Torrey Peters on Detransition, Baby
Ahead of her Skinny-sponsored event at Edinburgh International Book Festival, Torrey Peters discusses Detransition, Baby
More than anything, Reese wants to be a mother. After her relationship with Amy – who detransitioned to live as Ames – collapsed, Reese fell into a spiral of self-destructive affairs with married men. Ames, now in a relationship with Katrina who is pregnant, calls with a surprising proposal, that the three co-parent, leaving Reese sceptical but intrigued. Told through the eyes of three women whose lives are inextricably, sometimes unwillingly, entwined, Detransition, Baby is an interrogation of motherhood, family, and how far we’ll go to get what we want.
Transformation is a big theme throughout: we see three iterations of Amy, for one, and Reese and her married boyfriend’s shared fantasy, likening PrEP to birth control, which feels almost like a terrifying magic trick. “One of the things I wanted to do was in shifting the moments of transformation,” Peters explains. “In trans stories it’s usually around transition, but in this book it’s around small moments of imagination. When Amy is James, and the world is using he-pronouns, James gets she-pronouns, and gets ‘Amy’ – that’s not the moment in which everything shifts. It’s detransition around which the grammatical syntax of the book shifts. It’s when Amy detransitions that she begins to imagine herself differently, so I'm emphasising moments of imagination over predetermined narratives of transition.”
As trans writers – and people – there’s a certain amount of pressure: we can’t be seen to exist in a pre- or de-transitional state. “A lot of what I'm trying to do is create a bridge, between states of before and states of after,” Torrey notes. “That’s partly because the idea is, you transition and then you pull up the drawbridge after – I just have to lose a whole portion of my life when I transition? I don’t think that should be the price of entry. To anything.
“If you get a new job, you don’t just forget a previous part of your life. Trans people would be like the Don Drapers, who adopt a new identity and pretend that they had never been as they were before. You know, the whole point of Mad Men is that that’s disingenuous. So why should trans people have to be disingenuous in order to exist? And why, if they aren’t, does the world judge them for it?
“Writing about it, reclaiming it, is a way to overcome shame, and not have a false standard for how trans people have to deal with their past vs everybody else.”
Detransition, Baby is also incredibly funny, in a distinctly trans way: Peters is able to deftly balance trans rage and grief with trans humour. “There’s the old saying that humour is tragedy plus time. There are things that enrage me. I will write the enraged version of that, and a year later I'll go back and, without the wound being quite so fresh, it seems hilarious.
“Oftentimes things that hurt you also reveal the hilarity of the world, its stupidness or absurdity. Part of this book started out in a place of rage, but novels take so long to write that after three years I couldn't sustain rage. The things that seemed rage-worthy when I began it struck me as hilarious by the time it was over, including things that are very intra-trans. There’s an idea that the primary antagonisms in a trans person’s life come from cis people, but actually trans people antagonise each other all the time, along particularly trans lines. So a lot of the humour is like, in what ways have other trans people antagonised me? In what ways am I making fun of them or settling scores or admitting to the absurdity of fighting over this tiny, tiny fiefdom?”
Torrey Peters will be appearing virtually at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August to talk about her work. When asked about her experience launching a book during a pandemic, she muses, “You know, it’s been good for me, which is not what you’re supposed to say. But, most of my writing previous to this has been hyperlocal – I do my readings in bars in Brooklyn, and there’s something beautiful about having to see face-to-face everybody who hears my work. But on the other hand, I get to do things like events in Edinburgh.
"I’ve found an audience that I think I wouldn't have found in a circumstance outside lockdown. People in the UK were coming to my events, hearing what I said. When there was the Women’s Prize, they showed up and they asked me questions. And so this was a beautiful moment to speak to people who I was never expecting to speak to. It’s kind of special that I got this international wave – I have the rest of my life for it to be local.”
Detransition, Baby is available now from Serpent's Tail
Torrey Peters will be appearing virtually at Edinburgh International Book Festival on 14 Aug