Detransition, Baby – by Torrey Peters

Ok, I was expecting this to be intense, but I wasn’t really prepared. It’s painful and spectacular, it’s the kind of book that hurts you in a good way.

Title: Detransition, Baby

Author: Torrey Peters

Original Publisher: One World

Publication Date: 12 January 2021

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Pages: 337

Standalone or Series: Standalone

Synopsis: The main characters of our story are Reese, a trans woman who works in PR and was once in a relationship with Amy; Amy herself, who now detransitioned and is once again living under a masculine identity as Ames; and Kathrina, a biracial cis woman who’s Ames’s boss and lover. When, against all odds, Kathrina ends up pregnant with Ames’s child, Ames, who believed himself sterile, is called to question his potential role as a father, and as a reaction suddenly unloads on a stupified Kathrina his years spent as a trans woman. Emotional turmoil ensues on all sides, even more so when Ames suggests to involve his Reese in their tentative family project, knowing how much she craved for a maternal role, and personally yearning to rekindle his connection to his queer identity.

Analysis: Detransition, Baby is written in third person, alternately adopting the main characters’ point of view to mercilessly expose their thought process in all their raw sincerity; the novel follows a diachronic order that only adds layers to the emotional complexity of the story, gradually revealing more and more facets of an extremely human and extremely messy predicament.

It’s a powerful, intense, deliberately disturbing novel; it deals with a number of sensitive issues that are understandably touchy for the queer community – and possibly just plain disconcerting for the casual reader. First and foremost, it addresses the topic of detransition in a nuanced and heartfelt way; it doesn’t hide the fact that gender reassignment isn’t necessarily a linear path, but at the same time it never allows us to forget the role that societal prejudice and outright violence play in someone’s assessment of which kind of life they find more tolerable. When Reese and Ames react very differently to the trials of their lives, it speaks less to the validity of their identiy, and more to the many paths the human mind can carve to survive under duress.

More in general, Detransition, Baby tells some very personable experience without shying away from its less pleasant implications, offering a very honest portrayal of deeply flawed people. The author implictely invites us to sympathise with their ordeal without casting any trenchant judgment on their mistakes, but at the same time she does nothing to oversell us her message; at no point she tried to prove that her characters deserve love, compassion, or even their much desired, but messily pursued, family nest – quite the opposite, she regularly indulges in a thorough exploration of the darkest corner of everyone’s mind, revealing their dirty secrets and blatantly dysfunctional, self-sabotaging choices.

To a sufficiently aware reader, such brutal honesty is bound to elicit more sympathy than any elegiac portrayal – why, of course, trans people does deserve empathy and basic rights simply because they’re human, not just when and if they’re sufficiently righteous, sufficiently presentable, sufficiently pathetic. And as for our three characters’ chaotic attempt to form a family? Well, it’s not like traditional couples are necessarily healthy and wholesome, or are they?

Conclusion: Detransition, Baby is the kind of book I’d strongly recommend to a few selected people – to those who are already interested in the topic, have a decently refined understanding of the queer community, and at the same time aren’t excessively perturbed by its inherently triggering topics – and not really to anyone else. Because really, I would hate if someone really this incredibly insightful novel and only took home the message that, well, trans people don’t necessarily have wholesome thought all the time, right? It’s not a book to educate the crowds, it’s a book for the initiated. Personally I loved it.

Content Warning: Transphobia – Sexual Content – Pregnancy – Abortion – Miscarriage – Suicidal Attempt – Toxic Relationships

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