Thomas Page McBee Yall! So so happy to share his perspective for the HOW TO BE YOUR OWN NATURE Existing Together Astrology Interview series. Thomas writes about masculinity and all of its complexity, connecting places and people and things that don’t usually get connected, which is why I think his writing is for everyone right now, it’s SO IMPORTANT! He is so excellent at staying very close to what is really at stake, in all his creative work. His endeavors bear the beautiful unusual mark of all the compassion and tenderness of Pisces, with the critical, collective lens of Libra and Aquarius, among other things. Both of his books are excellent, and all of his online writing is relevant, thoughtful, productive and kind. This is such a rare combination for writing in what can be such sticky territory. Excited for you to discover his work if you haven’t already!
Read more of his work!
Follow him on the internet, if you do that kind of thing.
Thomas Page McBee’s Lambda award-winning memoir, Man Alive, was named a best book of 2014 by NPR Books, BuzzFeed, Kirkus, and Publisher's Weekly. His “refreshing [and] radical” (The Guardian) second book, Amateur, a reported memoir about learning how to box in order to understand masculinity’s tie to violence, was published in August to wide acclaim and was shortlisted for the UK’s Baillie-Gifford nonfiction book prize. It was named a best book of 2018 by many publications, including the London Times, BuzzFeed, and Book Riot.
Thomas was the first transgender man to box in Madison Square Garden, a “masculinity expert” for VICE, and the author of the columns “Self-Made Man” for the Rumpus and “The American Man” for Pacific Standard. His current column, "Amateur," is for Condé Nast's Them. A former senior editor at Quartz, his essays and reportage have appeared in the New York Times, Playboy, Glamour, Out, The Cut, and more.
Thomas has taught courses at the City University of New York’s graduate school of journalism and worked as a television writer for the forthcoming Netflix show, Tales of the City. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and is currently at work on his next project, a modern reimagining of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
1. What brings you the most joy?
Asking big questions (What is evil? Can we integrate our shadows? What's a "real man"? How do the stories we tell define us, and where do they fail us?) with what they call a "beginner's mind" in Zen, and then getting the chance to investigate the answers and write about them. I love the questioning, the experimenting with answers, and the reporting back. I love words, I love connecting, and--for all of our faults--I love humanity. I am grateful to be alive and part of the human family, and I see it as my responsibility as an artist and a person to leave the world a little better than I found it.
2. Do you identify which Pisces characteristics? Which ones?
I understand that I'm an "upstream fish," which maybe has something to do with being born on the cusp of Aquarius (and having so many planets in Aquarius, as well). I'm also a Libra rising and moon, so I'm definitely diplomatic and aesthetic, but I'm not as go-with-the-flow and ethereal as other Pisces. I do connect deeply to the empathetic, old-soul aspects of my sign. It's said that Pisces have a little bit of all the signs within them, as we're the last in the Zodiac, and that feels right to me. I find that my empathy for others is often a way to empathize with myself, and seeing myself in others comes easily to me.
3. I see astrology as providing a language of categorization, which can be so healing. And yet it, like all categorization, it has its limitations. As someone whose work has a lot to do with investigating categories (specifically of gender), when do you find that can categorization be healing, and when is it damaging?
I'm also suspicious of a strict binary (male/female, for example), because binaries tend to create or reenforce power structures, and variation and nuance are much more common than reductive identities. Whenever I see black-and-white thinking, I wonder who benefits--and loses--from the lack of nuance. With astrology, there's a ton of nuance (I'm still learning so much about my birth chart), but people tend to get hung up on sun signs, and I find that most skeptics don't know a lot about astrology as a vast and ancient attempt by humans to understand the incredible mystery of life. I was raised by a physicist, and so I tend to see astrology and quantum physics and the world's religions all as different attempts to honor and explore the fundamentally unnameable. Holding the paradox: That we attempt to understand what we never truly will, but that in that attempt we get much closer to ourselves--that, to me, is the entire point of being a person. I respect all of the ways we've invented to hold life's mysteries. The damage of categorization is seeing oneself as a didactic identity ("I'm a Pisces") without understanding the context and spirit of what these incredible, ancient endeavors are really about.
4. Where do you find personal healing on the daily, and how much or how little does this overlap with your sense of what is needed for collective healing?
I meditate every day and work out most days. Lifting weights keeps me grounded and in my body, and meditation connects me to myself spiritually. I also pull a Tarot card daily, which connects me to what I cannot see and my faith in things larger than myself. I spend a lot of intentional time with my wife and our pets. I also structure my days so that I both set and review goals regularly, allowing for room to change and to practice gratitude. I do all of this so that I can do my work, which is fundamentally about connection. Being an out trans man writing about masculinity puts me in a. vulnerable position, and I find that if I'm centered, I have good boundaries for myself and empathy for others, even those who are frightened by what I have to say. I really try to be thoughtful and intentional about what I put out into the world, whether it's in my books, or journalism, or on my Instagram feed. I welcome complexity and dialogue, and try to allow room for the messy art of being a person who is always in transition. I look for the universal. In order to have that kind of collective healing, I have to really know myself. Maybe it's my Leo North Node--I'm very mindful that I am the collective, and the collective is me. I have to be good at tolerating discomfort, grounding in the moment, and holding ambiguity. It's a constant practice, but when it's working, it really works.
5. Who are the people you're most inspired by lately / what keeps you fresh in your work?
I'm surrounded by people who inspire me, from my family to my friends to my colleagues and peers. I am a water sign but I grew up in a family of fire signs, and my wife is a Sagittarius (so was my mother), and I tend to be very drawn to truth-tellers and free-thinkers who remind me every day to stand up for what I believe in. In terms of public figures, I'm just blown away by Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, whose commitment to integrity is so powerful to witness. I feel the same way about the journalist Ronan Farrow, who has helped take down so many bad actors in the #MeToo era. I'm always inspired by people with the guts to face America's "shadows," and so I've been re-reading James Baldwin, who continues to be the premiere example of a genius writer willing to take on the world we live in out of a brave and defiant kind of love. I'm inspired by bell hooks's book on masculinity, "The Will to Change," which I return to often. And, lately, as I'm thinking about (as Jung put it), the "problem of evil," I'm inspired by people who've been willing to confront cultural narratives about monsters: Jordan Peele pops to mind, but also anyone of any medium doing the hard work of facing the "shadows" of our culture--sexism, racism, transphobia, classism, but also the shame that we've inherited from our ancestors, shame designed to maintain the status quo. I admire anyone trying to get free.