatrical defensiveness, but I also don’t really mind that because there’s no way to avoid being at least a little defensive when one has written a memoir. The idea is to make that defensiveness a part of the work itself somehow.

How do we balance the desire to heal with the desire to accentuate justice?

Drew: It’s interesting you say that because throughout the book you’re actually pretty hard on yourself. But then towards the end you’re having the conversation with your ex Cecelia and she’s like… you weren’t that bad.

Grace: Yeah. (laughs)

Drew: That was so interesting to me. I know before I transitioned there was a sort of misandrist self-loathing — just a hatred toward what I perceived as my own masculinity. Do you think that’s part of it or are you just hard on yourself?

Grace: Oh totally. There’s that kind of trans woman’s fear of masculinity and fear of her own masculinity that’s very much a part of what I was experiencing. But another part of it I think is just alcoholism. One thing that alcoholics are generally pretty bad at — and I’m definitely pretty bad at — is estimating the scale of the damage we’ve done. We either tend to think everything is fine and it’s all someone else’s fault or, alternatively, that every mistake we’ve made is absolutely catastrophic. Part of what recovery has been for me is trying to actually figure out what’s the scale on which I actually need to make amends. Usually, not always, but usually, I have experiences where I would drastically overestimate the kind of damage that I’d done. I’m a self-aggrandizing person in any number of ways, and I like to think of myself as incredibly powerful. I think that’s true whether I think of myself as the smart heroine of my own life story or the dark antagonist in someone else’s. The common factor is dramatically overestimating my own importance.

Drew: (laughs) But also in the book you create space for other perspectives like Danny’s, like your mom’s. You fully take the time to be like, here is this person’s perspective.

Grace: Thank you. I’m really glad that you noticed that. That’s something I think is incredibly important and that I’ve thought very carefully about how to achieve. The book is dedicated to my mother, and a lot of the work I’ve done preparing for it feels about my mother. In the end, my mother is not as much the main character in the memoir as I thought she might be, but she does occupy a very significant role.

I’m aware that I couldn’t run it by her — I couldn’t give her editorial power over the work. But I wanted to do everything I could to feel like I treated her fairly. Otherwise, it would feel like I was getting away with something or bad mouthing someone. It gets back to “A Few Points in Sadakichi’s Favor.” In a way this text is about convening a trial of some kind — attempting to reckon with the possibility of justice. And it’s important for me to acknowledge that whatever justice looks like in the world, or in the course of a life, it’s not going to overlap 100% with any individual’s interest. So if a text is only capable of sustaining a single perspective then it is also incapable of synthesizing a perspective on justice.

And I know that this is a very highfalutin way to talk about a book that’s mostly composed of dick jokes but there is something there that’s really important to me — how do we balance the desire to heal with the desire to accentuate justice? Healing seems to be something that requires reflection and work on ourselves while justice seems to be something that requires action in the world and an outward gaze. So those are the two conflicting energies that the book is trying to sustain in those moments.

But the first time I showed my mother any of the book, she hated it. We had a huge fight and she stormed off and we actually didn’t talk for months after that.

Drew: Oh wow.

Grace: That was incredibly hard. I thought it was probably going to end everything. It was going to be about how I finally recognized that I did not share a story with my mother and that lack of sharing took away the possibility of any relationality between us. I was very sad about that but in a way it was also like, well if that’s what it is then that’s what it is. I have to write out the story, my understanding of what happened, and if that ends this relationship then so be it.

But then a number of weird things happened between then and now. First, Danny and I ended up moving across the country because of some stuff we learned about his family that necessitated us cutting them out of our lives. That was just before we got married, so I called up my mom and was like, listen things haven’t been very good between us since I showed you that stuff on the train but we’ve just learned this other stuff about the Ortbergs and we need someone who’s older to be around. Would you mind coming to our wedding and we’ll figure out what’s up later? And she was actually really great about that. Then we kind of started talking again, and eventually I decided to show her the book. It was really important to me that I didn’t share it with her until it had gone through final review at the press — in other words I didn’t share it with her until it was too late to make any changes if she wanted me to. I just felt like I didn’t want to say no and I didn’t want to say yes so I didn’t show her. But then she read it and she loved it! I was really surprised by that and really moved by that. She was really happy with the work. I brought up all the stuff about how we remember things differently — like the stuff with the knife or the stuff around my paternity — and asked if that was okay. Had I made any errors of facts that she wanted me to address? And she was like, well you describe things in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily but you do so fairly and there’s nothing that I would change. And then she said, I think I’ll feel a little embarrassed if any of my friends read this book. And I was like yeah that’s fair enough.

