Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity
*Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction
*Shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Award
*Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize
One of The Times UK’s Best Memoirs of 2018, BuzzFeed’s Best Nonfiction of 2018, Autostraddle’s Best LGBT Books of 2018, and 52 Insight’s Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2018
A “no-holds-barred examination of masculinity” (BuzzFeed) and violence from award-winning author Thomas Page McBee.
In this “refreshing and radical” (The Guardian) narrative, Thomas McBee, a trans man, sets out to uncover what makes a man—and what being a “good” man even means—through his experience training for and fighting in a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden. A self-described “amateur” at masculinity, McBee embarks on a wide-ranging exploration of gender in society, examining sexism, toxic masculinity, and privilege. As he questions the limitations of gender roles and the roots of masculine aggression, he finds intimacy, hope, and even love in the experience of boxing and in his role as a man in the world. Despite personal history and cultural expectations, “Amateur is a reminder that the individual can still come forward and fight” (The A.V. Club).
“Sharp and precise, open and honest,” (Women’s Review of Books), McBee’s writing asks questions “relevant to all people, trans or not” (New York Newsday). Through interviews with experts in neuroscience, sociology, and critical race theory, he constructs a deft and thoughtful examination of the role of men in contemporary society. Amateur is a graceful and uncompromising look at gender by a fearless, fiercely honest writer.
Praise for Amateur: A Reckoning with Gender, Identity, and Masculinity
"Brave, honest and touchingly human…a beautiful book that will resonate…with anyone anywhere in the world who is determined to become a better, kinder human being.”
—The Guardian, The Book That Changed My Mind
"There have been a slew of new books that have reckoned powerfully with manhood and masculinity and their intersections with race and sexuality. Among the best I’d rank How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee, Air Traffic, by Gregory Pardlo, Amateur, by Thomas Page McBee, and Heavy, by Kiese Laymon. They are very different books, but all exhibit the two qualities that Orwell said made him a writer: “a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts.”"
—The New York Times
"In an age when identity feels so splintered and fractional, McBee’s empathy with men feels refreshing, but it’s his determination to be accountable that is radical. He resolves his own masculinity crisis by doing the things men often think they’re doing, but so often are not: listening, asking questions, seeking help, being vulnerable."
"This book relays a subtle, profound personal investigation into masculinity and personhood ... McBee’s great twist is to treat masculinity itself as an anthropological phenomenon, represented by this bloody, extreme sport. Inside the fight, McBee finds reconciliation."
—The New Republic
"A compelling example of humanity at its best, one to which anyone with a heart and a mind will relate."
—Western Humanities Review
"A no-holds-barred examination of masculinity. McBee describes the journey as a way of grappling with his newish place in the world of toxic (and privileged) masculinity ... a compassionate look at what it means to be a man and the circumstances that have engendered our expectations. It is in many ways a happy dismantling of these expectations, an opening of masculinity to make room for love, support, and tenderness — something McBee is pleasantly surprised to find along the way."
"Thomas Page McBee’s new memoir, Amateur, is a powerful exploration of the costs of toxic masculinity and the joys of an authentic life. It is also a classic fight story. Superbly written and keenly observed, Amateur manages to juggle all of these elements with grace and wit."
"McBee is consistently vulnerable—both physically and in how he shares his experience. Yet at the end of Amateur, after all the punches, interviews, and introspection, the author does not arrive at any simple answers. Instead, that initial question about men and fighting multiplies into larger ones ... While he gets closer and closer to that eventual fight night in New York, his investigation of men is made more powerful by this lack of certainty—ultimately asking whether anyone, including those who flaunt their political strength in Washington D.C., truly comprehends the meaning of masculinity."
"[McBee's] writing asks questions about gender that he believes are relevant to all people, trans or not ... [Amateur] probes the culture (or cult) of masculinity through, among other things, his experience as the first trans man to enter the boxing ring at Madison Square Garden, where he competed in a 2015 charity event when he was 34."
"Elegantly demonstrate[s] how men can fight for a better definition of manhood—one that includes vulnerability, empathy, and self-expression—simply by fighting to be themselves ... [McBee] finds the answer not in knocking out another man’s mouthguard, but rather in moments of vulnerability and the nurturing gestures of other men."
"The hot center of this book, the new work that it does, is McBee’s search to identify and adopt ways to be a “better” man. He wants to know, as a man, how to fight gender inequity ... At a time when equity of all kinds is being suppressed, Amateur is a reminder that the individual can still come forward and fight."
