Wow. Detransition, Baby, the debut novel by author Torrey Peters is going to be on my mind for a long time. Aside from the completely intense and unbelievable story told within the text, this is an extremely important book to have in the world. It is described as being one of the first books written by a trans woman to be picked up by one of the big five publishers and then to reach critical acclaim. Torrey Peters is also the first trans woman to have a book longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction.
I was unfortunately unsurprised to find that The Women's Prize actually had to defend the fact that she was chosen among fifteen other women longlisted for their prize. Of course, the people who were against it are also people who don't believe that trans women are women. For the record, they are and kudos to The Women's Prize for standing behind their belief that women of all kinds deserve to be heard and recognized for their achievements.
If you’ve been listening to our podcast, you will know that one of our reading goals for the year is to read, at the very least, the short list for this prize if not the entire longlist. So, we have been making our way -book by book- through the list and there are some books we have loved and some not so much. This is one that I loved.
I was so excited to see a book by a trans woman on the list because it's not very often we get to experience an own voices perspective of, particularly, the lives of trans women.
As a pansexual, I have been in and around the queer community often. I quickly realized while reading this book, that my own knowledge of transgendered people is completely male. I know trans men and their stories and their struggles and it just never really occurred to me that those aren't the same struggles that trans women have. This statement now seems totally ridiculous and ignorant because women don't have the same struggles as men and it's so obvious that it would be the same within the trans community as well. And this is one reason why this book is so important. It turns what you think you know, completely on it's head and provides a different lens in which to view the world.
Before this book, I was completely in the dark about detransitioning and why someone would choose to do it. From what I found in a little bit of research and from the information in this book, it's a bit of a taboo subject and I think that the bravery that comes along with tackling a subject matter that hasn't been spoken of at all in mainstream culture is so inspiring.
So, what is this book about? On the surface, it's about a man named Ames who had previously transitioned to live as a woman but then years later, for many reasons, decided to detransition back to presenting as male. He then accidentally impregnates his boss, Katrina, and though he always wanted to be a mother, he is now faced with the possibility of being a father which is something he never imagined. This question of parenthood leads him to reach out to his ex girlfriend, Reese, who is also trans with the idea that perhaps the three of them could raise the baby together.
On the surface, this book feels like the queer prequel to Three Men and a Baby - which I love. But underneath all that is a story about what it means to be a woman, a mother, a man, a father, a parent, a human. It’s a completely raw and uncensored perspective of a community that most cis gendered people know nothing about and the amount that we are able to learn from a story like this is immeasurable.
This was not a perfect book, and that's okay. There were a few times when I thought that the story was a bit much - though I do not mean any part of the story that focused on the experience of trans women because I cannot speak to that and I can only assume that as a trans woman, Torrey Peters knows what she is talking about.
It's not even the family dynamics that emerge from Ames's plan. My family structure doesn't necessarily follow the same one that people are expecting. Having split up with my oldest daughter’s father when she was a baby, we eventually got to the place where we could bring both of our families together to coparent, I think, quite successfully most of the time. We don't all live in one house, though that has been discussed at times. So, it's not the untraditional family that threw me off. I was actually so happy to see a nontraditional family portrayed.
The parts that I questioned were Ames's idea that Reese join the parenting dynamic at all. I thought that it was a bit odd, that even though Ames missed her being a part of his family, that he would consider her to help raise his child despite how their relationship ended.
I also thought that the Katrina and Reese's relationship was a bit unlikely and the open ended ending is not usually for me. All in all though, none of this took away from my enjoyment of the book and really, the complaints that I do have are really very weak.
These characters were written to be extremely complex and I loved that we got to see where that complexity came from with each of them and the inevitable development of them as people and as characters in the story.
I have seen very little criticism of this book and what I have seen seems to come from people who I assume don't realize that Torrey Peters is a trans woman and maybe don’t see the incredible validity and importance of a story like this.
All in all, I highly recommend this book. I predict that it will at least make the short list for The Women’s Prize if it doesn’t win the entire thing.