Pete Williams ’76, November 2021
(excerpted in the November 2021 DGALA newsletter)
Her publisher Random House aptly described Torrey Peters GR ’13’s best-selling 2021 novel as “brilliantly and fearlessly navigating the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.” The novel (now available in paperback and currently being adapted into a television series) has won numerous accolades (Named One of the Best Books of the Year by Esquire: Long listed for The Women’s Prize; Roxanne’s Gay Audacious Book Club Pick; New York Times Editors’ Choice). However, tackling taboos and writing honestly about sex, gender and relationships can also bring forth detractors, as well as challenge thoughtful readers. On June 15 of this year, DGALA leader Sheila Hicks-Rotella ’04 led a candid conversion about these issues, ideas and more in a Zoom presentation co-hosted by Women of Dartmouth and attended by a large audience from around the world, who also asked questions. Following is a summary of what Torrey had to say. If you’d like to view the full Zoom recording, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Torrey on Her Time at Dartmouth
I transitioned and came out then; it turned out to be a good experience; people were not hostile; they were interested. My thesis advisor ended up being one of the most important people whom I have ever met. We started with a traditional thesis advising relationship, but it evolved to include broad philosophical issues; it shaped my thinking.
Influences for Detransition, Baby
Transitioning in my early 30s, I had to find meaning in life. Older trans women generally were not able to have the broader horizons that younger trans women do today. As a guide I read works of divorced cis women who were starting life anew in their 30s. You need to start over with less time, fewer illusions. They used humor, sadness, joy and loss. I tried to apply that model to trans women.
The phenomenon of detransitioning is sometimes used by bigots and transphobes; I do not believe that it is something that we cannot talk about. We all do things in life that we come to regret, but that does not mean that we were wrong in the first place. Most people who detransition do so because it can be very difficult; you can lose friends, family, jobs. I say, “Let’s talk about it.” That is more healthy. Even to joke about it. A comparable example has arisen when same-sex couples divorce; they may feel that they are stigmatizing same-sex marriage, but that is not true. Divorce should not just be for straight people.
Another controversy was my nomination for the Women’s Prize for Fiction [a prominent prize awarded annually in England to a female author of any nationality for a work in English]. Some critics called me a man in disguise infiltrating a women’s contest. These attacks did not bother me; they triggered good conversations in the UK and actually helped sales there. I take more seriously criticisms by trans people; some felt that my book exposes too many secrets. I say that no transgender people should feel shame about any aspect of their lives, and the way to get rid of that shame is to shed sunshine, as my novel does, and as my public appearances, such as on “Good Morning America” and “Today” have done.
How Allies Can Help
There are short-term and long-term issues. Currently there are a lot of anti-trans bills in legislatures in many states. Yes, we should fight those. But you also need to understand that they are distractions so that energy gets siphoned off the fight. There are bigger issues than sports. Some trans women cannot get jobs and have other much more serious issues. And those issues extend to a lot of other people.
Advice for Writers
My early writing was for everyone and no one. Later, when I wrote for trans people, I found a sense of urgency. Don’t worry much about your craft as a writer, but ask to whom do you have something to say with urgency. Imagine those people and speak to them. If you do that, it will be interesting to others as well.
Use in the Book of “Transsexual”
Question from the audience: What were your motives in using “transsexual” rather than “transgender?” Answer [paraphrased]: This is the milieu in which I live. We sometimes make fun of the term “transgender.” Some of my trans friends have issues with the way that we have been grouped. It is not that “transgender” is a wrong term. But “transsexual” has the word “sex” in it, so it’s more fun and has a pulpy 70s feel. It’s just a preference.
How People Should Come Away from Detransition, Baby
It’s not that the book gives a solution. It describes the situation for trans women today and shows their problems. How are we going to make a life together and not lie to each other? This is the question that the book raises; the current generation of trans women must figure out how to live. In my own life I am grappling with some of the questions that the book raises.
The Zoom Session
Thank you for having me and asking such thoughtful questions. The logistics were great and the turnout was wonderful.