The Late Bloomer: A Memoir Of My Body

Paperback | September 27, 2016

byKen Baker

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Soon to be a feature film, The Late Bloomer is the revealing, harrowing and often funny memoir of a celebrity journalist and former hotshot hockey player who discovers that he has been biochemically infused with a female hormone.

On the surface, Ken Baker seemed a model man. He was a nationally ranked hockey goalie; a Hollywood correspondent for People; a guest-lister at celebrity parties; and girls came on to him. Inside, though, he didn't feel like the man he was supposed to be.

Although attracted to women, Ken had little sex drive and thus even less of a sex life. To his anguish, he repeatedly found himself unable to perform sexually. And, regardless of strenuous workouts, his body struggled to build muscle, earning him the nickname "Pear" from his macho teammates. Physically, matters turned bizarre when he discovered that he was lactating.

The testosterone-driven culture in which Ken grew up made it agonizingly difficult for him to seek help. But in time he discovered something that lifted years of pain, frustration, and confusion: a brain tumor was causing his body to be flooded with massive amounts of a female hormone, which was disabling his masculinity.

Five hours of surgery accomplished what years of therapy, rumination, and denial could not -- and allowed Ken Baker to finally feel -- and function -- like a man.

Now Ken's story comes to the screen in the feature film, The Late Bloomer, starring Academy Award-winner J.K. Simmons and Jane Lynch.

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From the Publisher

Soon to be a feature film, The Late Bloomer is the revealing, harrowing and often funny memoir of a celebrity journalist and former hotshot hockey player who discovers that he has been biochemically infused with a female hormone. On the surface, Ken Baker seemed a model man. He was a nationally ranked hockey goalie; a Hollywood corresp...

Ken Baker is an award-winning author and journalist currently serving as Senior Correspondent for E! News and E! Online. He lives in the Los Angeles with his family.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 8.3 × 5.5 × 0.8 inPublished:September 27, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143130617

ISBN - 13:9780143130611

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When Drew Barrymore invites you to a party, you go—especially when you are a twenty-six-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, I 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 long, 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 hard body . . . 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 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 GeorgeEmpowered, I walk over to Drew.Nonchalant. Devil-may-care swagger. A take-her-or-leave-her gaze.

Editorial Reviews

"In an era when Viagra pills and testosterone gel have made male sexuality - indeed manhood itself - look like a mere commodity to be purchased, Ken Baker's The Late Bloomer is a bracingly honest account of his own far more difficult and fascinating journey to manhood. He takes a reader with him through a labyrinth of medical mystery, emotional distress, and startling humor. Raucous at one moment, tender at the next, The Late Bloomer is always a triumph of candor and a vital inquiry into the essence of male identity." --Samuel G. Freedman, Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction"In a landscape filled with memoirs exploring the vast array of painful traumas that can shape an individual's development into personhood, here is a story that examines - with touching and unflinching honesty and humor, and zero self-pity - the  story of a young man's coming of age in uniquely painful and difficult circumstances. On the surface, Baker's story concerns his many-years-long ordeal of living with an undiagnosed tumor that totally disrupted his hormonal makeup. But really, Baker's book is about the extraordinary toll of shame and secret keeping. Underneath the gripping story of a young man's coming of age in blue collar, macho-driven upstate New York hockey culture, we have a story that explores the definition of what it is to be male, written by a young man who knows, as few of us ever will, the experience of inhabiting a body at war with itself. Baker has travelled to the most mysterious place - his own own dark inner self - and come back to tell us about the voyage, where the discovery was nothing less than his own manhood." --Joyce Maynard, author of At Home in the World"Baker has crafted a penetrating, even haunting look at what it means to be a man and what it should mean. Enlivened by a stunningly brilliant chronicle of a tragically unhappy childhood in the family from hell with what must have been the saddest father in upper New York, Baker's book is an object lesson in how to survive a growing up that would have killed a lesser man, and more than that, a story of not just survival, but triumph. Must reading for men, but especiallyfor parents so they will know what not to do with their kids, especially with boy children." --Ben Stein