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Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man

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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 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 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 it. In 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.


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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 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 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 it. In 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.

30 review for Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    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 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 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 training. What I most appreciated were the author’s observations of how others have related to him since his transition. He notices that he’s taken more 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 of. I have a feeling I would have preferred his previous memoir, Man Alive, which sounds like it has more 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 more 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 Nelson. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Caden

    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 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 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 found. Overall, 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. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adrian Brown

    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 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 held the day after the nomination for (sadly soon-to-be-future-Justice) Kavanaugh was approved by the (mostly penis-having) Judicial Committee here in the US. (#FML) Valuable read for anyone interested in how masculinity, toxic masculinity to be more specific if not redundant, dominates every thread of our culture.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Raf

    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 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 a long history of violence, shame, and domination. What a great read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eleanor

    Thomas Page McBee wrote an earlier book, Man Alive, about his transition; this one, Amateur, is about his attempts to learn to box in order to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden. (He did it, becoming the first trans man to box there in the process.) As its subtitle would suggest, this is fertile ground in terms of seeing questions about manhood through the lens of violence, aggression, love, and the moments where those three things can be synonymous, and the moments where they are Thomas Page McBee wrote an earlier book, Man Alive, about his transition; this one, Amateur, is about his attempts to learn to box in order to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden. (He did it, becoming the first trans man to box there in the process.) As its subtitle would suggest, this is fertile ground in terms of seeing questions about manhood through the lens of violence, aggression, love, and the moments where those three things can be synonymous, and the moments where they are not. It is, as I said on Instagram, a book about being a good man, and a book about punching someone in the face. McBee is especially good on moments of disorientation, where he sees himself from the outside: not just flashbacks to his changing physique, but also quieter moments when he realises he’s failed to be the ally to women that he thought he was. (There’s a particularly painful moment when he and his brother both talk over his sister despite her knowing more about the topic of discussion. There’s also a thought-provoking incident at the start of the book, where another man tries to start a fight with him on the street. He’s not targeted for being trans; the other man doesn’t register that at all. Rather, McBee sees it as emblematic of a particular kind of male anger, one that lacks the vocabulary to ask to be loved. It acts as something of a catalyst for him in his attempts to discover what kind of man he wants, or needs, to be.) For me, as a woman who has never been either sporty or masculine-presenting, the scenes in McBee’s training gym were like secret dispatches from an alien culture: the men who teach him to hit are also the men who wrap his hands and treat his cuts and pour water into his mouth. At the very end of the book, when he finally comes out to his training coach, he discovers that the coach already knows, and has only been wondering when McBee will trust him enough to say it. The technical stuff about fighting and the more personal, psychological content is beautifully intertwined (and it’s especially nice to know that McBee’s girlfriend Jess, who makes several appearances in the book, usually with a tarot deck nearby, is now his wife). A must-read, and not just for folks interested in LGBTQ writing/issues. Originally published on my blog,

  8. 5 out of 5

    Booky Nooky

    "Amateur: A True Story About What Makes A Man" is the memoir by Thomas Page McBee in which he explores masculinity through the framework of training for and fighting in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden. I commend McBee for taking on the HUGE topic of masculinity (as well as becoming a boxer, duh!) in the mere 204 pages of this book. By framing the discussion through his own experiences, McBee makes the complex subject matter into an enjoyable read that is unique, specific, and eye "Amateur: A True Story About What Makes A Man" is the memoir by Thomas Page McBee in which he explores masculinity through the framework of training for and fighting in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden. I commend McBee for taking on the HUGE topic of masculinity (as well as becoming a boxer, duh!) in the mere 204 pages of this book. By framing the discussion through his own experiences, McBee makes the complex subject matter into an enjoyable read that is unique, specific, and eye opening. McBee is transgendered, a point central to the story but not the main subject. Trans-ness forced McBee to experience the gender conditioning of "boy" that is usually undergone as an infant as an adult, as he said "I am a beginner, a man born at thirty." That said, even fresh eyes are tainted by gender stereotypes and cultural norms, which McBee is pushing against and grappling with throughout his transition and training. With a voice that is both journalistic (I loved all the quotes from masculinity and gender experts) and deeply personal, all I can say is that I flew through this book and was engaged from start to finish. "Amateur" is a quick read and I recommend it to anyone. By using his personal experiences, McBee is able to analyze the very complex ideas of masculinity, violence, trans experience, and manhood. But aside from that, it's entertaining! I actually liked learning about boxing technique, which I never thought I would find interesting! Go out an buy "Amateur," it's an compelling read and you'll feel good about supporting a trans author, something we definitely need more of in the book world!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dominic

