"The Curious Story of Norah Vincent"
The story behind Norah Vincent: The Woman Behind 'Self-Made Man'. The Transcript from her Interview with Neal Conan (npr)
For those who don't know Nora Vincent is the author of Self-Made Man, One Woman's Journey Into Manhood And Back Again. Norah Vincent, Who Chronicled Passing as a Man, Is Dead at 53.
Her best-selling 2006 book about that experience, “Self-Made Man,” made her a media darling. But it cost her psychologically. Ms. Vincent died on July 6 at a clinic in Switzerland. She was 53. Her death, which was not reported at the time, was confirmed on Thursday by Justine Hardy, a friend. The death, she said, was medically assisted, or what is known as a voluntary assisted death.
This is one of her Interviews talking about her experience:
NEAL CONAN, host:
To the guys in his bowling team, and to the women he dated, Ned was just another guy, a little baby-faced maybe, a little on the metrosexual side, an unusually good listener. Well, in fact, Ned was Norah, writer Norah Vincent, who spent 18 months undercover as a kind of spy in the gender wars. She penetrated some male preserves, stripper bars, a Roman Catholic monastery, and a men's awareness group. She got a job as a salesman, along the way. She struggled with the deceit of her double life with the psychological stress of a separate identity, and with the unsuspected pressures of a man's world. As a lesbian, for example, she thought that dating women would be fun. It didn't work out that way. Walking, talking, dressing, and passing as a man turned out to be the easy part.
Later in the program, NBC cancels a controversial show about a pill-popping priest, but first, Self Made Man, one woman's journey into manhood and back again. If you have questions about a woman in a man's world, give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is TOTN@npr.org. Norah Vincent joins us now from our bureau in New York. And welcome to Talk of the Nation.
Ms. Norah VINCENT (author, Self Made Man): Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: A little bit of Ned, little bit of Norah there.
Ms. VINCENT: Voice cracking.
CONAN: I meant to ask you. There's your first chapter is about the bowling league. And you get dressed up as Ned, and I guess it's the first time you're going in there. And you open the door to the bowling alley, and there's almost a panic attack.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, yeah, it was really the most terrifying moment. It was the first time. I did a couple of small forays before that to write the proposal, but this was really the first sort of onstage, ready to go, primetime thing. ..TEXT: And I really, there's just a feeling too in a men's, it's sort of like going into an auto body shop, or a men's barber shop, you know. As a woman, you're, you know, all your hairs stand on end. You sort of feel like, okay, this is not a place I'm supposed to be. And so, of course, nobody probably really looked at me, but it certainly felt as if every eye turned on me and stuck. And I realized, okay, there's no going back. I've got to do this.
CONAN: And you were greeted by a guy named, Jim. You'd never met him before, but the guy you'd approached to join the bowling team. And immediately noticed a fundamental difference between men and women.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, I was surprised to find, I expected men to be a little bit wolfish when they met each other. You know, I always think of men as being very competitive, territorial. And in fact, what I found was, meeting strange men, and this happened many times, not just this night at the bowling league, that the handshake of a strange man was incredibly welcoming. And it was as if I was joining in this camaraderie that felt very old. And, you know, I contrasted that, I guess, in my own experience with many handshakes that I've experienced with women I didn't know.
And there seems to me to be a little bit of fakery there, and, sort of, you know, you're supposed to be nice. You're socialized as a woman to make nice, but it's not really that sincere. You're a little suspicious. We're sort of raised to be competitive with each other. So it just struck me as a strange thing that I didn't expect.
CONAN: You were, to put it kindly, a lousy bowler.
Ms. VINCENT: I was.
CONAN: And there's this other thing that you describe. This is a competitive league. It's a money league. Guys are playing for 20 bucks a night. The losers have to pay. And yet you found men, not just on your team, but men from around the whole league coming over to you say, you, have you tried holding your wrist this way?
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, well it was, again, it was an interesting contrast in male and female competitiveness, because I had grown up, I was a tomboy. I grew up playing sports with women my whole life. And with these guys, again, I thought, okay, they're gonna be hyper-competitive. They're gonna want to, you know, kick me around because I'm terrible at this.
And in fact, they all really, you know, I found that men don't generally wanna beat you when you're not at your best. They don't, you know, as a guy just said to me recently, you know, you don't wanna win the pool game when the other guy scratches on the eight ball. That's no fun. And so they wanted to help me to get better, and then you wanna, you don't wanna beat the guy on the handicap. You wanna beat him at his best.
