Man Made: A Memoir of My Body

Man Made: A Memoir of My Body

by Ken Baker
     
 

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The bracingly honest memoir of a star athlete who lived with a brain tumor that flooded his body with female hormones and sent him into a sexual netherworld from which he would emerge with insights about sexuality and manhood few could imagine.

On the surface, Ken Baker seemed a model man. He was a nationally ranked hockey goalie; girls threw themselves… See more details below

Overview

The bracingly honest memoir of a star athlete who lived with a brain tumor that flooded his body with female hormones and sent him into a sexual netherworld from which he would emerge with insights about sexuality and manhood few could imagine.

On the surface, Ken Baker seemed a model man. He was a nationally ranked hockey goalie; girls threw themselves at him; fans cheered him. Inside, though, he didn't feel like a "man." Baker found that despite his attraction to women, he had little sex drive and even less of a sex life. To his anguish, he repeatedly found himself unable to perform sexually. Despite strenuous workouts, his body remained flabby and soft.

In his eventual career as a Hollywood correspondent for People, Baker found himself challenged and tormented by the sexually charged atmosphere of Tinseltown. His relations with women fractured. Physically, matters would grow more bizarre as he would one day find himself lactating.

The macho culture that reared Baker made it agonizingly difficult for him to seek help. But he would eventually learn that he was suffering from a rare brain tumor that flooded his body with massive amounts of a female hormone. Six hours of brain surgery would accomplish what years of therapy, rumination, and denial could not. Finally, Ken Baker would be able to feel-and function-like a man.

At a moment of heated debate over nature versus nurture, Man Made-like no other book-illuminates the biochemical nature of sexuality. Moreover, it is a fascinating chronicle of growing up sexually as a male in America-and a profound recollection of the pain that accompanies sexual dysfunction in our postsexual-revolution culture.

A triumph of candor and a vital inquiry into the essence of male identity. (Samuel G. Freedman, author of The Inheritance)

Author Bio: Ken Baker is a senior staff writer for US Weekly magazine.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Describing the locker-room banter of his college hockey team, Baker writes, "They don't realize how lucky they are. If they like a girl, just about the only thing stopping them from being with her is the girl. I also have to contend with myself." While locker-room epiphanies are ubiquitous in male gender studies, Baker's memoir about struggling with masculinity in contemporary culture is unique. Throughout his adolescence and early adult life, he suffered from a massive overabundance of prolactin--the hormone that allows females to produce milk. This imbalance, caused by a benign tumor in Baker's brain, engendered a host of physical problems, such as impotence, excess fat on his hips and breasts and sensitive nipples that would occasionally excrete a milky substance. While much of the book traces Baker's long medical quest for the cause of these unsettling symptoms, the heart of the book is a meditation on how society constructs maleness and what happens to men who do not fit the mold. Baker's account of his boyhood is well observed but ordinary, while his detailing of his adult romantic life is painfully adroit. Some of the best parts of the book show Baker's growing awareness of the role that homophobia plays in constituting "appropriate" social maleness: from seeing his father making fun of "faggots" in his youth to covering gay activist protests against Pat Robertson's homophobic religious views. A senior writer at US Weekly, Baker has a breezy journalistic style that may attract those outside the realm of gender studies. While his specific medical problem may be too singular to interest a mass readership, his contemplation of the social prisons of gender and sexuality is not. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781585420834
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/14/2001
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
5.92(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


AWAKENING


I'm groggy, but the fog is lifting. I can see clearly through the window at the foot of my bed to the nurses' station in the hall. I lift my head an inch off the pillow, just enough to inspect the yellow, blue and white maze of wires connecting the bleeping box to the tiny round patches stuck to my bare chest. I assume they are heart monitors.

    Taking inventory, my eyes stop at my thigh area, where I notice a clear plastic tube poking out from beneath the blanket. The tube, slithering between the blanket and my leg, curves down toward the floor. I can see a yellowish fluid dripping inside. For the first time since I came to, I bend my arms, slowly lifting the blanket off my gown-covered body. Nudging chin-to-chest, I struggle for a better view. Scanning past my stomach to my groin, I pull my gown up, and I cringe. Oh, God ... it's a catheter.

