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Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man (City Lights/Sister Spit) Paperback – September 9, 2014

4.8 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“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. 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. 'Being human,' he concludes, 'means being at the mercy of others.' That’s a part of aspiration, too. We are born human; with hard work, we achieve humanity.”––Henry Giardina, New York Times Book Review

"In this lyrical, affecting memoir, McBee ... [tries] to map his own journey to manhood ... The writing is strongest when McBee is most vulnerable—contemplating 'the warble between the shape in my mind and the one in the mirror'"—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

"Man Alive stands as a vitally important book. McBee’s story harnesses the power of self-inquiry, of generosity, of a transformation powerful enough to address even the fallout from child abuse."—Greg Glazner, Los Angeles Review of Books

“[Thomas Page] McBee’s answer to the initial question of “what makes a man?” is more generous, more inspiring, and more creative than the usual gender binaries allow. Full of bravery and clear, far-sighted compassion and devoid of sentiment, victimization, and cliché, McBee’s meditations bring him a hard-won sense of self—one that is bound to inspire any reader who has struggled with internal dissonance.”––Publishers Weekly starred review

“[A] unique, powerful rite-of-passage memoir. Plenty of writers have written about the experience of making the transition from one gender to another, but most haven't also dealt with child molestation, paternity issues and a mugging by a man who would soon commit murder—not to mention a partner who has mixed feelings about the author's becoming a man. Resisting the inclination to sensationalize (or sentimentalize), McBee interweaves the various strands of the narrative, exercising plenty of restraint … The author writes in matter-of-fact detail about the tension and love shared with a fiancee and about self-discovery pilgrimages to explore bloodlines and paternity. 'The world is vicious and beautiful and, to some extent, unexplainable,' writes the author. 'But that doesn't stop us from wanting a story.' This is quite a story, masterfully rendered.”––Kirkus Reviews starred review

Man Alive does not follow the typical transgender narrative that being with years of struggle in the ‘wrong body’ and ends with arrival in the right one. Instead, the story is a meandering internal journey that traces McBee’s struggle to come to terms with a legacy of male violence in order to fully inhabit his body, his gender, and his life … Paradoxically, by insisting on the full humanity of both of the men who have caused him harm, McBee is able to claim his own agency as a man who chooses compassion and connection over wielding violence against others.”––Wendy Elisheva Somerson, Bitch

"McBee’s beautifully written story is engrossing and brave, and rings with triumph."—Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed

"'Being human means being at the mercy of others,' Thomas Page McBee points out in Man Alive. It’s one of the many sobering observations he makes in the lyrically written memoir of his transition from female to male. Narrating a series of snapshots of his childhood and twenty-something life, McBee explores not only what defines a man through dissecting his traumatic history, but the mark he’ll make as he mints his identity as male. The book reads like fiction—it’s smooth as butter—and you’ll digest it in just a few hours. What’ll last, though, is McBee’s humility, and the insight of his lessons, and his meditations on love. In a journey to which you might not think you can relate, you’ll find something on nearly every page that’ll resonate.”––Meredith Turits, Bustle

"In his quick, compulsive new memoir, Man Alive, Thomas Page McBee details his FTM transition following a moment of explosive violence. Walking home with his girlfriend one night in Oakland, Calif., McBee is nearly killed in a mugging, saved only when the female sound of his voice scares off his attacker. In that moment he feels both alive and not alive at all, recalling childhood traumas and suddenly becoming acutely aware of his struggle to remain in a woman’s body when he knows he’s a man. Flashing from the past to the present, McBee’s prose is crisp and attentive to the role pain plays in molding our identities. 'Whoever’s child I am, my body belongs to me,' he proclaims, a crystalline reminder that our most fearsome and earthshaking confrontations are the ones we have with ourselves."––Emily Drabinski, Out Magazine

"In many ways, this book occurs at the eye of McBee's storm, a crossroads, a major pivot point in his life. He exercises a profound level of compassion to reconcile his past with his present on behalf of his future. Through conversations with his girlfriend, his mother, siblings, father and extended family, one thing grows abundantly clear: Thomas Page McBee is a man of astonishingly strong character, full of empathy and dynamism. Man Alive isn't a simple memoir; it is a culmination of, as much as it is a springboard into, a manhood that proves to be in the greatest sense alive.”––Dave Wheeler, Shelf-Awareness

“Like jazz. Compelling. Vivid. Dramatic. One would be hard pressed to find better words to describe McBee’s tale … Man Alive doesn’t just offer the reader insight into the creative nonfiction genre, but into trans storytelling as well … McBee is among a growing strand of trans literature that considers transition alongside, and often secondarily, to other key events … The focus of Man Alive is held within its first sentence: 'What makes a man?' It’s uncertainty, its yearning, its deceptive simplicity, its focus on mythical meanings rather than physical ones, its potentially dark undertones, and its potentially liberating ones chart their course through an early adulthood that is undebted to, yet so much more, than an outward, bodily shift from ‘female' to male.”––Mitch Kellaway, Lambda Literary Review

