As someone who has always been ambitious, it seems inevitable I’d end up in a power couple. Sure, you can be the kind of ambitious person who wants a partner who tends to your needs while you pursue whatever it is you’re pursuing. But that has never been hot to me. Dating someone with equal ambitions is hot to me.
But being in a public relationship isn’t just the joys of ambitious4ambitious. There’s also the matter of boundaries and privacy. My girlfriend and I have only a small amount of fame (I’d argue a small amount of gay fame even) so this week we’ve brought on someone in an even more gaymous power couple: Grace Lavery. You may know Grace from her memoir Please Miss, from her various writings on the internet, or, if you’re really niche, as your former professor at Berkeley. And you may know Grace’s husband Danny Lavery from his books such as Something That May Shock and Discredit You and co-founding a little website called The Toast.
We talked to Grace about her relationship with Danny, how they navigate public opinion, and being young trans elders. And first! We play a game I like to call “Second Moves” where Christina has to respond to theoretical opening lines on Raya — yeah, that’s right, we’re on Raya.
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+ The Jessie Ware album Christina was referencing is What’s Your Pleasure?
+ The sexiest book Christina has read recently is Breaking Character.
+ Christina’s article about Grace and Danny’s wedding.
+ Danny’s work referenced by Grace: Texts from Jane Eyre and Something That May Shock and Discredit You.
+ Delighted to learn that Grace walked down the aisle to Marina’s “Primadonna.”
+ Pretty sure when Grace said I had transfeminine Chatterton energy that was a reference to poet Thomas Chatterton who I have learned killed himself at 17??
+ Speaking of English poets, Grace referenced writing an essay about Matthew Arnold and this might be that essay.
+ It’s worth watching The Red Shoes in slightly higher quality on The Criterion Channel — but I’m noting that the entire movie is on YouTube.
+ Grace’s crush this week was, um, Stannary Law: A History of the Mining Law of Cornwall and Devon by Robert R. Pennington.
+ You should read the interview I did with Grace about her memoir.
+ And you should read Please Miss: A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Penis.
Drew: Hi, I’m Drew.
Christina: I’m Christina.
Drew: Welcome to Wait, Is This A Date?
[theme song plays]
Christina: Wait, Is This A Date? is an Autostraddle podcast all about, wait, is this a date? That’s what it’s about.
Drew: You have a really chaotic energy— I was going to say this morning, but it’s 3:00 PM. The illusion of the podcast. It’s whatever time you’re listening to this. But you have a really great energy that I think is rubbing off on me as I keep talking.
Christina: Ooh, good. I think it’s fun to bring a little chaos. I was worried that I was going to be too low energy so I said, “Just pep yourself the hell up, just go for it,” and as ever, I might immediately regret that, but for now, that’s where we’re living.
Drew: By Crush Corner, you’re going to be crashing.
Christina: Yes, I do think that’s very true.
Drew: Great. I can’t wait. I’m Drew Gregory. I’m a writer for Autostraddle and a filmmaker and a queer person and a trans woman.
Christina: First of all, I think it’s huge to note that Drew did not even have a pause in between any of those identities that was… Drew said, “I came to play. I know who I am today.” I think that’s really gorgeous and beautiful.
Drew: Thank you.
Christina: I’m Christina Tucker. I am also a writer at Autostraddle and a podcaster around the damn globe, but mostly in the United States, mostly in the Northeast as that’s where I’m located. Crushing it also. Am I? Yeah, I am a black lesbian who has been on the beach for so long that my brain’s kind of just a sand mush so we’re really going to live out loud this here episode.
Drew: Great. I also want to say up top, I think this is already in our A plus ad that we already had and that you hopefully listened to, but for those of you who skip through ads — which our ads are very funny, you shouldn’t skip through them, — but if you want to be in our mailbag episode, you should be an A plus member and then submit a question. It can be anonymous. It can be in voice memo form. It can be an email form. Send us your questions.
Christina: We’re going to answer them. We’re going to have minisodes. That’s just a fun word to say, so let’s go.
Drew: I do have a game for you.
Christina: As ever, I’m panicking lightly but…
Drew: Initially, my idea was to just be like, “Christina, pull up your dating apps. I want you to read to me the most recent messages you received,” since I assumed you would never send the first message. And I wanted to just be like, “We’re going to craft some responses.” I told that to my girlfriend and she told me that’s not a game, that’s just bullying, and so I was like, “Fine. Okay.”
Christina: Elise is an ally. Thank you.
Drew: Yeah, and so I came up with a game that’s more hypothetical, but I think still counts as bullying. I call this game Second Moves. And I have come up with based on your Raya profile that I have access to because we matched on Raya, not in a romantic capacity, but more of a like, “Hey, it’s a friend on Raya,” banter banter banter, et cetera. Anyways…
Christina: Incredible humble brag that we’re both on Raya just for the record.
Drew: Look, I’m… Okay, so basically how it works is I’m going to say possible first moves that people might say to you based on your Raya profile. I’m going to say these opening lines and you have to say a response. You have to say a response. You can’t ignore.
Christina: I have to respond. I can’t—
Drew: You have to respond. Theoretically, you want to respond—
Drew: You like this person’s vibe. You think they’re hot. You’re tired of your friends making fun of you for not dating. You’re getting back out there. Okay?
