Author T Cooper tackled a difficult subject matter through a variety of media, including music, graphic novel, short video and interview, last night as he read from his nonfiction book, "Real Man Adventures," in the Hodges Library Auditorium.
The event was part of UT's "Writers in the Library" series that brings diverse authors to speak and read their work on campus.
"Real Man Adventures" is, according to the author, a "meditation on masculinity with autobiographical elements, and also kind of a love story."
While the book deals with perceptions of masculinity in the world today, it is centered around Cooper's own history: the writer is transgender.
Of the writers this year, Cooper is the only one who seemed reluctant to talk about the autobiographical elements of his story.
"I'm talking about a book that I don't like talking about, which is sad for you," Cooper laughed. "But that's why I bring a whole row of people to tell it for me."
This row of people included UT faculty member Elizabeth Henderson, Magpies Bakery owner Peggy Hambright and Cooper's other Knoxville-based friends. Henderson acted the female parts of some of the scripted parts of the book, while Hambright played several accordion interludes to accompany the six-word memories that Cooper intersperses through his book.
His reluctance on the subject of his past was explained in the beginning of his book.
"I don't really want to write about my 'thing' ... the thing that defines most of us, whether determined by others or ourselves ... but I think I might have to to stop it from being a thing," Cooper read. "One's candor and the resultant exposure can end up hanging around for people to pick through."
Instead of his 'thing,' Cooper's reading included interviews with exotic dancers, dialogue between himself and his wife, and a column addressing Shiloh Jolie-Pitt's clothing choices.
Cooper said that he sometimes finds it easier and more comfortable to be around people who don't know of his past – the car salesman, the cashier. For Emma Russell, sophomore in women's studies, Cooper's hesitancy is understandable.
"He didn't seem particularly happy with sharing," Russell said. "I liked it. When people have issues or histories like this, people expect you to just share everything about yourself. But that's unrealistic."
This seems to be the reason for the diversity and non-linearity of "Adventures."
"I wanted this book to have a lot of different voices interacting and weighing in," Cooper said. "Even though I look it, I am not the authority on masculinity."
He might not be the authority, but he can speak to the myths and comments he receives from people about being transgender as well as the importance of identity.
"'Nobody would ever suspect' is the go-to generous compliment non-trans people always give us. 'I never would have known that you weren't born male, or female, or poor, or born in another country,'" Cooper said. "But it's not about what others think you are, it's about what you think you are ... what you fear, what you project consciously or unconsciously."
Stephanie Phillips, senior in English, emphasized the ease of relating to Cooper in his storytelling.
"He doesn't claim to be the expert, he just expresses his thoughts about how our society is about masculinity," Phillips said. "It helps to break down stereotypes and stop people from being afraid of making choices if they want a different life."
For Cooper, these effects were probably unintended; he stressed the personal importance in simply telling his story and getting it out of his system.
"It was definitely something I struggled with to write for a long time," Cooper said. "It's not like 'eat pray trans,' it's not meant to be inspirational. It's just my tiny little take on my tiny little life."