A new book brings together a diverse range of trans*male voices to share their stories of how they became the men that they are.
Manning Up is not the first anthology of trans*men’s stories, but it may be the most diverse and wide-ranging.
Let’s start with the title, Manning Up. It’s usually a phrase that makes us cringe, associated with someone telling us that we are not living up to some masculine ideal. The editors, Zander Keig and Mitch Kellaway, have given “manning up” a new definition, using it as a phrase to describe the process of someone becoming the man they know themselves to be. In his foreword, transman, activist, and author Jamison Green writes:
As the men included in this collection attest, being a man involves knowing who you are and
how you fit into the world of men. No man gains this knowledge automatically. It is a process for each of us, regardless of race, class, or age. The men who share pieces of their stories in these pages are in varying stages of this process. Their diverse backgrounds, ages, and racial heritage illuminate their journeys, and their histories of physical and socio-cultural obstacles enrich their appreciation of the nuances involved in taking their places among the men in their spheres, as well as redefining their relationships with women.
Each of the writers approaches masculinity from a different perspective. Some grew up doing “boy” activitism others were pushed along traditionally female paths. Some are open and out, others choose to live with minimal disclosure of the lives they formerly led. Some transitioned early in life, with the full support of their families. One man was 54. These men are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, none of the above, gay, straight, poly, single, married. They are as varied as men anywhere.
One unifying theme in all of these stories, what makes them so compelling, is that each of them always knew, on some level, that they were not women, regardless of they physical characteristics they were born with or the social labels placed on them. Another is love-love of self, love of others-and how their transitions allowed them to experience this in new ways. What makes each one distinct, though, is what they believed a man was, how that view was shaped over time, and how they embraced or rejected that in their own lives.
One reviewer writes:
What is most subversive about the book, is that the stories present a poignant image of familial acceptance — something that many trans narratives still tend to shy away from. We hear from men whose masculinity is shaped by intimate interactions with fathers, brothers, colleagues, and even lovers.
Manning Up shows the complexity and beauty of transition that is not only unique to the trans male experience but with its underlying theme of love, it is a book that is relatable to all genders.
Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Oakland-based award-winning artist and writer
It is the distinct tone of each story that gives this book its strength, separates it from “coming out” books, and makes it accessible and compelling to anyone, not just people in the GLBT community. There is no one type of man; there is no one type of masculinity, or one transition narrative. Another reviewer says:
The genius of Manning Up is its ability to include, indeed its insistence on, multiple narratives and experiences and, thus, the creation of many new histories. These essays are a necessary antidote to today’s pervasive and crushing limited scope of “acceptable” (hyper) masculinities. These first person, deeply reflective and wondrously diverse narratives broaden the range of what is possible for trans and cis men alike. An important addition to masculinity studies by men with vitally human perspectives.
tc tolbert, co-editor of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics
Manning Up contains a total of 29 stories divided into four sections: Manning Up, Family Man, Men Like Me, and New Territories.
I’m not going to lie to you and say this is a book of quick and easy reads, of short essays about being a man in modern society. There are pieces in here that will challenge you. There are pieces that are poetic and lyrical and others that are forceful and in-your-face. They are not all uplifting, with pat endings, starring the characters that popular media has taught us to expect in the stories of trans*people.
But they are worth your time. One writer writes about the most honest performance he has ever given, a true autobiography on stage-and how it is rewarded with praise for his acting ability. Another speaks of his comfort and discomfort of being unquestioningly accepted into the crude sexual joking/male bonding of his much-younger coworkers. In one deeply thought-provoking piece, the writer speaks about being a “new black man”, now subject to the presumption and racism that go with that.
Being a man, becoming a man, regardless of the path you take to get there, does not automatically confer privilege or erase your past experiences. But these stories, by established writers and new voices, will give you a new perspective on what it means to be one.
Photo by Wolfgang
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