Torrey Peters: Modern Families, baby


To think people actually paid to be in the audience to watch Torrey Peters on a screen is kind of mind boggling, but it’s true – about 60 of them by the look of things – held in a lecture hall at Edinburgh University. Another 70 or so watched live online, including yours truly.  It was sponsored by The Skinny, which I thought was going to be some sort of oat milk high sugar ‘health’ drink, when actually it’s an ‘independent cultural journalism’ magazine.  Never heard of it. 

The host gave us a brief description of what his novel Detransition, Baby was about (basically a man wants to be a ‘mummy’ – see above) and reminded us it had been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction. 

The reading

Peters gave us an overgenerous reading from the middle of the book, lasting approximately seven minutes, and as he read he kind of smiled to himself, as if his words were entertaining him all over again.  For me, it was like be catapulted into a creative writing workshop, where the nutter you can’t stand finally has their go.  

The reading involved the ‘trans woman’ character, Reece, addressing a group of ‘twinks’ (young gay men) who no longer want to sleep with Reece because ‘she’ has transitioned, but are still enthral to their amazing personality.  There was a conversation with a ‘masked Dom’ about housework.  There was something about everyone wanting something in their butt and then Reece telling the receptive twinks that they are 29 years old and still has the financial support of their parents but who hangs up on mum and dad if they get misgendered – Reece is ‘deeply loved and spoiled’.  Peters completed the reading with:

Isn’t that the most motherly thing of all?  To help your daughter with the chances you never gave yourself, or that you were never given.  

From Detransition, Baby – somewhere in the middle

Like helping your ‘daughter’ to have their balls cut off? That’s one of the chances my mother was never given.

Journey as a writer

Previous to this novel, Peters had self-published two novellas, The Masker (sounds like sissy porn) and Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones (ditto), which had been popular with other trans-identified men ‘in the community’.  Peters began to read a lot of books by ‘divorced cis women’ and felt that there was a comparison to be made between divorce and transition (being what precisely?).  Peters said that he ‘tricked’ himself into thinking he had something important to say and found inspiration from Toni Morrison who centred black experience in her writing.  Thus Detransition, Baby centres the trans experience.  Peters feels that everyone will be able to relate to it since ‘everyone has a gender’.  

The host asked if he was surprised by its success.  Peters told us that you have to believe your writing will be loved, though sometimes he was plagued by little voices saying ‘you’re kidding yourself’.  He is now writing his second novel and is writing under the pretence of ‘obscurity’ (relatively easy given the book’s sales ranking).  

The host wanted to know whether being a ‘prominent trans author’ came with its own pressure and Peters breezily admitted that he ‘felt it’, but rejects the ‘burden of representation’.  Like when he makes jokes about ‘every trans girl wanting a Kitchenaid Mixer’, his friends would find that funny, but it would totally go over the head of Latino trans migrant people, because that joke doesn’t land for them. 

In a moment of real sycophancy the host told Peters he was like a modern day Jane Austen, presumably in response to his witticism about food mixers, which clearly pleased him.  Peters told us that trans authors have to create their own specific genres to suit themselves.  This involves ‘breaking down’ and ‘confounding’ binaries, obviously.  He’s writing a version of Detransition, Baby for television (commissioned by Amazon) and wants it to be a bit like a sitcom.  

Queer playfulness with language

The host talked about how the ‘queer community’ play with language and that there was a lot linguistic fun.  Yes, Peters agreed, and said that queer language can be very funny.  Like if he describes himself as ‘high fem’, that’s sort of like the Lord of Rings and ‘elfness’.  Queer language rubs up against other things. 

Peters said it was a stereotype that queer people are prescriptive about language, for example he uses the word ‘transsexual’ throughout the book.  ‘Transsexual’ is funny because it has the word ‘sex’ in it (the whole of the alphabet sick bag must have him in hoots of laughter in that case).  

If a cis woman came to me and she was like, I like the word ‘transsexual’ and here’s the way I want to use ‘transsexual’ and I’m saying it with respect, I wouldn’t be like, you don’t get to use it, I would be like, I will use it with you and if we’re going to do it in a generative [sic] way, let’s do it, let’s generate that way.

Torrey Peters

So you see, queer people aren’t prescriptive or tyrannical about language at all.  

Double standards and hypocrisy

The next jaw dropping moment came from the thick-as-shit host with this question/ comment:

The book contains intra-community critique, but at the same time it also critiques what cis culture allows trans people to want, so contemporary feminism, you know we can say we’ve come to a point where women are allowed to want to marry into money as a feminist act, let’s say.  And they’re allowed to enjoy degrading or violent sex sometimes, and we say ‘this is okay for cis women because it’s feminist’, however trans women aren’t allowed to say that they like those things, or want those things, and that really comes through strongly in the book.  But it feels like what you’re [?] raging against is hypocrisy of any kind? 

Clearly the host has not familiarised herself with sissy hypo porn.  

Peters moaned in response that he had once quoted Sylvia Plath’s line about ‘Every woman loves a fascist’ and that when ‘cis women’ use it, no one minds.  However, when ‘trans women’ quote that line, it’s considered ‘dangerous’.  This was a double standard.  It’s also a double standard that when women want to have babies, they don’t have to be shown with a baby to demonstrate that they like them, but when ‘trans women’ express a ‘desire’ to have a baby it had to be justified through the use of imagery.  

Or, as we recently saw in the news, a father actually offering his nipple to his new born baby.

The publishing world

Peters claims to have had an agent in 2012 who wasn’t that encouraging, so instead sought nurture from the trans community around him in Brooklyn, New York. Then the ‘Trans Tipping Point’ came and the publishing world realised that there was a market out there for trans stuff. The movement had the upper hand because they had already spent the last ten years organising and were able to call the shots, according to Peters.

After his novel was published he experienced ‘transphobia’, but didn’t care because the book had found its audience. He felt that the UK trans writer scene was not that well developed and that they needed to organise and fight back against the media and publishing who had ‘backward ideas’ about how trans issues should be presented. (I rather think Juno Dawson has sold ten times the number of books he has.)

The host wanted to ‘revel in how wrong that agent was – I really hope they’re watching’ – (they won’t be dear, they aren’t that stupid).

Next novel

Will be a financial thriller, sort of like The Great Gatsby or Breaking Bad, but with a bunch of queer sex workers.

How do online communities influence the relationship between parents and trans children

Zoomer trans girls only have ideas of what it means to be trans from their parents or the medical establishment and have not experienced the cultural component. Peters told us that teens almost have to transition again once they turn up in places like New York.

How strange, I thought it was innate.

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