There but for Grace go we- queer theory and the snowflake generation

“One reason I’m so anti-zoom,” Grace Lavery, Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, confided to 21.8k followers on Twitter a few days ago,is that I teach classes in queer and trans studies, where part of the point is to handle ideas that the family home renders unthinkable. My undergrad students say things that, were they to say them in their parents’ houses, might expose them to harm.”

Three ideas spring out from this tweet.  Firstly that classes in queer theory teach ideas that a family home would find “unthinkable”, secondly that “part of the point” of such classes is to create this situation, and thirdly that expressing these ideas within earshot of parents “might expose (students) to harm”.

It almost sounds as if the classes are intended to alienate young adult children from their parents. Most parents are not idiots and most parents are quite capable of thinking about and discussing complex ideas.

Firstly, let’s look at the ‘family home’ Grace is envisualising. Note, not ‘some family homes’ but the generic family home. It seems that on the one hand we are told to embrace diversity, while on the other we are offered ignorant stereotypes of how parents will react.

The family home Lavery envisages is a place with staid, conventional, bigoted parents. Parents, it seems, who aren’t even aware of the subjects their kid is studying at Uni. It’s unlikely that mum has ever smoked a joint or read a volume of philosophy, or that dad has ever even considered the idea of same-sex attraction or getting his ears pierced. This is clearly bonkers. Most parents of kids now at university came of age in the 80s and early 90s. We knew how to protest. We rocked against racism. We wore pink ‘Crazy Colour’ in our hair, pink triangle badges and safety pins on the lapels of our Sally Army Chelsea Girl jackets and painted CND signs on our home-bleached jeans. We wanted to Stop the City. We stood up for the acceptance of same-sex attraction at a time when the police were quite definitely not on our side. We listened to Boy George and swooned over Cyndi Lauper. My first 80s boyfriend wore more eyeliner than I did and wrote endless volumes of poetry (which reminds me, why oh why did I never make out with the beautiful, corkscrew-curled Simone who was so clearly out of my league but wanted me anyway?)

80s and 90s kids were anything but conventional. They were, among other things, the heroin generation, and those that weren’t gouged out on the sofa watching Neighbours re-runs were more often than not crawling around a field of cowpats looking for magic mushrooms or watching fractal videos and wondering if they should drop another Super Mario. We discussed Germaine Greer and Timothy Leary, listened to Chumbawamba and Consolidated and hitch-hiked up to Manchester to share bottles of water on sweaty dancefloors at the Hacienda.  When Leary was sampled into the iconic Tool track, ‘think for yourself and question authority’ became a mantra and oh, how we danced.

“Breach the peace, break the barrier, make some fuckin’ noise!” belted out Spiral Tribe as we organised a network of self-supporting, spontaneous free festivals- without mobile phones! Don’t talk to us about not conforming. We’ve been there. We had the T-shirt to prove it once, but we discarded it somewhere in a back room at Megatripolis around 1993.

I’m not trying to idealise those times – not all 80s/90s kids were semi-enlightened, tripped-out, embryonic philosophers and for many of those that were the journey ended badly and often prematurely. Sections of mainstream society were rife with casual racism, homophobia and sexism: the NF graffitied the ‘n’ word on buildings; jokes about ‘shirt-lifters’ and ‘poofters’ were everywhere and if a guy grabbed your boobs as you were walking home late then you’d probably have been told you shouldn’t have had such a short skirt on. The AIDS epidemic unfolded. The 80s and 90s housed bigotry and bias, just as any generation does. I’m not suggesting that everyone who grew up in those times is compassionate and open minded, just making the point that not all parents are bigoted morons whose brains will explode if they’re exposed to a bit of queer theory. There will always be cruel, narcissistic people who enjoy crushing others, and I don’t doubt that some unfortunate kids starting out at uni have parents who fall into this category. However, to infer that this is the norm is disingenuous.

Lavery’s idea that ‘the family home‘ would render the ideas of queer theory ‘unthinkable’ is both ageist and absurd. Lavery is fast approaching forty, so seems a pretty weird candidate to be waving the ‘don’t trust your parents’ banner. Blogging about Viagra and erections, telling girls – no, not even when you do it ironically- to ‘tuck a corner (of a shawl) into your pussy’ and calling pro-LGB organisations ‘transphobic’ does not make you edgy or revolutionary. Nor does dressing ‘like the mignonne bitch of my autogynephilic dreams’ exempt you from the trundle of time’s winged chariot hot on your kitten heels.