    This is the kind of book I wish I could have written and maybe still will. And when I do write my book about masculinity, I will credit Thomas Page McBee along with bell hooks (and her moving call to action, The Will to Change) for their ability to write about the challenges of creating a new brand of masculinity without sounding whiny and without making it seem like men have it harder than women. In fact, McBee is able to call men to task while still deepening our understanding of masculine frag This is the kind of book I wish I could have written and maybe still will. And when I do write my book about masculinity, I will credit Thomas Page McBee along with bell hooks (and her moving call to action, The Will to Change) for their ability to write about the challenges of creating a new brand of masculinity without sounding whiny and without making it seem like men have it harder than women. In fact, McBee is able to call men to task while still deepening our understanding of masculine fragility, hunger, and desire. I've spent a good part of my life [okay, nearly all of it] feeling uncomfortable with hegemonic masculinity, wavering between inadequate and good enough, fearful and bold. Only now that I've reached 40 have I nearly completely shed my worry about being seen as less than manly in the eyes of others. I've been looking most of my adult life for alternatives to that narrow path to "what makes a man," and in 2018, I feel like the call for something different is more urgent than ever. We've taken a few steps forward and possibly even a few more steps back. McBee gets the conversation back on track and, for me at least, propels us headlong forward. McBee makes me proud to be the man that I am, even while encouraging me to be bolder and seek to make even more change around me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    I am not a fan of boxing, but I was intrigued by this book, written by the first transgender man to ever box in Madison Square Garden. McBee writes about his difficult relationship with his stepfather and about his journey toward owning and understanding his own masculinity. I found the descriptions of the boxing training fascinating, including the relationships between the trainers and the would-be fighters -- explained a lot to me about why young men might be drawn to this environment and this I am not a fan of boxing, but I was intrigued by this book, written by the first transgender man to ever box in Madison Square Garden. McBee writes about his difficult relationship with his stepfather and about his journey toward owning and understanding his own masculinity. I found the descriptions of the boxing training fascinating, including the relationships between the trainers and the would-be fighters -- explained a lot to me about why young men might be drawn to this environment and this brutal and potentially transformative "sport." It's a fast read, and held my interest -- I wanted to get back to it to see how the fight turned out. If you are interested in books about gender, psychology, and/or narratives about personal growth, I would recommend.

  11. 4 out of 5

    James

    This is an important book that will likely not be read widely enough. The writing is great. He's a journalist and that shows in the style, but he's also a natural storyteller and that shows too, especially the in the parts about his mother. My experiences with masculinity differ from his (people still talk over me in meetings, for one thing), but his perspective is valuable and unique and full of unexpected depth and wisdom. A lot of what he had to say resonated. A lot of it, I wish I could share This is an important book that will likely not be read widely enough. The writing is great. He's a journalist and that shows in the style, but he's also a natural storyteller and that shows too, especially the in the parts about his mother. My experiences with masculinity differ from his (people still talk over me in meetings, for one thing), but his perspective is valuable and unique and full of unexpected depth and wisdom. A lot of what he had to say resonated. A lot of it, I wish I could share with guy friends, but hey...we just don't do that. (Sadly.) After reading and if so inclined, the actual fight is on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfB0Y... Overall, incredible book about masculinity. Worth reading, even for people who don't like boxing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I originally picked this up because it was about boxing. I really enjoyed (and still talk about) a boxing class I took a few years ago and have cheerfully taken up kickboxing. Reading about McBee's time in a boxing gym, preparing for a charity boxing match, and considering aggression and masculinity through a trans man's eyes was more eye opening than I anticipated. The perspective, the learning, and the actual discussion of the sport of boxing, were all really eyeopening.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julie Giehl

    This one is going to sit with me for awhile. Ann Friedman’s back of the book review calls it a warm hug, and it is. I loved his writing style, his ability to see everything, to face hard truths and lead with a beginner’s mind. There’s a lot to say about masculinity in America and McBee does a beautiful job giving this topic justice, in a very warm and vulnerable way. I’ll second Friedman’s review, I want the world to read this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Gillette

    If I’m honest, I have little interest in boxing (and perhaps less so in masculinity as a concept), but Thomas Page McBee is such a talent, I’d follow him anywhere. This is a generous and tender story, beautifully rendered. I’m grateful this book is in the world.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Dziong

    Superbly well written and insightful, a pleasure to read. Thomas explores the subject of masculinity with great openness and vulnerability. As a woman I found it very interesting to read, and it certainly made me see things more from the male point of view.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Randy Bretzin

    The hunks of truth, contained within ‘Amateur’, weigh in with such power and necessity - delivered with such graceful empathy and self-awareness; its authority is impossible to deny. The world is a better place knowing Thomas Page McBee is in it. Every body should read this.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Punfiend

    It was an excellent read. Insightful and I'm glad to have gained some of Thomas' point of view.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Clarke

    The ‘after’ of transition is handled here kindly and deftly, but I wanted more - I feel like the entire narrative could have been pushed just a step more.

  19. 4 out of 5

    jess

    Quick and earnest, this is a near-perfect memoir reflecting on masculinity, love, family, and identity. I dont usually care very much about masculinity navel gazing but McBee nails it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    meg

    Beautifully written boxing memoir. I was riveted.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leah Dieterich

    An incredible exploration of contemporary masculinity! I want every man in my life to read this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review, but honestly I had this book pre-ordered already. Thomas's work means a lot to me, I can't tell you how many times I read his first book (Man Alive), so I might be biased when I say this book is fucking incredible and required reading for anyone affected by contemporary masculinity (...so, everyone)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mika

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeylan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Mccarthy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Arianna Rebolini

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alice

  28. 4 out of 5

    Carla Macar

  29. 4 out of 5

    Liz

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ben

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