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Torrey Peters
Photography Natasha Gornik

Transphobic hate won’t keep Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby from triumph

Bookshops, writers, and Peters’ fans have condemned the vicious open letter which criticised her Women’s Prize nomination

Independent bookstores across the world, fans, and peers alike are showing their support for writer Torrey Peters’ groundbreaking debut novel Detransition, Baby after it was the subject of a vicious and transphobic open letter earlier this week (April 6).

The letter by the Wild Women Writing Club was in response to Detransition, Baby being longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction – the first book by a trans women to be nominated for the prize in its 25 year history.

Several signatories of the letter hid behind false names, including those of dead women writers including Emily Dickinson and Daphne du Maurier, “because of the threat of harassment by trans extremists and/or cancellation by the book industry”.

According to the signatories of the open letter, the decision to longlist Peters for the Women’s prize “communicates powerfully that women authors are unworthy of our own prize, and that it is fine to allow male people to appropriate our honours … the moment you decided that a male author was eligible, the award ceased to be the Women’s prize and became simply the Fiction prize”.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction has responded to the open letter, saying that it “deplores any attempts to malign or bully” authors nominated for the prize.

Detransition, Baby follows Reese, a trans woman in her 30s, who is approached by her former partner, Ames, to raise a baby with his boss, who he accidentally impregnated after believing he was infertile. The open letter called the book “misogynistic” and “a work of sissy porn suffused with hatred of women”.

The letter has been condemned by fellow longlisted author Naoise Dolan, who called the novel “a masterpiece that I’m incredibly proud to be on the longlist with, and that letter is a transphobic disgrace”.

Previous nominee Elif Shafak congratulated Peters on her nomination, saying: “After seeing yesterday’s unacceptable, unethical open letter, we need to say, again and again, #TransWomenareWomen”.

Peters’ UK publisher Serpent’s Tail has subsequently offered free copies of Detransition, Baby to readers, while author Anna James collaborated with Manchester bookshop Queer Lit to donate 50 copies to readers via Twitter.

“I loved the book – I found it funny, sharp and smart as well as having one of the most insightful, nuanced and thoughtful considerations of gender that I’ve read in ages. I tweeted this offer and quickly had several others offer to donate more copies,” James told Dazed.

“It was so incredibly heartening to see both the generosity of those donating, and the eagerness of the recipients to read the book. And this was just one part of the general response, with so many other individuals and bookshops offering copies, discounts and promoting and celebrating the book, and standing in solidarity against transphobia with a wave of love, community and celebration for Torrey Peters’ brilliant book.”

Since the open letter, the London-based feminist bookshop The Second Shelf has sold more than 200 copies in 36 hours, donating £1 of each sale to trans-related organisations. “As a feminist bookstore, we were very surprised at first to learn that there was such a loud and ignorant group of feminists having so much phobia over other women,” they said.

“As a specialist bookshop dedicated to rare books and first editions by women, with the goal of encouraging the collection of books by women, we have always included trans women on our shelves. We are interested in how women have been overlooked or un-canonised and have historically drawn less attention and value by collectors and been less collected by archives and libraries,” they added.

Edinburgh-based radical bookshop, Lighthouse, has launched a pay-it-forward scheme, where readers can donate money towards free copies of the book for trans people and those who can’t afford to pay. “We've now had a dozen orders from the US & Canada too so have partnered up with queer owned, feminist bookshops like A Room Of One's Own to supply books to those readers using our PIF cash,” said a spokesperson.

Detransition, Baby has been a bestseller for us since publication, but we saw a huge burst of orders after news of the transphobic open letter broke. We thought a fitting response to their bigotry was to reshare the trans reading lists our bookseller Lindsay had curated to mark Trans Day of Visibility – naturally Detransition, Baby was in all of them,” they added.

In their statement, published on Wednesday, 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 added: “Anyone who is legally defined as a woman can be entered for the prize by a publisher … the word ‘woman’ equates to a cis woman, or a transgender woman who is legally defined as a woman.”

Detransition, Baby was released in January by One World, a US-based imprint of Penguin Random House, and is among the first novels written by a trans woman to be published by a big-five publishing house (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster). It was released via Serpent’s Tail in the UK.

Speaking to Dazed in February, Peters said: “For me, there’s always been a question of being trans and doing trans. Whether or not you’re living as a trans woman, that doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t.”

She continued: “The times that I personally considered detransition haven’t been where I was like, ‘Did I miscategorise these feelings?’ It was that my life is a lot harder now, and I lost a lot, and maybe I could get those things back if I detransitioned, and I think that’s the question for Ames.”

The book is also getting its own TV adaptation, with Grey’s Anatomy writing and producing duo Joan Rater and Tony Phelan serving as showrunners.