Wednesday, January 30, 2013


"Real Man Adventures," T Cooper

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.

54 Comments / Post A Comment


Ah I have so many questions. Do any Pinners know of a good blog by a trans person, where they talk about being trans etc? I think this is one area that it has been harder for me to dismantle my prejudices because I don't know anyone who (I know) is trans, but I am trying.


@iceberg I ask this way because I don't want to make anyone be my teacher, and also because I don't do phyysical books any more - internet is how I read now.

Judith Slutler

@iceberg Natalie Reed is still at freethoughtblogs.com for a while, though she's gonna leave the site. I really like her work.

Caitlin Podiak

@iceberg I have learned a lot from this blog: http://transartorialism.tumblr.com/


@Emmanuelle Cunt @Caitlin Podiak Thanks you guys!


@iceberg Also http://fridaythang.com/blog/ !


@iceberg I am a big fan of the Self-Made Man series of essays which you can see all of here (not sure if it's as ... practical as you are looking for, but it's beautifully written): http://therumpus.net/author/thomas-mcbee/


@iceberg Ally at Shybiker doesn't talk specifically about trans*-itude all the time, but also movies and clothing and life and I think it's a good window into one trans* person's life!


@iceberg It's not so in depth but the Juliet Jaques series on the Guardian an interesting UK perspective about going through transition on the NHS.


@iceberg nooo beaten to it


@iceberg Seconding Juliet Jaques.


My friend writes http://www.runningonempathy.blogspot.com/ but I think it's mostly about being a psychologist. But she does some stuff about being trans, and her writing style is really nice so I think it's worth a read :)

Mrs. Grundy

@iceberg I enthusiastically second the Self-Made Man series by Thomas McBee (full disclosure, he is my friend, but really, he is such a wonderful writer, and the series is excellent).


Very interesting and informative!@y


ha HA! For once I have gotten to the SFPL online request form before the other SF 'Pinner who always seems to sneak in ahead of me when Nicole recommends a book!

... It's the little things.


I HATED Sophie's World so much I could not get through it. You are not alone.


@misskaz Joining the I hate Sophie's World club. It sort of taught me what I needed to, but I read it when I was a teenage girl and I was like "this author doesn't know shit about shit."

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@misskaz Agreed. I really try not to leave books unread, but that one I just had to throw across the room and yell at it.

Nicole Cliffe

@misskaz I just hate the whole SCHTICK of it. It's the same reason I hate "Ishmael." UGH, with the patronizing teaching tone. Oh. Wait. It's just mansplaining. My two least favourite books are about mansplaining.


@Nicole Cliffe nailed it. Thanks for articulating why I didn't like "Ishmael."


@Nicole Cliffe - Is this book just terrible (it sounds like it) or is "The History of Philosophy" just....unbearable?

I mean, I love it (which is why I studied it). And I want other people to love it! But I feel like maybe it is secretly boring and I'm just a nerd?

I dunno. Anybody here ever read a really great book that introduces philosphy, and manages to go over all the major stuff without being (a)boring (b)condescending or (c)agenda-driven?


@misskaz Yesss! It was, well, nice as a child, but the dynamic is creepy as shit and I personally, as a pretentious bookworm type, would much rather just hear about the ideas without the dialogue conceit. Whenever you have to explain something to the reader by explaining it to a character, there is nearly no way around making one character look stupid and the other smug. It's too neat to be realistic characterisation, too whimsical to be a straight-up child's introduction to philosophy, and too proud of itself to be an enjoyable book.


@leon s I love philosophy! Even the history of it. I'm like everyone else that I found the schtick to just be obnoxious. Dear world: I can handle a nonfiction book so maybe don't wrap it in a fiction gimmick?

Like, I'd rather just eat a salad than hide pureed beets in my brownies (or whatever).

Nicole Cliffe

@leon s THIS is an interesting question! If you do not know a really great book that does those things, perhaps it does not exist, and your reason to be here on this planet is to write one for us? I doubt it is boring.


@Apocalypstick I had never even heard of Sophie's World before now, but thanks to you all, I am 100% sure I would hate it. Bullet dodged.

Nicole Cliffe

My work is done. (fades into the night)

Nicole Cliffe

@smidge Gorillasplaining


@misskaz Yesssss. The content was great, the shtick was a bit awkward, and it all kind of fell apart at the end. Not unlike The Amber Spyglass. *ducks*


You guys might try poking around Routledge's "Thinking in Action" series (I like On Manners particularly). I don't remember if there's a history of philosophy one, but ummmm . . . let's be honest, unless you do history of philosophy, it is SUPER boring - highly specialized, a lot of work. Most philosophers who do history aren't "historians of philosophy." So the stuff that makes history interesting to read about doesn't really happen.


"I'd rather just eat a salad than hide pureed beets in my brownies"

Loved that - I also feel this way about food and reading.


Sophie's World is horribly twee. And the ending! It is ridiculous.


