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Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man

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*Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction
*Shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award
*Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize

One of The Times UK’s Best Memoirs of 2018, BuzzFeed’s Best Nonfiction of 2018, Autostraddle’s Best LGBT Books of 2018, and 52 Insight’s Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2018

A “no-holds-barred examination of masculinity” (BuzzFeed) and violence from award-winning author Thomas Page McBee.

In this “refreshing and radical” (The Guardian) narrative, Thomas McBee, a trans man, sets out to uncover what makes a man—and what being a “good” man even means—through his experience training for and fighting in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden. A self-described “amateur” at masculinity, McBee embarks on a wide-ranging exploration of gender in society, examining sexism, toxic masculinity, and privilege. As he questions the limitations of gender roles and the roots of masculine aggression, he finds intimacy, hope, and even love in the experience of boxing and in his role as a man in the world. Despite personal history and cultural expectations, “Amateur is a reminder that the individual can still come forward and fight” (The A.V. Club).

“Sharp and precise, open and honest,” (Women’s Review of Books), McBee’s writing asks questions “relevant to all people, trans or not” (New York Newsday). Through interviews with experts in neuroscience, sociology, and critical race theory, he constructs a deft and thoughtful examination of the role of men in contemporary society. Amateur is a graceful and uncompromising look at gender by a fearless, fiercely honest writer.

Runtime: 3 hours and 38 minutes

205 pages, Hardcover

First published August 2, 2018

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About the author

Thomas Page McBee

2 books329 followers
Thomas Page McBee’s Lambda award-winning memoir, Man Alive, was named a best book of 2014 by NPR Books, BuzzFeed, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly. His “refreshing [and] radical” (The Guardian) new book, Amateur, a reported memoir about learning how to box in order to understand masculinity’s tie to violence, was published in August to wide acclaim.
Thomas was the first transgender man to box in Madison Square Garden, a “masculinity expert” for VICE, and the author of the columns “Self-Made Man” for the Rumpus and “The American Man” for Pacific Standard. His current column, "Amateur," is for Condé Nast's Them. A former senior editor at Quartz, his essays and reportage have appeared in the New York Times, Playboy, and Glamour.
Thomas has taught courses at the City University of New York’s graduate school of journalism; served as an advisor to the Knight Foundation/West Virginia University journalism school reporting project, 100 Days in Appalachia; and worked as a television writer for the forthcoming Netflix show, Tales of the City.
He is passionate about the importance of diversity in media, and speaks and teaches about related topics all over the country. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 432 reviews
Profile Image for Caden.
32 reviews12 followers
October 11, 2018
I have asked myself questions about what masculinity is countless times; I think Thomas was the first to give me an answer I was satisfied with.
As a trans guy interested in better understanding myself, I have read plenty of books that spoke about transitioning and finding one's place in a newly-perceived identity but within the same flesh and blood. This book provided an refreshingly honest look into one man's life and how he navigates through those questions. Too often, I think, it is easy to get caught up in the negativity of masculinity, the way it can erode away a man, a society, a loved one looking on. Thomas is able to articulate, validate, disprove....--- just speak truth to these concepts in a way that, frankly, I have a hard time re-articulating but firmly believe. He reveals beauty in the identity of manhood that I think I myself was having a hard time seeing. He is able to capture the fight I know for myself that took place - that takes place - moving from one realm to another in a way that no other book I have read has been able to accomplish. Thomas Page McBee validates my reality in a way I did not know I needed but am thankful to have found.
Overall, Thomas' awareness of self, perceived and actual, are truly heroic. I found myself nodding a lot while reading, stopping to contemplate an exchange he highlighted, a feeling within my core of the joy one feels when witnessing the making of a man knowing himself.
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews205 followers
April 20, 2019
Only four years after finally getting the male body he always knew he was, transman Thomas McBee convinces an editor to enter him in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden. No, he's never boxed before. He mostly runs, and that's the kind of body he has: 5'6" tall, and 130 pounds (skinny, for anyone who thinks in metric and not US measurements). Since becoming perceived as fully male rather than female or not-quite-defined, Thomas has found himself in unnerving confrontations with random men who want to fight him, and learning something about fighting seems like a practical response. Immersing himself in New York's boxing gyms and learning how to fight forces him to spend a lot of time thinking about maleness, culture, socialization, and why it's assumed that men are just "naturally" violent and prone to fighting. (It helps that he gets paid to research and write about this for his job.)