Christina: Fair enough.
Drew: First one, “Hey.”
Christina: This is so hard because I simply wouldn’t respond to a “hey,” and this is a great note for people who are out there on dating apps. A “hey” gives you nothing to build off of.
Drew: That’s true.
Christina: If I was feeling spicy and I did like this person, though in fairness to me, liking this person would go down quite a bit if I received a “hey,” I would either just write an ellipsis with a question mark if I was feeling really rude, or I would say, “Hey, what?”, if I was in a good mood, but it’s more likely than not that I would just do an ellipsis with a question mark, or as we assume, not respond, but that’s not an option so I’m responding.
Drew: I love that. Thanks for playing the game. Okay. Next step.
Drew: These are purposefully… I want the people at home to know these are common responses. I would never message someone, “Hey.” I want that on the record. The next one is also something I would never say, but I have received my version of this which is, “How’s Philly today?”
Christina: Yeah. That would involve me having to know what was happening in the greater city of Philadelphia or even in my neighborhood. It would involve me maybe going outside, but given that it’s July, I think a pretty safe response would be like, “IDK, hot,” because it’s, I don’t know, 85 degrees and humid today.
Drew: That’s also good because it leaves room open for some flirting because hot has multiple meanings.
Christina: Right, and this is, again, this is me being very welcoming in a way that’s brave.
Drew: Yes. The next one is inspired by your Raya song. For people who aren’t on Raya, basically the way it works is you have a song that plays with your profile. Anyways, so it is, “OMG. I love Jessie Ware.”
Christina: Oh, I was like, “I don’t even remember what my Raya song profile is. I forgot that there was one.” I would say, “Obviously, me too,” but I’m not saying that. That’s lame. I would say, “What album? I love Spotlight. I love Pleasure Principle.” Pleasure Principle is a Janet Jackson album. I would say whatever that other one is. I would try to pull something out of these people.
Drew: Cool. I love it.
Christina: It’s like pulling teeth over here. This is not making me excited to date, Drew.
Drew: I know, but I’m trying to, because I think what happens a lot of times is people are just like, “I don’t know what to say,” so I’m just trying to… We’re working up stuff, okay.
Drew: This is another tricky one that I feel like is pretty common in lesbian dating spaces.
Drew: “You’re so pretty,” heart eyes emoji.
Christina: I do really hate that one. That one is really rough.
Drew: Yeah. It’s not great.
Christina: Typically, if it’s a person I’m interested in, I would probably just have to respond in kind, like a, “Thank you. You look great in this photo.” Maybe if I was feeling crazy, I would be like, “What are you doing in that photo?”, or like, “Where were you? When was that?”, try to get a little something out of… something a little more where we could build off something, but yeah, “You’re so pretty,” is really hard to respond to because it’s like… I mean, my gut reaction is always like, “Yeah, I know. I picked the photo. I look good in it.”
Drew: See, I think that’s a better response than, “You too.” I never give compliments because someone gives me a compliment even if I do think that person’s pretty. I’ll be like… You can’t… I don’t know. It feels forced. I like, “I know,” that if I said to someone, which I never would, “You’re so pretty,” on a dating app and they said, “I know,” I would be a little bit obsessed with that. Okay, this is also specific to your dating profile. “That third picture! Do you ride a motorcycle?”
Drew: A picture of you wearing those fun—
Christina: Oh, the moto— Yeah. No, I don’t ride a motorcycle and I would probably say I’ll never ride a motorcycle. They’re so loud. Why are they so loud? They don’t have to be that loud.
Drew: It gives a good introduction to who you are. Okay.
Drew: “Wait, this is wild. My grandparents live in New Paltz.”
Christina: Oh, boy. Yeah, a town of old people and college students. I don’t know. If their grandparents live in New Paltz though, I probably know them, which is funny to think about. It’s like, “Oh, who are they? Does my mom know your mom?”
Drew: I love that. “What’s the sexiest book you’ve read lately?”
Christina: The sexiest book I’ve read lately? Well, luckily, I’m just coming off of a hot week of beach vacations where I only read lesbian romances. I did read one called Breaking Character about an older actress in her 40s who falls in love with her co-star.
Drew: Nice. How old is the co-star?
Drew: Yeah, sure.
Christina: Yeah. Come on. Hello.
Drew: I have two more for you.
Drew: Okay. “I stalked your Instagram and saw you host a dating podcast, so you must be really good at this, huh?”
Christina: I would say, “No. The joke of the dating podcast is that I don’t do it.”
Christina: Convince me otherwise. Change my mind.
Drew: Ooh, okay. I like it.
Christina: That could be fun.
Drew: The last one is, “Our only mutual is Drew Gregory, but I think that’s a good sign. She’s amazing.”
Christina: I would have to say, “Drew, delete your dummy account and stop messaging me on this, on this dating app.”
Drew: That is fair. I think we learned something today, which is that you can always think of something to message someone on a dating app, and even if what someone messages you is not good, you can always think of a response. I think that’s an important lesson.
Christina: No, I think it’s good for our listeners to know that you can make anything work, but also maybe put a little more effort in than just a simple, “Hey.”
