Norah Vincent, a 35-year-old journalist, tried to pass for a man in the winter of 2003. She cut some wool and, with the help of a cosmetic artist, painted it on her chin to give the impression of stubble. .
She had styled her short hair in a flat top and got new square-rimmed glasses to emphasize the sharpness of her features. She used weights to bulk up her chest and back, wore a sports bra that was too small, and her prosthetic penis was slipped into a jockstrap.
She spent months working with a vocal coach at New York’s Julliard School, who instructed her to slow down and lower the pitch of her voice, lean back instead of forward when speaking, and make better use of her breath.
She then went out into the world for 18 months passing as a man named Ned, journaling about her experiences along the way. She did this with 2006’s Self-Made Man, which became a bestseller almost immediately upon release.
Vincent became a celebrity because of this, appearing on shows like “20/20” and “The Colbert Report,” where she and Stephen Colbert playfully jested about football and penis size. However, the book was no joke. It was complicated and deliberate writing.
Black Like Me, written by white writer John Howard Griffin in 1961 about his experiences as a black man in the segregated South, was compared to it. The New York Times book reviewer David Kamp praised Vincent’s work, calling it “rich and bold.”
Vincent died on July 6 in a Swiss medical center. The woman was 53 years old. On Thursday, her friend and publicist Justine Hardy announced her unreported death. She claimed the death was medically assisted, or a voluntary assisted death.
Vince was a lesbian. It was clear that she did not identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. But especially gender and identity studies were important to her. Some of the writings she wrote as a freelancer for publications such as The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, and The Advocate provoked strong reactions from readers.
Vincent posed as Ned for a year and a half, during which time she exposed him to numerous overtly male roles. Although he was a poor bowler, he joined a workers’ union.
(His teammates were encouraging and supportive, but Vincent later learned that they initially misunderstood his gender and assumed he was gay because of the way he bowled.) He stayed with a group of reclusive monks for several weeks. He tried his luck in singles bars and strip suits, but was consistently rejected by the ladies.
To make a living, he went door-to-door selling coupon books and other low-margin products along with other vendors who, in their cartoonish confidence, could have come straight out of David Mamet’s 1983 drama Glengarry Glen Ross.
Finally, Ned lost it during an Iron John retreat, a therapeutic masculinity workshop (think drum circles and hero archetypes) based on the writings of Robert Bly, a pioneer in the men’s movement. Vincent was so exhausted from her role as Ned that after the retreat she hospitalized herself to recover from her depression.
According to her writing, she went through hell for the same reason many of the men she met went through hell: Their gender roles suffocated them and made them feel completely separate from who they really were.
On September 20, 1968, Nora Mary Vincent was born in Detroit. Her mother, the actress Juliet (Randall) Ford, and her father, the Ford Motor Company attorney Robert Vincent, were both actors.
The third of three children, Vincent spent her childhood between Detroit and London when her father was stationed there for work. She told the Times in 2001, when her controversial freelance pieces sparked controversy, that she had studied philosophy at Williams College in Massachusetts and had come to terms with being a lesbian at the age of 21.
She attended Boston College’s philosophy department for 11 years and then worked as an assistant editor for the Free Press, a publishing house specializing in books on religion and social sciences that had a neoconservative slant in the 1980s, but went bankrupt in 2012 .
Vincent’s debut fiction, Thy Neighbour, was published in 2012 and is a dark comedy thriller about an alcoholic writer who becomes unemployed and starts spying on his neighbors to uncover the truth about his parents’ murder and suicide.
Alex and Edward, Vincent’s siblings, and their mother are the only members of their family still alive. Lisa McNultya theater producer and artistic director, was her companion at home from the 2000s to 2008. I was married to Kristen Erickson for a little over a year before we split.
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