Author Torrey Peters has addressed the backlash over the nomination of her debut novel Detransition, Baby for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which made her the first trans woman nominated for the prestigious U.K. literary award. “Everybody wants a prize to be unadulterated pleasure. Because I’m trans, I don’t get that purity of recognition,” Peters said in an interview with i, as debate continues over whether her trans identity should disqualify her from winning awards for women. Minutes after receiving the news, Peters said she realized there would be political ramifications, remembering the “kerfuffle” that occurred after nonbinary trans author Akwaeke Emezi was longlisted for the same prize in 2019 (Emezi declined to submit novels in the following year, after the prize asked for information on sex “as defined by law”). For Peters, the reaction to her nomination was her first personal experience with transphobic hate speech. “[T]his was people commenting on my page and sending me direct messages. I’d never felt that bad faith up close,” she said. “It destabilised me for a week.”
Detransition, Baby, one the first books by a trans woman to be released by a big-five publishing house in America, tells the interwoven story of three characters: a trans woman who wants to raise a child, her cis male ex who detranisitioned after the breakup, and the cis woman he is having a baby with (who also happens to be his boss). The book’s inclusion on the Women’s Prize longlist prompted a group called “Wild Woman Writing Club” to write an April 6 letter that claims making trans authors eligible for the prize hurts feminism and women’s rights, repeatedly misgenders Peters, and describes her book as an “extended male sexual fantasy.” Among the over 160 signatures on the not-so-open letter are famous dead writers like Emily Dickinson, Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë’s pen name), and Daphne du Maurier. The letter explains that pseudonyms were used out of fear of backlash (à la J.K. Rowling), while the use of the names has angered those who feel the original authors would not support the letter’s sentiments.
But the noise won’t remove Detransition, Baby from the running. On April 7, the charity behind the Women’s Prize released a statement in support of the books selected this year. “The Prize’s eligibility rules remain unchanged since it was launched 26 years ago: anyone who is legally defined as a woman can be entered for the Prize by a publisher,” the statement said. “The Prize’s terms and conditions are very clear and the word ‘woman’ equates to a cis woman, or a transgender woman who is legally defined as a woman.” A six-novel shortlist will be announced on April 28, with the final winner revealed on July 7. Peters told i about how she’s getting through the controversy: “I’m in the US, which helps, and I also saw that it mattered to a lot of people in a good way more than it did in a bad way.” Whether or not Detransition, Baby takes home the award, fans of the story still have a TV series adaptation to look forward to.