14 February 2021


 When I finished my Dutch book I knew where to turn next. I had bought a book about a trans man who registers for a boxing match more than a year ago, and it had still just been sitting in my book cupboard. It was time it came out! And it was such a good read (but also a very small book) that I have already finished it.

So is this book about boxing? Well, yes and no. The writer had transitioned, and was coming to terms with his new life, and struggled to make sense of a lot of things. And he thought learning how to box might help with that. And he hadn't ever boxed before, but there seems to be some circuit of charity fights in New York, where mainly well-off white blokes square up against each other, and that provides a good opportunity. If you want to either seriously compete, or go professional, you need to invest quite a lot of time and effort in it, but for this charity fights the bar is lower. I mean, it's a bit like running a marathon for a charity. No one cares if you run fast or slow; people care if you raise money!

There is a lot of boxing in the book, of course, but quite a lot of it is rather philosophical contemplations about gender. For instance, the author has transitioned around the age of 30, so knows exactly what it is like to navigate the world as a woman. And in order to find your place, you sometimes have to fight. Not physically fight, of course; but your presence is often not something you can take for granted in, for instance, a professional environment. So she had learned to be extra assertive. To be really alert to dangers walking home alone. To be ready to act if there was a threat. And then she transitioned. And as he puts it, suddenly he has gone from threatened to threat. Suddenly his presence IS taken for granted. Suddenly people listen, and don't talk over him. And he realises he has to do some serious recalibration. Instead of fighting for being taken seriously, now suddenly he has to make a U-turn and make a concerted effort to not be so assertive that no woman in his company will ever get a word in sideways. Suddenly he has to consider that if he, for instance, goes for a run, and approaches a solitary woman from behind, that that can be perceived as a threat, and that he has to make a concerted effort to signal he is not a threat. All of these things. And suddenly people are less likely to get physical with him; fewer hugs, fewer friendly touches. Except, of course, that men are now more likely to pick a fight with him. The book starts with that; he takes a picture of a restaurant he wants to take his girlfriend to, but there is a car in front of the restaurant, and the owner of the car is not pleased about that picture being taken, and goes all menacing. So even though he says he has gone from threatened to threat, I suppose that mainly covers sexual violence. When you are a man, you are more likely to become a victim of physical violence! And he manages to shrug this car owner off, but he wants to delve deeper into the world of male aggression to learn more about his new life. And also has to decide whether to tell the organisation that he is a trans man. I have no idea what the rules are in actual boxing competitions, but as I said before; these charity fights are different. So he decides not to tell. And find himself a gym. And starts training…

I can't say this book made me think boxing is a good idea. But it is clear that it helps the writer. He learns how to keep going under attack, and learns to be in a very masculine space. And realises that where men box, masculinity doesn't seem to be in question, and the men are less scared of things like physical touch, or showing emotions. He has the impression that elsewhere, masculinity needs to be asserted; so you keep your hands of other men, and keep a stiff upper lip. Not so in a boxing gym.

You also follow some of the developments of trying to find a new place in the world. He realises soon that and not only is everyone silent when he speaks in the meeting (which most certainly wasn't the case before the transition), but he also has started to talk over women. And he takes men more seriously. And wonders what is going on there. And it is infuriating to read that even people who know damn well what it's like on the other side display that behaviour, but at least he is aware of it. That he keeps a tally of who he talks over, and notices the gender disparity, is already half of the problem solved. And when he realises he never asks his sister for any boxing advice even though she has been boxing for years, and even ignores her when she talks about it and continues to exchange ideas with men, he makes the effort of apologising to her. It's not the mess you make; it's the mess you leave behind!

I thought it was a riveting read. He has written more; I might buy more of his books. I can recommend it to anyone! And the fight? How does that end? Well, you might have to read it yourself to find that out!

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