And whereas a woman, you know, I often find female competitiveness is, has some undercurrents to it that are a, you know, can be a little nasty, and it's just an interesting difference.
CONAN: The experience there, you got to know these guys in a way that, I think it, well, you say, it surprised you.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, yeah, it really surprised me that they let me in as quickly and as easily as they did, you know, just a guy they'd never met before. And, of course, there was a class element here, because they immediately, they told me this afterward, but they said they really noticed my hands. And they, you know, I think the worst I've ever had is a paper cut. And they said, you know, have you ever worked a day in your life, Ned? You know.
CONAN: Mm hmm.
Ms. VINCENT: So there was that, but even that barrier, there was no chip on their shoulders about that. They just accepted me for who I was. I guess they assumed I was a bourgeois little pretty boy or something. And, and they just took me in. They laughed with me, and they got to know me. And I learned a little bit about the mechanics of male friendships from the inside out.
CONAN: There was also one of them who used to bring his son to the bowling alley, guys on your team. And this was a kid, you watched the process of these men sort of inculcating him into manhood. And in a way, this is what a lot of your book is about, the sort of toughening process that boys in adolescence go through.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, and it, really, that was one of the things that evoked a lot of sympathy in me because, yeah, I felt about on par with this kid because he was just at that age, I think he was 11, 12 at the time, where you know, there were little rituals that were being gone through. You know, you gotta go and assert yourself. You know, if you lost your money in the machine, then you need to go and take care of it. Don't expect me to do it for you. Or, you know, a little ritual of slapping his fingers with a ruler to see, you know, it was all done in jest, but it was still, you know, there was something underneath it.
And I experienced that firsthand in the monastery and in some other places, that hazing that I think happens to many boys at, in, especially during puberty when a lot of the emotional expression is either beaten, or laughed, or teased out of them.
CONAN: And the only emotion that they're left with, you conclude, is anger.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, I think anger is one of the very few things emotionally that men are still allowed to show. And again, of course, there is the sensitive new age guy. It's not every guy. But I think, I was struck across the board by how, still, in 2006, people, men are still having so much trouble. It's as if their emotional vocabulary has been denied them for so long, that then they don't have it anymore. So they don't know how to express, you know, that one of the bowler's wife was dying of cancer. And to listen to him tell it, he probably told us in maybe 20 words.
And, you know, these were guys that he'd been friends with for a long time. And it was very clear to me that they were showing support, and they wanted him to know that they cared and that they were sorry. But, again, it was said in very few words, and it was understood we're not gonna overtalk this. This is not appropriate to talk about too much, but, and I don't want you to touch me. I don't want you to smother me with care, which is what a woman, you know, women would be talking, overtalking. We'd hug you, that kind of thing. It was a very different thing, but it was very touching because it was clear that there was just as much emotion going on.
CONAN: Mm. If you'd like to join our conversation with Norah Vincent about her book, Self Made Man, give us a call. 800-989-8255, e-mail us Talk@npr.org, and we'll begin with Reid(ph), Reid calling from Portland, Oregon.
REID (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air.
REID: Well, thank you for taking my call.
REID: I'm a post-transition female to male transsexual, eight years on hormones. And I'm also a therapist who helps a lot of people transition, and I know exactly what you're talking about. It's a whole different set of rules about showing emotion, about how you interact with other people. And as a woman, I was never privy to understanding those rules or even seeing that they were there.
Ms.Ms. VINCENT: Mm hmm.
REID: But now I realize that men have a whole level of support system for each other that I never knew existed.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, it's a, it's like somebody changed the channel, right? And you, suddenly you were hearing sounds that only dogs can hear, right?
REID: Yeah, but also bringing to that 40 years of socialization of being female, makes it really hard to know what are the rules, and how do you do this?
Ms. VINCENT: Exactly.
CONAN: What's the hardest part?
REID: Beg your pardon?
CONAN: What's the hardest part?
REID: Because the support level among men is so covert and under the table, so to speak, it's very hard to pick up on what those rules are. How do you express that emotion if you're not using words, and you're not permitted to hug people? How do you take advantage of it for yourself when you need it, how do you reach out without reaching out?
Ms. VINCENT: Mm hmm.
REID: And how do you take it in? And how do you recognize who your new allies are? You have to have mentors among people who were born male to teach you those rules.
