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From an award winning writer whose work bristles with “hard won strength insight agility and love” Maggie Nelson an exuisite and troubling narrative of masculinity violence and societyIn this groundbreaking new book the author a trans man trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Suare Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence Through his experience boxing—learning to get hit and to hit back; wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym; confronting the betrayals and strength of his own body—McBee examines the weight of male violence the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes and the limitations of conventional masculinity A wide ranging exploration of gender in our society Amateur is ultimately a story of hope as McBee traces a new way forward a new kind of masculinity inside the ring and outside of itIn this graceful stunning and uncompromising exploration of living fighting and healing we gain insight into the stereotypes and shifting realities of masculinity today through the eyes of a new man


10 thoughts on “Amateur

  1. says:

    Thomas Page McBee was the first transgender man to box at Madison Suare Garden In his second memoir which arose from a uartz 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 trainingWhat I most appreciated were the author’s observations of how others have related to him since his transition He notices that he’s taken 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 ofI have a feeling I would have preferred his previous memoir Man Alive which sounds like it has 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 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 NelsonOriginally published on my blog Bookish Beck


  2. says:

    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 Suare 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 uite 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 sportsathletic endeavor to highlight socialculturalpolitical 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 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 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 uestions 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 accepttolerate 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 andor 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


  3. says:

    I have asked myself uestions 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 uestions 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 foundOverall 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


  4. says:

    “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 personThis is about the first transgender person Thomas Page McBee to box in Madison Suare 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 ineualities 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


  5. says:

    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 uestion of why men fight He pitched a story on the topic to uartz magazine and then spent the next five months training for a charity boxing match in Madison Suare 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 uotes and pieces of research throughout the text studies of marriage gender race boyhood homophobia identity masculinity and male friendships


  6. says:

    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


  7. says:

    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 with her story and her analysis than with his a story about a man training to box and grappling with uestions about masculinity and violence that felt lacking in depth and hinged on a gender binary he never really uestioned 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


  8. says:

    From BBC radio 4 Book of the weekThomas Page McBee a trans man trains to fight in a charity match at New York's Madison Suare Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violenceThrough 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 healingThomas 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 FictionWritten and read by Thomas Page McBeeAbridged by Jill Waters Produced by Jill WatersA Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4httpswwwbbccoukprogrammesm000


  9. says:

    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 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 uestion 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 solid


  10. says:

    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