    Glancing down, I see my penis shriveled, tiny as a garden slug, stuck to my thigh with white medical tape', its tip swallowing the narrow, straw-size tube snaking up to my bladder I swallow another glop of blood as I, peering over my oxygen mask, stare at my limp dick, gray and lifeless—so unsexual, like half a sausage link topped by a wilted mushroom.

    This tiny nub of tissue, numbed by the trauma, this is what women crave and we men deem the paragon of virility? The stability of our fragile male psyches depends on this pathetic little body part? Viagra, penis envy, penis pumps, phallic national monuments shaped in their honor. Count the number of English wordswehave for it and you realize its assessed importance. Dick, prick, cock, schlong, peter, penis, pecker, poker, prick, hammer, rammer, rod, dink, dong, the high hard one, Mr. Happy, the baloney pony, the one-eyed snake, the main vein. Now look at it, resting there helplessly, an involuntary exitway for my urine, an inch fleshy tissue getting in the way of the catheter and my bladder. This medical nuisance, so easily rendered impotent by a tumor, brought me so much grief for so many years? I've just risked a stroke, brain damage—my life!—so that I can get hard, make babies, please a woman and please myself. But now I can barely lift my arm, let alone harden this pathetic-looking penis.

    I plop my head back onto the pillow and stare at the ceiling. I want to cry, but I am too tired. I can only think how I wish every man could see his private pride-and-joy in this vulnerable, emasculated state. Only then might we witness an alarming drop in White House sex scandals, child pornography, murder rates, abusive boyfriends, cheating husbands, wig-beaters, AIDS, prostitution, gang-banging, domestic violence, hubris, schoolyard shootings, terrorism, war. Also, then we might see fewer people like me, a young man who, until sniffing the wafting reek of death in a hospital's intensive care unit, had been convinced that, no matter how hard he tried, he could never be a real man.


( PROLACTIN LEVEL: 1,500 NG/ML )


When Drew Barrymore invites you to a party, you go—especially when you are a twenty-five-year-old (wannabe) Hollywood hipster and have been celibate and single ever since you were unceremoniously dumped by a girl almost four years ago.

    If I don't attend Drew's soiree, I might as well relinquish my Hollywood press corps credentials. People magazine's Hollywood bureau chief expects me—hey, he even gives me a corporate AmEx card for the very purpose—to schmooze as much as possible with nubile A-listers and any other glitterati I may meet while trolling the streets of Los Angeles for the scoop, the dish, the dirt.

    Therefore, as soon as the courier arrives in the office lobby and hands me the fancy-shmancy cardboard invitation to Drew's fundraiser for a southern California wildlife refuge, I phone over to Drew's production office on Sunset Boulevard and, intoning the cockiest voice I can muster, l inform the movie star's perky assistant that I—"Ken Baker, from People magazine"—am RSVP'ing for tonight's bash.

    Later, I stare in my cluttered bedroom closet, a palpable pre-party anxiety oozing from my naked body, which I do not glance at in the wall mirror because I would rather not see what I regard as my disgusting, womanly figure: my Jell-O abs, puffy breasts, narrow shoulders. This is perhaps the most vital moment of any night out in Hollywood, because it is when I choose a battle armor that will conceal my unmanliness from the opposite sex.

    What to wear, what to wear, what to wear. Hmmm ... let me do some fashion math: Cool = Black. So I don black Banana Republic jeans and a loose-fitting black T-shirt (to hide my man-breasts) with black Kenneth Cole shoes, under which I will wear black Gap dress socks. My invited partner for the evening is Kelly (a guy), who is my roommate. Across the hall of our two-bedroom apartment in his bedroom, Kelly does a sartorial copycat maneuver, going black, too, although he adds a few beaded chain necklaces of dubious cultural origin just for mysterious effect.

    Then, before my sun-lightened hair dries, I squeeze a viscous glob of L'Oréal Anti-Stick Invisi-Gel into my palm and smear it through my tong, straw-straight hair, which I have grown as a protest to the buzz-short hairdos that the so-called cute, hot guys on Friends are wearing these days. Lastly, I dab a speck of flesh-colored Clearasil on a red pimple conspicuously placed in the middle of my tanned forehead. Once I'm made sufficiently pretty, we depart for downtown Hollywood.