This volume doesn't cover a lot of ground that hasn't been explored and written about in any number of other books about society and gender. BUT, it pulls a lot of that ground together in one easy-to-read (because the writing style flows really well), relatively short book that is intersectional and also deeply personal. I am, as always, fond of any book that uses sports/athletic endeavor to highlight social/cultural/political issues. Also, this is the only book about gender issues that I know of that's written by a transman, and it would make a good companion volume to Whipping Girl which explores femininity from the perspective of a transwoman.

But whoa, the differences between becoming a socially-recognized man versus becoming a socially-recognized woman! Thomas writes about how his voice became very deep shortly after he started on testosterone, and how all of a sudden people began to actually listen to him, rather than talking over him at meetings, or interrupting him all the time. On one hand, he's painfully aware of this and how he was never treated with this kind of respect when he was seen and heard as female, even though he's saying the exact same things. On the other hand, he finds himself easily falling into this newfound male privilege, and talking over and interrupting women himself all the time now that he's seen as having more authority. He tells a self-shaming story about how he and his brother both shut their sister down and right out of a conversation about boxing -- even though she probably knows more about it than either of them -- and it took Thomas's girlfriend pointing it out later for him to even notice. (He eventually apologized, but not before struggling for a while with the idea that men should never apologize for anything.) He also gets hired for a job based on his "potential," something that never got applied to him when he was seen as a woman.

These stories made me so angry, because what are women supposed to do to get taken seriously? If even a man who has experienced being talked over and interrupted all the time can't stop himself from doing those things once he gets the "right" to do so, what hope is there for men who've grown up with this as their birthright, so accepted that it's invisible? It doesn't seem practical or desirable for every cis-woman to start using testosterone to get deep voices so people will listen to us, so it's really frustrating to read about how easily women's voices are dismissed by, sadly, both men and other women. (Maybe someday we can type what we want to say into our phones and they will speak it with the deepest most boomingest voices ever? But I'd rather be taken seriously with the voice I have.)

I will also confess that Thomas's experiences ticked me off because I've got two inches in height and 40 pounds, much of it muscle, on him, which do nothing to gain me any respect among men outside of an athletic environment. (Men often either ignore my athleticism, or, worse, openly resent it and act like I stole either their or someone else's masculinity somehow. Hahahahaha, I laugh hollowly. If only!) It's only that all-important perception of maleness, especially straight white maleness, that counts in the world.

Which makes it sound like it should be really easy to just start functioning as a man, what with all the respect and privilege now being thrown his way, but I was touched by how much Thomas struggled with trying to figure out what the "guy rules" are. He discovers that men police each other all the time, lest other men somehow ruin all masculinity by not being masculine enough. This stuff kicked me in the gut, because I grew up in a very boy family where I got socialized with guy rules along with my brothers (never show emotion (except anger and contempt)! never show weakness! don't use words to try to get what you want: use your body to dominate! never ask questions or for directions! never show empathy! shrug off any offers of empathy towards you because you're tough and don't need it! try to make women express emotion for you! etc), none of which worked for me (a) as a woman because people are appalled by women acting like this, and (b) as a human being -- I've spent a lot of my adult life suffering from these lessons and trying to unlearn them. And it's my (b) there that Thomas (and some other men) seem to find themselves feeling constrained by and frustrated over. How can you be a full human being if you're cutting yourself off from so much human experience? Particularly in places like the US, where "being a man" is largely defined as "not being a woman," what does that negative allow a person to be? If women are strong, intelligent, creative, honorable, protective, self-sufficient, etc., what are men allowed to be if they're trying to define themselves as "not"?

The other point that really struck me was a discussion about what counts as a "legitimate target" for aggression. Male violence may be viewed as something we all just have to live with and accept/tolerate, but men aren't allowed to beat up other men who have power over them (employers, for instance), no matter what kind of jerks those powerful men may be. So there also have to be people that frustrated, angry men feel entitled to dominate -- people who are weaker and/or have less power. But at the same time, aren't men supposed to protect people who are weaker and have less power? (I tend to feel highly protective of women who are smaller and weaker than I am, for instance. Sometimes I wonder how much of our gender beliefs are based on size and strength, rather than hormones or anything else "inherent" to our make-up.) So the idea that it's "manly" to harm smaller, weaker, powerless beings seems to me like a potential source of major cognitive dissonance.

