Ama­teur: A True Story About What Makes A Man by Thomas Page McBee (Canon­gate) $37

Waikato Times - - Weekend | Leisure -

The abil­ity to change gen­der is a fea­ture of our age. The first pi­o­neer­ing re­as­sign­ment surgery (male to fe­male) oc­curred in Ber­lin in 1930. In the 21st cen­tury, such op­er­a­tions are rou­tine.

Begin­ning with Chris­tine Jor­gen­son’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ar­ti­cle The Story of my Life in 1953, there have been many mem­oirs of male to fe­male re­as­sign­ment. There have been fewer first-per­son his­to­ries of fe­male to male tran­si­tions. Thomas Page McBee is one of the re­cent writ­ers who is re­shap­ing so­cial views.

Born a woman, McBee is now a mar­ried man and a jour­nal­ist. His sec­ond mem­oir, Ama­teur: A True Story About What Makes A Man uses his par­tic­i­pa­tion in a char­ity box­ing match at Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York as a pre­text to un­tan­gle the links be­tween mas­culin­ity and vi­o­lence. It is an ap­proach­able and thought­ful ac­count.

In­ject­ing him­self with testos­terone each month, McBee is phys­i­cally fa­mil­iar with the chem­i­cal ba­sis of gen­der. As a con­se­quence of his hor­mone shots, he has a beard and a mas­cu­line body shape. Testos­terone has also forced him to con­front male vi­o­lence: how much is hor­monal, and how much is cul­tur­ally in­stilled?

Ama­teur, how­ever, is not sim­ply McBee’s story. He works out and trains in two New York City gyms. His book is of­ten the story of men to­gether. They com­pete. They share. They teach. His spar­ring partners, train­ers, friends and the worlds they in­habit are acutely ob­served.

So too is McBee’s wife, Jess, with her doubts and af­fir­ma­tions. The story of their re­la­tion­ship is a vi­tal un­der­cur­rent to the book. Her be­lief in ‘‘the per­son be­neath rather than the ap­pear­ance’’ is a prac­ti­cal take-home mes­sage.

McBee’s sta­tus as an out­sider – where only a few peo­ple know his real story and his birth-gen­der – means he sees things in the world of box­ing that oth­ers would not. His per­sonal his­tory re­quires an aware­ness of ex­pec­ta­tions and in­ter­ac­tions that open up fresh per­spec­tives in an old de­bate.

While Ama­teur goes to au­thor­i­ties in the fields of gen­der and ag­gres­sion for in­for­ma­tion, it is also will­ing to de­bate their views.

McBee’s mem­oir is a paced and sus­pense­ful read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. With its fo­cus on prepa­ra­tions for a com­pe­ti­tion and the fi­nal event it­self, the book be­comes more than an ex­plo­ration of gen­der. The fleshy thuds of Madi­son Square Gar­den’s box­ing arena are trans­lated onto the page.

In an era where gen­der has be­come such a trig­ger­ing sub­ject, Ama­teur pro­vides a re­fresh­ing al­ter­nate ver­sion. It is a book which ably demon­strates how cen­tral the de­bate is to mod­ern life – and how lit­tle it should re­ally mat­ter. – David Herkt

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