In this interview print contributor Danielle Rose catches up with trans writer Torrey Peters, author of the novellas The Masker and Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones, to discuss her recent work and what it’s like to be a trans writer writing for trans audiences in a cis publishing world. Her essays and stories have been featured in Epoch, Brevity, Gawker, Best Travel Writing, WaveForm: Twenty-First Century Essays by women, and elsewhere.
Tell me a little about your background. Who is Torrey Peters? What made you want to become a writer?
I kind of began my writing career in a pretty traditional mainstream way, and have slowly gotten more weird and interested in doing things my own way as it has gone along. Before I transitioned I worked for the PBS NewsHour, which is probably the most staid news show on television right now—very popular among seniors. But Television news is really labor intensive—everyone has a little job and functions as a cog in a bigger project, so I switched to nonfiction writing for more autonomy and had some essays and things published in magazines. Then I transitioned, everything got harder and I discovered fiction by trans women for an implied audience of other trans women. That writing saved me, an experience that was so powerful for me, it’s pretty much all I want to do myself since (though I’m happy if other people read my work). I write about things very specific to trans women’s experiences, and which if I weren't writing for trans women, might seem like airing dirty laundry: my two novellas The Masker and Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones are about, respectively, forced feminization and sissy fantasies and intra-trans conflict, and the one I’m working on now deals with things like trans motherhood, detransition, and bug-chasing.
Where do you draw inspiration for your writing from?
Mostly from being in conversation with other trans women. I mean that socially, in terms of the art we produce, and in trying to love other trans women (and through them myself) even though that latter project is often super frustrating.
What is your impression of the publishing world, from the perspective of a trans writer? Are trans and queer voices served?
Uh. No. Trans as a subject is having a moment, but as with many other minorities before us, mainstream publishing tends to want to tell our story for us, shaping it to answer the curiosities of a cis readership rather than allowing trans and queer writers to tell our own stories. There are so many different experiences of being trans or queer, but in the publishing world, not only are the tellers of those stories often cis or straight, but you can count the types of narratives that get disseminated in the mainstream on one hand. Trans stuff in the mainstream tends towards explaining what it means to be trans, rather than what it’s like to live a trans life. Casey Plett lays much of this out in much more detail in an essay she published in The Walrus.
In your writing you've dealt with several topics, like forced feminization and detransitioning, that are often considered taboo and are rarely discussed, even within the trans community. Have you experienced any pushback as a result? Why do you feel these are important stories to tell?
I think the danger of talking about something like forced feminization isn’t necessarily the fact that the subject itself is taboo or shocking (which is a level of pushback so basic that I find it uninteresting), the danger lies in conclusions we have to draw when we honestly reckon with those subjects. For instance, pretty much every queer agrees that trans women are women. But not everyone is willing to look at the ways trans women’s sexuality—by dint of shame, life experience, different bodies, et cetera—might not look exactly like cis women’s sexuality.
When you stop centering cis women’s sexuality as the standard of women’s sexuality and you begin to claim that trans women’s sexuality is equally valid as cis women’s sexuality—it means that women-only spaces, if they want to be inclusive to ALL women, must re-examine aspects of sexuality frequently deemed dangerous or male: namely, sexuality that might involve penises, or working through shame about femininity as seen through the male gaze.
Subjects like forced feminization ask us to question those presumptions, and more to the point, they make the dangerous case that what a majority of women have previously labeled male, or triggering, or traumatizing, might actually be a type of womanhood, one that belongs in women’s’ spaces and as a part of women’s’ sexuality. That kind of claim tends to get emotions going and receive a lot of pushback because it demands not just acceptance of trans women into womanhood as it now exists, but a change in how cis women think about and apply the idea of womanhood in general.
Largely, I think trans women are happy I'm talking about this stuff, because it's exhausting to pretend that you are totally like all cis women ever. A few have pushed back, along the lines of respectability politics. Like: "Torrey, we're barely accepted as it is, if you start talking about the forced femme that a whole us jerk off to, everyone will think we're dangerous perverts, so chill with that shit." There's a long history of transmisogyny and gatekeeping around this kind of sexuality--but this answer has already become a whole essay, so I'll just say that if people want to know more, Jos Truitt's essay on Silence of the Lambs is a terrific intro.
Your most recent novella, Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones focused on the ethos of t4t. What does t4t mean to you?
In the book, one of the characters says: “t4t is a promise. You just promise to love trans girls above all else. The idea—although maybe not the practice—is that a girl could be your worst enemy, the girl you wouldn’t piss on to put out a fire, but if she’s trans, you’re gonna offer her your bed, you’re gonna share your last hormone shot…We aim high, trying to love each other and then we take what we can get. We settle for looking out for each other. And even if we don’t all love each other, we mostly all respect each other.”
I want to be clear that the t4t idea isn’t mine. T4T existed as a shared concept marked by tattoos before my novella. In my novella, I was having fun riffing in a fictional universe on a concept/ethos that already exists in reality.
That above sentence, for instance, came from conversations I had with Vivi Veronica and Clutch Fleischmann, who were some of the first people to get a t4t tattoo, and I got my own tattoo from Vivi. But obviously, the reality of trying to love other trans women is a whole lot more difficult than a slogan or ethos and the book (even though it’s post-apocalyptic) is about how hard that project can become, and what you gain and what you lose when you make a worldview that is entirely trans.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have so many, but I think interviews like this are a chance to bring attention to work that doesn’t get a whole bunch of attention elsewhere, so maybe I can use this moment to mention Metonymy Press in Canada, which this year published two novels by trans women of color, Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yan, and Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom. Both authors work beautifully with language, and tell trans stories from perspectives that I don’t often see elsewhere. http://metonymypress.com/books/
What advice would you give to aspiring trans/queer writers?
Just write the stuff you would want to read and can’t find. Write about the stuff that turns you on, the stuff that makes you sad. If you feel it, and you can’t find work about it, that means there are probably other people who also want to read that sort of thing, which means that from the start, you have that hardest-to-get-commodity: a readership hungry for your writing.
Do you have any projects you're working on now?
I’m writing a novella on trans motherhood and de-transition.
Where can people find more of your work?
www.torreypeters.com, and my twitter, @torreypeters
Danielle Rose is a fairy princess riding a unicorn across a rainbow, or perhaps just another starry eyed trans girl from Atlanta trying to make a difference in the world. When not waxing all poetic-like she likes eating pizza and being a sarcastic bitch.