Daniel Lavery—best-selling author and host of the Dear Prudence podcast—has penned a book ostensibly about the experience of transition, but effortlessly traverses religion, philosophy… and William Shatner? In Something That May Shock and Discredit You (Scribe) Lavery’s innermost expressions of vulnerability are rendered with remarkable candour in some passages. Other passages are flat-out hilarious. All, however, are poignant.
The book reads as a cathartic experience for Lavery, but that doesn’t mean it takes itself too seriously. The practicalities of gender transition are on equal footing with profoundly emotional reflections, delivered in a package that engenders empathy above all else.
Something That May Shock and Discredit You is Daniel Lavery’s memoir-adjacent tale of transition, and other things. Witty, candid and brimming with humanity.
The structure of the book, laid out in lavishly titled chapters, hints at the curiosities of their author. In the first chapter, which I’ll just shorten to Rapture (anyone who’s laid eyes on the actual title will know why I’ve taken a short cut), Lavery reflects on the first inklings of transitional contemplation:
“…I often describe my sudden shift in self-awareness as feeling as if a demon had entered my room in the middle of the night, startled me awake by whispering, “What if you were a man, sort of?” into my ear, then slithered out the window before I could ask any follow-up questions.”
Many of the chapters return to the intriguing and frustrating road to complete transition and the tortured self-examinations along the way, which Lavery uses as a vehicle for comedy. When negotiating with a friendly bystander in a parallel parking situation he writes, “But I knew, even then, that as soon as he’d seen me, I’d had only two options left to me: park properly, or start transitioning immediately.”
Lavery also untangles the complicated logic surrounding the process of transition and how it affects the people closest to him. In The Unwanted Coming-Out Disorder, he explains:
“The trouble only begins when it triggers an empathy-overload feedback loop and you start to imagine that it’s about to happen to you, that any minute now someone is going to travel back to your own adolescence, seize upon the mildest of gender-nonconforming behaviors…and drag you kicking and screaming into a forced-transition factory.”
Throughout Something That May Shock and Discredit You, observations as impactful as the one above cascade over each other, spilling from Lavery’s pen. Such is the free-flowing thought, that you might think of it as a stream of consciousness, but that would belie the chiselled articulation of the prose. Yep, it’s an adventure, but a guided one.
Things get decidedly left-of-centre in the interludes. This is Lavery’s main forum for taking the austerity of greek mythology (Something Nice Happens to Oedipus), the Roman Empire (Marcus Aurelius Prepares for the New Year) and even the Old Testament (Jacob and the Angel Wrasslin’ Till Noon at Least) and presenting them in a fresh and whimsical context.
Playful subversion is the order of the day in these moments. Messages from the gospel (Lavery was raised in an evangelical Christian family) are treated with the same reverence as other spiritual guides like Colombo, The Golden Girls or William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk Is a Beautiful Lesbian, and I’m Not Sure Exactly How to Explain That).
Daniel Lavery’s essays, dialogues and confessions are no doubt complex. It’s a wild ride, encompassing the full gamut of emotions, uncomfortable and euphoric as they are. His ability to drill down into the mire of feelings and reactions that surround the process of transition means that nuggets of wisdom can be unearthed.
His truth is served up unfiltered, with all its attending confusion, but as he reminds us, transition is, “active, forceful, adaptable, energetic, animated, expansive, full of possibility, capacious, comprehensive, vital, ambitious.”
Something That May Shock and Discredit You is available now, via Scribe.