Self-Made Man #26: Wild


It’s a too-hot December Sunday, and I’m in a T-shirt on Mott Street with a woman in a black dress who says she feels wild. I feel it too, in my blue jeans and slick hair and sticky skin. Like attracts like, and the truth is we are both prowling around Chinatown with our swiveling animal heads.

That’s not quite right, of course: I may be operating on instinct, but I’m not fooling anyone. If I’m a predator, I’m half-limping, thundering through this moment with an off-leash heart. I thought I could get my aura picture taken at this crystal shop and understand who I’ve become, just like I thought if I woke up enough mornings, hot with sleep in an empty house, I’d wash my face and love the animal I am.

“Dangerous,” she says, outside the train, beside the sandwich shop. My beard’s coming in. I’m growing it like a memorial to something lost, which I try to explain but I’m not sure yet what I mean. I look like trouble, like a werewolf, each shot of testosterone making me more human somehow.

Dangerous. I have to say that when we’re in front of the fish hanging in the butcher with their sad silver skin and blank, beady eyes, I look at her and only see soft underbelly and glittery claws.

To be wild is to make honesty primal, to not edit out the smell of spit and smoke and the street fruit. To be wild is to let my body levitate when you look at me the right way, when you hit me hard on the street, to be my mouth or my fists, or both—probably both. The wild don’t build fences; we let the worms and ivy and rats and love in.

The wild don’t dictate; we dive.

Christmas Day: My heartbroken friend texts me drunk from a roadside motel in the desert and asks me what she’s doing with her life. She’s feral. She’s having a dark night of the soul. I tell her that’s where faith lives. I say, “You’re wild wild wild, let it go.”

I buzz with testosterone, sparking and potent. I feel crude and oily when I shut down the alpha at work; I feel graceful as a barrel-chested ballet dancer on Mott Street on a sunny Sunday, my center of gravity high enough that I move unafraid and heart-first.

Before Mott Street, at the Quaker meeting on 15th Street, I stare at my ever-furrier forearms and try to think about God. My hair is soft and dark, creeping with a conqueror’s quiet resolve across the tops of my hands. Soon tattoos like armor will cover the tender area between my knuckles and my wrists: medieval illustrations of a lion and a lamb.

When I hold up my hands, it will be a question: Who are we if we cannot sleep together?

It’s all right. In six months, I’ll be a new man, sitting in this same Quaker meeting house with sweat tracing its way down my biceps, with a heart that’s recalibrated yet again. The hair on my hands will be thicker by then. I can’t guarantee anything else, but I know that even the sweet little lamb will be shot through with black bits of beast.

But today a siren wails by the meeting, and then a siren wails by us on Mott Street and I know that I am a child of the universe; there are no boundaries between us. I’m with a wild woman in Chinatown looking for magic that we both know is already here, in the subway-grate rattle and contraband Gucci purses and smoke and mirrors. I can feel it all in my tingling teeth and the muscles blooming like tiny balloons down my back. I’m blue fire, soft where I burn the brightest; I am a new man with a new beard that spreads, hungry, down my neck.

I’m home from Chinatown, in bed with just a candle on and my whole life ahead of me. I never put a shirt on. I swing from my pull-up bar in the middle of the night. In the soft disco light, I turn to wolf and back again, because I am here. I am transcendent precisely because I am a fanged child of the universe. I am alive because I am a lamb that knows exactly where and with whom to sleep.

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 new 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. 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, and Glamour. More from this author →