Detransition, Baby is a contemporary fiction book by Torrey Peters. Set in New York, we follow Reese, a trans-woman who wants to be a mother, and her ex-partner who has since detransitioned, becoming Ames, and accidentally gotten his boss, Katrina, pregnant. It was published by Serpent’s Tail on the 7th of January 2021 and is longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021.
If you want to know more about the longlist, then do be sure to check out my one-sentence summaries.
Despite the complexities of the initial pitch of the story, at its heart Detransition, Baby is a domestic drama for the new age. It follows the manifestation of the desire to become a mother, or a parent, alongside the desire not to. The decision to become a parent ought not to be taken lightly, and, like Reese, Ames, and Katrina, realise it is not a straightforward decision. At the core of this novel is the attempt to prove that families don’t always look the same, but also that a family is not dependant on the presence of a child, and that parenthood does not define gender. This book does an extraordinary amount of work for the number of pages, as it tackles these topics alongside others with the care and consideration that they deserve.
Good fiction illuminate’s life. It makes you realise that there is more to life than your small bubble, and that is exactly what this book does so brilliantly. It doesn’t look at these characters as other or unusual but looks at them as another corner of life that the reader may not have considered. Katrina’s role represents, at least to some degree, the cis-reader who is not a part of the queer community. This balanced the story out, and was a way of reminding the reader that the queer community is more than what we see on Ru Paul’s Drag Race. The author also is mindful of showing the queer community in its entirety, a depiction that may not always be flattering but seems more truthful. Of course, I cannot speak for the validity of this representation, only that by portraying the good and the bad it seems to be showing something different. It goes further than the traditional story of transitioning and takes a look at what life looks like post-transition. You quickly realise that while transitioning does so much for these characters, it does not solve all their problems. Reese is still Reese, before and after her transition.
We talk a lot about seeing the female experience in media, and Detransition, Baby is a great example. It is vital that when we are searching for a book, or a piece of media to consume, that illustrates the female gaze we are looking for experiences outside of our own, or that expand on our own. In this novel, we are given an abundance of female gazes all coming from different perspectives, and each one was a valuable addition. In this sense, this is a book about what it means to be female and how we represent our gender. Even Ames, who presents as male when we first meet him, expresses the fact that his maleness may not be permeant. This shows that there is no singular way to feel about gender or to represent gender and that it is something that can ebb and flow. In this sense the female gaze is not a static thing, it is not one viewpoint but a whole world of people seeing the world through different eyes.
I am not, myself, a trans woman and cannot speak to the validity of these representations. But I can say that these characters felt gloriously genuine in their portrayal. Reese was not trying to represent trans-women; she was there as a single trans-woman and a single set of experiences. That was what made her feel so real and exactly why you find yourself hurting on her behalf. Both Reese and Ames are complex characters, which reflects the fact that they are more than just their gender identity. As a reader, you may not always agree with these characters because they are flawed, but you can’t help but root for them. No one is defined by a single action or a single decision that they make, and no one is judged for these things either. Throughout the story, we see Reese, Ames, and Katrina at their best and their worst. The intensity of these highs and lows leaps off the page.
The timelines are split between past and present, and between Reese and Ames. This was done beautifully creating a lovely sense of balance to the novel as a whole. Katrina was so well written that you didn’t need her specific perspective to feel that she was of equal importance as a character. It has been an ongoing theme throughout reading this year’s longlist that the past informs the present, and nowhere has that been more brilliantly illustrated than in this book.
Overall, I gave this book a five-star rating because I can’t imagine what more this book could have done. The ending seemed both unexpected and inevitable, and I can’t wait to reread this and more from the author as soon as possible.
Detransition, Baby is available now from all the usual places. if you are considering purchasing the book then I highly recommend Paned o Gê, a Welsh LGBTQIA+ bookshop, and social enterprise designed to highlight, promote and celebrate LGBTQ+ and Welsh talent and creators.