What I’m Reading: Detransition, Baby

I read this book because my sweetie read it for a book club she went to, and was clearly caught up in it. I say that because Detransition, Baby is not for everyone, but perhaps it should be. It’s a controversial (*) work for both its subject matter (transgender and cis characters dealing with parenthood) and its author, Torrey Peters who is a trans woman. It’s a debut novel. What a way to start.

Aside: One can tell a few things when, scanning the relatively few 1-star Amazon reader reviews the book has received, one notes the vast majority of them purposefully misgender the author.

I should note, I suppose, that I am neither trans, nor a woman—that I am white and male and of an age. I’d say I’m about as cis as they get. When I finished reading it, Lisa asked how I liked it, and my first thought was that I’m not sure I’m qualified to fully respond. Yet, here I am. Male, white, and perhaps more than a little past bordering on being old, which means I’m coming at it from a perspective that one argues is not its intended audience. I am, however, a person who likes to think I’m open to all things, and has been actively seeking out other perspectives in my life for a considerable number of years. I also have personal reasons to become closer to the world Peters depicts. So, there we have it.

Also, I think it’s a cop-out to read a work like this, and just say nothing, so at the risk of committing awkward Old White Guy Cringe, let me say a few things:

I liked that these characters were so relatable that I could immediately get into their worldview. Note, I use the term relatable on purpose. They are not likeable, or at least they aren’t likeable all the time. They have their flaws, you know. But they are so well written that I feel like I understand them. Like I could be them if only I had lived in their skins. I liked that, true or not, reading it has made me feel like I caught a flavor of the transgender experience (he says, leaning very heavily on the word “flavor” and realizing that a generic statement like that is deeply suspect).

I like that the story moved along at a good pace. Things happened. Decisions got made, some wise, others not so much. And I like that, as the story unfolded, the perspectives on transhood, womanhood, and even fatherhood (though that was less robustly drawn) shifted. Though the real world sometimes pretends to have sense of order, the real word can be messy and Detransition, Baby captures that feeling of impermanence to expectation. Answers are not always simple or obvious.

The story and its characters made me think about things I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of, which is also something I always like.

I cannot, of course, speak for the full veracity of the depiction of the trans world. My view of this is uncertain, though. Undefined. I generally worry when people try to define an entire culture with a single work because no work, by itself, can ever really hope to capture a full lived experience of an entire classification of people. We are diverse in our diversity. Without spending time to dig through details of the social structure around the book, I’d guess there are arguments being made on all sides. That said, Detransition, Baby felt true to me, meaning it felt authentic with regard to this author and these characters. Which, for my two cents, is all I can ask.

Anyway, the story line snakes its way to its ending, which is ambiguous. I don’t generally like ambiguous endings—and, in fact, Lisa complained about it when I asked how she felt about the book. With a day to stew on it, and in hopes I don’t go too far, I’d say it works for this book. For reasons.

Bottom line: This book stretched me in ways I wasn’t sure I could stretch. I liked it quite a bit.

Recommended. Especially, perhaps, if you are white and male and of an age.

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