"Man Alive is a moving personal account of what was not long ago decried as an abomination of nature—a perversion. McBee seeks to honestly reveal the emotional and physical complexity underlying the process of gender reassigment, and when all is over, his transition complete, he’ll be just one more ordinary man … The world has changed, but only so much—a fact McBee's memoir illustrates with heartbreaking clarity.”––David Rosen, dot429

"Thomas Page McBee’s Man Alive hurtled through my life. I read it in a matter of hours. It’s a confession, it’s a poem, it's a time warp, it’s a brilliant work of art. I bow down to McBee—his humility, his sense of humor, his insightfulness, his structural deftness, his ability to put into words what is often said but rarely, with such visceral clarity and beauty, communicated."—Heidi Julavits, author of The Vanishers and The Uses of Enchantment

"Man Alive is a sweet, tender hurt of a memoir. Thomas Page McBee deftly recounts what has shaped him into the man he has become and how—from childhood trauma to a mugging in Oakland where he learned of his body’s ability to save itself. This is a memoir about forgiveness and self-discovery, but mostly it’s about love, so much love. McBee takes us in his capable hands and shows us what it takes to become a man who is gloriously, gloriously alive."—Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist and An Untamed State

"Thomas Page McBee's story of how he came to claim both his past and his future is by turns despairing and hopeful, exceptional and relatable. To read it is to witness the birth of a fuller, truer self. I loved this book."—Ann Friedman, columnist, New York Magazine

"Reading Man Alive is like sitting with someone uncurling his hands, then holding them out to you, open, so that you can behold all the hard-won strength, insight, agility, and love to be found there. 'Whoever's child I am, my body belongs to me,' McBee writes, and his book is an elegant, generous transcription of the journey toward this incandescent, non-aggrandized, life-sustaining form of self-possession—the kind that emanates from dispossession, rather than running from it."—Maggie Nelson, author of Bluets and The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

"Following a twisty course marked by multiple switchbacks, Man Alive picks its path through a life pocked by abuse, yearning, violence, danger and desire. The book refuses to cleave to the conventions of other narratives of transition and makes uncertainty the hallmark not only of the past but of the present and the future as well. Exquisitely written and bristling with emotion, this important book reminds us of how much vulnerability and violence inheres to any identity. A real achievement of form and narrative.”—Jack Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure

"Man Alive isn't just a story about a transgender man. It's a story about self-discovery. It's a story about patience, forgiveness, kindness and bravery. It's a story told so beautifully and clearly that you can't help but see your own journey in these pages. With this book, Thomas Page McBee has done exactly what we should all strive for: to tell our stories in ways that humanize rather than sensationalize."—Lauren Morelli, writer, Orange Is the New Black

"Thomas Page McBee's memoir grips you like a thriller yet reads with the lyricism of poetry as he details how a brush with violence sent him on quest to untangle a sinister past, and freed him to become the man he was meant to be."—Michelle Tea

"[McBee's] thoughtful memoir probes the assumptions of masculinity and identity."––SF Weekly

“McBee’s work is a case of remarkable storytelling in the wake of violence … While Man Alive focuses heavily on McBee’s journey as he transitions from female to male, from Page to Thomas, at its core is a change even bigger, deeper, and more extraordinary than that: the book itself becomes a reflection on the self within the body and what it means to be human.”—Kristi Dilallo, Public Books

"Rather than telling an authoritative story of what it means to be a transgender man, Man Alive tells the story of what it is to be Thomas Page McBee: a writer, a feminist, a partner, his mother’s son. It is crucial in its way of re-wiring what a trans memoir can and should look like. McBee has situated himself among other emerging voices like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock who are opening and expanding the conversation about what it means to be trans, steering the focus away from the physical and toward that of one’s whole person. As a result, Man Alive achieves so much; it is simultaneously personal, poignant, and powerful.”––Freddie Francis, The Media

"Man Alive ... is not the story of how Thomas Page McBee became a man. Rather, it is the story of how McBee is becoming a man, perhaps even now. McBee and his stunningly fragile relationships with his parents and his partner remind us – women, men, and everyone else – that we cannot achieve masculinity, just as we cannot achieve any other idealized concept of identity. We can only reach, struggle, and continue to become."—Kira Kratcha, Moving Day Review