Drew: (laughs)

Grace: That’s totally fair.

Drew: You’re like maybe even just for the dick jokes.

Grace: Exactly, yeah. It really is just dick joke after dick joke after dick joke. That in itself would be enough to make people feel a little unsettled. But I was really moved by her reaction. We have a difficult relationship, we still have a difficult relationship, but it’s provided a grounds for a momentum where we can talk to each other. I don’t know! She’s such an interesting person to me, and there’s so much that I don’t understand. But I do think working on this book has provided something that we can both point to and say this at least names the set of disagreements that exist.

Drew: I think that’s really beautiful. Obviously there are trans people who need to fully separate from their family or whose families have decided to fully separate from them. But there are also a lot of people where it’s fraught but you’re still in each other’s lives and it’s nice to have a little window into that as well.

Grace: No, totally and a full separation was what I would have expected because that’s what Danny and I did with his family. I’ve always assumed that was what was going to happen, but then it didn’t. This is hard for me to say but in some ways it really wasn’t that bad. Like I did okay. I grew up with two people who were not especially well-equipped to deal with me or talk to me. But they didn’t sexually assault me. They didn’t neglect me. They didn’t expose me to sexual assault or abuse by other people. They were supportive of me. And even though no one quite understood what was up with me, they were basically on my team and I always knew that. As we were talking, I had this tendency to think of myself as the piece of shit at the center of the universe and I also thought of my mother that way. But my mother is just a flawed, loving person who has been mistreated by the world and even by me. She’s deserving of love, and she’s deserving of love I’ll ever be able to give her — I’m not under any illusions about that.

Drew: I mean, that’s really nice. It’s unfortunate that everything is complicated so we can never really have the ease of villainizing. But I had a therapist once who was like, you need to be able to acknowledge your own lowercase t trauma instead of obsessing over other people’s uppercase T Trauma. And part of that includes forgiveness, it includes acknowledging the ways in which we ourselves have made errors. It’s all just complicated and messy but I’m glad the book was able to help that relationship.

Grace: Yeah I think it did more good than harm.

When one is trying to write about sex, if you’re doing it right, something happens in the prose that is unpredictable and kind of wild.

Drew: I want to shift to penises — as you said lots of dick jokes. I want to talk about how you approach writing about your penis. I mean, there’s this trap right? If you don’t write about it because of the way cis people are going to receive it then that’s one way of letting cis people control the narrative. Then there’s the other option — and this is something I think I lean into more and that you address in the book — which is the sort of fuck you quality of oh well I’m going to write a book that’s full of dick jokes and has penis in the subtitle. And for me personally, that’s the better way of going about it but there’s still something that feels like you can’t escape, right? Because even that still feels like there’s a forced irreverence.

Grace: I think about that all the time. I think trans people are getting our asses kicked. We’re absolutely getting our asses kicked. For how few fucking gender critical activists there are in the world, they really have achieved so much politically and institutionally. And just the amount of energy that I, and we, spend thinking about what these British middle aged weirdos believe about the world. It’s very very odd to me. These are exactly the people who, when I was at school, I would go off and smoke in the university parking lot to avoid.

Drew: Right. They aren’t cool.

Grace: No they’re not cool at all! There’s nothing interesting about them. And yet somehow this entire group of maybe between 200 and 2,000 people are driving all of this, one of whom wrote a bad series of books about children wizards.

Drew: (laughs)

Grace: It’s so strange to think that they are governing so many of the choices that I’m making. And I think there are parts of this book which are attempts to really let that go. I have a lot of friends who have been reading my work for a long time who tell me that I need better enemies. I’m rehearsing these arguments against people who don’t know enough to be worth engaging. But also I have my own weird obsessions and they have their own weird obsessions and we’re locked in this bizarre little dance with each other where we’re both forced to deny the other’s existence. It’s all very odd. I don’t have a good answer to it. But what I do have instead are the things that I turn to in the book, like the body and pleasure and language and intimacy and genre. These kinds of things provide us with different and even better ways of experiencing the world that take me out of that folie à deux between trans women and the gender critical activists.

