'Man Alive': Alum Thomas Page McBee's Memoir Redefines Masculinity

Friday, December 05, 2014
Photo of Thomas Page McBee

Alumnus Thomas Page McBee’s gender transition may have saved his life, in more ways than one. Beaten savagely on an Oakland street one night in 2010, his attacker ran away only when hearing the feminine voice coming from the masculine McBee.

This is one of two traumatic parts of McBee’s life — the other being abused as a child by his father — which form the basis of his new autobiography Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man (City Lights Books). In facing the decision to transition from female to male, McBee (M.F.A., Creative Writing, ’09) seeks to understand these examples of flawed manhood and shares how they freed him to become the man he was meant to be.

“McBee enlarges the study [of masculinity] from a series of vignettes into a full, poetic narrative … a physical transition is part of the work of reclaiming the lost body,” Henry Giardina writes in his New York Times review. “But first he must understand how violence fits into the male equation, using as his case studies two men who set out to do one thing but did the opposite: The protector who abused him, and the killer who let him live … the act of writing could amount to a kind of revenge. But empathy, instead, is McBee’s objective, the most important part of becoming real in one’s own eyes.”

Man Alive was named a best book of 2014 by Publishers Weekly and NPR Books. It also received rave reviews in the Boston Globe, Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly and was featured in Esquire. An early version of the book won the Mary Tanenbaum nonfiction award from the San Francisco Foundation and was a finalist for the 2012 Bakeless literary prize administered by Graywolf and Breadloaf.

In the Boston Globe, Kate Tuttle writes: “The writing is strongest when McBee is most vulnerable — contemplating ‘the warble between the shape in my mind and the one in the mirror.’”

McBee is the growth editor at Quartz, and is at work on a book about modern American masculinity. He was the “masculinity expert” for VICE and writes the columns Self-Made Man for The Rumpus and The American Man for Pacific Standard. His essays and reportage have appeared in The New York Times, TheAtlantic.com, Salon and Buzzfeed, where he was a regular contributor on gender issues.

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Photo by Gabriel Aronson

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