What Makes a Man 

Real Man Adventures—Don't Call It a Memoir

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TOWARD THE END of Real Man Adventures, T Cooper poses a question to his wife: "Will you still love and respect me if I am ever accidentally referred to as a 'memoirist?'"

Her response is tart: "I love you when you are accidentally referred to as a woman. I think I can handle memoirist."

Cooper's insistence on his right to self-definition—both in his work and in his life—is a recurring motif in Real Man Adventures, which is made up of personal essays, interviews, lists, and even a few dream sequences. It's a cobbled-together accounting of his life as a transman and a man, a husband and a parent, and it deliberately sidesteps the typical templates of memoir. (There's no troubled childhood or rocky road to redemption here; a chapter titled "High School: A Six-Word Memoir" simply reads "Had a good personality, I'm told.")

Cooper lives and (mostly) passes as a man in the small Southern town where he lives with his family—and the problems with the phrase I just wrote mirror the issues Cooper explores throughout his book. Chiefly: At what point does someone stop "passing" as a man and simply become one? And who gets to make that call? "I don't sit there through every interaction wondering, WHEN WILL THEY FIND OUT?" Cooper writes. "I am at my best when the world sees me for what I am, when people assume I am nothing but what they see before them."

But of course, there's no guarantee as to how he'll be seen. Here's another exchange between Cooper and his wife:

"How many minutes do I have to be in a public men's restroom before you start picturing me being raped and killed?"

"On average, three," she replies. "Five if I can see the line. Two if we are at a dodgy truck stop."

Real Man Adventures brims with ambivalence and frustration, and Cooper's worry that he "will always be known primarily for the thing [he'd] like not to be known for," even as he writes an entire book about it. But Cooper is determined to be the author of his own experience (this extends to a willingness to inform the reader that certain things are simply none of her business). The result is a valuable, enlightening document that sidesteps cliché and easy answers in favor of a bracing account of what it means—for Cooper—to be a man in this world.

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