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Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,829 ratings  ·  245 reviews
From an award-winning writer whose work bristles with “hard-won strength, insight, agility, and love” (Maggie Nelson), an exquisite and troubling narrative of masculinity, violence, and society.

In this groundbreaking new book, the author, a trans man, trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between mas
Hardcover, 205 pages
Published August 14th 2018 by Scribner (first published August 2nd 2018)
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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 follo ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, quiltbag
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 ...more
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
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-reads, lgbtq
“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 tha ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 b ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
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 la ...more
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 conventio
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... artifici ...more
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.
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 exa
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.
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jan 04, 2019 added it
Shelves: audiobooks
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.
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A stunningly beautiful look at gender, identity, feminism, masculinity, privilege, humanity, and connection. There are so many incredible quotes in this book, you could highlight the whole thing. “I thought about being a white man in America. I thought about my pay raises, the assumptions of competency, the 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 birthright. I thought ...more
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Esther Espeland
Dec 03, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars! This was an easy, quick read. I liked his first book more for sure
Tom Mooney
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
An astonishing, enthralling read on many levels. This is both a thoughtful, sensible exploration of masculinity and also an intriguing, engaging piece of sports journalism.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This might be my new favorite book. What a powerful read. To think about what it's like to be a man when you know first-hand how the world feels for women... incredible. Truly incredible.
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 with ...more
Ryan Mishap
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent personal and societal examination of varying masculine identities and stereotypes and the effects on individuals, families, and culture.

As a society, we're still coming to grips with the rigid binary of gender being challenged as immutable. This is a book that goes a long way to question and explain gender; being a man, woman, or trans; and locating in our bodies who we are.

Highly recommended.
Oct 09, 2019 rated it liked it
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.
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The thing about boxing, everyone says, is that you can’t hide who you are in the ring. But what they don’t tell you is that you also can’t hide how you feel.”

Memoirs or reflective-type stories tend to be my all-time favorite genre/go-to-reads because I always learn something from them. This book was no different. Thomas Page McBee is a transgender man who details his experiences leading up to and after a boxing match in Madison Square Garden. He was the first transgender man to ever box at Mad
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thomas Page McBee is a transgender man who is struggling with how to deal with masculinity. After transitioning, he has numerous instances of being met with physical aggression by strangers. This book recounts his time training for a boxing match at Madison Square Gardens as he processes what masculinity is to him and the role aggression plays in that.

The most interesting parts of this book to me were McBee's descriptions of what is was like to look like a man after beginning to inject testoste
Jul 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Once again I don't know how tf to rate memoirs but I'm going with a 3 here simply because I don't really know what else to give it. I didn't dislike it by any means, but I also didn't have any strong feelings about it nor did it make me feel anything. It was more interesting to me from an intellectual standpoint.

I appreciated reading about the author's views on masculinity and femininity. Mostly he talks about these in relation to himself, but he also will at various points talk about how it af
Viv JM
This is an engaging and thought provoking look at masculinity and gender. Thomas Page McBee is a transgender man and journalist who signed up to fight a charity boxing match, making him the first transgender man ever to fight in Madison Square Garden. The fact that he has stood on both sides of the gender divide gives him a fascinating insight and there were certain things that really struck me like how he noticed after having his first doses of testosterone and gaining a deeper voice, people su ...more
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
[2018] A trans man training for a charity boxing fight and exploring violence, his relationship to men - and women for that matter - what it means to be a man, and more. Part personal, part universal. Originally a story written for Quartz, for whom he worked, that turned into this book. I tend to raise an eyebrow when a writer creates a specific goal or mission or challenge just so they can write about it, but that said, I also often really like those stories anyway. So many difficult questions ...more
Robin Kempf
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exploring the concept of masculinity, a trans man enters the “hyper-masculine” world of boxing. But is it truly?

This autobiography is quite interesting. I found it quite helpful to understand more about the trans experience and how one becomes comfortable in expressing themselves after transitioning. That said, I felt that good old gender stereotypes were emphasized, even though McBee was trying to subvert them and even though everyone around him, his mom, his girlfriend, his trainer, even his
Adrian Brown
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thomas Page McBee writes beautifully about the struggle of masculinity, having had the unique opportunity to live/see it from both sides. There's a lot about fighting in this book, and while I love to strap on some gloves and punch it out as much as the next girl, I finished the book still wanting a deeper dive into masculinity outside of fighting...and I really like hitting things! My queer ladies book club enjoyed the book and the topic felt almost too close for comfort, as our meeting was hel ...more
Nov 29, 2018 rated it liked it
A unique and important perspective on gender and the culture of masculinity; truly, this was a fascinating read. The ideas and story are well worth reading. I had some trouble reconciling the content with the way it was presented, though, and maybe that's just a personal thing. Since this is about the author's experience learning to box, there are a lot of boxing scenes, which are often accompanied by McBee's various ruminations. These scenes felt bogged down to me in a way that didn't suit the ...more
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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 Mad

Articles featuring this book

This June, as we observe LGBTQ Pride Month—the annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/...
97 likes · 74 comments
“Deconstructing the man box and the harm it causes every body, male, female, and otherwise, begins with challenging that idea and offering, in its place, the reality of our actual bodies. To build equitable relationships and societies, to create a world free of unwanted violence, to tackle the masculinity crisis—we must first acknowledge how we each are failing, right now, to see the full spectrum of humanity in ourselves and in others.” 2 likes
“The next time I found myself behind a woman running alone, I thought, I would do what I wished men had done for me: I would announce myself. 'Passing on your right!' I'd call. I would be careful to give her a wide berth. I would be aware that my body was, for much of the world, a weapon until proven otherwise. People sometimes think that being trans means I live 'between' worlds, but that's not exactly true. If anything, it has just created within me a potential for empathy that I must work every day, like a muscle, to grow.” 1 likes
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