Portraying a Transgender Community
“I wanted to know what my life will look like when I am 60 and the chief concern is the same as anybody else’s: What is our place in society?”
The American writer takes us into the making of the prize-winning ‘Detransition, Baby’, one of the first novels to portray a trans milieu. Read more …
‘Detransition, Baby’ is about three women – transgender and cisgender – whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to confront their deepest desires around gender, motherhood, and sex. When writing the novel Torrey Peters had only ten people in mind as readers.
“I was writing for a small trans scene in Brooklyn that started around 2012 and the ethos of the scene was trans women writing for other trans women. We got the idea from Black woman writers like Toni Morrison, who wrote explicitly for Black women at a full-out sprint, and she doesn’t have to slow down to explain. Then we found out that writing for each other raised the bar for what we said. When you are writing for a cis audience explaining trans things, for instance, you have to come up with something interesting”.
“The things that I am saying are not just to impress everybody but to impress essentially the experts, but everybody ends up getting the benefits of the insights.”
“I never expected people like a man in Germany to see themselves in a story of trans women in Brooklyn, New York. And to bring home this experience to the ten people that I actually wrote it for – makes me grateful.” Peters discovered that people who not necessarily shared identity with her could reflect themselves in the book:
“I began to see that divorced cis women were facing the same sorts of problems as me. The trajectory of a gender transition looks a lot like a trajectory of a divorce. You live your life in a certain way thinking it will be a certain way. Then, there is a break of failure, and you have to move forward either getting better or reinvesting the reasons that brought you to that. – So I am speaking to trans women but also to the audience just behind it.“
The novel is about “stripping away the coping mechanisms and the delusions and all the narratives that cohered around oneself, actually to be able to ask an honest question and basically say: Am I willing to make the compromises necessary and be a trans mother at this moment and am I willing to accept all the ways through that will bring me good things and all the ways in which it is not going to be perfect, and if so, make that choice,” Peters says. “How do you have joy, how do you make choices, how do you navigate between the allure of dissemination and what is unique with trans culture? I am trying to phrase the questions of how to go into that moment. And I know there is a way for the trans artists into this place.”
Torrey Peters (born 1981) is the author of the novel ‘Detransition, Baby’, which won the 2021 PEN/Hemingway award for debut fiction. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, a finalist for the Brooklyn Public Library Award, and was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The novel has been translated into a dozen languages. Peters came out as transgender at the age of 26. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa and a Masters in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth. Torrey Peters lives in New York.
Torrey Peters was interviewed by Felix Thorsen Katzenelson during the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in August 2022.
Camera: David Schweiger
Edit: Signe Boe Pedersen
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2021
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling, and Fritz Hansen.
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