A parent might be forgiven for concern about Lavery’s desire for secret Zoom chats with their newly-flown-the-nest offspring. Indeed it’s not unreasonable to consider the idea of queer theory unhealthy or dangerous, advocating as it does for the normalisation of medication and modification of body parts to closer comply with conventional social stereotypes.  Not to mention its links to advocating for incest and paedophilia. Bemused? Derek Jensen’s ‘Queer Theory Paedophilia Jeopardy‘ short video will give you a starting place. It’s more likely that your average parent would find some aspects of Queer Theory pretentious and downright bloody stupid to be honest, but ‘unthinkable’? I think not.

Which brings us to ‘might expose them to harm’.  Lavery teaches in the States, so things may be different there. In the UK students pay for their accommodation for a full year whether they’re living there or not.

(EDIT: College campuses have been closed in the USA due to the COVID19 outbreak, but  less than 16% of undergraduate students live on campus. Like students in the UK, the rest of them either continue to live at home while attending college or pay rent to live in housing close to where they study.)

Of course, the lockdown (yes, I know it’s not literally a lockdown) is a complete pain in the arse for young people who had moved out to go to Uni. Being stuck at home when they should be vomiting into a plant pot in the student union was never part of the plan.  However, most of them – please note I said most – have chosen to go home during this trying time.  Most universities in the UK have allowed students to live in halls if they really don’t feel they can go home or have no home to go to. UC Berkeley News claims that no students will be forced out of campus accommodation. Perhaps this is untrue and they really are evicting students and forcing them to return to abusive homes. Evidence of this being the case would be appreciated.

I emailed Berkeley to ask about the situation and received this in reply from their Office of Communications and Public Affairs.:

Hi Lily,
Thanks for your email, which was referred to me. I am assuming you are asking whether during the spring semester students in the campus residence halls were given the option to stay in the dorms or leave amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the move to remote instruction.
We gave students the options to leave or stay, and those who left were provided a pro-rated refund of residence hall/dining hall fees.
Best [redacted]

Most students have gone home – wait for it – because they want to be with their families right now.

Lockdown aside, it’s a pretty cushy deal for most students to return home. Chances are that- whatever social class they’re from- mum is cooking their meals and doing their laundry (plus ça change) and they’re spending large amounts of the day on the family Netflix account and the evenings drinking Dark Fruits and attending Zoom parties.

Yes, I’m exaggerating. I know they still have work to do- and the combination of ‘lockdown’ and strikes means my own uni-age-child, for example, has only had about a dozen weeks of actual teaching this year. It sucks.

So most of these kids have chosen to go home. Which makes me ask, very tentatively, if their homes are genuinely unsafe places and they had finally got away, why didn’t they remain in their digs in their uni towns? Or go to stay with friends? (We offered a space to a friend of Jessie’s whose parents were abroad, but he declined. We can’t have been alone in this.)  Of course some kids, as middle-child pointed out as we discussed this over breakfast, may feel they have a moral duty to return home. Just because parents are abusive doesn’t necessarily mean their kids won’t love them anyway.  Perhaps a parent or sibling desperately needs looking after in these dark times. So let’s be clear – I’m not discounting a situation where a child has felt they have no option than to return to an abusive household during this pseudo-lockdown. For a very few, this will indeed be the case. And if this is the case, taking part in a queer theory class via Zoom will probably be the least of their concerns.

Of course, there are households where space is of such a premium that the young person returning home cannot find a quiet corner to do some work or take their queer studies Zoom chat in private. The parental home may be an overcrowded high-rise, with no garden or balcony. Parents may not be willing or able to clear a quiet place for a young person to study. In this situation there is more at stake than parental disapproval: a student’s entire degree may be at risk if they have no privacy to study. The Zoom chat will, again, be the least of their worries: after all you can wear headphones on Zoom, and there’s a chat bar for stuff you don’t want to say out loud. Not ideal, but needs must in a crisis.

So it seems we must have it both ways. On the one hand, students are responsible adults, mature, independent, pioneering free thinkers. On the other, they are vulnerable babies who absolutely have to move back home and need protecting from the idea that their dad might dismiss queer theory as a load of bloody bollocks. Which is it to be?

For what it’s worth, I’d suggest that Grace’s concern is most likely to be about parents realising what utter nonsense their kids are being fed for their thousands of dollars in tuition fees. After all, anyone with even a few brain cells left insitu can see ‘queer theory’ for what it is.

Nor does Lavery stop to consider that an interesting and educational dialogue might open up between a parent who overheard parts of such a Zoom chat and their offspring. After all, we learn a lot when we debate with those who disagree with our position. That’s how we challenge, strengthen and formulate our beliefs.

