The Transphobic Condemnation of Detransition, Baby: A Response
The Women’s Prize for Fiction is a prestigious award, famed for its recognition of female authors and their contribution to the world of publishing. As contributors at The Publishing Post and fellow members of the bookish community, we feel compelled to share our outrage over the horrific transphobic condemnation of Detransition, Baby.
On 6 April, Torrey Peters’ debut novel was the subject of a letter published by the Wild Women Writing Club. The letter, which is signed by several dead female writers including Daphne du Maurier and Emily Dickinson, claims the signatories were using pseudonyms “because of the threat of harassment by trans extremists and/or cancellation by the book industry.” It comes as little surprise that this intolerant, hateful article has been published by keyboard warriors, many of whom are hiding behind the esteemed names of the lates and the greats.
We, however, are proud to put our names to this piece in a world where inclusivity should be both promoted and celebrated.
The plot of Detransition, Baby follows Reese, a trans woman in her thirties, who gets the chance to fulfil her long-awaited dreams of motherhood after being asked to raise a baby with her former partner, Ames, and Katrina, the cis woman he impregnated. The book was described by Women’s Prize judge Elizabeth Day as a “modern comedy of manners viewed through the lens of three women, both trans and cis.”
The signatories to the vicious letter, condemning Peters’ nomination, argue that the decision to longlist her makes this a fiction prize rather than a female prize – which was founded 25 years ago after the fallout of an all-male Booker shortlist. The letter states that “making male writers eligible for the sole major women’s literary prize does not break through years of patriarchal conditioning, neither does it ‘honour, champion or celebrate’ fiction written by women. On the contrary, it communicates powerfully that women authors are unworthy of their own prize, and that it is fine to allow male people to appropriate our honours.” This is, however, following the outdated and intolerant belief that trans women are not women. In a further blow, the letter consistently misgenders Peters throughout.
Amongst their scathing write-up, the group reference J.K. Rowling being condemned, but we strongly believe there was a good and justifiable reason for Rowling’s comments being called out. We should all be supporting the trans community when hateful comments are made by public figures via a platform that is available to mass audiences.
The Harry Potter author came under fire in 2020 for a series of controversial and offensive tweets that she posted about the trans community. Rowling’s tweets sparked huge controversy from trans activists and fans of Harry Potter, many of whom once found comfort in the narrative of an outsider finally finding a place where he belonged.
Not only is this attitude towards trans people deeply hurtful and prejudiced, but it is almost inarguable that transgressive/progressive books are the ones that shape literary culture. Indeed, the New York Times best-selling author Claire Lombardo called Detransition, Baby “emotionally generous, richly textured and deeply intelligent.” The Guardian journalist Grace Lavery praised the book for being “witty, elegant and rigorously plotted […] breezily playing with the structural conventions of literary realism.”
Detransition, Baby was published in January 2021 by One World, a US-based imprint of Penguin Random House. It is among the first novels written by a trans author to be published by one of the big five publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster). Peters’ UK publisher, Serpent’s Tail, went on to offer free copies of Detransition, Baby to readers following the controversy. In addition, feminist bookshop The Second Shelf have reportedly sold more than 130 copies in a day following the open letter, donating £1 of each sale to trans-related organisations.
In a statement published on 7 April, The Women’s Prize organisers said they were “immensely proud of the exceptional and varied longlist.”
“The prize is firmly opposed to any form of discrimination on the basis of race, age, sexuality, gender identity and all other protected characteristics, and deplores any attempts to malign or bully the judges or the authors” they said.
If you’re wondering what you can do to help, you can buy Detransition, Baby and stand in solidarity with Torrey Peters and our trans allies. Better still, you can buy it from your local bookstore.
Katie Horsfall, Jess Emery, Sofia Brizio, Billi Jones and The Publishing Post community.