Drew: I like specific. I like when you look at a profile and go off of very specific things. If the Instagram is linked, go on the Instagram, find a specific thing, get conversations going, find things that can maybe lead to some flirting. “You’re so pretty,” is less likely to lead to flirting even though you’re giving a compliment than, “What’s the sexiest book you’ve read lately?” because you’re going to be talking about sex.
Christina: You are.
Drew: And actresses in their 40s having affairs with their co-stars in their 20s.
Christina: Great book. Let me tell you what.
Drew: Should we get into our main topic this week?
Christina: I think we should. I think we should get our guest on because she’s been just vamping in this corner just given us looks and vibes, and I’m real excited to hear her dang voice. Guest, would you like to be unsilenced and introduce yourself?
Grace: Hey, I’m Grace Lavery. I’m a writer, an academic, and I live in Brooklyn.
Christina: We love it.
Drew: We love that. We wanted to have you on for this episode because we wanted to have you on in general for a lot of reasons, but we wanted to have you on for this episode because you are in a public relationship especially in queer spaces. I feel like a lot of queer people—
Grace: We’re gaymous. Yeah.
Drew: Yes. Gaymous.
Drew: Exactly, and you also write about your relationship.
Grace: Yeah. I have done that. I have done that somewhat to my husband’s embarrassment since he is, habitually, I think, a far more private person than I am. But also the thing is that usually I just think about it as I’m married to a minor celebrity so it’s kind of flattering to hear that I have a stake in that in my own person.
Christina: Yeah, no. It’s like attracts like on this relationship. I mean, as the person who wrote about your wedding for autostraddle.com, the website…
Grace: Oh, God, you did. Yeah.
Christina: I sure did. I simply will have to say that I think you guys… Different corners of gaymous, of gaymo fame-o, maybe internet presence, but I think both are really bringing something to the table here.
Grace: I think that’s right. I don’t feel like I’m just fully wifed and fully placed in the kind of her indoors capacity. However, sometimes we get recognized together in public when we’re on the subway, and sometimes Danny just gets recognized on his own when we’re on the subway and I just sit there and nod. I think one time, I got recognized and he didn’t, but I’m not really sure and it might just be a wishful thinking, to be honest.
Christina: No, I’m sure it was you.
Grace: Oh, gosh. Well.
Christina: Drew, you also kind of have a public fame-o relationship going on.
Drew: I do, and similarly, she is much more private than I am. That is something that we navigate because I think I was really, I think, hesitant to announce that we were dating. I’m really slow to do that, but then once I was confident enough in the relationship that I was like… Do you see how slow I’m talking as I’m choosing my words very carefully to say everything correctly? Once it was public that we were together, I was much more like, no, I don’t care. Yeah, well, I don’t know. I feel confident enough in this that I don’t mind sharing it.
Grace: Well, just for the record, Drew, you’re very cute together.
Drew: Thank you.
Christina: It’s true.
Grace: You’re extremely cute together.
Drew: Something that I do like about her is that I don’t think she necessarily wants me to write about our relationship, but if we take a hot picture together, she’s like, “Post it.” I’m like, “Great.” I do really admire the idea of being “I’m private unless I can be hot on the internet,” and I really respect that.
Christina: That’s honestly a motto that I would like to carry going forward through my life. I’m private, but if I look good, maybe all bets are off on that because I think that’s a very important way to be in our Instagram focused world. Drew, you did an incredible soft launch of Elise.
Drew: Thank you.
Christina: It was really thoughtful and timed out, and I was like, “Oh, I’m seeing some just slow Instagram stories happening.” It’s all very subtle.
Drew: Getting some hands. It might be like, “Oh, these people are becoming good friends.” Yeah, I had one friend of mine was like, “This other friend of mine asked me if you two were together,” and I was like, “That’s exactly what I want. I want people gossiping about me.” See, but that’s part of the problem is I think part of the reason why I don’t… I like the idea of people gossiping about me.
Christina: Ah, yes. Well…
Grace: Yeah. See, that’s not something that Danny and I quite handled because we’d been sort of BFFs for about two and a half years before we started dating, and in fact, we had made plans to go into couples counseling before we started dating each other.
Christina: That is the gayest thing I have ever heard.
Grace: Yeah. We’d already had conversations about how to move our relationship forward before we were even dating. Then we started dating, and suddenly, we were just constantly posting about it and it was… I remember this one Instagram picture in particular of me wearing this magenta Sophie Dore wrap dress and Danny holding a baby and just looking really cool at the baby, and we were in a hotel room in San Francisco, and I was just thinking like, “This is my life now.” I’m wearing these fashionable dresses and looking glamorous with this incredibly handsome man who is now my boyfriend rather than just my sort of celebrity best friend.
Christina: That’s really beautiful.
Drew: Okay, but you said that Danny’s more private than you. In what ways does that manifest and how do you deal with that?
Grace: Yeah. Danny does not generally write about his own sex life. Before we got… He has his own history with sex, which is very different to my history with sex, and the way in which he experiences sex before and after transition has been, again, kind of different to me. I don’t want to speak too much about his experiences because he has written about them occasionally and everyone should buy his book and read his book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, because I think it’s amazing. And he does talk about embodiment and intimacy in really tender and subtle ways, but there’s nothing tender or subtle about the way that I write about embodiment. I tend to be very just kind of full page, close-up kind of imagery, and I’m really interested in creating extremely vivid experiences of embodiment in writing. That’s just always been the way that I’ve written.