I'll end my long essay here. But as you can tell from this review, this book provides lots to think about regarding what "makes" a man. And, in connection, what "makes" a woman. Or a human being. This book makes a solid argument that we should all be chafing at the straitjacket of gender constraints, and aiming to be as fully human, period, as we can manage.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,606 reviews2,578 followers
August 6, 2018
Thomas Page McBee was the first transgender man to box at Madison Square Garden. In his second memoir, which arose from a Quartz article entitled “Why Men Fight,” he recounts the training leading up to his charity match and ponders whether aggression is a natural male trait. McBee grew up in a small town outside Pittsburgh with a stepfather who sexually abused him from age four. In 2011 he started the testosterone injections that would begin his gender transformation. During the years that followed, other men seemed to pick fights with him fairly often, and he was unsure what to do about it. Finally, in 2015, the Manhattan editor decided to confront the belligerent male stereotype by starting boxing training.

What I most appreciated were the author’s observations of how others have related to him since his transition. He notices that he’s taken more seriously at work as a man, and that he can be an object of fear – when jogging behind a woman at night, for instance. One of the most eye-opening moments of the book is when he realizes that he’s been talking over his own sister. Thankfully, McBee is sensitive enough to stop and change, recognizing that kindness and vulnerability are not faults but attributes any person should be proud of.

I have a feeling I would have preferred his previous memoir, Man Alive, which sounds like it has more about the transition itself. Jonathan Eig’s biography of Muhammad Ali is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and in comparison I didn’t find the boxing writing here very interesting. Likewise, this pales beside two similar but more perceptive books I’ve read that have been hugely influential on my own understanding of gender identity: Conundrum by Jan Morris and The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Gafas y Ojeras.
239 reviews192 followers
October 4, 2021

Muchos pensamientos se acumulan en mi cabeza tras haber leído esta especie de memorias en las que Thomas Page MacBee nos narra su proceso de transición tras haberse sometido a su intervención de cambio de género. Lo hace en primera persona desarmando cada uno de sus miedos, mostrando todas las consecuencias que supone el tener que asimilar una decisión como esa y cuestionándose como sus cambios van más allá de lo que uno puede apreciar en el espejo.
Y es que, para poder narrar todo ese proceso, decide explorar los límites de la masculinidad explorando un mundo que, a priori, representase todo lo que uno asocia con esa compleja palabra, subiendo a un cuadrilátero en donde tendrá que enfrentarse no solo a su contrincante sino a la sociedad que le rodea, sus amigos y compañeros, su familia y, sobre todo, a sí mismo.
De ese modo, podemos sentir todas las reflexiones que van surgiendo por la cabeza de Thomas al mismo tiempo que él las va narrando, siendo partícipe de sus cambios , de su avances, sus miedos y, por encima de todo, de las dudas que le supone el cuestionarse quién es realmente y como tiene que comportarse en un mundo que es nuevo para él. Todo eso invitándote a ti como lector a que seas tú el que le acompañe en todas esas dudas y que pongas sobre la mesa los miles de prejuicios que tienes interiorizado y a los que apena habías prestado atención.
De hecho, la propia lectura de estas memorias no deja de ser una invitación adentrarte en unas letras que ya habías prejuzgado de antes. Cuestiones de identidad de género, de qué significa ser un auténtico hombre, de cómo reaccionan los propios hombres ante un adversario que sube al cuadrilátero siendo diferente, de como nuestro pasado puede influir en nuestra actitud, de como te comportas en función del lugar en el que te encuentras…van deslizándose a lo largo de las páginas fragmentando todas las expectativas que hubieses creado antes de la lectura de este libro. Puesto que es el propio autor el que se muestra crítico con sus propios actos, evitando todo tipo de estereotipos y centrando la atención en su propia experiencia sin tratar de dogmatizar al respecto, lo que universaliza su discurso, irónicamente, en cada uno de nosotros. Así, en más de una ocasión tienes conciencia de como aquellos gestos que das por cotidianos merecen una ligera e individual revisión teniendo que enfrentarte tú mismo a un combate que va mucho más allá de romperte la cara.
Todo eso dentro de un mundo en el que el sudor y la testosterona acompañan cada uno de los movimientos del escritor. Un mundo que se siente fascinante, lleno de un profundo respeto por las personas y que, en definitiva, regresa a la tesis principal que nos ofrece Thomas Page en este libro. ¿Qué es lo que nos convierte en hombres y qué es lo que podemos entender como un hombre de verdad?
Un libro fascinante que te llena de todo tipo de cuestiones y de los que se leerá en más de una ocasión.
Profile Image for Maia.
Author 27 books2,269 followers
March 27, 2020
This slim text is unbelievably rich. I read it in just a few days but it really deserves to be lingered over- I have a library copy that I can't return because of the Covid-virus closed library system, so I might wait a few weeks and just read it again. McBee is a trans man, a survivor of childhood sexual assault and a journalist who became interested in the question of why men fight. He pitched a story on the topic to Quartz magazine, and then spent the next five months training for a charity boxing match in Madison Square Garden to investigate the subject. This book traces that five month journey, and also dips into other glimpses of his life- the death of his mother; meeting his future wife; the birth of his brother's first child; encountering his abuser as an adult. McBee finds the world of charity boxers a space of camaraderie and tenderness, where men face fears and joyfully celebrate violence. He weaves many quotes and pieces of research throughout the text, studies of marriage, gender, race, boyhood, homophobia, identity, masculinity, and male friendships.
Profile Image for Ryan.
230 reviews88 followers
December 22, 2018
“I thought about being a white man in America. I thought about my pay raises, the assumptions of competency, the sudden freedom to walk alone at night, the way my body has transitioned from threatened to threat. I thought about the advantages thrown at me for an aesthetic that looked like a birthright. I thought about passing, and how it erased a part of me, and how hormones responded to context, and how race and masculinity were inventions that benefited me, and what I could do to challenge that (152-153).”