    A typical evening. It's about seventy-five degrees, clear skies, the residual smog and city lights muting the glow of the stars. My red Saturn inches down the crowded boulevards, which are packed bumper-to-bumper with status symbols far more mobile and of much higher status than my own. Porsche convertibles. Mazda Miatas. Shiny BMWs. Of course, black is the coolest color of all.

    Outside the club—natch, there's curbside valet—I leave my keys and the requisite five dollars with the red-vested boy. Once inside, Kelly and I stride self-consciously across the room and into the hobnobbing courtyard. No eye contact ... detached coolness ... be the man.

    I head straight for the patio bar, where I elbow myself a space from which to holler out my favorite cool-guy beverage while flapping a twenty-dollar bill in the air like the lazy palms shrouding the patio. "Martini—make it strong, dude."

    "Look, Kel, there's that redheaded guy from Politically Incorrect. What's-his-name ..."

    "Uh, Bill Maher...."

    "Hey, man, isn't that the guitarist from Hole?" Kelly asks.

    "Which one?"

    "The skinny blond guy."

    "I think so," I say. "But I didn't think he was that tall." I jab Kelly's upper arm and add, "Now that's gotta be Courtney Love."

    "Kinda bad skin, huh?" he says.

    "But she's hot. I grabbed her leg once at a concert."

    "Seriously?"

    "I'm not shitting you."

    A gulp—one glass closer to achieving a buzz that will make me feel less uncomfortable in my non-celebrity skin.

    Because it is my job as a People magazine correspondent, because it is the sport of hipsters in Hollywood, I scan the crowd for yet another celebrity.

    "Isn't that older chick sitting at the table—that dye-job blonde over there—Nina Blackwood?"

    "Who's she?"

    "Who is Nina Blackwood? An old MTV veejay, dumb-ass."

    Mental note: Write a "Where Are They Now?" piece on Nina Blackwood.

    But where is the hostess of the evening, the golden-blond goddess I've had a crush on since I was twelve, when her love for E.T. made me cry?

    Though only twenty-one, Drew is already a screen legend, and I have bitten raw the cuticles around my fingertips in nervous anticipation of this event. I am in awe of her vast life experiences: breast-reduction surgery, drug and alcohol addiction (since third grade), a suicide attempt, her own film-production company, a bare-ass-naked spread in Playboy, an autobiography (Little Girl Lost, ghost-written by my friend Todd, who has filled me in on Drew's likes and dislikes). If all these accomplishments aren't impressive enough, Drew has even flashed her naked breasts on network television before an eye-popping David Letterman—and me, who was sitting at home desperately trying to recall the last time I had seen a woman's bare breasts in person.

    So where the hell is she, anyway? Maybe she won't show. Maybe she's just another phony starlet who flirts with me during an interview, hoping I will tell millions of People readers how great and real and nice she is, but then, ten minutes after I leave, can't even remember my name, let alone how sensitive and charming and what a good listener I am. Maybe our interview, in which she and I chatted for over an hour, wasn't as meaningful to her as it was to me. Or maybe it's just that I really do look like the dork that I feel like on the inside.

    This being a Hollywood party hosted by a Gen X icon, however, virtually everyone on the patio is young and attractive, with faces and bodies right out of a Baywatch episode or a Calvin Klein ad. Except, it seems, for me ...

    A mini-skirted female server presents me with a tray of fried eggplant and saucy stabs of chicken satay. I decline, because, well, I think I'm too fat. I suppose fat isn't the right word. I'm about five foot eleven and not even 175 pounds. On paper, it's a respectable height-to-weight ratio, but I feel flabby, soft around the edges, not strong, unsolid—sort of gelatinous. I am puffy. Puffy face. Puffy chest. Puffy neck. Puffy stomach. No matter how much I rollerblade up and down the Venice Beach bike path, no matter how few calories I consume (usually about a thousand a day—no bread, no fried food, no sweets), no matter how much older I get, my body stubbornly refuses to harden into manhood. It's depressing.