So that’s my answer. Yes, I have the punk thing of fuck you I’m not interested in abiding by your bizarre chromosome superstitions, your desire for the government to come in and tell you what a lesbian is, whatever it is. It’s bizarre superstitious nonsense that doesn’t affect me as a person. And at the same time, it does somehow. And what’s important for me to do is to figure out how to turn away from that and towards something else, towards something better. What is on the other side of these obsessions? What would it look like to really acknowledge that we are hurt and hurting and then to try to find other ways to be in relation to each other? That’s not a question I find easy. I learn a lot from other people on how to do this because I don’t think I’m very good at it.

Drew: It’s just so exhausting. It’s interesting because there’s that audience — that very antagonistic audience — and then there’s the audience that is other trans people and the queer community at large. Do you think about those possible reactions especially when writing about sex? You’re in a pretty public relationship that I’m sure people who don’t know you can be weird about. How do you approach writing about it? Do you try to do it from a place of your own creativity and truth and not worry about it or are you always thinking about people who are going to have opinions about your sex life?

Grace: (laughs) And including sex that feels bad and weird.

Drew: Yeah.

Grace: And sex that feels good and weird.

Drew: Yeah!

Grace: And sex that feels good that shouldn’t. And sex that feels bad but probably shouldn’t either. Of course there are always complexities and sex is a nuclear weapon that prevents all of us from saying just what happened or even knowing the truth. If that weren’t the case then I wouldn’t be as interested in writing about it as I am. I’m a reader of Leo Bersani, and I truly do believe that sex is at its core an experience of self-shattering that is not self-evidently available to rubrics of sociability or even ethics to a certain degree. That is to say that we can’t rely on sex to do our ethics for us — we need ethics to do our ethics for us.

So that’s the intellectual position. And, of course, when it comes to writing about it for a public audience there are a few other things that are important. Like it’s really important to me if I mention someone in an identifiable way that I have really carefully negotiated every aspect of what I write. Which means that Danny and I have talked a lot about this. There’s that scene early on with the oral fisting stuff. I feel anxious about the way people will read that moment, but I’m also really clear that every part of that publication has been negotiated. I mean, that’s a fictional moment — that never happened and I think that’s fairly clear — but it’s still been very thoroughly negotiated. And so I feel secure on the facts of it. I feel very comfortable knowing how I have sex and knowing how to maintain effective limits and effective communication to build cultures of consent. All of that is extremely important to me, and it extends to publication. And, at the same time, when one is trying to write about sex, if you’re doing it right, something happens in the prose that is unpredictable and kind of wild.

I’ve just finished writing a novel, and there’s a sex scene in it that is way more intense than anything in Please Miss. Roughly half the people I’ve shown it to have been totally aroused by it, and the other half have said it makes them totally uncomfortable. I’m like, God it makes me uncomfortable too! I think if we’re not feeling uncomfortable about some aspects of sex — and this is what Leo Bersani would say — then we’re not thinking about it right. We’re not really thinking about it at all. We’re thinking about a pastoral fantasy of sex that is quite different from what we actually want — what we want to be done to us and what we want to do to other people.

One thing that’s interesting is since I wrote the book I have been in a much more bottomy space. The book is fairly switchy. There are moments in the book that are toppish and moments in the book that are bottomish. But I haven’t really felt super toppish for a little while. So in a way that’s something that feels remote or like I wrote this in a different moment in my life. But the last thing I’ll say about this is that I feel like if writing about sex is hot then that’s enough. I don’t actually need anything else. So much of this book — and so much of my work in general — is about trying to find the literary device — to return to that word — that produces a very specific kind of effect. That includes jokes that work but you can’t see why they work or stuff you find hot but you don’t know why you find it hot and stuff that rings true where you can’t understand why it rings true. Something that evokes something or a chain of associations that bypasses conscious understanding. The book is an attempt of that on a number of scales in a number of different domains and sex is one of them. If someone gets a weird boner from my book that’s very much a win.

I mean, if one wants a sort of quick and dirty definition of queerness, it’d be like the confusion between whether you want to be something or do something.

Drew: (laughs) I think that’s a great goal. I like the line about fucking yourself into somebody’s body. It’s obviously a pretty common thing among queer trans women before transitioning. I guess it’s supposedly a sort of controversial thing to talk about though I think in recent years it’s become one of those things that’s controversial but talked about so much that it’s actually become very basic.