I want to preface this by saying that I am trying to be a better advocate for rights across all spectrums and sometimes I might say something that isn't inherently true or might come across the wrong way. I want to be the best ally that I can be, so if anything is wrong, please let me know, so I can change the way I behave.

I want to give this to everyone I know because it is such an inspiring story that offers a lot of insight into a world that a lot of us don't understand. I will never know the plights of a trans person, but I can learn to walk around in their skin. To understand the hardships, the confusion, and the external and internal struggles that go with being a trans person.

This is about the first transgender person, Thomas Page McBee, to box in Madison Square Garden, and what it means to be a man. I found this read fascinating because I have never once thought about what it must be like to re-enter the world as a different gender. The advantages received from being a man and falling into the habits of toxic masculinity in order to fit his gendered role in society. All the inner conflicts he has tells a greater story of what it is like being a trans individual in Trump's America.

He was always able to look at his life before and after the transition and offer us a real look at the gender inequalities he has faced on both sides. His Before self was always shut out from promotions, underpaid, and would receive less credibility. His After self can gain the attention of every single person in a room gets promotions, and pay raises. Trans people have the best understanding of what the gender gap is like having lived on both sides of it. We are so busy fitting ourselves into boxes, and never stepping out of them, that we don't take the time to learn how our actions are damaging to society. The worst part is that so much of our toxic actions happen subconsciously. I think that having gender roles in place has really hampered what it means to be human.

I think in order for a memoir to be effective it has to expand your mind. I learned so much in so few pages and I will always remember this book when I think of the internal and external fights that trans individuals must face every day.
Profile Image for Eli.
120 reviews8 followers
October 25, 2018
Eh. It was particularly interesting to read this immediately following reading Janet Mock’s newest memoir, which I devoured in less than 24 hours. This one I had to take breaks from and come back to because, frankly, I got sick of him. I as a transmasculine person am desperate for stories with which I can identify, but oddly I identified more with her story and her analysis than with his, a story about a man training to box and grappling with questions about masculinity and violence that felt lacking in depth and hinged on a gender binary he never really questioned. I appreciated his awareness and mention of people’s work about the intersections of race, class, and gender and the ways that whiteness has always been used to shore up masculinity, and vice versa, but I think even here he misses important points about power and the systems that determine normative bodies, as evidenced by his seeming confusion that class was also in the above intersection—because rich white cis het men want to preserve their power. But everyone knows this, right? McBee presents it as if it is news, and with a much less thorough understanding than Mock’s. Eh.
Profile Image for Austen.
Author 4 books55 followers
December 14, 2018
I'm so thankful for the way McBee put into words so much of what I've often felt about masculinity. I don't know if I've ever felt as seen as I did reading this book. This is an important read, not just for other trans men, but for people of all genders who are trying to figure out what to do with the social power they've been given.
Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 53 books565 followers
February 13, 2023
A short volume of nonfiction about the author's experience learning to box, in order to participate in a charity match - while being a trans man.