It’s been interesting how Danny and I have, I think, learned a little bit more how to write like each other over the last few years. He’s written a little bit more about sex and embodiment, and I’ve written a little bit more about not exactly religion but questions relating to spirituality. Danny and I, neither of us are religious, but we both have these weird spiritual attachments that become part of our lives in different moments and something we’ve both written about. I think he’s also— one of the things that’s always attracted me to Danny, is I just love the way he writes about literature. I think he’s an incredible writer about literature. That’s what I do for a living. My day job is I teach 19th Century British Literature.
Before I met Danny, I had this experience where a bunch of the grad students I was working with would say that they thought that The Toast, which was Danny’s website, just said everything that they wanted to say. I was like, “Why the fuck are we doing the rest of this stuff? Why are we doing all this rigorous academic training if what you really care about is Texts from Jane Eyre. That’s always been part of the complexity of our relationship too, but the fact is I just admire the ways in which Danny makes writing make sense. That’s been part of the way that I’ve learned from him as well. You asked me how he’s private and I guess I’m just sort of trying to dodge the question because the basic rule is in my book, I talk quite explicitly about a bunch of times that we’ve had sex, and I don’t think Danny has ever written a sex scene in his life.
Christina: That tracks.
Drew: So, it’s sort of like Danny won’t necessarily engage in that way, but you have free rein to engage with it however you want to?
Grace: Yeah. I don’t think it would occur to Danny to ask me not to say things or to write particular things out. I think we’re both fairly committed to each other’s capacity to write however we want to write. I think we both like each other’s writing enough that we’re not super worried about it, but there have definitely been moments, especially with the memoir where I was a little concerned that he might feel kind of embarrassed by certain aspects of that, and it didn’t really occur to me that would be the case until after it was already in press. I was like, “How do you feel about all of this?”, and he was like, “Oh, no, I feel great about it. I think it’s great,” but it’s something that I had questions about for a little while.
Christina: I do think that makes sense. In having the great privilege and honor of knowing both of you, I do think of Danny as a person who’s like, “Oh, I’ll talk about that when I’m ready to talk about that,” and for you, a lot of your processing is, “I’m going to process this out loud with people and I would ideally like it to be as visceral and gut punching as it can be so I can get to how I feel about it at the end,” which is a fascinating process and one that is terrifying to me to think about, but I love reading you do it because it does feel very freeing in a way.
Grace: I’m so relieved to hear that, but yeah, no, I guess I’m just not very good at reserve. I guess it’s partly a rebellion against certain aspects of my upbringing, but I do try to punch hard first and develop more subtle relationships after.
Christina: Yeah. I think, as a guest of your wedding, a woman who walked on the aisle to “Primadonna Girl” might not be the best at reserve.
Grace: Yeah. That’s true.
Christina: Not a shocking excitement. I don’t think.
Christina: I don’t really think about the idea that people would be that interested in me dating people, but now that we have this podcast where I have proudly and loudly been like, “I don’t date, I do not do that,” I do think if I ever do get in a relationship again, it will actually have to be a conversation of like… People might be a little more interested in this than I am, or maybe even whoever I’m dating is, and it might have to be something we discuss in a way that is like, “Ooh.” Also, you hate to overexpect how much people care about you online. That’s a dark… How famous are you?
Drew: I think you’re underestimating the reach of Autostraddle.
Christina: That’s true.
Drew: I don’t have 10,000 followers on Twitter or Instagram, and I still, especially in Toronto for some reason, I’m just recognized a pretty good amount. I think Autostraddle has a really tight knit community and I think that’s really special. I think just by nature of writing for Autostraddle, people would be invested in who you’re dating. Also, you’re probably going to date someone who’s older and successful because you’re attracted to that, so unless they work in finance or something, which is boring, they’re probably going to have fame of their own.
Christina: That’s true.
Drew: I see this in your future of you having some sort of dual public relationship.
Christina: Well, I guess I should just start drafting the press release.
Grace: You’re a power lesbian in training.
Christina: Yeah, I guess. Yeah.
Drew: I am always having to navigate this thing where gaymous is not famous and so people have asked to take pictures with Elise and I at the same time and as a couple, and then like, “I love both of your work,” and also the subtext of that is also sometimes like, “I love your relationship,” which is a weird amount of pressure. I think I definitely understand like— I think I’m, separate from her, getting more boundaries in certain ways. I think with my work, I think I still feel more of a freedom, but even that, it would have to be very pointed. I think there are things that I would write in a book that I wouldn’t write in an essay, and there are things that I would write in an essay that I wouldn’t say on a podcast, and there are things that I would say on a podcast that I wouldn’t post on Instagram. I think there’s this sort of balance between art, which is in some ways, the thing that I prioritize above all else. I mean, not above all else, that’s not true, but it’s up there. It’s up there.
Christina: It’s a tie up there, I’d say.
Drew: It’s not above like—
Grace: Transfeminine Chatterton energy here.