@Lucienne - I think you're probably just right about the boring thing. I mean, I don't even do 'sexy' philosophy like Camus/Sartre, or Public Intellectual stuff like Habermas.

I just like talking about Phil. of Logic and Language. It's like math, but with none of the usefulness.


@leon s Well, tbh I find logic & language even more boring than history (except for metaphors MAYBE and maybe some stuff on ambiguity and some stuff on feminist phil of language) so I'm not a great person for this conversation.


@leon s If you like metaphysics, Moore's The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics is supposed to be good, though. It's making an argument for some synthesis of analytic and Continental traditions, and takes a more typical historical stance (rather than the "well, Kant says this here and this other thing here, so how do we resolve that" approach). A. W. Moore: doing God's work on earth in philosophy departments.




*stones you with golden compass*


@wee_ramekin Hey, I really liked The Golden Compass. I'm still trying to figure out what my daemon would be.


@Apocalypstick Too true - I read it when I was 12 and there were a bunch of questions raised - none of them philosophical.
a) Where are the female philosophers?
b) Isn't Sophie's mentor a touch patronising/mansplainy?
c) seriously, WHAT is UP with this creepy stalker?


@Bittersweet *stabs you with subtle knife*


@wee_ramekin Ouch. Good thing there are no specters around here, or I'd really be asd;lfkjdsl;kvxclkxcx;lkvmadS...

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

That cover is, in a word, fantastic.

And the description about this book makes it sound interesting, except I find it particularly grating when authors seem put out that they HAVE to write about what they are writing about. Like, write about something else?

Nicole Cliffe

He has a neat convo about that very thing in the book, with Darin Strauss, the novelist who wrote (REALLY WELL) about HIS thing (accidentally killing a young woman with his car as a teenager) after years of not-writing about it, because it was something to get out from under, like the wellspring of identity? I could go either way on it, but I like that he sort of acknowledges he's being pissy about it.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Nicole Cliffe I get it, but it still hits me with the feeling that the author is disdainful of his/her book, and by extension, the reader for reading it. Like, oh god, I can't be bothered to write about that, but fine, I guess I will because everyone is annoying and clamoring for it.
Edited to add: (And by "his/her" I'm referencing authors in general, not this specific author. I want to be clear that I'm not calling him a him/her, because that's not how I roll, yo.)

Nicole Cliffe

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose No, totally fair. It's weird! It's a weird thing.

taco besos

I wrote the whole book off when I learned that one of the chapters was called “Sometimes I Think the Whole of Modern History Can Be Explained by Testosterone.”


@taco besos I am willing to be that that chapter is a lot more tongue-in-cheek than you're thinking. (Unless you're kidding?)

Nicole Cliffe

@taco besos That chapter is his attempt to share what changed about his life and personality when he started taking testosterone during transition, which I appreciated, but this is what I mean when I said I found it a little gender essentialist-y.

taco besos

@Nicole Cliffe that makes more sense, but I guess I am really put off by the tone. I took a transgender studies class in college and a lot of FTM literature contained internalized misogyny I already hear enough from ciswomen.

Nicole Cliffe

That's so unfortunate. Can you share some of the better parts of the syllabus with us?

(On the plus side, much of it was "when I started to look like a man, people deferred to me when I said things," which I think is really valuable in refuting "oh, nonsense, people listen to women" responses.)

taco besos

@Nicole Cliffe I remember liking a few articles by Susan Stryker from her Transgender Studies reader (a quick Google search led me to an article calling Transgender Studies "queer theory's evil twin," hah) and we read a small, albeit expensive, reader put out by the Brown Boi project. If I can dig up the syllabus, I'll definitely post more! It's exciting to see trans* studies gain more visibility.


@taco besos I feel contractually obligated to mention the Testosterone episode of TAL. Hear a trans man talk about what it was like to start Thinking Like a Man. I realize ONE is a pretty small sample size but I also remember it opening my eyes all those years ago the first time it aired.

taco besos

@blueblazes thanks, will check it out!


@Nicole Cliffe Have you read Jan Morris's memoir about transitioning, Conundrum? It's really interesting although, again, on the gender-essentialist side; I remember her saying something similar to this (in reverse - how she changed when she began taking female hormones).

Sgt. Exposition

@taco besos Trans autobiography is something of a double bind: You don't want to use the medical/social model, because it calls back to essentiaism, but then the actual experience of transition creates/encourages such problematic feelings/moments. This misogyny can recede over time, however. Particularly the period of years 3-5 (after T's mostly done it's work and the majority of folks pass), one has to think v. intentionally about "what does it mean to be a dude, and what kind of dude do I want to be?" This change is very internal and emotional, and is rarely written about with the depth it deserves.


The 2003 book She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders was the first book I'd ever read about a transgendered person. The author is a professor at my college, and the book was poignant, funny, and eye-opening in a welcoming way. I highly recommend it!

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