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In Review: Detransition, Baby
The novel by Torrey Peters is a huge moment in domestic fiction for trans people.
In her *national bestseller*, Torrey Peters writes domestic fiction for trans girls/gays/theys. But actually, in this sharp debut, Peters has pulled off what so much other domestic fiction fails to do - she writes a drama that is actually a joy to read.
Our main character, Reese, is living with the fallout of losing her version of the white picket fence dream - her partner of nearly five years, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, shattering their life and Reese’s hope for a baby.
There are no cutting corners or innuendos here. For the first time in my reading career - ok it’s not been so long, but, at least ten years! - I felt like I was finally reading something real. There’s no trans-101, breaking it down for the cis readers to get up to speed and understand the most simplistic aspects of transness. Peters isn’t willing to wait and pander to that, and honestly, good. We’ve got to be past the most basic narratives at this point. Trans kids are being legislated out of existence, and trans adults aren’t fairing much better.
Detransition, Baby has it all - a great plot, marital drama, affairs, fantastic apartments in New York City, friends, cynicism, joy, and heartbreak. But what I found most curious, and in a way, most painful was in the character whose life the title hints at. Ames. Once living as a woman named Amy, Ames has detransitioned and is now living as a man. From a thousand yards away, this seems simple - Ames realized he wasn’t a trans woman, and so he stopped living as one. But here’s where Torrey’s deft writing comes in: it’s so heartbreakingly complicated, both for Ames himself and for the people he loves. He shied away from living as a trans woman, but when he finally did, god, he was blooming, gorgeous, accepting flowers and all. But then he walked away from Reese and his life as a trans woman, effectively breaking his own heart.
There’s something about reading a book from inside your world instead of out of it. Reese is sharp-witted and deeply wounded, grappling with the best and most difficult parts of being trans. She wants things she can’t have, she’s jaded, and she’s brilliant: in short, she’s the perfect complex heroine.
When I finished this (the ending is a fun cut-off, not quite a cliffhanger but not wrapped up neatly in the slightest) I immediately turned to my partner and told them they had to read it. There’s a quintessential trans element that’s more than just the fact that most of the characters are trans women. The way Peters holds and navigates the thorny issues of gender, sex, and desire is not without the taboos that come with them, but she cuts open that shame, staring it in the face with scenes from Ames young life as a trans woman, Reese’s continued clandestine affair with married men who can only give her the most fleeting of satisfaction.
Something about this book makes you want to stay in it. And that something is Torrey Peters’ ability to create complicated, difficult, yet ultimately lovable characters that you want to comfort and protect. Peters has set a new standard for domestic fiction with Detransition, Baby, and joins the ranks of other great writers of the genre. If you haven’t picked this up yet, I hope this review convinced you to give it a read!
What are you reading? If you’ve already read Detransition, Baby, what are your thoughts? As always, thanks for joining, and see y’all soon!