And finally, saying the unsayable- gender studies and queer theory are not generally modules taken by working class kids, who have a lot more than cash invested in getting a good degree with practical application. If the ‘queer activists’ I’ve come across are anything to go by, it’s very much the domain of the middle class. I’m left with an image of Tarquin up in his converted attic bedroom, sipping lager from his mini fridge, chatting to his friends on his MacBook about how his dad won’t call him Tarquina and doesn’t understand his gender-queer pansexuality. Meanwhile mum’s downstairs washing his socks and making dinner, wondering what the fuck happened to the sexual revolution.



About Lily Maynard

Shamelessly gender critical. There's no such thing as a pink brain, a lesbian with a penis or a gender fairy. Transitioning kids is child abuse.
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32 Responses to There but for Grace go we- queer theory and the snowflake generation

  1. eca says:

    Beautiful piece, Lily. Thanks for writing.

  2. JH says:

    I’ve never read something so full of lies and badly researched. (It would take five seconds to find out that American collages have kick out students living in dorms) You are truly blinded by your privilege if you think children are coming home to a safe and caring family.

    • Lily Maynard says:

      It took just a little longer than that for me to confirm that Berkeley students are allowed to stay on campus if they want or need to.

      • A Heran says:

        I can confirm universities are definitely allowing students to stay on campus if they have no where to go. My daughter is a university student here in the US, and she some university post about it.

  3. @Woman4W Tiffany Richardson says:

    This was beautiful and ended on a note that definitely brought a bitter smile to my face.

  4. Pauline Meek says:

    Superb piece of writing – and very engaging as well as being a strong, well thought out argument. And I’m pleased that you can use levity to hold the attention (eg “Being stuck at home when they should be vomiting into a plant pot in the student union was never part of the plan.”) – so many people on the other side of this argument just spout vitriol and “the-world-is-against-what-you-are-learning”.

    There is never a place for genuine humour (though there may be cruel “jokes”) in fascism – and this movement is fascist. Kindness, consideration, humour and solid facts undermine them. Keep it up.

  5. Brummie friend says:

    Thank you Lily, having clicked on links to grace lavs writing, it does make you wonder who on earth would want to pay to be taught by this twerp!

  6. D says:

    Loved it 🙂

  7. Harold says:

    You’re either a complete idiot, or blind to the high levels of discrimination and bigotry in the average (not the generic: the average, or at least the highly common) US family home. Either way, you’re reading in utterly bad faith: the usage of the word ‘the’ simply doesn’t function anywhere near as narrowly in English as you deceptively construe it. Grace is one of the most phenomenal English teachers around. I’ve seriously considered going to do a second degree just to be able to study with her. Get lost.

  8. Mary Mack says:

    You say “Most universities in the UK have allowed students to live in halls if they really don’t feel they can go home or have no home to go to.” As someone from the US, this is NOT the case. Most students were kicked out of campus and refused housing, including Stanford and other notable colleges. You also completely ignore the potential queer students who live with family members who are bigots and abusive to their children. A teacher’s job includes keeping children as safe as possible, and that at times means considering the possibility that their parents may harass their closeted queer children if they hear the words “queer theory” in a sentence coming from their school. Not to mention religious fundamentalists who consider teaching the topic to be the devil’s work. As a queer person coming from the rural US, I’ve grown up with students whose parents vocally said this in my presence. You are ignoring potential harm that could be done to these students, which is absolutely horrid.

    • Lily Maynard says:

      Berkeley have been quite clear that they will continue to offer accommodation to any student who wants or needs it. (See edit in article)

      • Grace Lavery says:

        It’s spelt “Berkeley.”

        • Lily Maynard says:

          I have edited that now, thank you. The error (Berkley) first occurred in the section I added after several students told me how they were ‘forced’ to go home. As Berkeley’s own website is quite clear that students were welcome to stay on campus, it was quite possibly a Freudian slip.

          • Grace Lavery says:

            Interesting. Students told you they were forced to go home, but you didn’t believe them because you found a note from early March on the Berkeley website?

            To be clear, none of my arguments depend on the home in question being abusive – I was quite clear about that on the thread.

        • Lily Maynard says:

          Re your comment: ‘Students told you they were forced to go home, but you didn’t believe them because you found a note from early March on the Berkeley website?’

          I have a May email, from the Office of Communications & Public Affairs at Berkeley which states:
          ‘Thanks for your email, which was referred to me. I am assuming you are asking whether during the spring semester students in the campus residence halls were given the option to stay in the dorms or leave amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the move to remote instruction. We gave students the options to leave or stay, and those who left were provided a pro-rated refund of residence hall/dining hall fees.’

          Are you suggesting that this is untrue?

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Anyone who thinks that students of the 1980s and 1990s talked about Germaine Greer and Timothy Leary is not a reliable narrator, unless we who were students then time-traveled back to the 1960s. We talked about Judith Butler and Patricia Williams and Fanon and Foucault, among many others. And this essay is not only transphobic, as the author clearly intended, but also stunningly misogynist in its descriptions of Lavery. What a pseudo-radical piece of garbage.