Drew: It’s not above my deep political values and core beliefs, and there are people including my partner who I care about to an extent that… I wouldn’t say that I care about any individuals in my life more than the concept of art, but definitely like no one essay or one something… Well, that’s maybe not… No one’s asking me to pick, but I just am saying that I, of course, care more about my partner than any one essay that I could write.
Drew: It’s not really that challenging as far as being like, “Oh, I think I want to keep this private or she wants to keep it private.” I don’t know. I haven’t found it to be actually that challenging even if I’m talking slower on this episode than before. I think being forced to learn to be more thoughtful about what I put out into the world has been positive for me in general. I think I’m still learning that lesson. I think I’ve had some essays recently that after they’ve gone out, I’ve been a little bit like, “I don’t know if I should have done that.”
Grace: I love those essays. I think I know which ones you’re talking about. I think they’re beautiful. I love the way you write about sex.
Drew: Thank you. I don’t have an issue with writing graphically about sex and about my sex life. It’s more when I’m walking that line of telling other people’s stories, that’s what I feel. If I could write graphic essays about masturbation, I would do it any day. That’s not something that feels… It’s not that it doesn’t feel personal to me, but it just doesn’t feel…
Grace: You might as well just masturbate.
Drew: That’s true. That’s a really good point.
Christina: Well, that’s a huge point.
Drew: Then there are more essays and then it’s a real cycle there.
Christina: Yeah. I was actually thinking about that. The difference in writing an essay that is super personal versus Grace’s experience of writing a memoir. By definition, a memoir is really personal, and I imagine there are things that you put in that memoir that you would like if someone asks you to write for an outlet, you would be like, “No, that would be a waste of this space and I don’t really need to say this thing in this space,” but having what I can only imagine feels like the freedom to have a full memoir to say whatever you want and contextualize it very specifically to your life probably makes that a little easier.
Grace: I think that’s true. Yeah. I hadn’t quite thought of it in these terms, but I think it is true that if someone’s made the investment to hold a whole book in their hands that is a story of me and things about my life and thoughts, I think they’re entitled to descriptions of my genitals if they want them. Whereas, I’m not necessarily going to include that in a random essay about Matthew Arnold or whatever, although, you know.
Drew: Who knows?
Grace: Why not, I suppose.
Christina: Never say never, Grace. Never say never.
Grace: Never say never.
Christina: Certainly not with you.
Grace: Yeah, no, I think that’s true.
Drew: Yeah. If any book publishers are listeners of our podcast and want graphic details about my sex life with my partner, if you get me to write a book, I think she’d be okay with it. That’s real motivation. Though… because even making that joke scares me because there are people who are just so fucking weird about gaymous people, and I think it’s because we’re not famous so we feel more attainable and there’s just this weird… Look, I’m not encouraging all of you to stop listening to this podcast and stop liking our stuff and stop complimenting us and et cetera, et cetera. I mean, that’s the thing, right?
We want it, we’re here, we’re doing it, we clearly want some of it, and what that line is it’s a little like dating. I want people to flirt with me and then, oh, the wrong person flirted with me or, oh, they flirted and they misread the situation and did in a way that I felt was weird, and it’s fine as long as you don’t get stalkery about it. It’s fine. There are worse things than being a little bit weird on the internet, but it is that thing where I want the attention and I also don’t want the attention, and I want it in certain ways, and only I know in the moment what kind of ways.
Christina: Right. Exactly. There are those days where you get extremely randos in your DMs or mentions who are just speaking to you in an incredibly familiar tone, and you’re like… Some days, I’m like, “Whatever,” and some days I’m like, “Who the hell are you to think that you can speak to me in this manner?” and there really is no rhyme or reason to it. It is just how do I feel that day when I woke up and when a stranger decided to speak to me crazy? Who can say?
Grace: This is another thing about the whole gaymous thing, which I think is kind of weird in the way it specifically hits trans women, and maybe it’s specific to trans women of my age and older, but it’s a way in which I feel old when I’m recognized. It’s like people will talk to me in a sort of veneration. They’ll talk to me as though I was at Stonewall, and that I threw the first brick and I was hanging out with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera myself. And they’ll just say, “It’s so good to have you here. Thank you so much.” Danny and I walked into a fucking bookstore in Provincetown last year, and before anything else happened, the woman behind the desk looked at me and said, “You are welcome.” I was like, “Oh my God.”
Christina: Oh my God.
Drew: Okay. I don’t want you to think that I’m now calling you old, but I want to say that I’m 28 and I get that.
Grace: Oh my God. Yeah.
Drew: I mean, there’s something sort of endearing about it in the sense that I remember when I was first coming out, if someone had been… I mean, I’ve been out for a little over five years and that’s a good chunk of time when you’re first coming out. It feels so impossible to ever make it to that point, and so if you see someone who’s been out for over five years and is like writing openly about their experiences, and is in a relationship, and seems confident and happy and whatever, and all the things that I am and also am not because Instagram and the internet has its limits, but I think there is something that feels really inspiring about that. I, in some ways, welcome it, but it does make me laugh. It does make me feel sometimes like, “Am I an elder? When did I go from being like…”
I really feel like I went from being someone who all of my experiences were guided by being a baby trans to being an elder. There wasn’t an in between. All of a sudden. I did some emotional learning, I made some mistakes, was out for a little bit longer, and all of a sudden, snap, it happened. But I also do feel even so, I think, about people who have been out for 10 years or for 20 years and that there are so many different layers to that.
