Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Published by Serpent’s Tail, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Summing up the very complex character dynamic in this novel in a succinct way is tricky, so I’ll simply borrow the opening lines of the blurb: A whipsmart debut about three women—transgender and cisgender—whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront their deepest desires around gender, motherhood, and sex.
Frank and unashamedly queer, the novel strikes a great balance between readability and insightful social commentary. Peters, as a trans woman herself, has fascinating things to say about the physical, mental, social, and financial pressures of transitioning; giving equal attention and sensitivity to the highly controversial, misunderstood (and often weaponized) process of de-transitioning.
I liked that Peters wasn’t afraid to present her characters as being just as messy as they are sympathetic; their flaws making them all the more believable. There is excellent commentary on the various manifestations of dysphoria, as well as the unique brand of jealousy and internalised transphobia that trans people themselves can feel towards those at different stages of the process. The narrative also touches on how deep-rooted misogyny is within society by showing the often toxic ways some trans women feel compelled to seek validation of their identity; the need to be degraded or belittled to “feel like a woman”.
The writing style is conversational and thus very readable. I also appreciated the use of pronouns, which shift back-and-forth for certain characters along with the timeline, demonstrating the malleable nature of gender identity in a simple but effective way. However, the prose can feel somewhat self-indulgent at times; Peters clumsily drawing out metaphors longer than necessary. Particularly in the mid-section, the tone (and one-particular plot development) tip the book towards soap opera-esque territory. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, but it’s not generally my cup of tea.
Still, this is a refreshingly honest read that highlights the important distinction between “being trans” and “performing trans”, and why a person may (or may not) choose to publicly pursue transition. Above all, it felt to me like a worthwhile look at the spectrum of queerness, and the specific importance of found family within the LGBT+ community.