    • Velcro says:

      I can relate to all of this, having been a teenager/early 20s in 1970s 80s.

      Trans ideology is all about encouraging dependency. 70s 80s youth ideology was about self-sufficiency, do-it-yourself, and harnessing the energies of youth to change the world, to benefit the majority.

      My learning disabled daughter has been caught up in trans ideology, having been persuaded by a weird zeitgeist that gender dysphoria is really her problem, to be solved by surgery and medication, and that it is her right to be mutilated by paid doctors and drug dependent on pharma. And make us pay for it through the taxation system. That is so sad. I will never affirm this shower of shit and can only hope to be able to help her when she suffers the immense mental and physical health consequences down the line.

      This article by Lily was a personal piece from life experience, which matches my own reality.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Your child is going to suffer mental health crises of a terrifying sort if you deny who they are. Suicide rates among trans youth — who are some of the most incredibly creative community-builders I know—are astronomical (the American Pediatrics Association reports that between a third and half of trans teens attempt it). I don’t wish that on either you or your child, obviously, but I fear you are consigning your child to that level of despair.

      • Dafne Martínez says:

        Of course from lifestyle punk anarchism of “do it yourself”, to full embrace of neoliberalism there’s only one short step. It seems like Thatcher did a lot of damage to british society

    • Lily Maynard says:

      Elizabeth, it’s great that you know what my mates and I were talking about.

  10. Sibyl says:

    I am entertained by the thought of poor oppressed Tarquina…..

    Though sorry for his Mum.

  11. Jay says:

    Properly laughed out loud at the end. Splendid.

  12. Dafne Martínez says:

    Seems like you don’t really understand how things are in North America. USA in not the UK, neither Europe, one third of the population is still heavily into christian conservative bullshit. On the other hand, I was no young in the 80’s but it seems for me that people who did all those crazy things u celebrate were a minority and if you’r uncapable of understand that, then you’re priviledged as fuck. Not everybody was into that “complex” irving welshesque stuff. And even the ones who were can become conservatives and bigoted with age. Even in your country that is like the most entitled and self absorbed place in the world (has been once in London and are fucking amezed of how paranoic you white brits get with POC), many of that crazy youngsters ended supporting Thatcher and Cameron and other trash people like them. You’re idealizing your generation, but you’re blind, really fucking blind…

    • Lily Maynard says:

      I’m not idealising anything or anyone. Perhaps you didn’t actually read the article? Glad that your one visit to London gave you such a clear and complete view of British culture.

  13. Laix Khan says:

    Great writing Lily……..thought that stat about Trans suicide had been debunked ages ago…but the queer devotees like to throw it in the discussion anytime they can. Apparently validating everything ones child demands is good parenting these days and never mind the consequences.

  14. Grace Lavery says:

    I’m really struck by the phrase “bitter smile” above, in the comments. “This brought a bitter smile to my face.” Mine too.

    The 80s do sound great though. One almost forgets that, in certain respects, it wasn’t the easiest time.


  15. ok boomer seems appropriate here. You gender criticals are obsessed with commenting on every last thing that doesn’t impact you in the least. You are every bit as controlling as right wing fundies and the transgender movement.

  16. Pingback: Gender Bullets 13 May 2020 – Gender

  17. Dorothy Mantooth says:

    Typical of today’s left-wing fascists: they still view themselves as, and desperately want to be, the “cool kids,” and ignore anything that doesn’t suit their image of themselves that way. They completely abandon their responsibilities to young people in favor of self-aggrandizing and trying to be liked/friends with those young people, paint themselves as rebels when they are decidedly mainstream, and wrap their indoctrination in a blankie of “subversion.”

    I’m betting this teacher has at least once failed a student who didn’t buy into her theories, or called students names for not doing so, and/or fought to deplatform campus speakers she does not like, yet she has the nerve to talk about what close-minded bigots all parents are and act like what she’s doing is revolutionary. (And if I’m wrong, that makes her a rarity on today’s campuses.)

    In order to bolster these people’s images of themselves as “cool kids” and “subversives,” they must view mainstream society as old-fashioned, staid, and bigoted. Never mind all evidence to the contrary; “we think everyone but us are bigots, therefore they are.” Proof of this is in some of the above comments.

    As for the autogynephile whose article you linked to, imagine a woman being delighted by being the target of sexism. And, as always, we have the certainty that it is sexism he’s facing, that he knows what others are thinking, rather than the probable reality, which is that the male professor quite sensibly refused to take seriously anything said by an obviously delusional male who came to a business meeting dressed like a prostitute.

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