    I have been avoiding looking at my body in the mirror because my physique is a far cry from what I believe it should look like at my age, what with my athletic background and starvation diets and all. I want—no, I need!—a hardbody ... like that blond guy over there with the perma-tan and volleyball-guy broad shoulders who is standing so studly surrounded by the ladies while I stand over here with Kelly like a loser.

    Stop whining like a little sissy.

    Why did I—I said stop being a pussy-sissy-chicky-wimpy mutant!—have to move to ground zero of a popular culture obsessed with accentuating the visual extremes of gender definition? Bulging biceps and tight butts. Big dicks and big boobs. Hard cocks and tight butts. Chiseled chests and hairless legs. Steroids. Liposuction. Pec implants. Dick implants. Personal trainers. Collagen injections. Boob jobs. Eye jobs. Dye jobs. Nose jobs. Ear jobs. Tummy tucks.

    I am ashamed of my manhood because my version of it doesn't look or feel at all like the manhood my dad, brothers, hockey coaches, teammates, friends, girlfriends, or billboards, magazines, TV shows, movies—the entire goddamn popular culture—tells me is manly.

    I am supposedly in the prime of my life. Meanwhile, gorgeous women, probably dreaming for a not-so-bad-looking, Ivy League-educated guy, swarm around me in their little skirts and tight tops and bodies to die for. I just watch them. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. They're all around me! Not only can't I catch them, but I am not so sure I want to.

    It's easy to understand my shame, my fear of sex and walls of self-denial, when you consider the fundamental mechanics of human reproductive biology that I am lacking. I've spent a lot of time thinking about this male-female mating game. A healthy person, with a sex drive and perfectly functional genitals, doesn't have to ponder such things, I believe. I bet their genes have them acting on sexual autopilot. I'd imagine that, for them, sex is as easy and uncomplicated as the whole process is confounding for me. Women have it even better than men. While our penises must perform a hydraulic feat just to get an erection, a woman only needs to lubricate—and that can be done artificially. There's a lot of pressure on guys to perform, especially guys like me who aren't comfortable with sex. High-tech fertility, technologies notwithstanding, a sufficiently hard penis is the first step in a sexual reproductive process that keeps our genes in circulation. As an impotent man, what do I have to offer?

    I am disabled, an outsider. I am a backup goalie, sitting on the bench, watching the game being played by others with more strength and talent. I don't belong. I am probably the only guy at Drew's party who hasn't even desired to have sex in almost four years, although I soon stop calculating the length of the dry spell to avoid falling into an even deeper sexual depression.

    In one sense, though, I do fit in. Like at least half the guys here, I am an actor—only I'm acting as if I have not a single neurosis, not an ounce of insecurity about my fear of getting intimate with a woman, about my subdued sex drive and, most of all, about my lame, impotent slag of penile tissue.


Finally. About time, Drew.

    There you are, over there by the bar, ordering a drink. Oh, those cute dimples, that porcelain skin. And that smile, so gleaming, so white and pure and womanly. You're puffing on a Marlboro. After seeing what they have done to my dad, I hate cancer sticks, but I'm willing to make an exception for Drew Barrymore. Only you could make sucking on a lung tumor delivery device an act of sexual seductiveness.

    I absolutely, positively must approach her. The validity of my manhood depends on it. If I don't go over to her right now and say hello and flirt and hit on her, then, well, I deserve to be the celibate freak that is this "Ken Baker from People magazine."

    I am Man; Drew is Woman. This is a test of my manhood, and I must pass it.

    But I will only fail, as always.

    Stop it right there. Control your thoughts. Don't think. Zen Ken. Remember? Just like you did with hockey: Let it happen. Especially don't think about how afraid you are of women, of failure; instead, think about those quotes on courage that you've tacked up on your bedroom wall:


"You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

—ELEANOR ROOSEVELT


"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear."
—MARK TWAIN


"Don't be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated.

—DAVID LLOYD GEORGE


    Empowered, I walk over to Drew.

    Nonchalant. Devil-may-care swagger. A take-her-or-leave-her gaze.