CONAN: Hmm. Norah Vincent, finding allies, the monastery, you had some difficulties there.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, and I think it was an interesting thing, because what I found is that while there is this support system that is there, there is also a great lack of it and yet a great need for it. So that in the monastery, I saw that on display most starkly, that this was a community of men who had lived together, sometimes for 30 years or more, and they were so desperately in need of each other's companionship. And that, you know, they, to be, I mean, the author Jerem Ohringer(ph) said in his book that, you know, manhood is mimesis. You have to have see a man, to be a man. And I think that there's a lot of understanding about what it means to be a man that you can only get from another man.
And they just, but the culture has socialized you to such a degree that it's very difficult to communicate that and get what you need. So I saw that on display. And, of course, Ned came in with all the wrong signals, without understanding what the code was, and breaking the rules, and suffering as a result.
CONAN: Yeah, you described several moments where you break some violation, violate some code of rules, and everybody looks at you like you're an idiot.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, yeah, that was, I mean, just funny things. You know, like, using the word, cute, when I was talking, you know, women will say all the time about, you know, a sweet old man. There was a guy there who was in his 80s. The sweetest man, and I said that, in sort of that puppy mush-mush voice. You know, I said, he's so cute and sweet. And one of the priests just turned on me and said, you don't use that word about another man. What're you thinking? And I thought, wow. You know, and there were other times like that where, you know, I would tell a priest, who was in his 80s, I'd say, wow, you look great. You know, and that's not something a guy's gonna say to another guy.
CONAN: I'm sorry, Reid, you were trying to get in there?
REID: I was just wondering if you found that a lot of people thought you were a gay man as a result of the way that you held yourself and the language you used and things of that sort.
Ms. VINCENT: Absolutely. I ran into that all the time, and it's the great irony of the project is that I'm a masculine woman. I'm often read that way, as a dyke. And so, suddenly, I, you know, I was in confession in fact, and I was confessing to one of the monks, you know, that what was happening. And I said, I gotta tell you something. And he said, well, I think I know what it is, and it's okay. And I said, oh, what? And, he said, well, you're gay. And I said, yeah, but not in the way you think. And then, you know, he, I said, but I'm curious, you know, why you think that. And he said, well, you're pretty effeminate. And I thought, wow, nobody's ever accused me of that before.
CONAN: Reid, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
REID: Thanks for taking me.
CONAN: All right. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll have more conversation with Norah Vincent, author of the book, Self Made Man. If you'd like to, join us, 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Neal Conan. This is talk of the nation from NPR News.
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking today with Norah Vincent about her new book, Self Made Man. It's an account of her 18 months spent undercover as a man. And if you have a question about what it's like to be a woman pretending to be a man, give us a call. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com. And, Norah Vincent, you address this fact straight up very early in your book, that there's enormous stress involved in lying to people as much as you had to do to do this.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, you know, it's funny because my models for this were people like Orwell, you know, Down and Out in Paris and London, and then, of course, John Howard Griffin and Barbara Ehrenreich.
Ms. VINCENT: And, but I didn't realize quite how much, the deception reached another level for me, I think. What they did was they inserted themselves into a different situation. And as I went along, yeah, I realized that the burden of that deception became stronger and stronger, and more and more painful. And eventually, of course, I paid a high price for that.
CONAN: The high price, you had a, well, nervous breakdown, is that too far?
Ms. VINCENT: No, no, no, that's what I say in the book. That's quite fair. I had a, I would say, nervous breakdown. I really went into a terrible depression. And in fact I would add to that, you know, since Reid called in, you know, that I think I also developed a tremendous empathy for transsexuals because I think part of what precipitated that breakdown was also the fact that trying to hold two gender identities in your mind at the same time, it sets up this cognitive dissonance that's really untenable. So, I was sort of doing the reverse, you know, to what transsexuals do. So I remained a woman. My brain was female. I felt that I was a woman very strongly, but I was trying to pass as a man. And that's just a conflict that I couldn't sustain.
CONAN: Mm, let's get another caller on the line. Stefanie(ph), Stefanie's with us from Berkeley in California.
STEFANIE (Caller): Oh, yes, hello, and thank you again for taking my call. I have a question for Miss Vincent about what, if anything, she has learned, or if there any lessons or concepts that you have learned or come across in your 18 months as a man, that you would be able to apply to your future life as a woman?
