Thursday, August 9, 2018

Books: "Amateur" By Thomas Page McBee

Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man
By Thomas Page McBee
Scribner, 224 pages, $24.00, available Tuesday, August 14

Thomas Page McBee is the first transgender man to ever box in Madison Square Garden, and in his new book Amateur, he explores his relationship to violence as experienced in a man's body, while wrestling with the larger issue of what healthy masculinity looks like in our society.

McBee gives a powerful, nuanced exploration of masculinity through the eyes of a new man. Written in a visual and intimate style, this is a compelling narrative of self-definition and a roadmap for new possibilities.

It is clear from events of the past few years that we are at a potential turning point in our understanding of men's roles in the world. 

Thomas Page McBee.
McBee writes of his transition into being a man while the "masculinity crisis" was gaining steam, "The first few years I'd injected testosterone coincided with a period of anxious headlines about men in economic turmoil. Post-recession, a surge in suicides, drug addiction, and even beards were all blamed on a broader insecurity about the massive loss of jobs and the sake-up of male-led households after the crash. It was dubbed a global 'masculinity crisis.' (This idea, not new in academic circles, now caught fire in popular culture.) In the United States, the story went, men were (sometimes reluctantly) becoming stay-at-home dads, or going back to school in traditionally female-dominated fields such as nursing, or - to avoid doing that - moving back in with their parents and playing video games all day. It was, according to a 2010 cover story in The Atlantic, 'the end of men.' 

"A certain sort of man - white, rural, older - it seemed, was disappearing, and dying, and killing, and overdosing. These men did seem to be in crisis, in the broadest possible sense. But it did not appear to be the end of masculinity, at least not to me. From the moment the testosterone kicked in, nearly everyone around me was invested in educating me in how to ape the strong-and-silent stereotype of the man whose reign was 'over' - a socialization that involved relentless policing by strangers and friends alike, and across gender, geographic, and socioeconomic lines. Whatever compelled these instructions, they seemed core to manhood itself,and maybe that's why I became obsessed with chronicling the 'masculinity crisis' -  both the unfolding economic fallout that stemmed from a fundamentalist gender narrative linking masculinity to work, and the way I found its many echoes in my own experience of dislocation in this body. Because of my conditioning, I suspected that the 'crisis' was far more complex than people understood, that its root cause was far deeper than class and race and 'tradition,' that the bedrock of the crisis was inherent in masculinity itself, and therefore it encompassed all men, even the ones who felt they successfully defied outdated conventions. It was, after all, the men who read books on emotional intelligence and wore tailored shirts who often advised me, with the casual, camouflaged sexism of the urbane, to treat dating like warfare, or to dominate meetings with primate body language.

"It seemed to me that being in crisis was a natural reaction to being a man, any man, even if that wasn't precisely what anyone else meant."

In 2015, while training for a charity boxing match, McBee embarked on a mission to uncover how to live as a man while remaining conscious of his privilege, supportive of the women in his life, and aligned with his most authentic self, writing, "The expectation that I not be afraid juxtaposed against the fear I inspired in a woman, alone on a dark street; the growing awareness that nobody touched me anymore; the silencing effect of my voice in a meeting, the unearned presumption of my competence, my power, my potential."

McBee mixes in research and analysis with the story of his training, and traces the relationship between masculinity and violence and explores how we can move toward a healthier idea of what it means to be a man.

This is McBee's second book, coming on the heels of his Lambda Award-winning book, Man Alive, which was named a best book of 2014 by NPR, BuzzFeed, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly.

AUTHOR APPEARANCE: Thomas Page McBee will be discussing Amateur with BuzzFeed's AM to DM Saeed Jones at the Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201) on Wednesday, August 15 from 6:30 - 8:00 PM.

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