Review: Something That May Shock and Discredit You20 August 2020
Daniel M. Lavery: Something That May Shock and Discredit You
Scribe Publications, 2020.
ISBN, 9781922310040, pp. 256, $29.99
Something That May Shock and Discredit You is a work that is incredibly comforting for a trans reader. It is, at its heart, a sincere exercise in reckoning with what ‘trans’ is, for a trans person, in every aspect of the word.
Made of Very Many Essays, all short and very digestible, Something That May Shock and Discredit You reads like a onesie or a comforter, but for young (and by young I mean young in one’s exploration of one’s transness) trans people. Reading Lavery’s writing takes one on a journey—regardless of one’s ‘cisness’ or ‘transness’, or wherever you may land in the process of transition.
Lavery is greatly concerned with discomfort itself. I know I just said Something reads like a comforter, but nothing can divorce a book about transition from the fact that transitioning in the sort of world we live in is something inherently uncomfortable. Lavery’s writing is whimsical and clever—I wish I could put my finger on how exactly, but I think (with about 70 per cent certainty) it is because he puts down, on the page, a condensed version of every thought one might have. If I asked you a question, you would answer with one definitive answer—but in your head you may have flip-flopped around, felt ambivalent, haggled like you were at a flea market. Lavery’s writing is that, and in that way it works against the essay narrative of a trans person springing, like Athena, from their father’s head fully formed with an innate sense of their own transness. And in this way, depending on whether one is cis or trans, Lavery’s writing is either 1) a peak behind the curtain, or 2) putting words to the existential will-I-or-won’t-I experienced throughout a pre-transition trans person’s life.
Something roughly follows the steps of a transition—in early essays, Lavery kindly pokes fun at the sort of negotiation one might engage in with themselves when trying to decide when/if to transition. He writes, “Transitioning often makes room for fondness where there was no room before,” (17)—and this to me speaks to the innate transness of the entire book. Too often media about trans people centre the struggles they go through, most frequently about their process of transition—a difficult realisation of transness, then negotiation externally with family, friends, and finally transitioning, only to again be ostracised by society at large.
Lavery takes this newfound trans lens, and engages heavily in references—sometimes Biblical (that went straight over my head), sometimes more modern—in sprawling, rabbit-hole-like chapters. Some are like those Hark A Vagrant! comics, chapters that demystify relics of the past like the Knights of the Round Table or Lord Byron, wherein Lavery does wink-and-not rewrites of dialogue between God and Jacob. In others, Lavery engages in movies and television with the frankness of a teen on Tumblr, voicing the secret headcanons every queer person ever has had. There’s nothing wrong with seeing yourself in heteronormative pop culture Something says, as Lavery playfully declares Star Trek’s Captain Kirk a Beautiful Lesbian. Everything relies on subtext, Lavery seems to suggest, and everything is somehow too frustratingly subtle. You can decide if he’s writing about transness, or just about the media. “It is a hard thing to want to be interpreted and not offer anyone a key to the translation,” Lavery confidently states (135).
Something is a book of hope, I think. Lavery doesn’t shy away from the realities of being trans in the current day and age, but he consistently reaffirms that trans is okay—any piece or process of transition is okay, that you’ll be okay. The discomfort comes first, but, he writes, “once the blow hits, you are free of the dread of the blow, and you can start to mend from” (123).