Ms. VINCENT: Okay, well, I would say the biggest maybe advantage that I gained, if that's part of what of you mean is I experienced in the workplace especially, male privilege, I guess I would say, and a certain entitlement, a bearing more than anything else. I don't mean privilege so much in getting more financially or politically, but really just that people expect you to be more confident. They accept a kind of arrogance from you and a bluster, and I sort of responded to that to the point where, you know, I think women spend a lot of time, we spend a lot of time apologizing for everything we do. So you know when you ask for water in a restaurant, for example, I often will say, oh, I'm sorry to bother you, could we get some water when you have a chance? Whereas as a guy, I would just say, I'd like some water, or, get me some water. And it was just, it wasn't interpreted as rude. And so...
STEFANIE: Mm hmm, they use fewer words.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, they use fewer words, and there isn't that sense of needing to make an excuse for asking for something. You just sort of demand it, or you just say it outright. And there's no, there are no qualifiers.
Ms. VINCENT: So I think that use that in my life now as a way to, you know, when I feel, say, afraid of something that I have to do, or I feel a certain, I don't know, maybe self-criticism, I use that voice in my mind, and it tells me you know just do it, and just assume an authority you may not even have because people will believe it if you assume it, and believe it yourself.
STEFANIE: Or it's authority that you granted yourself.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, yeah.
STEFANIE: Yes. Well, thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks, Stefanie.
Ms. VINCENT: Thank you.
STEFANIE: Bye bye.
CONAN: Dating, this was almost uncomfortable to read some of these encounters that you had. First of all, also very refreshing, your description of women, the power that women have in these situations, but also as you got to know some of these women you were going out with, you know, again, the lies, the deceit.
Ms. VINCENT: Mm hmm, yeah, and that's something I talk about right up front.
CONAN: Yeah. Don't hide it, yeah.
Ms. VINCENT: And I, I'm quite willing, yeah, I'm quite willing to talk about, you know, I guess there's a question people have asked me, did you cross a line? And the answer is absolutely, I did. And I think that I did have rules. I said that there was a three-date limit. And I would tell someone after the third date, or during the third date. And I didn't, you know, go any farther with anyone without them knowing the truth. But still, you know, even going out for an hour with someone, although, in a general context, you have to say, well, it's an only an hour out of someone's life. On the other hand, you know, going out, dating is very stressful, and you've wasted someone's time essentially.
I completely understood that and accept responsibility for that. But on the other hand, I found that, it was, there was no other way to learn what I needed to learn. You know, I, the deception was part and parcel of learning what it really means to be a guy on the receiving end of a date with a woman. You know, she couldn't' know. She had to assume that I was a man.
CONAN: Mm. You write at one point that you become a bit of a misogynist.
Ms. VINCENT: Well, it was interesting because, of course, I started out with all the female prejudices that I suppose each sex has its prejudices because we live on the other side of the divide, and we think, oh, you know, we have our prejudices. And I think, I learned to see my own sex from the other side a little bit and see some of the more unpleasant things. ..TEXT: I think I also felt very small as a man in a way, you know that women really did have a lot of power in the dating situation, that they got to decide yes or now, and that I was one who had the cross the room and ask a woman out and so on and so forth, and the rejection was unpleasant. And so, in a sense, yes, I did see a little bit uglier side of women, but it may only appear that way also because I went in with much higher expectations of women in first place. I think I had the prejudice that we are more evolved. And so I was, sort of, surprised to find out, well, we're all kind of the same. We have different problems, but we have problems on both sides.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Ron, Ron calling from San Antonio in Texas.
RON (Caller): Oh, yes, howdy, are you there?
CONAN: Yeah, go ahead, please.
RON: Oh, thank you for taking the call, especially this fascinating topic. I was, I first had some gender education with Dr. Drenka at UTSA about a year ago, an entire semester setting the differences between women out of the military and women in the military. You're right. They make a lot of apologies. And if men don't look you in the eye, it's because eye contact is a challenge, just like an animal. But, I wrote a paper called Y Accommodation in X Communication. And it was just a play on the difference in chromosomes. And it turned out that most of the women in the military felt they were being degenderized. In fact, a lot of women told me when they write e-mails, and there's a man at the other end or in the group, they go back to their e-mail and make sure they don't say anything cute or nice in there, and they don't ask how you're doing.
Ms. VINCENT: Mm hmm.
RON: A lot of women were surprised men don't put their salutation on the e-mail. They just send an e-mail and assume you look at the return address to see who got it to you. A lot don't sign it.
Ms. VINCENT: Mm hmm.
