Man Alive: A true story of violence, forgiveness and becoming a man.
by Thomas Page McBee
City Lights/Sister Spit 2014
172 pages. $11.17 Buy from: City Lights
- This is a memoir of transitions, journeys, and radical love/forgiveness.
- In this memoir, Thomas’ tells the story of his transition to manhood alongside his account of being robbed at gunpoint.
- I’m so glad this book exists. I’m so glad Sister Spit’s new imprint under City Lights exists. I’m so glad Thomas Page McBee exists to have written it.
- There is a very palpable danger in this book. Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena’s names flicker in the background as Thomas traverses the middle of the country, anxiously hoping that he passes as male during every interaction with surly bartenders and gas station clerks.
- Thomas and I were in the same writing program at SFSU eons ago when he was a poet. He has always been a kind, thoughtful chum.
- Thomas was the “masculinity expert” for VICE and writes the column “Self Made Man” for The Rumpus.
- This book gives a nuanced look at male privilege and gender constructs: Thomas acknowledges his male privilege within his terrifying robbery. The mugger gives directions to him, trains his eyes on him, points his gun at him. Thomas’ female companion, Parker, is a shadow, her words are ignored by the mugger, who eventually, reluctantly takes her credit card. I think this moment is a nice metaphor for the privileges and pitfalls of masculinity. Thomas, the man, is taken seriously, is heard and seen. Thomas, the man, is thrown to the ground, is expected to absorb violence and keep his composure. When Thomas speaks, his voice still high and feminine, as he has not yet started taking hormones, the mugger lets him go.
- Parker is such a lovable character (and great person in real life). She is supportive and honest and tough and sassy and smart and blurts out things like “wherever you are, whoever you are, you have a right to be here.”
- You get a sense of the strain that Thomas’ transition, all the societal implications that go with this change, the mugging, take a serious toll on he and Parker’s relationship, and that’s super sad, because these people are clearly so much in love.
- This book is filled with men doing awful things: There’s the robbery. A murder. The racist and vengeful court system. There’s Thomas’ father molesting him, when he was a young girl. There’s a dark family history full of incest and abuse.
- Anger is like the one sacred emotion that traditional gender norms have allowed men. Vengeance is the medium of expression. Thomas’ memoir rejects this construct and refuses to turn men into “monsters.” Again and again, Thomas refuses to succumb to vengeance. He acknowledges that a fistfight or a drunken argument is the prescribed remedy for men who’ve hurt each other, yet he does the best he can to SEE the men who’ve injured him. He refuses to reduce men to their worst acts by acknowledging their transgressions alongside their suffering. He tries again and again, as best he can to forgive them.
- Thomas used to edit a fashion blog called The Ironing Board Collective where he wrote about his style sense, his ideal body type (essentially Paul Newman at his hottest), Kanye West, etc.
- Here are two little sections I love:
- I looked so much like a teenage boy that I’d mostly forgotten my difference. It was only at odd moments that I’d pass a mirror and see shapes that shouldn’t be there, a stranger who looked like me but wasn’t me at all, a stranger like a kick in the chest.
- You’d have to be pretty destroyed to hold a gun to another person’s face and shoot it, I thought. And you’d have to have abandoned yourself to the core to want to annihilate a child.
- You know the particularly joyful, cathartic, queasy feeling of removing a frighteningly long ingrown hair, snipping out old stitches, squeezing pus out of a weeping wound? That’s what reading this book is like.
- I’d recommend this book to: Survivors of abuse. Men who aren’t satisfied with mainstream or even so-called alternative portrayals of masculinity. People who are in relationships with people who are transitioning. White people who feel confused/guilty about gentrifying their neighborhood. Victims of violent crime. Perpetrators of violent crime. People with violent dads. People with neglectful moms. People who do their best to love them anyway. Everybody else.
- With all the stories people are sharing around sexual violence/coercion/rape within the “alt-lit” scene, I keep thinking about restorative justice ( defined as “a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.”) The 6-12 school in Brooklyn where I work tries it’s best to use restorative justice models to address behaviors that range from mundane (talking in class) to horrendous (sexual predation/violence/etc.) Restorative practices compared to more traditional punitive approaches (which exclude victims and offenders from the justice process) take a great deal more resources: time, energy, follow through, patience, humility, generosity, self awareness, etc. Man Alive displays the work restorative justice requires: the difficult conversations between the abuser and the survivor, the soul searching Thomas must do to come to a place that resembles forgiveness, the pain Thomas bravely faces in order to move forward into a new gender identity, a new place, a new life…
- Men are committing most of the raping, abusing, acts of intimate violence. Therefore it’s critical that men are educated around these issues. This book is an important piece of that discussion.
- Now that I’m almost done writing about Thomas’ book, I plan to give it to this one trans student I have who I hope will enjoy reading it, although I fear she’s not a skilled enough reader to make sense of it all. Are there good books about transitioning for teens with low reading levels? LMK!?
- Here’s some more stuff from the book I liked:
- “Court is now in session,” the bailiff announced… “Please rise,” he said; and I thought of church as we, as one, did.
- A wedding had seemed the perfect opportunity to dress up like adults, and somehow magically become them.
- This book ends in the ocean as all things should.
- I <3 Man Alive.