BookBrowse Reviews Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

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Detransition, Baby

by Torrey Peters

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters X
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Oct 2021, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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Bold, incisive and emotionally intelligent, Detransition, Baby handles the sensitive subject of detransitioning with exceptional grace.

Reese and Amy, two trans women living in New York, had the kind of romantic relationship that many people dream of. That is, until Amy detransitioned, and things fell apart. Now, Reese spends her time pursuing dangerous sex with destructive men, futureless relationships that mask her most burning desire: to raise and nurture a child. When Amy, now living as Ames, contacts her out of the blue, it looks like Reese might finally get her wish. Ames has gotten Katrina, his new lover and boss, pregnant. Wanting to keep the baby, but deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of cisgender fatherhood, Ames comes up with an unorthodox solution: If Reese will agree to co-parent with them, then the suffocating roles of the cisgender family will be broken, and Ames will be able to "live up to what they both hoped he could be by being what he already was: a woman but not, a father but not."

This somewhat dramatic setup becomes, in the capable hands of Torrey Peters, a tender and adoring look into the lives of two complicated trans women as they attempt to overcome their past damages and build a new kind of family. Funny, frank and full of perspicuous insights on gender and sexuality, Detransition, Baby is a domestic drama for the modern age. Told through the alternating perspectives of Reese and Amy, the story shifts its chronology as the couple reflects on their past relationship and their present predicament, gradually unveiling their tumultuous history and the events leading up to Ames' detransition.

Detransitioning, which refers to stopping or reversing a gender transition (whether by medical procedure, changing one's public identity or other means), is a highly sensitive subject, but Peters has created in Amy a nuanced and thoughtful portrait of someone dealing with the reality of the issue, a complex character of peculiar strength. Her motivations are surprisingly and sadly pragmatic, the result of a traumatic experience that made living as trans seem just "too fucking hard." Yet despite now presenting as the gender she was assigned at birth, she has not lost her trans identity. Her sense of self transcends the "bullshit of gender," allowing her to be comfortable being referred to as "he" by Katrina, although to Reese she will always be "she." In this way, Peters delineates between "being trans" (a deep-rooted sense of identity) and "doing trans" (a way of presenting yourself to the world) whilst also expressing the exhaustion of living as a trans woman in a world still riddled with transphobia.

In addition, Detransition, Baby explores the experience of both trans and cis motherhood. As the newly formed threesome try to come up with a structure for raising the baby, the two expecting mothers (Reese and Katrina) must examine their beliefs about motherhood and its importance. Reese must contend with her fear of being seen as secondary to Katrina, and deal with the frustration and pain that this causes her. Meanwhile, Katrina must decide whether she is willing to share her baby with Reese. She must also decide whether she can continue her relationship with Ames, who had been keeping his trans identity a secret from her.

Peters, a trans woman herself, writes with intimate detail about trans culture in a way that I'm sure will be startlingly familiar to many who live that reality, but is likely to be revelatory for many outside of it. With wit and intelligence, she illuminates the pleasures, pains and psychological pressures of her trans protagonists as they navigate the world. While not the main focus of the story, some sexually explicit scenes and dialogue are included in this exploration of the characters' lives. There are also references to sexual violence that might make some readers uncomfortable, but Peters' willingness to speak her characters' truth is what makes the book feel important. In addition, Reese's irreverent discourses on femininity and the performative aspects of gender identity offer a helpful lens with which to view one's own relationship to gender. I came away from the book feeling both more in touch with my own gender and more questioning of my relationship to it.

Warm, bold and compassionate, Detransition, Baby is an entertaining and emotionally intelligent novel sure to provoke discussion.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2021, and has been updated for the November 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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