(Buy it HERE.)
“I have spent most of my life adrift in hollow silos, a bee whirling around in an empty can.”
Landa Mabenge is a very interesting person. He grew up in an abusive home and struggled through alcoholism, poor mental health, and bad relationships as a young adult in addition to struggling to find support through coming out and getting gender affirmation treatment. Now, he’s an activist and advocate for transgender health issues and adult recovery from abuse. He describes this journey with such a clear desire for personal purpose that readers can’t help but be in his corner from the first page, even through some very dark experiences.
Despite the title, Becoming Him is not really a memoir about being trans. It is the memoir of a trans man–a small distinction but an important one, I feel. Mabenge himself says that the gender affirmation process was only one part of his life–an important part, but not his entire life. There’s a lot more to Landa than just his gender and he makes it clear that he’s very much a normal man living an extraordinary life. While there are abnormal and dysfunctional things in his story, being transgender isn’t one of them. He writes with himself as default, a powerful thing for a “diverse” writer to do, and very effective. Ultimately, the memoir is about recovery, affirmation, and moving continually upward through life towards one’s personal purpose. I personally found it very relatable and inspiring.
Relatable as I found this, it’s the first book by a Black South African writer I’ve ever read, and only the second book I’ve read about a transgender man.(The first was Parrotfish, if you’re curious.) I know that there were plenty of references to transgender experience and South African culture in the text that I missed completely. As it was, I looked up a lot of things while reading. I didn’t mind it since that’s part of why I read. I did mind the TedTalk tone of some parts of the book, and the Jedi hand waving over what seems to be an abusive streak in Mabenge’s own personality as well.
This review was originally written in 2019–imagine my surprise when I discovered that Mabenge has, in fact, given a TedTalk–and its quite good!
4 stars to Becoming Him. Buy it here from Bookshop.
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