Drew: How long have you been out for?
Grace: Not even five years, I think. In terms of out online, probably just four and a half, we’ll say. In terms of in my more kind of offline life, a little bit longer than that, but even that was complicated because even before, I had a sort of public online life, I had a public work life because I was already a professor and so then there were all kinds of questions about like, “Why is Professor Lavery showing up wearing nail polish? Is that a thing?” and this kind of thing, but then when I did come out at work, the very next week was the graduate student recruitment week, and I had this one student come to my office and just asked me what it was like being trans in the Berkeley English Department when I’d literally been trans in the Berkeley English Department for five days, and I was just like, “I have no idea.”
Christina: It’s been quite a week.
Grace: Yeah. I feel vaguely insane, but I don’t think that’s…
Christina: I mean, first of all, I’m honored to be on a podcast with two trans elders. I think this is really a gorgeous experience. I do not take this kind of gift for granted so thank you both of you, but I do think for Drew and I, a lot of our work is online, our work is being public, but I do think there is probably for a lot of our listeners having that experience of being perhaps not a professor at Berkeley, but having a work life that is totally separate from whatever online public personas we may or may not have. I imagine that is also complicated to have a relationship be it public or even if it’s just something that’s a little harder to navigate in a corporate space or a… I don’t know. Higher ed was kind of, for me at least as a staff member of higher ed, was just like, “What are we doing here? The gay grad students are going to find me,” and they always did, but I wonder if for you, Grace, that also is part of dealing with your public relationship and managing that.
Grace: I think it is. I think the question of how to be a professor in a way that is meaningful, how to be an academic in a way that is meaningful without disappearing, you think, which is so… I mean, the question of visibility is a really complicated one and there’s a lot of critiques of visibility politics within trans community especially within academic trans community, and I really get that, and at the same time, I know that the systems, that govern higher education, are not really set up to make transition possible, and so if you wish to contest that visibility is a necessary dimension. For example, when I did come out at work in 2018, I remember I think maybe the following day, I ended up being sent by my department manager, who was wonderful and was always wonderful, to meet with a guy named Billy Curtis, who’s at the time, the director of gender equity. I just was a month or two on hormones in a wig looking terrified and I was just like, “Hi, I’m transitioning. This is a very odd moment for me. I thought I should just come and say hi.”
Billy then just looked at me and went, “Oh, we’ve been waiting for you,” and he’s just this extraordinary and wonderful person. He is someone who’s been at Berkeley since the ’80s and has been involved in gay liberation, queer liberation politics since then, has been grand marshal of San Francisco Pride, he’s Barbadian immigrant, and he’s been in California for ages. He’s incredible. He is someone that I really, really admire. It was just this sense that like, “Oh, wait, he’s been waiting for a trans woman tenure track scholar to get some of this stuff done that he needs to get done,” because he’s been finding that such a person could be helpful to him so then I was like, “Oh, okay, well then, let’s get some stuff done,” so then we did.
Then I wrote a bunch of letters saying, “We need to change these online infrastructure systems or we need to change this policy,” and whatever. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I mostly was taking direction from people who’d been part of these struggles for a lot longer and I was really grateful to them, but yeah, that sense that my visibility actually made a difference to the kinds of reforms and political changes that I was most interested in advancing. There’s this other trans woman academic at Berkeley whose name I can never fucking remember who I met one time who has nothing in common with me. She’s just a professor who has a life of a professor and isn’t online, isn’t married to the greatest writer of her generation or whatever. I always feel like this is so odd. We sometimes find ourselves in the same room and we just have nothing to talk about at all. I have no idea what her life is like.
Christina: That is so fascinating.
Grace: Yeah. The difference is partly this whole other thing, which is this public world that I’m half part of and have conflicted feelings about, but at the same time, it seems like it could be useful politically, and also, I sometimes realize like, “Oh, shit. My students have read descriptions of me having sex. That’s really weird,” and I feel really weird about that, but at the same time, the alternative is not to write about sex and it seems to me that’s worse, so yeah.
Drew: Do you feel an added pressure because of narratives around trans desirability and trans loneliness that because you’re in a public relationship and that you’re in a T4T relationship, that people sort of, I don’t know, want perfection?Or really look to you as inspiring in some ways that you have this public love and how you then portray your relationship? Is there an added pressure because of that?
Grace: I wonder. This is the dark side of that. This is where I’m immediately drawn by that. I’m also, in addition to being whatever kind of gaymous I am, I’m also a particular target for a bunch of really hateful people who just can’t stand trans people at all, can’t stand queer people at all. These people have a very highly developed theory about my relationship with Danny, which is that I have abducted him and cut off ties between him and his family and other people that care about him, and he is in this sort of brow-beaten, minoritized, and bullied position. That’s… When I feel pressure, I just feel really frustrated about that and I never know what to do with it because the obvious answer would be like, “Listen, my husband is more famous than me. My husband makes more money than me. He actually has more friends than I do, and whatever jealousies I feel around that, we can talk about them and it’s fine,” but it’s also, I do feel this kind of pressure to fight that in some way.