RON: But the one thing I noticed that did surprise me is that when women were in the military and totally immersed in a male environment rapidly, they pretty much became men in attitude, e-mail, protocol, behavior. If they had time, if they slowly moved from the, I did the study from the 1950s on. If they moved from the WACs to the regular army, if they had time to make adjustments, they stayed feminine whenever they could. But the sudden immersion is what seemed to turn women into men overnight.
Ms. VINCENT: Hmm, interesting.
RON: I was wondering if you had any conversations with women along the line of being degenderized. In fact the Navy, this Navy has a paper called, oh, Building Gender, or something, where they change you during basic training into men. And I'll get off the line. I'll listen.
CONAN: All right. Ron, thanks very much.
Ms. VINCENT: Well, I certainly felt detenderized. I'll tell you that. And it was not a pleasant process. It was really painful. I felt narrowed, and I thought that, you know, walking into manhood, I would get to bust out and break loose. And I felt, instead, that I was tamping down. And it's interesting you mention e-mails because I found I did a lot of, I procured my dates on the Internet, and I found that I did some dating as myself with men during the project to get a, to keep the perspective. And I found that women, generally speaking, wanted there to be a kind of an epistolary preamble to our meeting. ..TEXT: You know, and they wanted a lot of e-mail communication. They wanted to talk things through and get to know me before they were gonna agree to a meeting. Whereas men, almost invariably, didn't wan t that. They sent very short e-mails, and they wanted to meet because they wanted to know what I looked like. And the evaluation was just entirely different, and the way of communicating.
CONAN: Mm hmm. Yeah, you had enormous success when you sent poems to your prospective dates.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, yeah, that was a comic moment where one of, you know, a coworker was looking over this woman's shoulder, and I had been sending poems. And she said, my God, this man is sending you poems. You better date this man.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Mary in St. Louis, Missouri. I'm finding this discussion fascinating. I work as a sign language interpreter for the deaf, and I recently attended a workshop where the speaker was teaching about gender-lect, as opposed to dialect, specifically the differences in language and word choices between men and women. I had a hard time believing there was much of a difference in the interpretation. Your experiences seem to support that argument. Could you expound on that point?
Ms. VINCENT: Well, certainly, as I say, there were certain words and certainly ways of expressing yourself that were just not okay. And you learned very quickly, negative reinforcement came fast and furious when you did something that wasn't acceptable. And I do think, I guess, I can't speak about the brain chemistry aspect of it, although I think we're learning more and more about that. But it does seem clear that we do, not only use different words, but, yes, that women do use more words. We tend to, we're allowed to talk through pretty much anything and everything with our girlfriends. And men are not allowed to do that. And I think it shows in the way that, as I told you, this guy talking about his wife's cancer. If you had women talking about that, it would've been a very expansive, emotional, probably tearful conversation.
CONAN: Mm. As people can hear from your voice, you didn't have all that much work to do on pitch, but you had to change your vocal patterns a little bit.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, yeah, and I, part of it, it's interesting. Somebody suggested to me that, in fact, my vocal patterns really mirrored my emotional patterns. In other words, I had to shut down. I had to slow down. I had to really just keep myself reined in and not allow myself to become too excited, to be too expressive, to really, so as you can hear, you know I would, I had to learn Ned talked more slowly. And Ned was, had to be in control. And that would create a voice pattern that read as male. I know what I'm doing. I'm not worried. I don't have to ask for help, and that kind of thing. Whereas a woman, you're up here, and you can be questioning. You can have the, you know, sometimes to a fault, women have the interrogatory in their voice, and it's okay.
CONAN: Hmm. The transformation, as we said earlier in the show, involved some stubble that you glued onto you jaw, and of course, men's clothing, you worked out to bulk up particularly in the upper body. Obviously men's clothes, binding the breasts, that sort of thing. But in the end, the way you carried yourself and the attitude with which you carried yourself, that was enough?
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, that was probably one of the biggest surprises of the whole experiment for me was how psychological it turned out to be. I mentioned, I think in the last chapter, that there were times when I went out as myself, you know, I didn't have the stubble on, for example, during the project, and I would have, say a tight white t-shirt on without a bra, and I would still be called sir. And because I was still in Ned's head. And what I was projecting, despite what was in front of their eyes, people just made an assumption. Or after I detoxed, so to speak, from Ned, and became myself again, or maybe even, I would say I'm more feminine now actually than I was before I started the project.
