Trans Narratives, Overlooked: A Review of Detransition, Baby

Title: Detransition, Baby

Author: Torrey Peters

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Released: 2021

Rating: ★★★★★

“She knew that no matter how you self-identify ultimately, chances are that you succumb to becoming what the world treats you as.”

Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby

We’re all familiar with the textbook trans experience. Born in the wrong body, we grow up knowing we aren’t the little boys or girls the world expects of us. We change our voices, bodies, names, and behaviours to transition into the gender we were always meant to be. We face a certain set of challenges posed by a society struggling to keep up with our sudden existence. Our circle of friends and family shifts and changes as we grow into an entirely new person.

In reality, the lives of trans people are as unique and chaotically ordinary as anybody else’s. Torrey Peters dedicates her debut novel “to divorced cis women, who, like me, had to face starting their life over without either reinvesting in the ilusions from the past, or growing bitter about the future.” Thus the emotional premise is established for Detransition, Baby, nominated for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, exploring the intricacies of womanhood, family, and transition in its many forms.

At the heart of the novel are three frustratingly relatable characters. Reese is a trans woman who craves motherhood and (to her irritation) a life of traditional womanhood. Approaching her mid-thirties, Reese feels disconnected from other women her age because most of them are cis and settled, but she also feels distanced by younger trans people, whose radical self-respect might be too modern for her to fully accept. She covers her insecurities with dry wit and affairs with married men, with whom she inevitably falls in love.

Appearing unexpectedly from Reese’s past is her ex, who has since detransitioned from Amy to Ames. He has accidentally gotten a cis woman pregnant. His boss, in fact. Wanting to keep the baby but unable to accept the cis-heteronormative role of a father, Ames asks Reese to become the child’s third co-parent, as an opportunity for Ames to keep a connection to the person buried beneath the surface and for Reese to be the mother she had always dreamed of becoming. By all logic, everyone wins.

The narrative wouldn’t be complete without Katrina, Ames’s boss and the woman carrying his child. Mostly unfamiliar with LGBTI culture, Katrina’s willingness to open her future to queer dynamics raises questions of how she relates to queerness herself, and what motherhood truly means to her. As a biracial woman, Katrina is also familiar with being a social outsider, constantly challenging Ames and Reese on their mindset of being a victimised minority.

All three of the novel’s central characters are detailed, flawed, and lovable. The character study of our two trans protagonists reveals the inner psyches of different trans women, how they become the women they do, or why they choose not to do so. While coming to terms with their potential future as parents together, each of them are confronted with questions of their identity. Reese wonders if she can bear feeling forever like a third wheel. Ames, while living as a man, is unable to see himself as a father. Katrina thinks perhaps queerness isn’t so foreign to her as she may have initially thought.

Contrasting with Reese’s sociological musings on all things trans and female, Ames’s purely introspective relationship with gender allows for a diverse insight into the thoughts and lives of trans people, enhanced by Katrina’s cutting analysis of her own place in their world of whiteness. The dynamic each character shares with one another reveals another layer of their personality. While Reese dismisses Ames’s detransition as giving up on the difficulties trans people face, she is suddenly forced to reflect on her own behaviours once she begins spending time with Katrina, who isn’t the woman Reese expects her to be. The novel effortlessly opens the mind to histories and experiences that may be uncomfortable or overlooked with only a philosophical once-over.

Less a celebration of the complicated nature of queer family and community, Detransition, Baby is more a reminder that these experiences exist, and people are living them. Despite any similarities, our narratives are not produced in identical packages. It is rarely as simple as fitting completely into the gender expectations even other trans people create for us. The trans experience, like parenthood, is anything but textbook. Detransition, Baby strips back the diluted narratives to reveal the gory imperfection in all of us.

Published by Leigh Briar

Leigh Briar lives and writes on Kaurna land. Her current Honours thesis in creative writing explores the evolving representation of transgender narratives in YA fiction. In 2021 her short story 'Entirely Perfect in (Almost) Every Way' was highly commended in the Feast Festival Short Story Competition. ‘Last Call’, a collaborative short story anthology produced by the Flinders creative writing class of 2021 and featuring Leigh’s story ‘Dreams in the Deep’ is due to be published late 2022 by Glimmer Press.

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