Grace: Yeah. (laughs)

Drew: But it also doesn’t feel particularly unique to trans women. Maybe in cultural conversation it’s unique to trans people, trans women mostly, but it feels sort of universal to queerness. Two cis lesbians who look like twins — I’m like, what are they doing if not trying to fuck themselves into their own identical bodies?

Grace: Yes. I mean, if one wants a sort of quick and dirty definition of queerness, it’d be like the confusion between whether you want to be something or do something.

Drew: Classic.

Grace: It’s that flippiness between identification and desire. Something I say early in the book is that if you desire something then by definition you don’t already include it. So if I say I want to be x, then I’m acknowledging that I am not x. However, the desire to be, just like the action of being, are these really complicated logics. They interact with each other. So yeah I completely agree with you.

I think it’s interesting that the moment in the book comes from Cecilia. And this was genuinely something she said. One of the things that’s happening in that moment is I’m listening to someone generate a theory of our sexual relationship. It makes sense to me, and I feel affirmed by it, but also it’s not my theory. And one of the things I’m realizing is other people now have theories about me, and that’s kind of interesting. This is why, for example, I do my best not to quote unquote “correct” someone when they use masculine pronouns when referring to me in the past. That is their experience — that’s all they’re disclosing. If I tell them that I have a different experience, that can be important too, but I think relationality happens in the crevice that’s produced by the possibility of both people being able to have different experiences and that those differences are valuable. I feel in intimate partnerships when people tell me stories about the past they’re telling me the truth of their experiences, and that’s super important. It’s never once happened that someone has told a story about the past and their experience of me and I’ve felt like oh, well that’s totally wrong I need to correct that. But it comes from a sort of privilege because in fact my transition was a surprise to nobody who knew me well. The more common response from people was questioning why it took me so long, which was annoying because I felt like, fuck you man this isn’t easy. But obviously it’s easier than not doing it.

Drew: You write about having a sort of epiphany moment and hearing a voice of sorts. Then you say that when you were talking to other trans people, they didn’t have that. Can you expand upon that?

Grace: I think I describe that moment as well as I know how. I felt a voice speaking through me that didn’t sound like my own voice but also sounded more like my own voice than I’d ever spoken before.

I have a complicated relationship with my voice. On one level, I fucking hate my voice. I mostly get called sir on the phone. I get really self-conscious about it, and I don’t usually get self-conscious about these sorts of things. But at the same time, I’m very aware that the voice that I’m talking to you with now — the voice that I naturally inhabit — is the voice that spoke through me in the hot tub that one time. It’s a different voice than the one I would’ve spoken with if we had been on the phone ten years ago. And what exactly that means and how that relates to other experiences and instincts and readjustments, I don’t know, but it is palpable.

When I would go to trans support groups, I was in my early 30s and everyone in the group was either in their late teens/early 20s or they were over 60. So I had no one who was closer in age to me than about fifteen years. And that was disorienting. I think it was the age difference that was causing my disidentification with other trans women. It was kind of like the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Future. There were these incredibly beautiful, charismatic women in their early 20s who were living their lives and had regular problems. They were just women in the world. And then you had these women in their 60s or older who weren’t living their lives and who felt really frustrated about their position in relation to the general community. I don’t think that’s true of every older trans woman — I have older trans women in my life now who are very much not resentful and are very cheerful — but at that time, in that community, that’s what it looked like. So I was trying to find a language that was between these two things and I felt like I couldn’t relate to either group.

And then, of course, Danny was transitioning at that time too. It was this weird coincidence, because I’d gotten sober with him and we’d become really close. Then I had this great realization of oh my god I have to transition — I’ll do that really slowly. Then Danny just comes forward and is like oh by the way, I’m going to start testosterone and I have a new name now. And I was like what the fuck? And we had a fight about it and a lot of tension in our lives about it. And Danny’s experience of transition was nothing like mine. Danny’s transition was all about sexual desire and wanting to find new ways of experiencing sexual intimacy and sexual connection. That wasn’t my thing at all. Weirdly at that time, I thought transitioning meant giving up being a sexual person in the world. Obviously that turned out not to be true, but I really thought no one was ever going to want to fuck me again, no one was ever going to want to date me again. That’s why I’m always kind of surprised when people do because I really didn’t expect it. I felt like I was retiring like Maura Pfefferman or something.

Drew: Well, because those are the narratives, right? I think it’s interesting — if you don’t mind me saying — the projections you brought into those spaces.

