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The only reason that anyone needs to affirm their gender differently is because they want to, Daniel Lavery said.

The American author who was co-founder of the satirical website The Toast, and a Dear Prudence advice writer for online magazine Slate, explores the awkwardness and ambiguities of gender transition in his deeply personal book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You.

UNSW Professor Christy Newman (they/them) from the UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health and Associate Dean Engagement and Impact for UNSW Arts, Design and Architecture joined Lavery at the Centre for Ideas’ International Conversations event on Tuesday night, to unravel the intricacies of gender, faith and family which are threaded through Lavery’s recent book.

Prof. Newman said Lavery continued his longstanding tradition of remaking the stories that shape us - such as biblical texts, myths, fairy tales or popular media – for this memoir-style book. 

“Some of the most compelling insights… were where you (Lavery) used these superpowers that you have in reworking classic tales to reveal the incredibly bad manners in expressions of contemporary transphobia,” Prof. Newman said.

Lavery said he really enjoys reworking or ‘restoring’ such tales.

“It is also one of those things where it could be very difficult in the moment to think why is this (story) rude, or why is this jarring or why do I simply feel vaguely uncomfortable about hearing this information from someone who forgot to drink their ‘be normal’ juice this morning?” he said.

“It takes a little bit of distance to work through an autopsy of rudeness. Where no one agrees on the source of the rudeness, so you have to go away and think about it in separate contexts.”



The book also delves into the pressures placed on trans people to know their gender without any doubt or uncertainty, and to then communicate their desire for gender affirmation at the exact right time in life, not too young or too old, for other people’s comfort levels.

Countering this belief, Lavery said the only reason that you should be required to articulate, before you are supported to affirm your gender through medical, legal or social means is simply because, ‘I want to’.

“And I hold that as a fairly straightforward principle of bodily autonomy,” he said.

“I think the underlying reason is simply people ought to be able to do what they wish with their own bodies, and I don’t believe anyone else has a better right than I do to handle mine.”

Prof. Newman said Lavery’s compassion and humour is always present even as he discusses incredibly serious issues in his book.

“The thing that constantly strikes me from your writing is your capacity to be unbelievably funny in talking about the things that are so hard for so many to talk about openly,” she said.

A copy of Something That May Shock and Discredit You can be ordered online through the UNSW bookshop here.

The Centre for Ideas’ International Conversations series brings the world to Sydney. Each digital event brings a leading UNSW thinker together with their international peer or hero to explore inspiration, new ideas and discoveries.