"Anger is like the one sacred emotion that traditional gender norms have allowed men. Vengeance is the medium of expression. Thomas' memoir rejects this construct and refuses to turn men into 'monsters.' Again and again, Thomas refuses to succumb to vengeance. He acknowledges that a fistfight or a drunken argument is the prescribed remedy for men who've hurt each other, yet he does the best he can to SEE the men who’ve injured him. He refuses to reduce men to their worst acts by acknowledging their transgressions alongside their suffering. He tries again and again, as best he can to forgive them."—Matt Rohrer, HTML Giant

About the Author

Thomas Page McBee writes the column "Self-Made Man" for The Rumpus, and his writings on gender have appeared in The New York Times and via TheAtlantic.com, VICE, BuzzFeed, and Salon. Thomas gives lectures on masculinity and media narratives across the country. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Series: City Lights/Sister Spit
  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers (September 9, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872866246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872866249
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
"Man Alive: A True Story of Violence" author/columnist Thomas McBee, recalled his life from childhood on, revealing his impassioned story in short chapters from past to present. He discussed how child abuse, parental betrayal, a violent street mugging impacted his life, and importantly how he chose not to be defined by trauma. McBee wrote with tremendous integrity and compassion of his views on modern masculinity, his relationships with family members, others, also his partner, Parker.

To come to terms with his family history, McBee was challenged to get the information he needed from his educated professional mother, who raised him, lived across the country, and seemed somewhat disengaged from the dysfunction, her many poor choices in men, and how her decisions affected her family. It seemed easier to leave past unpleasant truths unspoken. McBee made the trip to S.C. to visit his uncles family- and Roy, the father who abused him. The only caring advice he had ever received from Roy was to put premium gas in his car on occasion, yet McBee forgave him.
Unlike so many memoirs with similar topics, there was no self pity, anger, focus on hurt/pain, or need for revenge. The journey was more about learning, reflection, and further healing; which was connected in part, to his mugging in Oakland. The mugger, George Higgins, was later charged in another crime leading to murder in 2010.

With insight, self-awareness, and resolve McBee began his female to male transition, with the loving support of Parker. They both missed their relationship as it was, or used to be, knowing life held no guarantees for happiness.
Thomas Page McBee has written many columns, articles, and essays featuring gender and men's studies, his work has appeared in many notable publications including the N.Y. Times, he lives in NYC. This is his first book. ~ With thanks to the Seattle Public Library.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book was gorgeous and it hit me hard. The writing style was beautiful and tender and brutal at the same time. I loved that the author shared exactly what he wanted to and each part of his narrative informed what was to come. The book made me think about the difference between masculinity and manhood, about the relationship between violence and manhood, and about what it means to be deliberate about who you are. The latter is something that's universal in its importance - queer, straight, cis, trans - the idea of being deliberate about who you are is a powerful thing. The book is first and foremost a memoir, sharing details of one person's history and experience, but it also sheds light on the process of gender transition (without being preachy or feeling like a PSA) in a way that I found informative and accessible as a straight ciswoman - and made me want to seek out more works by trans authors. Thank you for sharing this beautiful work!
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Format: Kindle Edition
Man Alive by Thomas Page McBee

I could argue that the entire project of RAD DAD (a magazine on fathering I write and edit) was a way for me to explore, come to terms with, and claim what it means to be a man. So many pieces that I wrote excavate over and over themes concerning absent or silent fathers, angry and exhausted mothers, the desperate need for models and stories about masculinity. In the book Man Alive I have found one such role model. Thomas Page McBee takes readers on journeys of confrontation and self-discovery. There's the story of childhood abuse and facing his father. There’s the story of street violence and learning to understand his attacker. But ultimately, it’s the story of looking at and seeing our own beautiful bodies, embracing our scarred, foreign, malleable, naked selves. It’s about taking off our shirts (literally and metaphorically) and loving who we are. It’s about discovering what makes a man, and then adding to that, so you can make yourself whole. Read it.
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Very well written book that captures the inner conflict and innate certainty of living in the wrong body. McBee conveys brilliantly societies bias and fears of "breaking" the rules of expected behavior both as a lesbian and a transgender person. More importantly the book opens are minds to what it means to be different in a society that, for all its proclaiming freedoms, requires conformity.
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This book gave me the same feeling as if I had just watched a really good independent movie, i.e.: "This is something real. This is something personal. This is someone's unique view of the world and I'm very fortunate to have seen it. This is beautiful."
McBee takes us on a journey through different experiences in his life, non-chronologically, that have shaped him into his adult self. As he insightfully transmutes his past into his present, he vividly captures subtle nuances of life as a transgender man.
Read this book!
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A smart, searing, exquisitely crafted book from one of the best new voices I've read in a very, very long time. I taught this book in my senior capstone class for undergraduate creative writers this fall, & the students adored it (of course). We learn so much from McBee -- not only about how to be a man or how to navigate violence or how to wield a beautiful sentence, but about how to be human. This is a gorgeous, wise, utterly necessary book. We are so very lucky to have this voice in the world.
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