    Chest out. Shoulders back. Stomach clenched tight. Marlboro rugged. Confident. Just what the girls want. Be the man. I can do this.

    "Ken?" Drew says, tapping my shoulder. "Hey, there."

    "Oh, hey, Drew. I didn't recognize you with your hair up like that."

    "Yeah ... well. Do you like it?"

    "Uh-huh. Definitely. It's ... it's very cute."

    "I'm so psyched you could make it. I really enjoyed chatting with you the other day—"

    "So did—"

    "—and it's really—"

    "—I."

    "—nice to see you here tonight."

    She sips from her glass, probably annoyed at my eager interrupting of her sweet voice.

    "I have to admit, though," she continues, "the whole idea of your article is pretty embarrassing."

"Why?"

    Cradling her drink, she explains, "Because how can someone say I am one of the quote-unquote fifty most beautiful people in the world? I mean, what qualities must a person possess to be on a list like that?"

    "A lot of qualities, Drew."

    "Like what?"

    "Well, for starters, they should be sensual."

    "Ooooh." Her blue eyes expand like perfectly rounded seas. "I like that word. It is such a great word. You know, I've recently started reading the dictionary just so I can learn new words—I am self-educated, not having gone to college or anything—and the word sensual ... wow, that's just an excellent word."

    "Yeah," I say. "To be sensual is so much more attractive than just being sexual."

    Her eyes now are so big and blue I could dock a ship in them. She's sipping, she's puffing her smoke, she's smiling!

    "I like writers," she says. "Words are, like, their paint."

    Is she hitting on me? Or am I just fantasizing this? Is this meeting going to end as tragically as all of mine do, just like the one last month with Linda, that girl from Chicago, whom I had met at a Beverly Hills party brimming with good-looking TV faces. In town for a couple days, she gave me her hotel number. Gambling that even if my penis didn't get hard I wouldn't have to see her for the rest of my life, I phoned her, we dined in Venice, walked on the beach. Later on, we strolled through downtown Santa Monica. Her blond hair blew in the warm Pacific breeze. A kiss under the moon. A quick drive to my apartment. The make-out session on the couch. Her attack on my zipper, her tongue's lustful assault on my limp penis. Her confusion, my devastation, my embarrassment, my fruitless attempt at manually jump-starting my supposed sex organ. Date over. Night over. If I had had the balls and the gun to do it: game over.

    My face, my lips. Drew's face, her lips. I'm not even a foot from her; I can smell her sweet perfume.

    What do I do if Drew likes me? What if she invites me back to her house? What if we start kissing, touching each other, tearing off each other's clothes? What then? Will my dick get hard, or will it—as usual—dangle lifelessly between my legs? Now, that would be a fucking disaster. I would rather never try to have sex with Drew Barrymore than to try and then fail to have sex with Drew Barrymore because I couldn't get it up. Now what, Eleanor, Mark and David?

    "Drew, it-it-it was great seeing you," I stutter.

    Seventy degrees? It's gotta be at least a hundred on this patio.

    "Um, thanks for inviting me," I say with a quiver. "But, uh, I really gotta be going now. Maybe I'll see you around again later."

    "Uh, sure, no problem. Sorry you have to leave so soon, but ..."

    "Me too."

    "... thanks for coming, Ken. It was really nice to see you."

    At the curb, I hand the valet guy my ticket. Sweat blotches circle the armpits of my shirt. I wipe streaks of sweat from my forehead as I hustle into my car. I am light-headed and sick to my flabby fucking tits and stomach.

    As I am about to pull away, Kelly opens the door and plops down beside me.

    "Why you leaving?" he asks. "Drew was so into you. Are you fucking crazy?"

    The answer—although I don't yet know it and just think I am psychosexually inept—lies somewhere between yes and no.

    Kelly gets in and I steer us back to our Brentwood apartment, barreling down the passing lane on Sunset Boulevard—past the hard-body models on the billboards, past the hookers advertising their product in high heels, past the black-clad Gen-X'ers waiting in line outside of the Viper Room, past Drew's office.

    My chest feels tight and sore, perhaps from the jagged crack that has just split my heart in two.

    And, suddenly, I feel sixteen again.

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