What to read during PRIDE 2021 — Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby

We write to share our inner world — what we remember, what we observe, what we hate and what we love — with strangers. And we read to enter worlds and points of view and embodied experiences that are not our own, but that through reading and imagining become a part of us. This was my experience reading Torrey Peter’s novel Detransition, Baby.

The novel focuses on 3 characters, and just now, as I try to describe them, I find myself stumbling over pronouns and categories. These people are cis gendered and trans. One is a trans woman, one is a cis gendered woman, and one is a person who identifies as trans, and who has lived as both a man and a woman.

I admire alot of writing by trans and nonbinary authors, and I am continually grateful for how these writers explore and elucidate the narrativity of gender. In particular, I appreciate their showing how those narratives shape us, without our — particularly if we are cis — grasping how much they have a hold on us.

If gender is a story into which we are inserted at birth, and which we repeatedly (forcibly?) tell ourselves about ourselves, what happens when that story doesn’t fit? What happens when we glimpse a story of ourselves that is utterly different and/or more playful and more complicated? Who then can we tell ourselves and others that we are? How do money, race, and privilege enable or obstruct such investigations and pronouncements? These are the questions that the novel is pursuing.

I don’t want to give away any of the plot points in this remarkable novel, but I will share that there are several scenes involving James/Amy/Ames that not only touched me, but caused me to strongly identity with this character. I felt at many moments of this novel in the shoes of this person, feeling what they feel — or what I imagine them to feel. Reading the trajectory of James, who becomes Amy, who becomes Ames, I recognized myself and my own reservations about both femininity — an identity that I claim to claim– and masculinity — an identity, with which I also often relate and sympathize.

I do not write about these issues well, but happily Peters does. The writing is beautiful, at times satirical, and at other times lyrical.

What a fascinating, moving book.

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