Review: Detransition, Baby
Updated: May 22
Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters (2021)
TW: Trans- and Homophobia, Miscarriage/Abortion, Suicide, Sexual Content & Violence
This is a novel written by a trans woman, for trans women, which I appreciated because it wasn't pandering to a cis-gendered audience - which I am, but still, I'm not really interested in a book where the goal is to "explain transgender" to me.
The book follows the lives of three women: Reese is a trans woman with a chaotic sex-life, and a messy career trajectory. Ames, Reese's ex, used to be Amy, but de-transitioned back to a living as a man. Katrina is Ames' girlfriend, and boss (that's complicated enough already!). Jumping back and forth in time, we see Ames' life growing up, Reese & Amy's relationship, and all three in the present-day, dealing with the news that Katrina is pregnant with Ames' child - a feat thought impossible due to years of taking hormones to suppress testosterone. When Ames hears the news he reaches out to Reese, terrified by the prospect of "fatherhood" (like, what does that even mean for someone who grew up feeling like a woman, transitioned to be a woman, and then "became" a man again?). Ames proposes a new sort of "queer family" structure where all three of them raise the baby together.
Less plot-driven than a deep-dive into these three characters, the book focuses on their relationships with each other (and others), their fears and insecurities about gender identity, and their sex lives. Yes, there are graphic sex scenes, some of which turn violent (though most of it is consensual). This was the most difficult aspect for me, and yet it never felt gratuitous. The sexual content serves its purpose - to show the traumatic backgrounds of the characters, and what led them to where they are now.
The conversations about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a mother are incredibly thoughtful, and provocative, and the book as a whole helped give me insight into a non-cis perspective.
I particularly enjoyed reading this article (by Emily VanDerWerff) after I finished the novel, with the following passages:
"The book lays bare many of the innermost thoughts I’ve had as a trans woman, from my desires to my anxieties to fears I barely know how to name. This deeply true sentence, for example: 'Many people think a trans woman’s deepest desire is to live in her true gender, but actually it is to always stand in good lighting.' I can’t say that I share every single one of the characters’ preoccupations, but I shared enough of them to feel deeply seen, roughly every other page."
"[The book is] one that looks at the trans experience in modern America unflinchingly, in ways that made me feel seen and made me feel horrified to feel so seen. If you are a cis person seeking to empathize with trans women, this book wouldn’t be a bad place to start."
UP NEXT: The Kingdoms, by Natasha Pulley