Amateur follows McBee...into his dogged investigation into what in fact makes a man. He steps into the ring as an amateur boxer after a brush with male aggression. His sights set on a charity fight several months away, he's driven by a desire to hone his skills in protecting himself, but more so by a burning question about why violence is so entwined with masculinity. Sociology professor Michael Kimmel suggests to him, 'Men tend to fight when they feel humiliated.... You don't fight when you feel really powerful.' ... McBee ponders...sociological implications with refreshing care and empathy, untangling a positive depiction of masculinity from the toxic strains paraded through contemporary discourse ... Amateur is more than a boxing story, just as it's more than a trans narrative. It's a highly recommended case study in manhood.
Because it works within its own rhetorical tradition, Amateur is marked by a heavy flavor of conclusion. It’s not that McBee delivers a highhanded lecture on the nature of contemporary masculinity—far from it. Instead, he writes with a tone that I suspect has been shaped by his career in journalism, which loves to match a high-flying concept with a lot of reportorial legwork ... McBee structures his inquiry like a series of questions to be 'reported out' into essays. (He initially attacked the challenge of boxing in an article for Quartz.) So even though this book relays a subtle, profound personal investigation into masculinity and personhood, the author emits the vibe of someone who takes very detailed notes ... McBee’s great twist is to treat masculinity itself as an anthropological phenomenon, represented by this bloody, extreme sport. Inside the fight, McBee finds reconciliation.
Amateur is a heck of a tale, and McBee is a gifted memoirist. He is particularly good at communicating his own fear and ambivalence—both in crossing the gender frontier and in learning a sport that draws on a brutal code of male behaviour that his experience has given him reason to reject ... His account of negotiating gym locker rooms with his surgically altered body captures an insecurity that feels more universal than exceptional ... The weakness of the book is that it tries to weave McBee’s story in with meditations on what he calls the 'masculinity crisis' in modern culture, a phenomenon that ranges from #MeToo to opiate addiction. No doubt what it means to be a man is changing, but the case for a crisis needs to be made, and in this short volume McBee does not have the room to make it. Amateur left me wanting to hear more about boxing, the McBee family, and the men he met in the gym. The interwoven quotes from sociologists and economists are, by contrast, mostly dull and trite.