But I'd be wearing, say, you know, a man's navy pea coat in the middle of winter with a winter hat on, and I would always be called ma'am. So it was just a very interesting thing. And I think that's, of course, part of what was at work in the breakdown is learning that gender, as opposed to sex, is not just a set of, it's not a costume. It's not a superficial construct. While it is in part socially constructed, it's also something that, in my opinion, lives in the brain, and lives very close to your sense of self. And when you mess with that, you really mess with something you need, something that's important.
CONAN: We're talking with Norah Vincent. Her book is Self Made Man, One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get another caller in. Shannon, Shannon calling from Medina, Ohio.
SHANNON (Caller): Hi, I'm wondering if you have any insight into husband-wife relationships, in that the emotional disconnect that often happens in these relationships is a source of stress. So, I'm wondering if your research can maybe provide some help for us wives who try to emotionally connect to our husbands, and it goes unappreciated because it's not masculine enough. I'll take my comments off the air.
CONAN: Thanks, Shannon.
Ms. VINCENT: Absolutely. I would say that, I would think it would help a lot if, I certainly learned, number one, that I used to interpret men's silences or men's terseness as a lack of willingness to communicate. When in fact, I don't think that's true at all. I think it's reflective of a different style of communication, and it's partly reflective of this emotional denial that's been caused, the way that they're socialized. So it's not, I think it gets read as an unwillingness, and that brings about a fight.
And I also, I think that if you can try to imagine if a man could hand this book to his wife and say, if you can just, you know, give me some patience. Or when I'm feeling upset, for example, that it can feel smothering to a man to have your arms around him unless he explicitly asks for that.
Whereas, of course, as a woman, you feel you're not being commiserated with if somebody doesn't put his or her arms around you. And so I learned that my mothering instinct really was the wrong way to go, that I needed, for example, with my friend, Jim, to be near him, to let him know that I was there, not to say very much because that was intruding, and that he had a lot of pride, and it was really hard for him to show weakness, and I needed to be patient with that. So, I think that, yeah, a lot of fights might be avoided if women could understand, it's not that he's not trying or that he doesn't care or doesn't wanna talk about it. It's that it's hard for him.
CONAN: You discovered, Jim was one of your friends, your special friend in the bowling team. But he and his friends told awful sexist jokes, went to stripper clubs, and you said, had absolutely reverence for their wives.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, well, another interesting thing that I discovered is that, it's not to say that there aren't men out there who genuinely loathe women and will say so, but I found that a lot of this bluster was just that. And what it really reflected more than anything else, it was really a way of covering, especially in front of each other, how much the esteem, not how little, the esteem of women meant to them.
CONAN: Hmm. A lot of people wouldn't see it that way.
Ms. VINCENT: Right, and it's not to say that every, it's not to make an excuse for this kind of talk. But I think it's partly a way for guys to blow off steam with each other. But it's also, you know, pardon the expression, a little bit of a circle jerk, a verbal circle jerk. They feel that it's kind of a way collectively of hiding the fact that they are actually vulnerable and vulnerable to the opinion of women. I mean, one of these guys did it, for example, after he'd been rejected. He'd been pursuing her all day, and he wanted to, you know, his way of saying it was well, I'm gonna get her in bed. But in fact, what he meant was, I want her to like me. And she rejected him. So then he made this sexual remark that was really demeaning. But in fact, what he was really doing is covering in front of me, the other guy, his humiliation.
CONAN: Mm hmm. Yeah, I didn't really want her anyway.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, she wasn't worth it.
CONAN: Wasn't worth it, yeah. All right we're gonna take another short break, and when we come back, we'll continue with Norah Vincent, again, her book, Self Made man, One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again. ..TEXT: If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, and our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll also be talking about the final chapter on the Book of Daniel, which arrived a little earlier than that program's producers might've liked, why the TV program got canceled after three episodes. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
Today, we're talking with writer Nora Vincent about her new book, Self-Made Man, One Woman's Journey Into Manhood And Back Again, 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. Or send us an e-mail, email@example.com. And I have to ask you Nora, when you were Ned, did you ever walk into the wrong bathroom by mistake?
Ms. VINCENT: I almost did. I had, in fact, for long after I finished being Ned, I still had to think twice to decide which door I was going in.
CONAN: Now let's get some more callers on the line and this is Teresa(ph), Teresa calling from Philadelphia.
