When I was first exposed to the intense online discourse surrounding Torrey Peters’ latest novel Detransition, Baby, I became instantly intrigued. It is a novel that discusses detransitioning, written by a proud, openly trans woman— published by a major publishing house to boot.
While I was initially curious about the angle Peters would approach her work, I came to a startling conclusion the very second I made it through the first page of Detransition, Baby: Torrey Peters had written this novel to take vastly underrepresented LGBTQIA+ perspectives, in all of their goriness, and present it to those who will never understand what it is like to be endure an internal battle with their gender and sexuality. From references to gay dating apps, lesbian picnics, and the overt fetishization of trans people, Peters' confidence in displaying the inner-workings of queer culture to a mainstream, majority cis-gender audience is unwavering and thus, incredibly charming. This aspect of her work allows for two contrasting groups to become aligned within shared thought and experience, highlighting how queer people are not as outlandish as public agendas may suggest.
The title Detransition, Baby, is quite a straightforward outline of the plot itself. Ames, a now detransitioned trans woman, finds himself in a strange predicament; his boss Katrina, whom he'd been sleeping with, has become pregnant, something Ames thought to be practically impossible. Though the idea of becoming a father terrifies him, Ames is willing to enter parenthood for as long as he and Katrina are accompanied by Reese, a trans woman he had once dated when he was living as Amy. Reese, in complete contrast to Ames’ current state, has long dreamed of becoming a parent, but came to realize that she did not have the economic or social resources to have a child of her own. In this way, Reese and Ames represent the complex relationship between parenthood, gender identity, and transness— an aspect of Peters' work that is incredibly underrepresented within popular literary culture.
In fact, most of Detransition, Baby’s success comes from the manner in which Peters develops her characters. Peters' portrayal of her characters is extraordinarily human and painfully transparent, allowing them to come across as endearing even when their actions should possibly make readers feel otherwise.
Reese is a stubborn, satirical trans woman who often finds herself sexually intertwined with cheating, manipulative men because it allows her to feel aligned with outdated and toxic definitions of the female experience. She longs for stability and a family of her own, but struggles to support herself as she does the trans women around her. Reese is not perfect, but serving as some sort of role-model for transness is far from her character’s purpose. Instead, Reese represents a key idea present in many of Peters’ writings: no trans people are perfect, just as no cis gender person is inherently perfect.
Ames, though detransitioned, is completely unsure of his own identity. He does not feel confident in assuming the role of a father, and he fixates on gender and the manner in which he portrays himself to the public. Ames’ experiences are an extremely profound aspect of Destransition, Baby, as he illustrates that both masculinity and the decision to detransition are greatly impacted by the environmental and social conditions that one finds themselves within. “I am trans, but I don’t need to do trans,” Ames states, commenting on the true performative nature of gender expression. Through the characters of Reese and Ames, Peters celebrates the liberty that comes along with being allowed to present oneself as openly trangender, while acknowledging that not every trans person has the ability or mental willingness to enjoy such freedom.
Yet, despite the very serious topics of discussion embedded within the plot, Peters’ storytelling is sharp and engaging with an edge of humor ever-present in her delivery. Though there are time skips throughout the novel that build the background of Reese, Ames, and Katrina’s characters, Peters’ structure ensures a fluid narrative that entices audiences as if they are engaging in a scandalous bit of gossip they simply cannot turn away from.
Destransition, Baby is a bold statement from the writer who once stated that, “...the publishing industry doesn’t serve trans women.” Possibly the greatest achievement of Detransition, Baby is Torrey Peters' vivid illustration of a world that is not purely black or white. Instead of presenting mainstream audiences with a glamorized agenda that seeks to serve the transgender community in a purely beneficial manner, Peters crafts her novel with a steadfast commitment to portraying LGBTQIA+ lifestyles in a way that is not at all commercialized or performative. Identities should never be sterilized in order to gain acceptance or earn an artificial sense of sympathy; every human being is flawed, and there is always much more to learn from celebrating our similarities than acknowledging our differences.
Review by Ian Munoz, CLA Team Member