AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Our series on men will wrap up next week, but in the meantime we've asked a few writers to share a must-read on the subject of being an American male. Poet Saeed Jones has this suggestion of a book that means a lot to him.
SAEED JONES: Here's something I wish I'd known when I was still a limp wristed little boy. Any guy who pulls off that classic red-blooded man act like it's easy is lying. He's lying to you, and maybe he's even lying to himself because being a man is damn hard work. Building that kind of persona is a precarious business. Some men just stop trying. We settle into an easier, more breathable version of ourselves. More desperate men might resort to sexism or violence to show that we measure up.
And then there's the writer T Cooper. His latest book is called "Real Man Adventures," and he opens it this way. (Reading) I am a visible man, by all appearances white, middle-class, heterosexual male.
Cooper is a happily married guy with two young stepdaughters. He's also transgender. This isn't a paradox. And through the book, which is made up of essays, lists, diagrams and interviews with family and friends, Cooper shows us what he's learned about manhood on the way to becoming himself.
One chapter is a list of changes he and his wife have noticed since he started taking testosterone. I am angry more frequently, he says, or it takes way less to make me blazing mad. People defer to me more, and I say less to strangers. Later, Cooper interviews the mother of a transgender friend. He admits, I'm asking you these questions because I'm too much of a wimp to ask my own parents or maybe I'm not ready to hear their answers.
Cooper grapples with the idea of being or becoming a real man. He's smart and vulnerable, and he gets to an essential truth that I think is comforting for all of us. Manhood is something we create like a work of art. The stoicism, the toughness, the strength - each one is like a painter's brush stroke on a self-portrait. By acting them out we're saying this is who I am. This is who I want you to see.
But if we're going to be real men, Cooper seems to imply it's because we're real to ourselves. Writing this book was an accomplishment, but it involved risk and sacrifice. Cooper knows the possible consequences of exposing his family and his personal life. For all the acceptance of transgender people in America, there's still a lot of work to be done. But if anything, the truth about manhood begins here, with the honest questions answered and the self laid bare. I would have loved Cooper's book when I was still a boy, but I guess since becoming a man is an ongoing process, his brilliant writing arrived right on time all the same.
CORNISH: That's poet Saeed Jones recommending T Cooper's "Real Man Adventures." Jones also has a new book out this month. It's called "Prelude To Bruise."
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