Moray Teale's Reviews > Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man

Man Alive by Thomas Page McBee
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really liked it

Thomas Page McBee’s account of his decision to move from passing to full female-to-male transition is testament to how a personal story can be told simply but with huge power and heart. It isn’t an easy story to read, I can’t imagine how it was to live, as McBee explains his childhood abuse at the hands of his father and his struggle to come to terms with the potential relationship between this abuse and the development of his gender identity. Because at the heart of this story is the question, who and what makes a man? This man, who was born female. This part of the story, though difficult, is not graphic. It is told with delicacy and remarkable restraint, McBee trusting to the reader’s empathy rather than supplying them with intense details. Alongside the chapters that deal with the events surrounding this abuse McBee tells of a mugging he later describes as “the best thing that ever happened to [him ]”. A dangerous and dramatic moment that provided a burst of clarity and perspective about his future and his identity.

Not only is his story one that needs telling he can also really and truly write. The interweaving of the threads of his narrative cleverly expresses how these events in his life created, and allowed him to create and discover, the man he is. His intimate, honest style has a clarity of voice and vision that packs an enormous amount of power into a few pages. There’s real poetry in his his ability to capture moments of transcendence and insight in a few powerfully and perfectly chosen words (“the warble between the shape in my mind and the one in the mirror,”) and this is only highlighted by the complete absence of sentimentality or sensationalism. It’s a tender, poignant and powerful story about being the best you and defining yourself in the face of all the people and events that might attempt to do it for you.

Some have suggested that the lack of a wider transgender context, the struggle for transgender rights, the place and theory of masculinity is a failing of Man Alive but I’m not convinced that this criticism is entirely fair. While the context is always valuable and they’re is a significant need for complex theoretical and political works on gender it is also vital just to recognise transgender life and experience. McBee has dealt with these wider issues elsewhere in his columns and perhaps will tackle them further in the future but this is not what Man Alive is about. It seems to me that he has achieved precisely what he meant to do, which was to tell his own story of self-discovery and finding his place within his own skin. It is valuable enough on its own without demanding more.It was a privilege to read about his discovery of a truer self.

I received a free advance copy of this book in return for an honest, unbiased review.
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Reading Progress

May 24, 2017 – Started Reading
May 24, 2017 – Shelved
May 24, 2017 – Finished Reading

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