SELF-MADE MAN #25: Risk

By

I thought risk looked like thick needles and greasy testosterone, a best guess at 30 years old that could never hold the sweaty nights I spent running pros and cons in my head, as if a checklist might lead me back to myself, as if I were a man who just needed to be sanded out. I was terrified of being wrong, though now right and wrong feel bitter and strange, like someone else’s language, mean and small in my mouth.

I thought I knew risk because I could inventory what I’ve lost: my ghost self, trapped in pictures that my mom doesn’t know what to do with, the soft muscle of not just my body but the body of the woman I used to hold against it, the story I’d built so carefully to hold the twin that I’ve become: Thomas.

I thought the risk was in that name and the hope it held: that someday I’d hear it and know I was the man in the sound.

But that risk is crude, like the child stumbling on the yellow strip near the train tracks at Canal Street. Truth isn’t a risk; it’s a process. Risk is a different animal entirely, a wild, wondrous, last-call night in Manhattan, a cab ride home as the morning rises up in greeting like a body built just for me.

Risk is a choice, trading what’s probable for what’s possible, a bet on something bigger than muscle and facial hair and a name that sounds so good when you say it the right way, like falling in love.

Risk is holding still at the top of the Empire State Building as the elevators go up and down until I can close my eyes and feel my heart slide in tandem, greased rails right to my stomach, dizzy with the way the space between me and everyone else has collapsed, how my body can meet yours on a dance floor or the corner of a bar and I can risk staying open to you because I’m an unfolding story without a self to lose.

Even stories lose their boundaries. I need to be here, all skin and beard and elevator heart, where everything happens at once: the people we’ve been and the people we’re becoming creating a weird physics, time bending us toward each other, nine million stories bumping into the night, each of us calling the others home.

So I risk it, and I am rewarded by moments like this one in a bar in the Lower East Side, where a man with a shock of bangs flips open the piano and hushes the drunks with some sparkly Ray Charles. I risk it, and the cab drives on, cold air on my face and the sunrise low and pink. I get home and can’t sleep but I don’t believe in pros and cons any more than right or wrong anymore. I just can’t keep my eyes off the sun. I no longer ask myself what kind of man I am. I see him everywhere: in the flirty drag queen, the piano man, the witchy woman who met my gaze on the L on a night too long ago and my elevator heart crashed right into her, a bend in time that taught me to be in love with each of you, but the risky prospect most of all.


Thomas Page McBee's essays and reportage have appeared on TheAtlantic.com, VICE, BuzzFeed, Salon, and in the New York Times. Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man, his memoir about violence and what makes a man, is forthcoming this fall from City Lights/Sister Spit, and he is now at work on a book about masculinity. He lives in New York City. Follow him on Twitter, @ThomasPageMcBee, or visit thomaspagemcbee.com. More from this author →