TERESA (Caller): Hi, Ned, Nora, actually. This is Teresa calling from Philadelphia. I was really interested in what you were talking about, men being more direct or, you know, being less apologetic in the workplace or in restaurants. And my question for you is do these qualities that men have, in terms of their communication and social interaction, that leads do you think to, you know, more success in the workplace for men or better, you know, practical results, which means that women need to adopt those traits more in order to achieve (unintelligible) types of results.
Ms. VINCENT: That's a really great question.
CONAN: Teresa, thanks.
Ms. VINCENT: I would say, yes, I think I found that one of the remaining male advantages is, as Hamlet would say, thinking makes it so. And I think that yes, women could really learn to, the, just the mere fact of assertion and assumption gets you farther, generally speaking. And I think that women could use that in the workplace and elsewhere to get more of what they want. I remember speaking to someone who was in human resources and said, you know, women ask for less money. I'm willing to pay them. I in fact tell them ask for more. So I think there is that aspect of it. It's not so much an inequality of opportunity sometimes as it is so much an inequality of assertiveness.
CONAN: You also come to the conclusion that if this once was, as James Brown famously said, a man's world, maybe not so much anymore.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, I mean, that was one of the big questions in my mind is, is it still a man's world? And I suppose there are many arguments you could get into politically and socioeconomically about that. I think there's still a lot of disagreement on that level, but in terms of, I suppose, liberation, emotional and cultural liberation, my feeling is that the notion of what we consider a woman has expanded dramatically in the last 25 years. And I think in many ways, I experienced it as a much larger concept. In other words, I can incorporate things that I learned from Ned into Nora. They can, they easily flow that way. But the other, they did not flow well in the other direction. That the notion of manhood, what's acceptable in especially heterosexual manhood, is much more narrow.
CONAN: Hmm. Here's an e-mail from Emily in Oakland. I'm wondering whether you kept up your normal persona during the 18 months with people at home. This would have added to the difficulty of, as you mentioned, keeping your psychological balance. I did hear you say you did date a little as a woman but did you have a sibling or a mate you could talk to on the side or did you completely drop out from regular life from the time of research?
Ms. VINCENT: I was living with my wife at the time, so I did have someone to decompress with, which was really invaluable and she deserves a gold medal for all the things she went through with me. But, I did and I did have times where I was writing. I had downtime during the whole period and that did make it a little bit harder because I did, although it did heighten the contrast, again, because I was on, sometimes on any given day, the same day I would go out in public as a man, both a man and a woman. And I might go to the same store and find, you know, see what the difference was in how I was treated. So that was an interesting thing but, yes, I think it did help to accelerate the breakdown.
CONAN: Hmm. Now, here's a caller, Tom, in Columbus, Ohio.
TOM (Caller): Yeah, I was, as a, thank you for taking my call.
TOM: As a gay man, I was wondering, a lot of your interaction was with straight men and I was wondering if you spent any time around gay men and if you did, if they reacted any differently to you? If they thought you were gay or thought you were just a really strange straight man.
Ms. VINCENT: I did interact with gay men and I had some very interesting experiences, one of which I didn't write up in the book. But I went on my three dates with a gay man. And interestingly, in contrast to what happened with some of the women, three of whom wanted to continue the relationship even after they knew I was a woman, and these were heterosexual women, he wasn't angry with me once I told him. But he lost interest entirely, because I didn't have the equipment. And I found that very interesting. And I also found that my forays into the gay world were circumscribed, because it became sexual much more quickly and it would be, and it became clearer much more quickly that the anatomy wasn't there. So I found that I wasn't able to pursue that as much as I might have, although of course the monastery chapter did, in many ways, end up being "the gay chapter."
CONAN: Hmm. That's interesting. Tom, are you done? I think Tom's gone away. Anyway, because there was so much, there was definite, well, you developed a crush on one of the monks, I think that's fair to say, I think you do say that.
Ms. VINCENT: Mm-hmm.
CONAN: And that the whole situation there was sort of designed to scrub that out of everybody.
Ms. VINCENT: Yeah, and that really brought about a little bit of a train wreck. As I say, I went in there full pheromone and...
(soundbite of laughter)
Ms. VINCENT: I really got the punishment. Yeah, I think it also showed me, again, the difference between male and female friendships and how they begin and of course how they develop over time. I think women tend to fly into new friendships. If you meet someone you like, there's no, there aren't those same barriers of communication and touch and expression. So, you know, I was treating this friendship the way I would as a woman. And he of course was seeing me as a man and that signal, I was not giving him the appropriate signals, and he just cut me off after a couple of days, he just, he wouldn't talk to me anymore.
