The New Self-Help

What Becoming a Man Showed Me About a World Designed for Men

Every day, I was rewarded for behavior that I was previously punished for

Thomas Page McBee
Forge
Published in
5 min readAug 31, 2020

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Book jacket for Amateur: A True Story About What Makes a Man by Thomas Page McBee

This story is part of The New Self-Help: 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century.

When I first began injecting testosterone, I clocked the changes primarily in aesthetic terms: the T-shirt that now fit me, the graceful curl of biceps, the glorious sprinkle of a beard. I loved being a man; I loved having a body.

Those first few years of testosterone injections coincided with a period of anxious headlines about men in economic turmoil. Post-recession, surges in suicides, drug addiction, and even beards were all blamed on a broader insecurity about the massive loss of jobs and the shake-up of male-led households after the crash. It was dubbed a global “masculinity crisis,” its hallmark behaviors deemed “toxic.” It was, according to a 2010 cover story in The Atlantic, “the end of men.”

But I was only beginning: A man born at 30, with a body that reveals a truth about being human that is rarely examined. The more I felt at home in my body, the more uncomfortable I became with what was expected of it. I couldn’t shake the idea that this “masculinity crisis” reflected something important and terrifying about what we talk about when we talk about men. All men. A story about masculinity we all have been taught to believe.

It was around that time that I began reading the psychologist Carl Jung, who, after World War II, long consumed by the question of what made people evil or complicit in evil, settled on a single, elegant explanation. He believed that ostracizing any aspect of the human experience, however ugly, created a “shadow” of our rejected bits that we drag behind us. If we do not see that the shadow belongs to us, we project it onto others, both individually and as a culture. To face and own what most disturbs you about yourself, Jung believed, is among the central moral tasks of being human.

To make change, you have to pay attention. The fight against toxic masculinity begins with yourself.

Before injecting testosterone, my beardless, androgynous body was troubling, unprofessional. I was…

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Thomas Page McBee
Forge
Writer for

Writer exploring the relationship between gender, culture, and history. Most recent book: Amateur (Scribner). Essays/reporting: NYT, The Atlantic, GQ, more.