Headed away to see the sights and soak up some continental European sunshine for a couple of days, during which of course I was accompanied by the obligatory holiday novel. Never one for a Marian Keyes et al choice of genre, I picked up a copy of an interesting looking book titled “Self-made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man” by Norah Vincent. According to the critical acclaim printed on the cover this was the book to read…in 2008. Never one to be dissuaded by fashion, I decided to purchase. After all, I had already spotted it’s follow-on; “Voluntary Madness”, which made the book in my hand even more tempting .
I had read no reviews about the book, nor had I heard of it until just before my travels. However, it was one of those occasions where I was glad to be working at least partly in book retail where I come across random titles which I may never have spotted under normal browsing circumstances (this book was a single title among a pile of other single titles in a storeroom gathering dust).
Written from the point of view of a journalist, the author decides to investigate what it is like to live as a man in modern USA. It is not a ‘coming out’ or transgender or transvestite novel (there is no surgery but she does dress as a man, with the help of a movie industry make-up artist friend). Placing herself as ‘Ned’ in male-oriented places and circumstances – such as a male self-help group, a monastery retreat, even inserting herself as a “one of the guys” in a bowling alley for a duration, or on the dating scene Norah Vincent writes insightfully, warmly and with great humour about the lives of modern men. One of the interesting factors I found was the acceptance Norah had herself, particularly initially, that her lesbian and feminist politics had prejudiced her view on men and that these prejudices were something she herself would have to overcome in order to better understand herself as Ned as well as those she was engaging with as Ned – both with men and women. Obviously one cannot experience the length and breadth of the lives of the opposite sex in 18months – which is the time she spent as Ned – but it is an interesting social project with a highly enjoyable and fascinating read at the end. The conclusion initiates what I presume is an explanation for the subject matter of the proceeding book – Vincent’s play with gender identity eventually produces detrimental affects on her psyche leading to a breakdown and a diagnosis of ‘passively suicidial.’
For anyone interested in gender studies, or even wants to see how one gender tries to pull off being another for a protracted length of time, I would highly recommend this book. It’s also good for a short holiday in the sun.