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T Cooper's book tackles the experience of being transgender

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DECEMBER 23, 2012

In his new book, T Cooper recounts an interview with a journalist about one of his previous works. After an interview in which the journalist was overly interested in his life (even off the record), Cooper read the published story and was dismayed to see that the majority of the article talked of his personal life rather than his book. Even though his life is intriguing — he was anatomically born a female but is truly a heterosexual male — Cooper saw the move as a betrayal. It’s not that he was ashamed, but the article’s focus kicked away the literature that he crafted for years in favor of the spectacle that is his personal life.

This anecdote can’t be ignored when writing about his newest release, “Real Man Adventures,” which describes his gender and sexuality. The book is a conglomeration of interviews and short chapters that tackle one issue at a time for Cooper as a transgender man. Violence, marriage, children, side-effects of hormones — even airport security is an issue that worries a transgender person more than often. He says that “everything is at stake, pretty much all of the time … It will almost always come up some way, internally or externally, benignly or potentially threateningly.”

The book isn’t a breakthrough in its writing style, which at times can go too far with angst or aggression. Instead, its importance lies in that it pushes readers to acknowledge the commonly ignored “T” of LGBT movements. Cooper doesn’t beseech the reader to cry for him but rather unleashes his constrained feelings and thoughts about how people treat, judge and ignore trans people and their rights.

We see this in the number of footnotes that he includes, most of them humorous but many of them attacking someone’s words, though not the associated intentions. He constantly nitpicks the wording that people use, pointing out what he hates about what they said or injecting his own thoughts into another person’s quotation, as if interrupting that person’s statements. He reflects in a footnote: “I just wrote a whole book about something I hate talking about.”

The contradictions and confusions in the book serve to show the inexplicable complexity of being a trans man. We learn of Cooper’s activism and outreach to other trans people as a way to understand a collective experience or feeling, only for him to make fatalistic statements such as “ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who or what I insist I am.”

It would be presumptuous for the reader to act like he or she knows Cooper after reading the book. As Cooper writes, there is a certain “impudence of trying to encapsulate any kind of a life at all, whether in the space of six hundred words — or sixty thousand.” Readers cannot say that their lives have changed after reading the book, but perhaps their view of themselves and the way they treat or judge others has.

The important thing is to notice that Cooper’s strengths lie in different energies and that he is an individual telling his experiences, not speaking for an entire community or, as he puts it, a “species.” The purpose for readers is to explore the paradox of a type of person. We may think of trans people as different from the heteronormative majority, but Cooper emphasizes the broader concept of humanity, which makes us more similar than different.

A.J. Kiyoizumi is the lead literature critic. Contact A.J. at [email protected]

JANUARY 11, 2013

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