I had no idea about charity matches, and the whole scene of upper-class people boxing because it's fashionable or "against cancer" - so this was interesting and new to me. I also liked the fight descriptions. I do know the basics of boxing, which I learned in an inner-city gym in Budapest a long time ago, so my boxing experience was different. I used to do full-contact combat sports both with men and with women, and neither was quite right - but in my case more related to being intersex than to being trans.

I thought long and hard about how much to mention my (really rather limited!) experience. It makes me kind of uncomfortable, but I feel I need to; because ultimately a lot of my issues with the book were that my experiences with boxing just did not fit into the author's rather binary framework of thinking about gender. I would have liked to see some acknowledgment that nonbinary people exist, that intersex people exist. Obviously this isn't going to be the focus of a personal narrative of someone who is neither, but I kept on thinking that there was more to gender - and also to sex, and to sexed and gendered sports practices - than shown in this book. Or even just, what about women who box and men who don't box? There was some discussion of this, related to the author sparring with a woman at the gym at one point, but I would have liked more. How much can we understand men's masculinity without understanding men's femininity? I'm not sure.

I was also left unsure why McBee decided to do this project, and how it fit into his life both before and after the events of training for the match. I understand the need to make the book tight and snappy, but this relative ungroundedness made the narrative come across as stunt-like even though it was deeply felt; so the form did not match the content. I would've liked a more in-depth engagement with boxing, masculinity and transness. Or class and race, for that matter - they came up, were briefly discussed, but I didn't feel any new understanding was reached. There were two places where the discussion didn't work for me; mostly it was the usual somewhat-left-wing white American acknowledgement of privilege that you've seen elsewhere.

Overall the experiences were interesting, but what was concluded from them felt to me like it needed a lot more elaboration, and also engagement with trans literatures in general; to avoid the usual pitfalls and oversimplifications.

This might seem strange after I criticized the book so much, but I was glad to have read it - I'd love there to be many more trans sports books from an interior perspective, even if I had various qualms about this one. It was a fast, dynamic read too, I finished it in one sitting even though I had something else I'd planned on reading.
Source of the book: Lawrence Public Library
Profile Image for Valeria Midobuche.
278 reviews25 followers
January 11, 2022
“Las reglas que ahora regían mi vida: Los hombres no huyen. No dejes que te dominen. No pidas perdón cuando es a ti a quien están molestando. No te hagas de menos. No le sonrías a los extraños. No muestres debilidad”

