Self-Made Man: One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back Again

~by Norah Vincent

One night, at the urging of a friend and because of her own curiosity, lesbian journalist Norah Vincent went out on the town in drag. She found it to be an enlightening and liberating experience. It was that night that inspired this book in which she passes as a "Ned" for eighteen months. Self-Made Man divides Ned's journey into eight chapters in mostly chronological order.

The first chapter, Getting Started, is just that. All the work that Vincent had to do to prepare: new hair cut, beard, weight-lifting. It also serves as a general introduction to the book and explains what the reader should, and shouldn't, expect to get out of it. She is very clear that this is her own personal experience and doesn't hold any illusions that her book will explain everything about every man (or woman, for that matter).

The real experiment takes place in chapters 2-7. In the chapters Friendship, Sex, and Love, Ned joins a men's bowling-league, frequents rather seedy strip-clubs, and dates women. The chapters Life, Work and Self follow Ned as he spends a retreat at a monastery, works as a door-to-door salesman, and participates in the Men's Movement. Vincent is honest about her feelings and doesn't hesitate to point out when her preconceived notions are proven false. She deliberately went for the extremes in searching out experiences for Ned, and tried to find situations that are normally closed to women (which of course limited her choices to some extent).

There's not too much happy here, either for Norah or the men she meets. In fact, she actually had to end her experiment earlier than she anticipated due to mental health concerns brought on by her passing as Ned. The last chapter, Journey's End describes this, her recovery, and what she ultimately learned from the experience. Although I read it for my book club, I've been meaning to read Self-Made Man for awhile now. I'm glad I did, even if it wasn't exactly what I was expecting.