Carl, P. “Becoming a Man: The Story of a Transition”, Simon and Schuster, 2020.
“Becoming a Man” is P. Carl’s journey to become the man he always knew himself to be. He lived as a girl and as a queer woman foe fifty years during which he built a career, a life, and a loving marriage, even though he waited to realize himself in full. He takes us with him as he embarks on his gender transition and we are privy to the complex shifts and questions that he has to deal with throughout especially the alternating moments of arrival and estrangement. This is an intimate look at how transitioning reconfigures both Carl’s own inner experience and his closest bonds including his twenty-year relationship with his wife, Lynette; his relationships with his parents which are quite tumultuous. We see how seemingly solid friendships are subtly changed, often painfully and wordlessly so.
Carl combines the story of his own personal journey with an incisive cultural commentary, writing brilliantly about gender, power, and inequality in America. He transitions takes place during the rise of the Trump administration and the #MeToo movement, a transition point in America’s own story. Transphobia and toxic masculinity are under fire even as they seem to be thriving in the halls of power. Carl’s quest to become himself and to reckon with his masculinity in many ways reflects the challenge before the country as a whole— “to imagine a society where every member can have a vibrant, livable life. Here, through this brave and deeply personal work, Carl brings an unparalleled new voice to this conversation.”
The prose style is intimate and direct and we are taken in as if we are having a conversation. It is a raw and brutally honest memoir that is beautifully written and filled with passion.
Carl wrestles with his own biology, gender theory, politics, and relationships. As he does, he becomes an important voice in the conversation around gender identity. His story is also “a call to action: to love, embrace, and fight for transgender lives.” We read of Carl’s experiences with self-perception and mortality and these experiences are important to all of us. There is risk to gender transition and the ways that others are affected by it. But there is a bigger in living dishonest lives.
In sharing his difficult yet triumphant gender transition, Carl shares his thoughts on what can happen while thinking about what will be. These are the kinds of thoughts that we rarely get. Carl’s “transition upended both his marriage and his notions of white masculinity. This is a first-hand account on what it is like to go from one gender to another and all the love and support, and anger, and isolation that is part of it.
Carl transitioned at 51, after a many years of knowing himself as a man but not living as one. He wrestles with masculinity as well as how his life as a female affected his experience of manhood. There is a lot of nuance and uncertainty and contradiction here as examine the nature of identity.