American writer Torrey Peters is on the longlist of the prestigious Women's Fiction Prize for her debut novel Detransition, Baby, just months after the organisers changed the rules to allow entries from anyone who identifies as a woman.
Described by Elizabeth Day, one of the judges of the British contest, as "modern comedy of manners", it follows what happens after trans women Reese and Amy's end their relationship because of infidelity and Amy goes on to detransition to become Ames and fathers a child with his boss, Katrina. Can the trio navigate the turbulent waters of society and Reese and Amy's fraught personal history and become a family?
The book is being hailed as the "first trans mainstream hit". It's the first novel by a trans author to be published by a big-name publishing house and a TV adaptation is already in the works.
Peters' inclusion of the Women's Fiction Prize list was made possible by a change to the rules last year which stipulated that the contest is open to any “cis woman, transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex”.
A trans woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth, while cis or cisgender is a term for those whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.
“It’s a prize for women, and trans women are women," says chair of judges and author Bernardine Evaristo.
Peters was thrilled when she heard that she's been included on the list alongside big-name authors such as Ali Smith, Brit Bennett and Dawn French.
“I’m very honoured to have Detransition, Baby long-listed for the Women’s Prize,” the 39-year-old writer tweeted.
She added that she's “indebted” to Akwaeke Emezi, the non-binary trans author who was longlisted for the award in 2019 but then subsequently shunned the award when asked to furnish proof of their gender. The outcry prompted an overhaul of the rules.
Joanna Prior, chairman of the award's board, says: 'In our terms and conditions, the word "woman" equates to a cis woman, a transgender woman or anyone who is legally defined as a woman or of the female sex.'
The annual Women's Prize was established in 1991 in response to anger about how few women were being shortlisted for the Booker Prize and other big literary awards.
Winners receive £30 000 - about R450 000 - and a bronze sculpture called the Bessie.
Previous winners have included Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Barbara Kingsolver and Maggie 'O Farrell.
Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese — and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her.
When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby—and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it—Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family—and raise the baby together?
This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.
WHAT THE AUTHOR SAYS:
"Detransition is something that's been weaponized against trans people. That when people detransition, they say, 'See, it doesn't work, this isn't real. This is like a mental illness and that the people who transition regret it. So therefore, nobody should transition.' And because it's been so weaponized, trans people are scared to talk about it. A lot of people I know detransition because it was really hard to live as a trans woman or trans man. And they detransition not because they don't have those feelings, but because it's just so difficult. But that reality doesn't get talked about, because if you talk about that reality, then it ends up getting weaponized against other trans people."
WATCH TORREY READING FROM HER BOOK
Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half
Clare Chambers, Small Pleasures
Susanna Clarke, Piranesi
Amanda Craig, The Golden Rule
Naoise Dolan, Exciting Times
Avni Doshi, Burnt Sugar
Dawn French, Because of You
Claire Fuller, Unsettled Ground
Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom
Cherie Jones, How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House
Raven Leilani, Luster
Patricia Lockwood, No One Is Talking About This
Annabel Lyon, Consent
Kathleen McMahon, Nothing But Blue Sky
Torrey Peters, Detransition, Baby