Contemporary Literature

Detransition, Baby

This one has been on my TBR since before it came out, and during the time between publication and me getting to it, I got super lucky and found a used copy of it at one of my local library’s online book sales. Woohoo! Needless to say, I bought it asap. And I am freaking thrilled to actually own it because after finishing it…WOW. This is deserving of every single award it’s up for, and probably more.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

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

Detransition, Baby is the story of three women on the (potential) cusp of motherhood. Reese is a trans woman longing to be a mother. She thought she almost had it all, a few years ago, with her partner Amy. But then Amy detransitioned, is now Ames, and Reese is stuck in a self-destructive pattern of sleeping with married men. Ames found a satisfying new sexual (and maybe more?) relationship with his boss Katrina…until Katrina gets pregnant. Ames through the years of hormone therapy had made him sterile, but apparently not. He isn’t ready to face the identity crisis that being a “father” would cause. So, he suggests an unconventional solution to Katrina: reaching out to his ex, Reese, who has always wanted to be a mother, to parent as a threesome, in an effort to remove many of the complicated gender specifics that parenting as a outwardly cis couple would create. There are benefits to the arrangement for all three, Katrina included (as she isn’t sure she wants to complete the pregnancy and compromise her career in favor of motherhood), but there is also quite a bit of history, emotional baggage, trust issues, want, and stressors threatening to overwhelm this fledgling family.

From the very first sentence, this is some of the most intelligent, quick writing that I have ever read. Like seriously, so early on (the “ennui of heterosexuality” part in particular had my jaw dropping right at the start), and throughout the rest of the book, Peters is able to put into words those opaque feelings most people cannot name in a way that makes so much sense, and manages to cut deeply with its insight. And there are myriad social and cultural references (Psych-style, if you’ve ever watched that show) and it is damn fast, and smart. (Related to this particular writing-review commentary, there are quite a few quotes/passages that hit deeply. I have a number of them, though not all, listed at the end of this review.) Anyways basically, bottom line, this writing is f*cking spectacular! 

And it’s not just the writing that’s so breathtaking. Peters’ caustic but sensitive insights deep into humanity, and especially womanhood, femininity, motherhood, identity, and sex/sexuality, are biting, cutting, intense. She dives into commonly held views and definitions of those concepts, who gets to define it, and how it all plays out in ways even more complex for trans women, with an authenticity that is unflinching…exploring the good, the bad, the ugly, the original, the impossible, the hopeful, and the deep fragility within it all, always. Peters is not afraid (like, she goes everywhere) of digging into universality of concepts like the inadequacies/insecurities of womanhood and motherhood, despite the way they may look different outwardly/in practice for each woman. There’s also a wonderful (and a bit more hopeful/uplifting) meditation on family being what you make it, highlighting the wonderful ways that living in an unconventional family can widen your support system, your “village,” and questioning why, if that’s the case, are there so many rules about what family can’t/shouldn’t be. It’s all shocking in the good kind of way, a no holds barred and gloves off interrogation of what we’ve accepted as conventional, but doesn’t have to be so freaking limiting (and how that expansion of opportunity would benefit us all).

I really want to mention the way it ends too, because holy mother freaking goodness that ending is literally literary perfection. A perfect culmination and final sentence. I’ve never been left with a better reflective ending that is exactly the right type of completely unsatisfactory and so absolutely real because of it. 

I may have already said it, a lot, but this is absolutely one of the smartest books I’ve ever read. Just a phenomenal literary representation of trans feminine culture, the likes of which I’ve never read before (possibly because it hasn’t been allowed to exist like this before), and that deserves to be celebrated on so many levels, in so many places. And everyone (yes, that means you) should read this novel as soon as freaking possible. 

As referenced earlier, a selection of the very many amazing passages that I highlighted while reading:

“Shortly, very shortly, he was going to be called upon to make some decision, which would lead to other decisions, generations of decisions generated by this decision.” (I mean really, what a line!)

“Wasn’t that the lesson of transition, of detransition? That you’ll never know all the angles, that delay is a form of hiding from reality. That you just figure out what you want to do and do it? And maybe, if you don’t know what you want, you just do something anyway, and everything will change, and then maybe that will reveal what you really want. So do something.”

“The past is past to everyone but ghosts.”

“Trans women are juvenile elephants. We are much stronger and more powerful than we understand. We are fifteen thousand pounds of muscle and bone forged from rage and trauma, armed with ivory spears and faces unique in nature, living in grasslands where any of the ubiquitous humans may or may not be a poacher. With our strength, we can destroy each other with ease. But we are a lost generation. We have no elders, no stable groups, no one to teach us to countenance pain. No matriarchs to tell the young girls to knock it off or show off their own long lives lived happily and well. Those older geerations of trans women died of HIV, poverty, suicide, repression, or disappeared to pathologized medicalized and stealth lives – and that’s if they were lucky enough to be white. They left behind only scattered exhausted voices to tell the angry lost young when and how the pain might end – to tell us what will be lost when we lash out with our considerable strength, or use the fragile shards of what remain of our social networks to ostracize, punish, and retaliate against those who behave in a traumatized manner.”

“…quirks of dysphoria did not follow a Freudian pattern – no, they sequenced themselves according to an alchemist’s mixture of beauty standards, consumerism, and liberal doses of self-loathing.” 

“Just because she saw that the vagaries of capitalism, patriarchy, gender norms, or consumerism contributed to facial dysphoria didn’t mean she had developed immunity to them. In fact, a political consciousness honed on queer sensitivity simply made her feel guilty about not having managed to change her deeply ingrained beauty norms. Call her a fraud, a hypocrite, superficial, but politics and practice parted paths at her own body. […] As long as she tortured herself with a traitorously retrograde sense of what made a woman beautiful in her heart of hearts, she would assuage herself with cis-passability in her face of faces.” (genius level smarts and biting insight in this writing)

“It was selfish, she knew, but when is the impulse to create a little person in your image not selfish? Most of the people she knew with kids didn’t conceive for the kid, they conceived for themselves, to accord with some notion of family, or purpose, or life stages that the child would bring them. Insert whatever worn-down cliche about life not having meaning until one becomes a parent.”

“Would that all difficult women be loved so deeply.”

“A nimble mind can always uncover the politics to justify its own selfishness.”

6 thoughts on “Detransition, Baby

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