Thomas Page no nació en el cuerpo de un hombre, así que en sus primeros años fue tratado como una mujer. Sabe lo que es que te miren y te traten de dos maneras muy opuestas, pero siempre cargadas de prejuicios. Cuando su cambio físico se hizo visible, los desconocidos le trataban de manera diferente y sus conocidos le daban consejos sobre cómo comportarse. ¿Por qué no podía seguir siendo la persona que era?
Este libro es la reflexión del autor, bastante bien documentada y escrita, sobre la pregunta ¿qué es ser un hombre?
Profile Image for Rosamund Taylor.
Author 1 book122 followers
June 28, 2021
Originally a piece of journalism, this account describes McBee learning to box in order to take part in a charity boxing match. McBee is trans, and wanted to learn about the hyper-macho world of boxing in order to better understand masculinity and his own relationship with being a man. Like many pieces of work that began as journal articles, this narrative doesn't entirely fit together, and thought it's less than 200 pages, still feels long. McBee describes the world of boxing gyms, and the meeting of working class and wealthy worlds within them. He interrogates the ways in which boxing reflects masculine ideals, and the ways in which fighting in the ring allows men to take care of one another and break down the artificial barriers created by toxic masculinity. However, McBee is specifically looking at one form of masculinity -- white, American, traditional -- and the book lacked scope, focusing too much on very simplistic concepts. Like many American writers, McBee approaches specifically white, American problems as though they are universal, and doesn't realise he's blinkered. There is some beautiful writing in here, and McBee writes about the boxers he meets with great tenderness, and evokes the tensions of the fights in a palpable way, but I think this would have functioned better as an essay or article and doesn't hold together as a longer piece.
Profile Image for K.
272 reviews3 followers
January 4, 2019
This is worth the read, but its weaknesses are hard to overlook. It seems to be part of some sort of publishing boom in trans memoirs, and while I'm grateful that there are more books to fill the demand, this one fell short for me. I guess it's because I've heard many parallel insights about the tragedy of contemporary toxic masculinity from other GNC, transmasculine, and transmen or even other books (Stone Butch Blues comes to mind). From that perspective, the conceit of boxing felt... artificial or even overblown. I liked the book's framing question--why do men fight? But the answer never felt like the author believed it. Perhaps this would have been much better in a shorter form, say a "long read" or a piece in the New Yorker. The author certainly excels in those forms and I hope that as he grows as an author, his books get more solid.
Profile Image for Juan Naranjo.
Author 2 books2,343 followers
January 27, 2019
Qué importante es que la cultura popular escuche voces minoritarias y, hasta muy recientemente, silenciadas. La transexualidad masculina sigue siendo un tema del que se habla poco en todos los ambientes, por eso es trascendental que le demos voz a las personas que viven esta realidad para que los demás podamos comprenderla con mayor profundidad y verdad.
El testimonio en primera persona de este periodista trans es un ejercicio literario que mezcla la autoficci��n, el periodismo y el ensayo. Al contarnos su historia, Thomas nos habla de un millón de cosas trascendentales: sobre de qué hablamos cuando hablamos de masculinidad; sobre la experiencia de transición; sobre los cambios de paradigma que, respecto al género, estamos viviendo en los últimos años; sobre el machismo; sobre los privilegios masculinos; sobre encontrarse a uno mismo.
Este testimonio literario tiene un valor enorme en un sentido antropológico y social.
Profile Image for Herbie.
203 reviews69 followers
February 9, 2019
I tore through this like a man trying to run a 6 minute mile. I don’t know. In the end I came to find some lovely moments here, but for much it, I was a bit detached and disappointed. In the opening, I was disappointed in what felt like rushed editing and a lot of confused chronology. Perhaps this is unfair, but I wonder if the book shows its age too much as something that was written before the 2016 election. The treatment of the “crisis of masculinity” felt too light, as if it was written without the awareness that the crisis of masculinity could do Trump-level damage, mass shooting damage, neo-Nazi damage. There were also so many sentences that seem to hinge on the inherent poignancy of evoking the figure of the “man,” and a lot of these didn’t work for me. All in all, I just wanted a lot more: more minute theorizing of how gender works, more introspective questioning of the “realness” of the author’s manhood (not because he is trans, but because that insecurity about being a “real man” cannot be separated from masculinity). I probably put too much expectation on this book simply because, well, it’s one of the few literary memoirs by a trans man, and probably the only really current one that can speak to the condition of being a trans man in 2018.

But I don’t know. I’m still grateful for this book, for trans subjectivity, period. For locker room moments and conversations about scars and wondering whether other men are willing to take you seriously, to fight you seriously, if they know you’re trans. The end gets good. When it comes, I’d definitely read the second book by Thomas Page McBee.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,872 reviews556 followers
February 15, 2019
From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week:
Thomas Page McBee, a trans man, trains to fight in a charity match at New York's Madison Square Garden, while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence.

Through his experience of boxing - learning to get hit and to hit back, wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym, confronting the betrayals and strengths of his own body - McBee examines male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes and the limitations of conventional masculinity. It's a graceful and uncompromising exploration of living, fighting and healing.

Thomas Page McBee is a journalist and commentator currently living in New York. His first book, Man Alive (2014), was an account of the emotional and physical complexity underlying the process of gender reassignment, and also explored his early years and the sexual abuse he suffered, perpetrated by his stepfather. Amateur was shortlisted for the 2018 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.