Danny and I have had complicated conversations about this because I’d be like, “Danny, why don’t you just tell people that this isn’t true?”, and he’s like, “If I say that, it will sound like you’ve told me to say that.” I’m like, “Yeah, I know. I know that’s true and I don’t know what to do with it.” I think we’ve both found a degree of frustration about that, and the answer is eventually being I’ve just really blocked off a lot of possible ways to get to me that I would see things.
It’s so odd to me that people would frame questions of transition around loneliness and that kind of undesirability because, for me at least, the trans people I know are all incredibly hot and incredibly desirable. It seems bizarre to me that anyone would think trans people have difficulty dating. Come to Brooklyn and we can go to a few bars.
At the same time, I know this is something that does really circulate because before I started to transition, I was so scared of transition, and one of the reasons why was because I was enjoying dating a lot of people, and I thought if I transition, I’m just not going to be able to do that and no one’s going to want to date me again. Eventually, I decided I was going to transition anyway even though I would therefore become unfuckable and no one would ever want to spend time with me. Then that turned out very quickly not to be true, so it was genuinely surprising to me.
The question is like, “Why or how has this image come up?” I guess if my relationship with Danny had some role in capacity to repudiate that notion of trans unfuckableness, I would be delighted because it’s really just straight up not true. It’s like one of those things where people are like, “If trans lesbians are lesbians, why don’t they date each other?” Literally every trans woman I know is either been dating another trans woman for a time or wants to date a trans woman or something like that.
Christina: Yeah. That is fascinating though to have that kind of immediate switch between like, “I do not think I will be desired,” to “Now, I am seen as predator.”
Christina: That’s a lot to have to balance in one gorgeous little brain that you’ve got going over there.
Grace: It just never occurred to me that would be part of the way that anyone would see this especially since, and this is another thing that is just a big part of our relationship, I admired his choices so fucking much. I think that there is often in a relationship, and I’ve had this in past relationships too, a question of fundamentally, do we share ethical commitments? Would we act the same way when the chips are down? When someone… People sometimes ask me like, “What’s your favorite thing about Danny?”, and sorry, I’m just like sucking my husband’s dick on podcast, and that’s just how it is.
Christina: Just slobbing on the knob right here on air.
Grace: Yeah. One of my favorite stories about Danny was his parents used to take him and his two siblings on little trips to the pier in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles, and when Danny was three or four, I think on the Santa Monica Pier, they’re walking around and each of the kids was given 10 bucks and they say, “You can go and do whatever you want with this, and just come back and tell us what it was.” The other kids go off and do something, but Danny’s move is he’d go and get the $10 note broken down into 10 one dollar notes, and go and give them to 10 different people that he’s seen that were just walking around, like homeless people.
Christina: That tracks so well with Danny’s incredibly huge heart. Yeah, that is a person who really, when the shit hits the fan, their politics go with it. Yeah, that’s a person who lives what they say and what they mean.
Grace: Yeah. There’s a kind of real instinctive commitment to something like communism there that is not acquired, that is actually really part of the way that Danny thinks about value and the way in which he thinks about resources that he can share with other people, and I learned so much from it. I think I’m instinctively a much more selfish person than Danny, and I probably have rolled that tenner into a little bundle and found some cocaine, but no, I continue to learn so much from that.
Christina: Well, maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe we should all just be dating Danny and learning how to be selfless and good people.
Grace: We haven’t really talked about the whole poly thing, but if you want to date Danny, I recommend it. We have a lot of fun.
Christina: Do we have any other thoughts before we hit Crush Corner? Are we feeling like we know what a public relationship is? Do we know how to navigate them? Do we do our best and say, “Well, that’s what all I can do”?
Drew: The only thing I would add is I think a lot of the things we’ve been talking about we’ve been talking about them in the context of being gaymous, and Christina, you brought this up as far as being a professor, but I do think that all of these things come up for everyone when it comes to dealing with social media. Even if you’re not going to have people who you don’t personally know responding to how you post and what you do, you’re going to have maybe family or friends or someone you went to high school with, or all these other things. I do think with the way that the internet functions now, most people are some sort of famous in the sense that even if you’re just famous with your high school graduating class and it is a weird dynamic, and I think we’re all figuring that out for ourselves. I think it just depends on the individual relationship and individual people and comfort levels, and yeah.
Christina: Cool. Yeah. I feel good. I feel like we crushed it as ever.
Christina: Speaking of crushes, gorgeous segues. She’s a professional. Let’s hit Crush Corner.
Christina: I will go first. My crush is not a person, not even pop culture. My crush is a concept. By a concept, I do mean a physical thing that you can see. It’s the ocean. My crush is the ocean. I really love her. I spent a long time in her in the last two weeks. Some of those days were very cold. Some of those days, she was not particularly welcoming, and I said, “Baby, I understand that. Me too. I also am sometimes cold and not particularly welcoming to people,” and I just felt really held and seen, and I love to be salty and damp in the ocean.
Drew: Wow. All your life you’ve been looking for an older woman and it was the ocean all along.
Christina: She was the only one big enough for me. Drew, who is your crush?
Drew: Okay. There’s a little story attached to this crush.
