Women’s prize condemns online attack on trans nominee Torrey Peters

Open letter had claimed that the longlisting of the Detransition, Baby author signalled that female writers were unworthy of their own prize

Torrey Peters.
‘It’s not necessarily a bucket of fun’ … Torrey Peters. Photograph: Natasha Gornik
‘It’s not necessarily a bucket of fun’ … Torrey Peters. Photograph: Natasha Gornik

Last modified on Wed 7 Apr 2021 12.52 EDT

The Women’s prize for fiction has issued a strongly worded statement saying that it “deplores any attempts to malign or bully” authors nominated for the prize, after trans novelist Torrey Peters was targeted in an open letter.

The US writer, who is nominated for the £30,000 award for her debut novel Detransition, Baby, was the subject of a letter published online on Tuesday by the Wild Women Writing Club. The letter, which is signed by several dead women writers including Emily Dickinson and Daphne du Maurier, claims that some signatories were using pseudonyms “because of the threat of harassment by trans extremists and/or cancellation by the book industry”.

The signatories argue that the decision to longlist Peters for the Women’s prize, founded 25 years ago in the aftermath of an all-male Booker shortlist, “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.”

Detransition, Baby follows Reese, a trans woman who is approached by her ex Ames, who has detransitioned and, believing he is infertile, accidentally impregnates his boss during an affair. The signatories called the book “misogynistic”, “a work of sissy porn suffused with hatred of women” and said that Peters’ nomination being revealed in March, or Women’s History Month, “feels like an insult”.

The letter was condemned by numerous authors around the world, including previous nominee Elif Shafak, who congratulated Peters on her nomination and said: “After seeing yesterday’s unacceptable, unethical open letter, we need to say, again and again, #TransWomenareWomen. Trans women writers are my sisters.” Fellow 2021 nominee Naoise Dolan called the novel “a masterpiece that I’m incredibly proud to be on the longlist with, and that letter is a transphobic disgrace”.

Others made light of the pseudonyms on the letter; author Melinda Salisbury wrote: “Just bought a new book! It’s called Detransition, Baby, It was recommended by my good friend, Emily Brontë. She’s a big fan.” Author Joanne Harris wrote, “If you’re expecting me to believe that you’re not secretly ashamed of your opinions, or embarrassed by your allies, then maybe don’t hide behind a dead person’s identity whilst simultaneously trying to strip someone living of theirs.”

Peters’ publisher Serpent’s Tail subsequently offered free copies of Detransition, Baby to readers. Author Anna James led a group of individuals buying 50 copies to donate to readers via Twitter. And feminist bookshop The Second Shelf has sold more than 130 copies in a day, donating £1 of each sale to trans-related organisations.

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.”

The organisers added that the prize’s eligibility had not changed since its inception: “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.”

A week after her nomination in March, Peters wrote: “I am proud, but I received, for the first time in my life, a real outpouring of hate – which hurt my feelings and scared me, as it was intended to do … Historically, anytime someone from a marginalised group gets recognised by an award for the first time it’s not necessarily a bucket of fun – but I hope, for the next trans girl to be on this list – it can be.”