Detransition, baby: Novels that Teach

Things I have learned from novels, a short list: enter all cupboards that look maybe magical because they might well be magical; most of everything I know about Canadian history; the geography of PEI; too much about the Blitz; some things about scuba diving. All this to say whenever I read a novel I learn. If nothing else I learn what I like from writing, but usually there’s something in the plot/setting/character/theme that is interesting or new or important that I haven’t come across before. Part of why I like novels (so much) more than non-fiction is that most often this teaching-learning happens by accident, by way of story. Like oops you just learned a whole thing about whaling (but seriously, Moby Dick is a bad example of this kind of learning because of the endless chapters just describing whaling implements).

Digression. R. is really into made-up stories where I tell him a “Golidlocks” story, which is really just any story with the main character named Goldilocks. Usually Goldilocks is a squirrel that lives in a radio tower. ANYWAY. I recently remembered that I could use these made-up stories in a very heavy handed way to reinforce annoying parenting lessons about crossing the street, or being kind, or not-throwing-rocks-at-your-sister.

So not actually a digression. Because it turns out that Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby, is a similar sort of story. One interested in teaching the reader some things about trans women and sure that the only way to do so is if The Story is Very Clear. The only problem is the reader is (probably not) a preschooler, and so some more subtly wouldn’t hurt (tbh some more subtly would probably be appreciated by R., too). Which is not the same thing as saying the book shouldn’t offer the reader insight or a perspective on being trans and wanting a baby, more that there’s some kind of difference between a story that invites a reader to empathy and experience with a character and one that explains what a character thinks, feels, and wants in a way that is meant to teach you about it. I fear I’m not explaining the difference well. Ha ha.

Whatever the case if you can get past the explaining this book has merits. Like some of the writing is good. And it was novel for me to read a book exploring queer families and I sometimes think things about maternity and parenting and bodies and so I appreciated the chance to think afresh on these ideas. It also had a decent, if somewhat dissatisfying, ending. Oh and some properly funny scenes.

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