In his first ‘memoir’, T Cooper explores his life from every angle. His own, his wife’s, his brother’s, his friend’s parents, his parents, societies, the town he lives in, the police, the media, and so on. This is a genre-bending ‘memoir’ that compiles together essays, lists, interviews, transcripts, and images to create a cross-examination of the life of a trans man in America. It remains honest and, at times, brutal but acknowledges its specific vantage point and it’s very funny.
Humour is one of life’s greatest coping mechanisms and, in writing, humour when paired with ‘serious’ topics can sometimes rub readers the wrong way. It can give the appearance of flippancy or light-heartedness and, to some, Cooper may, at times, be guilty of making light. But humour is as much a part of Cooper’s wheelhouse as sparsity is part of Lydia Davis’s, or the working class is to Dickens.
Cooper has, in actuality, assembled a guide for a reader to enter his life. This guide blends the politics, the threat, the everyday dangers with true life in a way that’s reminiscent of Dan Savage (I’m thinking specifically of The Commitment). It’s why I’m hesitant to use the word memoir. That’s not because memoir, as a genre, is restricting to a writer but because people think memoir is one thing when it isn’t. They confine it to boxes, and this doesn’t fit within them.
The book is a solid mixture of light and dark. The humour of Cooper’s six-word chapters and his assessments of violence against trans people juxtapose each other. His wife’s fear whenever he enters a public bathroom and isn’t out within two to three minutes, his panic that a friendly neighbour (who’s pleased by their own progressiveness) could cause danger in the southern town they live in, his difficulty acquiring a passport, as well as the idea of pronouns and their importance. Cooper leaves very few stones unturned, except for those he wants to keep to himself (and he has every right to).
It’s fascinating to see Cooper write about privilege and it really brought home the idea of intersectionality to me. That’s not necessarily because Cooper out rightly discusses intersectionality, but because his ruminations on becoming, for all intents and purposes, a straight white man are interesting, and how it leads to people to treating him differently. And, in light of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s comments about trans women, it’s interesting to see how that privilege really doesn’t exist. Or, in the moments that it does, it crumbles away with the tiniest breeze.
‘People in New York and San Francisco, or Los Angeles for that matter, Berlin, Bangkok, Amsterdam, London,’ Cooper writes, ‘Maybe even you, wherever you reside—cannot understand what the big deal is, what is at stake when you live in a gender that is different from the one assigned to you at birth. That’s only because everything is at stake, pretty much all of the time, even if there are long periods when I don’t think about it or don’t want to think about it or don’t even particularly care much about it at all. It will almost always come up some way, internally or externally, benignly or potentially life-threateningly.’
Real Man Adventures isn’t any kind of ‘tell-all’ nor is it any kind of misery memoir. It isn’t really even a memoir. It’s a discussion, it’s thoughts, it’s getting all sides, it’s doing its own thing. And maybe this isn’t a ‘memoir’ that goes incredibly deep and it only scratches the surface most of the time but its form allows that. It’s an introduction to this lifestyle but it doesn’t speak for everyone, nor does it cover everything (and it shouldn’t have to). What it is: funny, informative, sometimes raw, educational, empathetic, and well thought out.
Real Man Adventures is published by McSweeney’s and is available here.
This review orginally appeared as part of an LGBTQ+ blog project examining queer film, art, literature, and TV.