Ms. VINCENT: And it became very clear that he just said, this is not appropriate. And of course I discussed it with him later and I think he thought that I was gay and that I was falling in love with him when in fact I just had a sort of a girlish friend crush on him.
CONAN: And this was also Roman Catholic monastery at a time when, even if his personal alarm bells were not going off, alarm bells are going off throughout the Catholic Church.
Ms. VINCENT: Right, and there is a tremendous amount of homophobia and kind of paranoia, even though I, you know, I would say that this man himself, ironically enough, was gay.
Ms. VINCENT: And we talked about that at the end of the time. So I think he felt, actually I think he had a little bit of a crush on Ned too. I think it was a kind of a shared thing which was another reason he just, he said to me, I saw what was happening and I was gonna cut it off before it went anywhere, any farther.
CONAN: Was he the monk who at one point rather playfully said to you, repression or suppression, I can't remember which is the bad one?
Ms. VINCENT: Yes, yes. He was very funny man and we talked about sexuality. And, you know, he said that, you know, repression is I don't have a penis and suppression is, "Down, boy." And, you know, that's how he dealt with his sexuality. But he had actually left the monastery. He had been there for a couple years, left, lived a gay life and come back. So he had a lot of baggage, but he was a very smart and thoughtful guy and we did break through. And he's someone that I'm still in touch with and I think, he tells me he learned a tremendous amount from knowing me.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in. David, David calling from Anchorage in Alaska. David, you there? I guess it takes a long time for that phone call to come in from Anchorage. Let's go now to Becky(ph), Becky's with us from San Antonio.
BECKY (Caller): Hi, I have, I think that perhaps you've unnecessarily connected gender to sexual expression a bit too much. But aside from that, I think that your comment that gender resides in our brains is probably something that we should mess around with. As a transgendered person, a person who's transitioned now for, oh, two, two-and-a-half years, I found that really probably our only hope for humanity is that we can modify our genderal sense. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that simply regarding gender as being restricted to two and not to more than two is unnecessarily restrictive.
Ms. VINCENT: Well, I would agree with you that I think unfortunately the limitations on men were their inability culturally to show feminine qualities. Because when I talk about gender, and I don't know if this what you mean but, I use the word sex when I'm talking purely biologically and gender for me is something that's much more fluid. And although I say, I felt that it may have a biological component as well, it clearly has a social component, a cultural component, that is fungible. And I do think that if we could learn to, I think women have borrowed from the boys after feminism. We are allowed to, you know, even just sartorially, you think about, you know, I can dress like a guy basically and I'm still a woman. Whereas, you know, most men cannot wear a single article of women's clothing and get away with it in the same way. It's not accepted. And so I do agree with you that if we could broaden the notions and share that a man can be feminine and, or have feminine qualities and vice versa, that would be wonderful.
CONAN: I think it was Gloria Steinem who once said, famously, that in a way all women are female impersonators.
(Soundbite of laughter).
CONAN: After your experience, do you think that in a way, all men are male impersonators?
Ms. VINCENT: Absolutely. I think in that sense gender is absolutely a false construct and it's something that you're trying to live up to. The culture tells you what you're supposed to be and you try to live up to it and you suffer for the parts of you, the human, very real parts of you, that don't measure up. And it causes tremendous suffering on both sides.
BECKY: May I suggest one more thing?
Ms. VINCENT: Absolutely.
CONAN: Go ahead.
BECKY: That perhaps there's a whole third range of, or fourth or fifth range, of genderal expression that really hasn't had the opportunity to fully develop, that is not necessarily defined in terms of maleness or femaleness.
Ms. VINCENT: What would you call that category? Or is it a category?
BECKY: Well, first of all, I would say that one of the great enemies of human expression is binarism and that we're locked into one or the other. So I would have to say, being a little self-promoting, that transgenderism is probably, at least a good proto-position to take with respect to developing an alternate genderal expression.
Ms. VINCENT: Well, I would concur in the sense that as an androgynous person, I think androgyny is a wonderful place to be and I think, you know, that, I think the culture has embraced that to a certain degree in film and so on. But I think it, it's, it would be a nice option to exercise.
CONAN: Becky, thanks very much for the call.
CONAN: And finally, Nora Vincent, do you miss Ned?
Ms. VINCENT: Not at all. I do not. I am so glad to be rid of him.
(Soundbite of laughter).
Ms. VINCENT: And so happy to be a woman, I have to say. I absolutely love it. I think it's a privilege.