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Please Miss by Grace Lavery: A weird and wonderful work on the trans experience

Book review: This memoir of addiction and transition tells a messy, hilarious story

Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis
Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis
Author: Grace Lavery
ISBN-13: 978-1914198045
Publisher: Daunt Books
Guideline Price: £14.99

If the early 2020s is remembered for anything in literature, it will be for the explosive breakthrough of trans writers into the mainstream. From Torrey Peters’s brilliant Women’s Prize-longlisted novel Detransition, Baby, to Shon Faye’s already-seminal The Transgender Issue, trans writers have dominated prize lists and bestseller charts with a ferocity unlike any other.

Please Miss, Grace Lavery’s memoir of addiction, transition and clowns, happily sits within the current wave while simultaneously standing entirely on its own. Lavery, a professor of English at University of California, Berkeley, takes a novel approach to the memoir. Melding it with fiction, theory and analysis of popular culture, the result is an untamed beast, a vast scrapbook of lengthy asides, harrowing recollections and literary analysis. Not many books can so freely traverse between a sincere account of the author’s burgeoning descent into alcoholism and a genuine examination of how the musical Little Shop of Horrors is actually a trans narrative.

The most overarching presence in the book is Lavery’s humour, which can be easily deciphered upon discovering the book’s subtitle: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis. Her worldview is as unique as it is deranged and you often feel as if you’re in the presence of that one friend who you know will guarantee you a wild and storied night out.

Lavery manages to find meaning and profundity in the most oblique of places, as in the Edward Scissorhands porn parody Edward Penishands (believe me, it’s real) or through the machine-gun-chested fembots of Austin Powers. There is a sense that, if given enough thought, Lavery could find a metaphor for transness in every possible facet of popular culture, and oftentimes her hypotheses are wholly sound.


Although the book’s structural messiness and lack of a narrative flow may be off-putting for some readers, I found such an approach to be pretty reflective of the journey that many trans people make. The story Lavery tells is messy, and thus the book should be regaled accordingly. Please Miss is a weird and wonderful work.