What Does it Mean to be a Man?

Becoming Alec by Darwin Ward and Beyond Masculinity: Essays by Queer Men on Gender and Politics by Trevor Hoppe

Becoming Alec by Darwin Ward and Beyond Masculinity: Essays by Queer Men on Gender and Politics by Trevor Hoppe

Becoming Alec, the debut novel by Madison’s own Darwin Ward, has been a sleeper hit, securing a spot for the author in the Wisconsin Book Festival and generating some great buzz and discussion in feminist and GLBT literary circles around town.

The novel’s protagonist, Alec, starts out as a working-class lesbian who eventually identifies as a transman. We follow him as he creates family, realizes his true self and finds love and contentment along the way. Alec’s journey also takes him through butch-femme culture, and the novel sensitively yet unflinchingly explores the often tense boundary between butch lesbian and transmasculine identities. Ward explores the positive and negative aspects of transition with grace and aplomb, neither sugarcoating the difficulties transpeople often face nor ruining the narrative with melodrama. Alec’s story is accessible, particular, genuine and best of all, wholly heartfelt.

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Beyond Masculinity: Essays by Queer Men on Gender and Politics is the first time I’ve gotten a book via a free download. By simply going to beyondmasculinity.com, it can be downloaded as a PDF. Additionally, twelve of the essays are available as MP3 files through a link to iTunes.

The essays fall into five themes: “Beyond Binary Gender,” “Desire, Sex, & Sexuality,” “Negotiating Identity,” “Queer Feminist Politics” and “Transforming Masculinity.” Each section challenges what it means to be a man in a world with a multidimensional spectrum of gender instead of the familiar, limited spectra of male/female and gay/bi/straight. Hoppe also included short passages from each essay in the index as a sort of abstract.

Essays range from intensely personal to more academic. Most readers will probably pick and choose from the selections rather than read the work cover to cover. “Sissy” by Mark D. Snyder is among my favorites. It explains the origins of Boston-based activists’ commitment to the LGBT cause. Another essay that resonated is “My Single Problem” by Jason Dilts. The twenty-four year-old author ponders society’s insistence that we must be paired to be considered whole, complete and happy. His essay parallels the feminist retellings of Cinderella (e.g. Just Ella) that have been appearing in young adult literature challenging the notion that Prince Charming will solve everything. While the form of “Shaking Our Shells: Cherokee Two-Spirits Rebalancing the World” by Qwo-Li Driskill makes it challenging to read, it is well worth the effort. It draws on the Native American tradition of Two-Spirit people, showing gender variance is not new, but actually very old. Every one of the essays contains views well worth the time to explore.

I would recommend anyone interested in broadening their view of gender identity take time to download Beyond Masculinity. Pick and choose those essays that catch your interest. You will be well rewarded by the fresh and challenging views you encounter.