Shortlist author interview with Thomas Page McBee
What does it feel like to be shortlisted?
I’m incredibly flattered.
What inspired you to write this book?
When I first began my transition in 2011, I also began reporting on the global masculinity crisis. I was 30 years old and I quickly saw, in my own experience of cultural conditioning, an expectation that I behave in such a way that sociologists believed was creating a “crisis” for men the world over: The “man box” that limits men emotionally. Simultaneously, I also felt very aware of my sudden, greased-wheel experience of privilege. I worried that, if I didn’t ask my “beginner’s mind” questions about becoming a man, I’d not have a say in my own becoming. I also knew that my being trans gave me a unique vantage point, but that the questions I faced were universal. I wrote this book to ask and answer them.
How did you research?
I spent five months training for (and ultimately fighting in) a boxing match in order to understand, viscerally, why men fight. I interviewed everyone involved with the fight itself, and I also spoke to neuroscientists, race historians, developmental psychologists, sociologists, and many other leading experts in masculinity, gender, identity, and the biology of our bodies. Additionally, I did a lot of reporting on background that didn’t end up in the book, but contributed to a fuller picture of the subject. Prior to reporting this book, I spent many years writing stories about the masculinity crisis, the healthy masculinity movement, and other subjects I touch on in the book.
A year on from Weinstein, where does America stand in terms of its crisis of masculinity?
I think the US faces a reckoning with many crises post-Trump, from race to gender to class. It’s my belief that what’s being exposed has been here all along, and the sense that it’s “worse” is not exactly right: The crisis may be more visible, but only because it’s been brought to light. It is an exhausting time to be a marginalized body in the United States, but it’s also the first time in my lifetime that we’ve seen a brutally honest conversation about racism, toxic masculinity, the pervasiveness of sexual violence. We are in a unique cultural moment and, challenging as it may be, there is no better time to look into the face of our worst selves and actually change.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, because it reimagined journalism for what it is: A story, with a perspective. I think Capote’s writing is beautiful, and compassionate, and surprising precisely because he was a gay man venturing into the American heartland with his queer lens. The way he understood that place, and the violence that happened to it, and the men that committed that violence, holds both the nostalgia and clear-eyed honesty of a man who’d grown up in a similar small town, America—and one he’d had to leave.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing a column about gender for Condé Nast, writing a big story about LGBTQ Appalachians working to do what the government has failed to in West Virginia, and I’m thinking a lot about our cultural monsters—who they are, why, and who gets to decide.