Grace: Oh, they’re total projections.

Drew: Because I guarantee, having been to my fair share of trans support groups, that all of those early twenty something trans women were not confident and beautiful and thriving. But it’s interesting, because I think this comes up for a lot of people especially in the beginning. When I was first transitioning, I experienced a similar disidentification with other trans women — going to those spaces and feeling alienated. But in the years that have passed it’s not that it really changed, it’s that I met individuals. I have trans people in my life who I know are trans, and that connection is important, but my world is just very queer and very trans now. At no point did I go oh and now I identify with other trans women, it was just like oh now I identify with my friends.

Grace: I totally agree with that. That’s my experience too. I don’t think I’d be friends now with those women I was projecting onto. I would have whatever curious mixture of desire, resentment, wistfulness — I’d probably be bringing the same things. No it’s exactly the same thing for me, of course, you just find people. That’s one thing that the internet has been good for — I’ve been able to find people online. And I do think eventually Danny and I found a language that we could share that involved both of us shifting our positions.

Drew: Well, even you just saying it was a coincidence that you both transitioned — obviously it wasn’t. I mean when I transitioned all of my friends were cis and straight and now, of the people I’m still friends with from that time, none of them are straight and few of them are cis, so you find people. There’s just that quality that brings us to each other before we can recognize it.

Grace: Absolutely, that’s right. When Danny and I met — which is narrated through a sort of fiction in the book — there really was this incredible theatricality to it. We immediately looked at each other and knew we would be in each other’s lives somehow. I think we both had this sense of filmic drama. You’re absolutely right that transness was an axis that we were able to access before we had a language for it.

And I think the same is true for alcoholism. I mean Danny’s alcoholism and mine are quite different. Mine is speedier and his is stonier, so we sort of complement or contrast each other. But at the core is a very, very deep likeness, a very deep sameness that we share and we love in each other and we need in each other and need from each other.

Drew: That’s beautiful. Okay I have one last thing I want to talk about which is genre. At one point, you say that if you could give advice to a younger trans woman or a younger version of yourself it’d be that sci-fi isn’t the only genre of transness. Obviously, the book is filled with lots of genres, so maybe you don’t have an answer — maybe the book itself is the answer — but what genre do you feel like your transness has taken on?

Grace: Oh my God, that’s such a great question. So right now, I am lying on the cream chaise lounge in my Brooklyn brownstone apartment. It’s raining outside, and it’s slightly dim. There are flowers all over the room. There’s a painting that was done of me by another trans woman. I’ve got a beautiful French screen on the wall. I’ve got paintings from other queer and trans friends on the wall. I feel like I’ve become a kind of middle aged, rich lady who’s living in a world of art and drama and has too much going on in her head but is also really sociable. I don’t know if there’s a name for that genre, but Nicole Kidman would play me. It’s like a David E. Kelley miniseries about brittle white women. (laughs) Who are living in luxury and also have strange secrets in their lives.

Drew: It’s funny you say that, because like a year into my transition I went through this deep depression where I watched like 60 Nicole Kidman movies.

Grace: Oh my God.

Drew: She works so much! Like she does three movies a year. And people asked why I was doing it. And I didn’t know. I was so attached to her, and the more I thought about it I was like, oh she’s a trans woman.

Grace: Yeah she is.

Drew: She has this energy.

One thing that’s interesting is since I wrote the book I have been in a much more bottomy space. The book is fairly switchy. There are moments in the book that are toppish and moments in the book that are bottomish.

Grace: What’s your favorite Nicole Kidman movie?

Drew: Okay, I feel like this is a little bit blasphemous because I haven’t read the book, but The Portrait of Lady.

Grace: Oo interesting.

Drew: I’m a Jane Campion stan. I just love her so much. But I need to read the book. I can’t get away with saying that until I read the book.

Grace: No, you can, that’s a really good answer. I wish that I had a good answer. I guess my cheesy answer is Batman Forever.

Drew: I mean, Batman Forever is great.

Grace: And she’s great in it too.

Drew: Wait, what’s your not cheesy answer? Is that your real answer or…?

Grace: I don’t know. I’ll tell you what. I rewatched To Die For recently, and I don’t like it!

Drew: Really??

Grace: Yeah, it’s not for me! I don’t know why, because on paper you’d think I’d adore it but for some reason it doesn’t quite land for me. So I don’t know. The last thing I really enjoyed her in was that thing she did with Hugh Grant which was exactly one of these David E. Kelly miniseries.

