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Katia Reviews "Detransition, Baby"

Katia reviews Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.

The back of Detransition, Baby tells you that it is about a trans woman named Reese who has always wanted a baby, her ex-girlfriend (now ex-boyfriend) who detransitioned from Amy to Ames, and Katrina, Ames's boss, who he got pregnant after a short affair. Ames proposes that he, Katrina, and Reese all raise the baby together in some kind of insane queer fantasy. What could go wrong! (The answer, of course, is everything).

Upon reading the description of this book, I was skeptical. The summary makes it seem gimmicky and overly stylized, and perhaps in a way it is. The problem with the description is that it places too much emphasis on what happens, when what happens is not the most important element of this novel at all. What matters most, and what Peters renders so exactly and tenderly, is the messiness of each character. It is a pleasure, though sometimes a painful one, to see the specific ways each of them struggle to understand what they want, clawing their way back to a connectedness with the self and each other that has been blunted over and over again by a world that is hostile to their existence in some way or another.

Detransition, Baby, is another “difficult” read, in that it resists easy categorization, simple chronology, “likeable” characters, and satisfying answers. It is instead an example of a kind of chaotic storytelling that prizes messy experience. It mimics the way we tell and retell our own stories. We create overlapping meanings from them over and over that ultimately contribute to a convoluted sense of self and often unintelligible decisions. Especially for people who do not have straightforward models of how to be in the world, like queer, nonbinary, or trans people, this way of existing will be intimately recognizable.

What I liked most about Peters’s writing is how truly nonjudgmental and open it is. Peters does not seem to think it is her job to pass judgement on her characters, and she trusts the reader to approach them in this same way. Reese, Ames, and Katrina all act cruelly and selfishly at many points; they each have their specific ways of lashing out or withdrawing when they feel scared or uncertain. But they are also all kind, introspective people who want desperately to feel connected, to be loved. Who are we to judge them, or to wish that their stories were tidier or more palatable? Wouldn’t it be better to simply witness, and revel in their humanity, their messiness? Torrey Peters seems to believe this, and so do I.

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