Torrey Peter’s novel Detransition, Baby follows Reese, a trans woman, as she attempts to coparent with a detransition trans woman, Amex (previously Amy) and his new lover Katrina, a cis woman. Peters, a trans woman herself, documents the struggles that each woman experiences, both together and apart, as they attempt to navigate womanhood in the midst of Katrina’s pregnancy.
The reception to the novel was positive overall, with Peters even being longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. However, an interesting discourse formed on Twitter in April, revealing how patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism might still dwell among queer communities. Did Torrey Peters manage to reveal the complexities of living as a trans woman, or man, in her fictional and real-life world? Possibly.
User Evan Urquhart, a trans man, took to Twitter to share a thread that he titled “A Trans Man Reads Detransition Baby.” Before the review began, Urquhart stated that he was “a BIT skeptical” of the novel “as a trans guy,” but would try not to be too harsh due to his love of the trans community.
He addresses that the book is “for and about women,” as well as the fact that he is “least likely to care about romances and babies.” Urquhart continues by summarizing the characters, and the main conflict of characters Reese, Ames, and Katrina attempting to co-parent a child. The critique with which critics of his review take issue follows afterwards.
I have now purchased Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters from my local bookstore.
What will follow is: A Trans Man Reads Detransition, Baby, a Novel by Torrey Peters, a Thread by Evan Urquhart. https://t.co/h9WKJOsOhY
— Evan Urquhart (@e_urq) April 6, 2021
He finds Reese, a trans woman, “insanely unlikeable”, and writes that her “extra-ness is excused by saying she’s been driven to nihilism by the loss of her future with Amy (now Ames) and having lost hope of adopting and being a mother.” He also finds Ames, a detransitioned trans woman, “pretty unlikeable” as well. The only character Urquhart said he enjoyed was Katrina, a cis woman who is pregnant with the child that the trio attempts to co-parent.
He writes that “unlike the others, Katrina doesn’t turn her pain into self pity,” and instead focuses her melancholy into her profession, which he “appreciate[s].”
It’s worth noting that Detransition, Baby does feature a trans man, in the form of one of Reese’s former partners.
Urquhart follows by giving his opinion on the novel’s portrayal of detransition. He writes that Peter’s representation has “no mention of anything other than self-hating re-closeted trans women.” Despite acknowledging that he believes this is the main focus of the book, he finds it “a teensy bit lacking as a full encapsulation.”
“The book doesn’t mention exactly how detransition is treated in the ‘tabloid headlines,’” writes Urquhart, “or who, apart from trans women, might be most hurt by this.”
While some in his comments seemed to appreciate his review of the novel, with one user saying they were “interested in seeing how [he feels] about the book,” because they didn’t think they would read it themselves, others found issue with what they saw as a misogynistic take.
User Shay O’Reilly wrote that his critique “comes out in really sexist ways – demeaning complex and interesting characters for reasons that seem tied with their femininity, bemoaning the specificity of the novel.”
I really think you should read this book without attempting to find yourself in it so intensively. It comes out in really sexist ways – demeaning complex and interesting characters for reasons that seem tied with their femininity, bemoaning the specificity of the novel.
— Shay O’Reilly (@shaygabriel) April 7, 2021
“Tory Peters isn’t writing this to pander to you,” O’Reilly continues. “A man showin up to a book about women’s experiences and refusing to consider that it could have more to say about the human condition than what he immediately finds ‘relatable’ is probably the most common take out there.”
While Urquhart said that he had a number of favorite books about “woman’s experiences,” O’Reilly responds that listing his favorite female authors doesn’t justify his critique of Detransition, Baby.
“I think that you approaching this novel from the perspective of ‘where is my experience/’ is producing notable sexist results,” wrote O’Reilly.
User Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short commented that the novel deals with issues of miscarriage, transmisogynistic violence, domestic abuse, and others that pertain to women.
Hey so please don’t live tweet this or speed through it
Take your time and work through it and sit with the characters and their mistakes and their feelings
I’m sure you will have some unique insights but this isn’t a funny book and trying to make jokes through it won’t work
— Dr. Ada-Rhodes Short 🤖🧠 (@The_Ada_Rhodes) April 7, 2021
“Torrey has a great sense of humor, but there is a lot of hurt in that book and treating it like something frivolous is hurtful,” wrote Short.
Alex DiFrancesco seems to echo a main sentiment of the thread, that Urquhart is “tearing apart a book about trans women’s experiences because [he’s] not ‘represented’ by it.”
Oh God, you kinda suck. Tearing apart a book about trans women’s experiences because you’re not “represented” by it. Lol. Since you seem to perceive yourself as a great writer, please go represent trans men in some epic novel. We’ll all wait patiently.
— Alex DiFrancesco (@DifrancescoAlex) April 7, 2021
Other users had much the same to say about Urquhart’s Twitter review, which you can view. Many went under pseudonyms, which while I felt negated the commentary aspect, doesn’t mean that their discourse provides any less value.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Trans men are men, let’s start there.
The belief that trans men are somehow incapable of misogyny cannot be true for a few reasons. Misogyny doesn’t have to be the default for men, both cis and trans, but our patriarchal society socializes men to participate in misogyny, regardless of the sex they were assigned at birth or the gender they were previously socialized as.
“Can I be a person who had this life experience and be a feminist, and then be sexist?” said McBee in an interview discussing his novel. “I really had to answer that in a deep way, and work was a good way to answer that because I had to look at my behaviour.”
McBee reasons that this sudden switch, as I concluded above, had to do with the inescapable socialization that we undergo.
“How we socialise boys is crucial – boys have no ability to consent to the socialisation, they don’t have frontal lobes, they can’t even think about what they’re learning – but we socialise boys to think a certain way about what being a man is,” said McBee. “And that’s proven, there’s plenty of evidence that’s true. You’re calcified an identity.”
The novel wasn’t intended to investigate ideas specific to trans masculinity, because Peters said herself in an interview with Refinery29 that Detransition, Baby was her own way of investigating the questions that were “muddled up” in her own head as a trans woman.
“Why was I drawn to the idea of motherhood? Was it for my own identity [as a woman]? Was it for the sake of a child? Was it validation? Was it because I actually have a maternal instinct?” Peters asks herself in the interview.
Nevertheless, the idea that all trans men won’t participate in this might imply that, one, they are somehow women despite identifying otherwise, and two, that women are unable to participate in misogyny. Both are false. Women grew up in the same society, and while they might have been socialized differently, are still capable of perpetuating the same misogyny that our society insists upon as a side-effect of dwelling in the same patriarchal space as everyone else. It is imperative that we acknowledge that anyone, of any gender identity, can fall into misogyny.
So, the discourse surrounding a trans man’s critique of Tori Peter’s novel, Detransition, Baby, highlights an important facet of misogyny in the LGBT+ community. In a way, Peters reveals the rough spots of trans womanhood, in both the fictional and real world, and the sheer power of books through her novel.