Genre | Contemporary Fiction
Page #s | 337
Publishing Date | January 2021
A whipsmart debut about three women—transgender and cisgender—whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront their deepest desires around gender, motherhood, and sex.
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?
This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.
I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of idealistic queer stories lately, and while I do truly love a book that celebrates queerness and avoids discussing the pitfalls of such an identity, I found Detransition, Baby to be a breath of fresh air. This is a book that wades confidently into the messiness of queer and trans identities, that holds up the trauma, unhealthy coping strategies, and internalized prejudices and says, “This is part of the experience, too.”
The plot revolves around the idea that three women – one trans woman, one cis woman, and one detransitioned woman presenting as a man – try to see if they can work together to form a parenting unit. I have to admit that the way in which this got started felt wildly impossible to me, and while some characters did react with shock, everyone got on board with the idea very quickly. The unique struggles of this decision are a part of the story right up to the end, though, so I suppose their initial acceptance is balanced by the tricky dynamics of claiming equal motherhood for three people.
But the plot is honestly not the most important thing here. Diving back and forth between the present situation and past flashbacks for both Reese and Ames/Amy are where the heart of this story lies. I particularly loved Ames’s story as we watch her wrestle with dissociation as a young boy, explore and accept her female identity, find power and emotional distance in reclaiming her male identity, before finally claiming a middle space with the knowledge that his identity is not immoveable, and might never be.
Reese is a mess, and one of those characters that I found myself wanted to reach through the pages and say, “OH MY GOSH JUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!” But her self-destructive sex life and emotional connections are rooted in so much honesty. It’s heartbreaking and illuminating all at once.
Katrina doesn’t have much of a voice in this book, but I did appreciate the moments when she, a biracial Asian woman, interjects racial awareness into the trans stories of trauma and oppression. It very intentionally avoids a competitive vibe, but instead serves to remind the characters (and readers) that no one has the final say on all things oppressive.
I read Detransition, Baby in two days, eagerly turning page after page. It is so compelling and readable, and I can’t wait to read more by Peters.
Who Do I Recommend This Book To?
You should read Detransition, Baby if you want your queer found family narrative matched by messy, unhealthy dynamics and some of the most realistic character work you’ve ever read.
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