Peters to cis women: “Read my book, borrow what’s useful for you from me. But in return, don’t think of me as other.”
Navigating the complicated waters of family-making and motherhood in the twenty-first century, Peters’ novel follows the lives of three trans and cis women living in New York as they attempt to form an unconventional family. Detransition, baby is a messy book with messy characters, exploring themes of community, gender and motherhood.
This book has been criticised for being too extreme, for example in the way that Reese desires violent, dehumanising sex from downright horrible men, or through Ames’ detransitioning, which is a subject that is often weaponised to discredit trans lives. Peters argues that there is something powerful in speaking about what others are ashamed of. Here, the idea isn’t to pass judgement, it’s to allow trans women the freedom and choice that cis women are afforded - regardless of whether these desires are good or bad.
I’ve read a few interviews with Torrey Peters and I highly recommend anyone who enjoyed Detransition, baby to do the same - she is absolutely fascinating. One thing she discussed (and this definitely feeds into themes of her novel) was her perception of trans people not fitting with traditional understandings of linguistic identifiers. For example, as a trans woman who has a woman partner, she argues that she can be classified as a lesbian, but notes that the term ‘lesbian’ was never created with trans people in mind. In this way, much of our common language fails when describing the experiences of trans people.
This is presented through the character of Reese, who understands that where there is a failure to encapsulate the trans experience, the community should take the ideas and make them their own. Reese has always wanted to be a mother and seeks out mothering roles in various areas of her life. She expresses anger at how cis queer couples are treated in the adoption system compared to trans people, whose intentions for wanting a child are often srutinised suspiciously, and following her break up with Ames, realises that being a mother to Katrina and Ames’ baby might be her only chance at motherhood. While suspicious at first, the trio eventually come round to the idea of forging a new path outside of traditional norms.
To pick fault, I felt as if the ending could have been better. I’m not sure whether this is a spoiler, but to me the last 50 or so pages seemed rushed and a bit random. However, I can forgive that because I thought Detransition, Baby was an incredibly original and captivating book, and I was completely sold by the characterisation. Each of the characters’ personalities had aspects that were good and bad which made the flashback scenes (which revealed more of their backstories) that much more compelling. I know this book is currently being spoken about a lot due to its nomination for the Women’s Prize, and the subsequent hate Peters has received because of this, but I have hope that this nomination will encourage more people to read and engage with trans fiction.