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Seeing Through A Trans Lens: Torrey Peters Pens 'Detransition, Baby'


Torrey Peters released her new book "Detransition, Baby" earlier this year to much acclaim. It tackles themes of identity, parenthood and gender through a transgender lens - that is, the understanding that gender is not fixed; it can be represented in a multitude of ways. NPR's Sam Sanders has more.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: There are a lot of entanglements in "Detransition, Baby," a lot of drama. It helps to have Torrey explain.


SANDERS: Give us a quick synopsis of "Detransition, Baby" without any spoilers.

TORREY PETERS: OK, so the novel starts with Reese, who you can think of as sort of like Fleabag but trans and in Brooklyn.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

PETERS: And she's kind of reeling still from the fallout of a breakup with her ex-girlfriend, who is also a trans woman, who then detransitioned from Amy to Ames. And the action of the novel kicks off when Ames contacts her again and asks Reese, would you like to be a mother? Because Ames has gotten his boss Katrina pregnant, and Katrina and Ames are trying to figure out how to raise the baby. That's all the first chapter, by the way (laughter).

SANDERS: Listen - I mean, you come in hot, and I love it.

The three characters in this book - Reese, Ames and Katrina - they are all at a moment of transition in their lives. Reese has to figure out how to make being a trans woman and a mother work for her. Ames wants to figure out how to be a parent without having all the traditional role-playing that comes with, quote-unquote, "fatherhood." And Katrina, she is trying to figure out if just two parents are really enough to raise a kid. Torrey says when she transitioned, she was asking herself a lot of big questions about the future as well.


PETERS: There is a lot of drama when anybody transitions, and there was for me. And then I was looking around and I was like, well, now what? How do I find meaning? Twenty years ago, I think, the big question of her life, if you're a trans woman, was like, just how do you survive, you know? How do you just be OK day to day? Now we're in a place where what was facing me wasn't - you know, I could - I had a bigger horizon than just day to day.

SANDERS: Torrey says she found inspiration in navigating her transition in an unlikely community - divorced cisgender women.


PETERS: They had experienced a break in life, in which they had to reassess themselves, and they had to be honest about who they were and what they wanted, and then they had to make a plan going forward. They couldn't stay stuck. You know, they couldn't get divorced and be angry for the rest of their life. They had to make a move. And the kind of questions that they had to ask themselves were so similar to the questions that I had to ask myself as a trans woman.

SANDERS: Torrey Peters even dedicates "Detransition, Baby" to the divorced cisgender women who inspired her. And she wrote the book in part because she thought she had something to teach them as well. In "Detransition, Baby," the three main characters end up facing their big existential questions together.


PETERS: And at the end, I wanted them in a room together, with all of their biases, all of their coping mechanisms, all of their sort of judgments stripped away from them. And then I wanted them to solve the problem of, like, how do you live? How are we going to live now?

SANDERS: And when I talked to Torrey, she told me a lot of us are asking this question of ourselves in a few different ways. And we're seeing that maybe the old playbook that we're all used to, it might need to be rewritten.


PETERS: The ways that we've been doing things, like a sort of very strict nuclear family or various, like - yeah, strong, you know, kind of constraining gender roles or ideas about heterosexuality and, like, the way that it's conducted, that people are like, this isn't working.

SANDERS: Torrey Peters' new novel "Detransition Baby," it offers no concrete answers to those big questions about how to live. She didn't want it to. But it does offer a few new ways to look at it and a new lens we all might use to seek those answers out.

Sam Sanders, NPR News.


MARTIN: You can hear more of Sam's conversation with Torrey Peters on his podcast, It's Been a Minute from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEOTIC'S "SUNSPELL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.