Christina: What? No way.
Drew: Yeah. My crush this week is Moira Shearer, who is a ballet dancer who’s the lead of the movie, The Red Shoes. She’s also in The Tales of Hoffman and was a great ballerina. She’s my crush this week because last night, I took my first ballet class. I’ve wanted to since I was like before I can… When I was three, I would like to watch my sister’s ballet classes. I was fascinated, but that wasn’t something that was available to me and I’ve always wanted to, and nothing to me felt more mortifying than being the sad trans woman who couldn’t learn ballet, who went to a beginner ballet class, and sucked. Because I’m not flexible. None of the skills that you need to have to be a ballerina, I have. I have none of them, but I went last night and it was so much fun. It was mortifying for sure and humbling in a lot of ways, but I had such a great time and I’m going to go back. It’s weekly so I’m going to go back next week and make it a practice.
A lot of it is I loved watching my sister’s ballet classes, but when I saw The Red Shoes, when I was, I don’t know how old I was, somewhere in the 12, 13-ish range, that movie changed my life. There was something about the way that it expressed passion and art making and commitment, and also how that intersects with still being someone who feels very deeply towards romantic partners and love. She’s incredible in it. She’s an incredible dancer and the way that her body moves is incredible. I was thinking about her and that movie all night.
Christina: Drew, I have to ask this before we ask Grace who her crush is. Your ballet teacher, was she hot or? What was going on there?
Drew: Less hot and more like Miss Frizzle energy because she teaches the beginner… There’s beginner and there’s beginner plus. Sorry, I’m not saying Miss Frizzle isn’t hot. You can be kooky and hot, obviously. That’s one of the best types of hot, but she was more like… Towards the end of the class, she made a joke about being old and then was like, “I’m almost 40,” and in my head, I was like, “This person’s under 40??” and not because of an appearance thing, but just because she talked to us the way she probably talks to her five-year-old students and so I had this mental image of her being so much older than me, and then I was like, “Oh, you’re younger than a lot of my friends.”
It wasn’t really a sexual thing, but I do know that the beginner plus teacher is hot because when I was looking at classes… You need at least a year of experience to go to beginner plus, so if I were to do weekly ballet in Toronto for the rest of the summer, go back to LA, continue that practice, maybe make it twice a week, and then if I came back to Toronto next year, I can maybe take the beginner plus class with the hot teacher. If all of that happens, I will let you know.
Christina: Well, listeners, hang on for season three of Wait, Is This A Date? featuring the beginner plus hot ballet teacher. Grace, whomst is your crush of the week?
Grace: Well, Christina, I just got to give a big shout out to this book, Stannary Law: A History of the Mining Law of Cornwall and Devon by Robert R. Pennington, who’s a legal historian. His book was published in 1974, and it’s a really great comprehensive history of the specifics of the laws governing the Cornish and Devon shore tin mining industries that had their own legal system quite apart from the rest of the country. I am currently writing a novel about the history of tin mining in the Southwest of England and its relation to independence movements. Robert R. Pennington, again, is my guy and I heartily recommend this for anyone who’s just looking for a light read about the history of Cornish tin mining.
Drew: Wow. Grace, can I just say that I adore you?
Christina: I am just blown away by just the concept of bringing your full self to this space and saying, “Yes, we are going Cornish tin mining.” Your mind, Grace. Thank you so much for joining us.
Grace: Thank you.
Christina: Please tell our listeners where they can find you if you would like them to do so. If you don’t want them to, say boo.
Grace: No, find me. Well, online, you can find me on Instagram @grace.lavery.pangolin. I also have my memoir, Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis, which is out now with Seal in the US and Daunt in the UK.
Drew: You should get it.
Christina: Everybody get the book. It’s great.
Grace: Thank you.
Christina: I think we did it.
Drew: Thank you so much for listening to Wait, Is This A Date. You can find us on Twitter and Instagram @waitisthisadate and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina: Our theme was written by Lauren Klein, our logo is by Mania Dar, and this podcast was produced, edited, and mixed by Lauren Klein.
Drew: You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok @draw_gregory.
Christina: You can find me on Twitter @c_gracet and on Instagram @christina_gracet, and you can find Autostraddle, of course, @autostraddle.
Drew: You can find Autostraddle at autostraddle.com. The reason we’re all here today. Thank you so much and see you next week. Christina, what is the difference between a date and a podcast?
Christina: Oh, actually, that’s really interesting that you asked that because scientists are, at this very moment, horridly trying to figure this out. We have some of our best scholars on this. On the case here, we don’t have an answer, but I think every day we journey closer to understanding.
Drew: I wish them and us the greatest luck.
Drew (voice memo): Elise and I are gay famous, not famous famous is we don’t have a couple name. We don’t even have a couple name that could work. I think the best bet you have is combining our last names like Grauman. That’s not a good couple name. Though it would be spelled like the theater in Los Angeles and you know how I love movies.
A delightful conversation!
This season has been so fun, the whole conversation was great but I want to give a big shoutout to Christina’s crush of the week! Everyone was in fine form today
Thanks for reminding me of Lee Winter’s “Breaking character”. A truly excellent and sexy lesbian romance I could reread. The “Red Files” I enjoyed, as well.