Written and read by Thomas Page McBee
Abridged by Jill Waters
Produced by Jill Waters

A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4

Profile Image for Rebecca.
318 reviews55 followers
December 18, 2018
Maggie Nelson said that this book was like "sitting with someone uncurling his hands, than holding them out to you, open, so that you can behold all the hard-won strength, insight, agility and love to be found there" and I think that's true. This is a vital trans narrative about becoming and fighting and masculinity. There's bloodiness and tenacity in it, but also gentleness.
Profile Image for Gael.
50 reviews4 followers
August 17, 2022
Definitely one of my all time favorite books. I was tearing up in the subway finishing it. One day I'll write more about it but... shit. It just hits so hard considering the stage I'm at in life. Thank you, Thomas, for your beautiful writing.
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,184 reviews76 followers
May 12, 2019
I loved McBee’s first memoir, “Man Alive,” And was thrilled to pick up his latest and chat briefly with him at an event last fall. It was lovely to finally settle down to read it at last.

This is a thoughtful exploration of masculinity, written from an interesting perspective since, as a post-transition trans man, McBee has lived as both a woman and a man. He’s noticed that now his voice has deepened and he wields masculine authority, his words and presence are given more weight at work, for example. In an effort to be a feminist ally he’s finding that he needs to be mindful of speaking over women or inadvertently presenting a potential physical threat. Interesting stuff! I also thought how he applied and personalized academic work on ‘passing’ was very interesting. The narrative arc of the book is provided by his training to box in a charity match in Madison Square Garden, which gives him the opportunity to probe ideas about masculine aggression and male bonding in some really neat ways. As in “Man Alive,” I found him a very compassionate writer.
Profile Image for Sohan.
3 reviews
May 11, 2023
As a trans man who's still trying to navigate through masculinity after 4 years on testosterone, this book hits home. It felt so reassuring knowing that i wasn't the only having so many questions and so many doubts and the way Thomas put words on everything is absolutely wonderful. As someone who used to box years before transitioning and stopped because of what it would imply now that i transitionned, it kinda made me want to go to the gym again. Anyway, this is a compelling story and i think anyone who's looking for answers or just curious about gender, masculinity and everything that gravitates around it should give this a read.
Also i hope i didn't make too many mistakes in my sentences as English isn't my native language.
Take care of you, whoever might read this. and thank you Thomas for such an amazing journey through these pages.
Profile Image for Repix.
2,177 reviews411 followers
December 2, 2019
Interesante, fácil y rápido, aunque le falta profundidad.
Profile Image for Bel.
738 reviews53 followers
December 8, 2019
Fascinating exploration of masculinity by a trans man chronicling his training for an amateur boxing match. It's written in an easy journalistic style that disguises the serious, fundamental issues McBee seeks to understand.
Profile Image for Kirby.
57 reviews1 follower
January 17, 2023
so important to me - thank you Thomas Page McBee for helping me learn how to live as I need to
37 reviews
October 9, 2018
This book blew me away. I read pretty much everything I can find on masculinity and this was a one of a kind read. As a trans man McBee navigates a great deal of his external gender socialization with a deep attentiveness, tenderness, and patience. Watching the way he grabs a 'piece' of masculinity, rolls it around, looks at it, and considers if he wants it to be absorbed into his identity is powerful. It gives me hope for the challenge of becoming, of imagining new masculinities that break from a long history of violence, shame, and domination. What a great read.
Profile Image for Julia.
139 reviews5 followers
January 4, 2019
Listened to this as an audiobook read by the author. Beautifully written and very poetic story of the author’s journey training to take part in a charity boxing match in Madison Square Gardens as a trans man. Many thoughts about what it means to be a man and what’s wrong with a lot of images of masculinity. Would recommend to everyone.
Profile Image for Natalie.
314 reviews31 followers
October 10, 2019
Exactly what I was looking for. A straightforward memoir with thoughtful intellectual discussions of masculinty spliced in. A pretty fast read, read in three sitings. Not particularly deep but no complaints. I am on a mission to read more trans adult lit and nonfiction and this book usually is the first to come up when you search trans memoirs. Happy to cross it off a list. Very enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Amy.
192 reviews66 followers
June 16, 2020
Loved the exploration of the meaning of masculinity from an author who has lived both sides of it. The connection of the narrative to the author's experience in boxing was very clever, and the writing was great!
Profile Image for Axandre Lemours.
4 reviews1 follower
November 6, 2021
Loved reading Thomas's thoughts on masculinity - the evolution and complexity of what makes a man, what makes a GOOD man - framed against his experience as the first trans man to box at Madison Square Garden. Devoured it in a day and a half lol
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