Another week, another dozen eggs, another Physical Book. I've had "Real Man Adventures" (Indiebound | Amazon) sitting on my bedside table ever since I heard the author say he didn't want to write a conventional "Eat, Pray, Trans" transition memoir. He wanted to write about being a man. Not even being a trans man, although there's plenty of that, but almost a narrative of masculinity. Or a scrapbook. Lists. Letters. And I was all, yeah, let's make that happen! I would love to read that.
And I diiiiiiiid.* I like that everything is not great. He has a wife and two children he is devoted to, and his parents are...okay? His brother is okay. They seem to be trying. There's a lot of poignance in the fact he chooses to ask two different sets of friends' parents about their feelings about their own grown trans children instead of his. The small indignities of life (passport renewal, switching doctors, family reunions) become minefields:
ME: Okay, so you're telling me I need to go to Zagreb, Croatia, and spend like fifty thousand dollars on a far-from-perfect procedure that would give me essentially a limp piece of sirloin hanging between my legs for you to issue me a passport with an M on it?
And there's the fear. ("ME: How many minutes do I have to be in a public men's restroom before you start picturing me being raped and killed? MY WIFE: "On average, three. Five if I can see the line. Two if we are at a dodgy truck stop.") The greatest fear, voiced to his wife: "Do you sometimes wish I were a 'real' man?"
It's pretty clear that Cooper is a little aggravated to be writing about being a man, on some level. He's a novelist, he hates when journalists writing about his books insist on mentioning he was born "a man trapped in a woman's body" (a phrase he emphatically denies has any particular relevance to his own experience), and, more than anything else, his gender identity seems to be "the thing" of his life he needs to write about to get it out of the way. Which is reasonable enough, but there are moments he starts to talk about his kids, and then withdraws, because he doesn't really want to talk about his kids, or his wife's job, because she hangs out with "famous alpha dudes," and it bugs him, or his anatomy, but he doesn't really want to talk about his anatomy, or what he calls "THE SEX CHAPTER" (which is a single footnote) or his moment of clarity, which didn't even exist for him. All of which, I think, makes this almost a perfect book to read for people who might find it hard to believe that trans people could reach a place where they are actively bored by the fact of their trans-ness.
It's not a perfect book. There's an interview with ReDICKulous (an entertainer who performs autofellatio) which is totally entertaining, but seems oddly wedged in the middle of the book and mostly unrelated. Sometimes he mansplains, which is kind of great. He tells us that "no lady actually has fun at Chippendales or ever returns even if she has a little fun in Vegas once," and I'm all OH, REALLY, SIR? Tell me more about what ladies do and do not not enjoy! But, you know, all dudes do that, don't they? Gentle sarcasm! It's hard, of course, to write authentically about knowing that you are a man and not a woman without sounding a little gender essentialist-y, you know?
Best of luck to you, T Cooper.
*Hey, for the record, I don't love everything. Sometimes I start a Physical Book and I know within a chapter I won't like it, and then I just stop reading. But, take my word for it, there are definitely books I can't stand. Like "Sophie's World" (NO LINK FOR A REASON) which literally everyone in the world seems to love, and I find unbearable and twee. But then, really, if a mysterious stranger showed up and offered to take me on a mystical tour of the history of philosophy, I'd be all NOPE NOPE NOPE, so maybe I do not have a questing spirit, or whatever.