THE PLOT: ‘Detransition, Baby’ by Torrey Peters is a literary novel about a relationship between a transgender woman called Reese and a former transgender woman called Ames. The two have broken up from their lesbian relationship (ostensibly because Ames detransitioned), but neither of them has really moved on. When Ames accidentally impregnates his boss, (cis-gendered, mixed-race Katrina) he suggests the three of them can be unconventional co-parents. As the book goes back in time to Reese and Ames’s former relationship, recounting the reasons why they broke up, it hinges on the question of whether this idea for an unconventional family could actually work.
RATING: This is a well-written, well-observed, five-star novel. Although my attempt to summarise the plot is somewhat garbled, the book isn’t really about that. It’s more of a social commentary that looks at these characters as flawed, relatable and understandable people, no matter what their gender. Having now read the book, I am further outraged about the backlash when it was nominated for the Women’s Prize. For me, this book is all about the meaning of womanhood. It’s about the performative aspects of the female gender and the plot simply serves as a catalyst to analyse what could outwardly seem as the most “confirming” aspect of the female gender – motherhood. Torrey Peters undoubtedly deserves her flowers because this is a complex novel that I cannot praise highly enough.
GOOD BITS: This novel is so goddam clever because it distills such complex themes. Detransition is used by many transphobic activists as a reason to block trans rights. By centering a detransitioned character, the author is able to explore so much nuance in what being transgender really means. Also, motherhood is seen as a rite of passage for many women, but not all cis-women want or can get pregnant. Similarly, not all transwomen want to have a child, but – conversely – there are so many more barriers to transwomen becoming mothers (via adoption, surrogacy or other routes). The heart of this book as clearly stated by the title presents such rich themes and I feel like the author handles them so well.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: Firstly, I loved the flawed, messy characters but they annoyed me at times. I mean, it’s fine and it’s part of the book, but there are times when I wanted Ames to shit or get off the pot. Secondly, the book is aware that it centres a very white, middle-class view of transness, and tries to address this via Katrina challenging Ames’s assumptions, but I feel like it never really lands this point. There’s no resolution to the “racial aspect” and I felt like the author could’ve taken this theme further. Finally, the ending was so frustrating. I understand it, but I wasn’t happy with it.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to people who appreciate nuance. It’s for someone who sees shade of grey, not just black and white, and wants to question their own perceptions and prejudgments. It’s for fans of social commentary, character studies and carefully constructed relationship dynamics. Therefore, I’d recommend it to fans of ‘Real Life’ by Brandon Taylor or ‘Memorial’ by Bryan Washington. But I will also be recommending it to everyone because I adored it.