—The A.V. Club
"Amateur is Thomas Page McBee’s poetic exploration of (sometimes toxic) masculinity as he trained to become the first trans man to box in Madison Square Garden. Author of the award-winning memoir Man Alive, McBee expected men drawn to boxing were motivated by bloodlust. Instead, he discovers mentorship among men overcoming weaknesses. In finding the vulnerability guys hope to hide, McBee finds hope for all men."
"This is an extraordinary, humane and compassionate book about aggression, selfhood and love. Nothing short of superb."
"When men fight, they are fighting the parts of themselves they hate, as McBee, himself a victim of abuse, discovers ... [the account] is interspersed with insights from a wide range of commentators and experts on issues relating to masculinity, race, gender and violence. It all adds up to a gripping and fascinating journey."
—The Press Association
"[One of] the hottest memoirs to pre-order for fall ... In this memoir from Scribner, [McBee] grapples with masculinity, gender, and violence as he recounts his training to become a boxer."
—The Writer Magazine
"Reading Amateur is watching someone try to simultaneously figure out who they are, who the world wants them to be, and why. It’s deeply personal and politically vital, a calm and contemplative antidote to male toxicity."
“Sharp and precise, open and honest … It’s hard to overstate how important and profound it feels to read a personal account of a man actively examining his own masculinity and privilege in such an honest way.”
—Women’s Review of Books
“[McBee’s] writing is marvelous, pinning ideas that could so easily be abstract to the visceral, physical poetry of boxing…McBee displays tenacity on the page and in the gym, sizing up formidable concepts and engaging them with savvy and sensitivity. Amateur is more than a boxing story, just as it's more than a trans narrative. It's a highly recommended case study in manhood.”
“This powerful book chronicles McBee’s training and his attempts at understanding why violence is accepted as an aspect of American masculinity…McBee’s lyrical, achingly honest exploration of loss and maturation offers a hopeful antidote to more toxic forms of masculinity.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Riveting. [McBee] is a compelling narrator. A heartfelt glimpse of a trans person’s life, with a very dramatic boxing match bringing into focus the gender binary…Readers will be able to relate and gain new perspectives.”
“This timely memoir explores male-female power dynamics in an uplifting story of someone who becomes a new man in ways even he couldn’t anticipate.”
“In this lyrical, courageous book, the author eloquently probes his inner life as he searches for the meaning of gender identity in a world limited by binary thinking. Provocative and illuminating—a winning follow-up to McBee’s acclaimed debut.”
“Until I read this book, I didn't realize how tired I was of reading about masculinity as cold, hard, and fixed. Amateur is a warm hug. It’s also an invitation to everyone who's ever struggled to accept failure, searched for a sense of belonging, or said ‘Ugh, men’ in an exasperated tone to think harder and be kinder. I want the world to read it.”
—Ann Friedman, New York Magazine columnist and cohost of Call Your Girlfriend
“Amateur is a brutally honest look at the problems with masculinity, laced through with hope, and joy, and possibility. Thomas McBee confronts fears and realities with grace, toughness, and poetry. A beautiful book.”
—Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave and How to Grow Up
"Thomas Page McBee's Amateur takes a classic, well-worn subject—a man whose fight with other men is ultimately a confrontation with the self—and completely revitalizes, renews, and enriches it. McBee grapples with enormous issues such as masculinity, identity, transformation, and loss with great depth and intelligence, and in doing so, explores so many of the tough questions we should all be asking ourselves. Though slim and sharply concise, Amateur enlarges the world by opening up greater, more hopeful realms of possibility. I am a better man for having read this book."
—Isaac Fitzgerald, founding editor of Buzzfeed Books, cohost of #AMtoDM and coauthor of Pen & Ink and Knives & Ink
“Thomas Page McBee is a fighter—and not only in a ring in Madison Square Garden. Amateur shows us a warrior of the human spirit, courageously investigating masculinity itself. His prose—both fierce and delicate—reveals a struggle to become a better man, and to create a better self. Amateur is urgent, generous, and fearless.”
—Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of Long Black Veil and She’s Not There
"With Thomas as your gloved guide, you'll peer into locker rooms, through ropes, and at douchebags challenging strangers to sidewalk beat downs. Watch Thomas spar with masculinity as he takes on his, yours, and America’s manhood. While tracing his journey from uninitiated fighter to Madison Square boxer, McBee explores why men so frequently confuse violence with power and why being a man ought to rely on a willingness to spar, first and foremost, with one’s own shadow."
—Myriam Gurba, author of Mean
"A blazingly wise and beautiful book."
—A.L. Kennedy, author of All the Rage and Serious Sweet
"Amateur provocatively describes the ways in which an increasingly fragile patriarchal culture needs to keep men in their place. A quest for self-liberation, this loving and deeply intelligent exploration of contemporary masculinities is essential reading."
—Deborah Levy, author of Swimming Home and Hot Milk