Let’s talk about Daniel Lavery.
Some of you might know him better as Daniel Mallory Ortberg, prior to a recent additional name change. He’s a brilliant writer, an author after my own heart, and a proud and open trans man. I swear, I know this sounds strange, but there’s something about following his transition journey online that’s helped me (as a cisgender man) come to better terms with my own masculinity. Seriously, pick up a copy of his book Something That May Shock and Discredit You, and you’ll find something along the lines of:
What if Masculinity, but in a Soft, Sort-of-Drapey Jacket
That’d be nice, right? Maybe in velvet; I don’t know. It’s soft now! We can all enjoy it this way.Ortberg, pg. 9
That kind of self-labeling speaks to me on a deep level. And seeing Ortberg’s journey alongside his friend and writing partner Nicole Cliffe is equally heartwarming. It’s an inspiration to queer Catholic geeks like me who want to feel just as accepted in our own personal relationships. And, not for nothing, but both Lavery and I grew up in that soft conservative commuter town of Simi Valley, California.
In an era of #MeToo moments, debates about police brutality and toxic masculinity, and a general pushback against the kind of silent suffering that old-school machismo has kept alive, reading Lavery’s works is like coming up for air after being held underwater. His writing is raw and a shock to the system, skipping from poetic allusions to Anne of Green Gables and the Epistles of Saint Paul to sudden in-your-face jokes about going on testosterone therapy, broken relationships, and Millennial-style anxieties. It’s how we get “Dirtbag Sappho” and jokes about how awkward it is for the Biblical figure Jacob to suddenly change his name and go by Israel.
Because, in the end, to hell with genre conventions and playing things safe. To hell with trying to resign ourselves into a comfortable prefab shape that someone older and “wiser” in society has claimed would be best for us. Let’s be wild, poetic Orpheuses (Orphei?) willing to brave the lower depths of the Underworld, win everyone over with our songs, and try so hard to bring the ones we love back home, even though we can’t help but sneak a glance over our shoulders and cock the whole thing up.
So here’s to Daniel Lavery and all the other brilliant LGBTQ writers out there pushing on the boundaries of art and culture in the Year of our Lord 2020. Give his book a read, along The Merry Spinster and Texts from Jane Eyre, and see what more we could be doing with prose.
Bibliography: Ortberg, Daniel Mallory. Something That May Shock and Discredit You. New York: Atria Books, 2020.