Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Categories: Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQIA+
First Publication Date: xx
Synopsis: Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.
Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese—and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby—and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it—Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family—and raise the baby together?
Detransition, Baby has been on my radar for a while, so I was happy when it got longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year and I got a great excuse to buy a copy and bump it up on my to-read list. It tells the story of Ames, who detransitioned and ended up breaking up with Reese, his long-term girlfriend, and later on had an affair with his boss Katrina, who gets pregnant. Katrina wants to have a family with Ames, but he’s afraid that fatherhood will alienate him from his queer identity. As a solution, he proposes that Reese, who only knew him as Amy, joins as a parent and helps raise the baby. A wild concept from the start, which the reader must suspend disbelief for a while to truly get into the story. This is a book that will surely divide opinions, because it felt to me like one of those where you just have to trust the author and enjoy the story.
Torrey Peters’ writing is deliciously addictive – this is one of the only books from this list that I could actually read for fun instead of the usual way in which one reads literary fiction and enjoys it but it’s not something you’d describe as “fun”. I loved how much the characters were flawed, messy and vividly portrayed – Reese’s chapters especially were very interesting, her personality both frustrating and fascinating to read and I was completely absorbed in the story. I had hoped that Ames’ chapters would be a lot more interesting to read, but in the end he had the personality of a wet towel – which makes sense, considering how he was dealing with detransitioning by not feeling his emotions as before, and he’s struggling with his identity and such, but still.
There were a few plot points that did not make much sense to me – like how Katrina would agree to try to enter this three-way parenting in such a short time span, or why she thought Ames would be a good father – he had no personality to speak of. Or when a rather big thing happens involving an outing (I will not go into details here) and this is used to start a conversation on how non-LGBT+ people assume LGBT+ people have everything figured out and are basically some sort of walking-talking manual on how to behave towards LGBT+ topics instead of simply using brain and empathy, as you would with a problem involving someone not LGBT+. This was a great conversation to read – one among so many interesting, controversial and important conversations this book touches on – but never really furthers the plot at all, does not quite get resolved and I don’t think it developed the characters involved much either. I appreciate and loved that Torrey Peters includes a lot of conversations on transphobia, homophobia, HIV panic and so much more into this book, but it meant that there was not a lot of plot itself. In this sense it reminded me of Transcendent Kingdom – you should definitely give this a try if the theme of the book interests you, and I thought it was so well-written and the honest approach to sensitive and difficult topics really makes this book shine, but don’t expect a plot-focused book.
While the book was not perfect, I had such a great time reading it and I loved the writing so much. This was such a good book and I look forward to reading more from Torrey Peters!