Drew: The Undoing.

Grace: And she’s obviously really good in Big Little Lies. I haven’t seen the one she did where she’s like at a rehab center. Is that one good?

Drew: No. It’s really not good. Nine Perfect Strangers. I mean, do I recommend watching it? Sure. If you want that sort of thing. But it is not good even though she has a queer makeout in it. But it feels tacked on. It’s not very good. She does a very bad Russian accent though, and that’s fun.

Grace: Oh God, yes! That’s why I stopped watching it. Because I was like why are they making her do this? You know, I do really like Eyes Wide Shut. That’s a fun, weird movie.

Drew: Ugh I LOVE Eyes Wide Shut. That’s my favorite Kubrick movie. Which I feel like has now become one of those answers that has entered into this sphere of online film discourse where something is no longer an interesting take, because so many people had it as their interesting take. But it is my truthful take. I love that movie a lot.

Grace: It’s fabulous. I think my favorite Kubrick movie would be Lolita.

Drew: Now that’s a take. That’s an actual interesting take. I would expect nothing less from you.

Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis is out now.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 538 articles for us.


  1. Whew! What a great interview, and I’m really glad I get to read it. I think if I were, like, watching a video or listening to an audio recording of this I absolutely would not be able to keep up with your two brilliant minds. Can’t wait for my copy of the book to arrive!

  2. This interview is very lovely and thoughtful, and successfully changed my mind on reading a book that I thought fell into the “probably interesting but not my thing” category, which is exciting because it means I’m going to engage with someone who’s perspective often differs from mine with an open mind. I’m excited to approach this book with the same openness and generosity with which Grace and Drew approached this interview.

  3. I’m a TERF, I came to this piece for a hate-read but I actually really enjoyed it. No joke! I won’t buy the book or anything but Grace Lavery wasn’t the monstrous mother-hating misogynist I was expecting to find. I liked her, even.

    • It’s almost like trans people are people and you should respect them as people for who they are. I’m not sure what you’re looking for here—do you want a cookie? A medal?

      No one’s going to give you a pat on the back here for this. If you’re not going to stop hurting trans people, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    • Hi Ann-Marie. I’m not a trans woman, but I feel like I ought to say something here because they shouldn’t have to shoulder all the work of advocacy alone. I’ve been lucky enough to develop a friend group with a lot of trans women in it, and to become an unofficial aunt to a young trans girl. None of them are monstrous, or mother-hating, or misogynist. They’re thoughtful, funny, creative, kind; they have good days and bad; they aren’t a threat to me; they’re just human. I’m grateful for every one of them.

      It’s a good first step that you were willing to admit your reaction to this piece wasn’t what you expected. Please, consider exposing yourself to more trans women’s voices. Drew writes this well consistently, I always find something impressive and interesting in anything she’s done, and Abeni Jones also has a number of pieces on this site worth reading. I can’t remember whether Grace has ever published here, but she has essays elsewhere. And if you won’t buy her book, ok, but there’s always the library, ya know?

      I can’t recommend yet that you get to know any trans women in real life, although I think it would do you a world of good, because as long as you’re identifying as a TERF it’s unlikely to do *them* any good. I certainly wouldn’t expect or want my friends or unofficial niece to spend a lot of time with someone trans-denying/transphobic, any more than I’d want to spend time with someone biphobic. But you sound like you might be open to growth, so it’s time for that great Maya Angelou quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Go put in the effort to know better. Please.

  4. Grace is a delight, Drew is great, this interview is toothsome, and this book is clearly written for people way smarter than me. Truly, for all the garbage people heap on Grace on the internet, the only complaint about Grace’s writing I can generate is that she is writing so far above some people’s heads (MINE) that I feel like I should just go read a picture book somewhere because I’m interested but wow I don’t get it half the time. She’s very likable but the journey between “clever and enjoyable” and “I want to find this funny but the cultural references move very quickly and probably delight some people with their obscurity, but I am finding it difficult to stay engaged” is short, sometimes.

  5. This was incredible, I could read a hundred more of these, and I’m definitely getting the book. Sex as an experience of self-shattering, the tension between healing and justice, the definition of queerness as confusion between whether you want to be something or do something – I love feeling both dumber (because I never have conversations this intelligent) and smarter (because I learned so much from just this short interview) after reading something. Thank you for this.

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