After Thomas Page McBee’s transition, men kept trying to fight him, and he didn’t know why. When a particularly aggressive man confronted him outside his apartment in 2014, he decided he needed an answer to a burning question: what causes men to fight? Working with what he calls a “beginner’s mind,” McBee headed to the place men willingly go to get punched: the boxing ring. In his new book Amateur, he documents his experience throwing and taking blows as he trains for a charity boxing match at Madison Square Garden.
McBee used his perspective to provide insight into an investigation of masculinity that was not only journalistic but also immensely personal. “I have a different lens and perspective than maybe somebody who’s been socially conditioned at maybe 13 or 12 or 10 into their gender identity,” he told TIME. His training taught him how to navigate the boxing gym while giving him an up-close-and-personal knowledge of man-to-man violence, competition and camaraderie.
On the night of his match, McBee became the first transgender man to box in Madison Square Garden, a barrier he didn’t even know he was breaking at the time. For him, the undertaking was always about the bigger picture. “It’s really not why I decided to do it. It’s such a personal experience that then I saw in the context of this much larger masculinity crisis story,” he said. Watch the video above to learn more about McBee’s journey inside the ring.