Monday, March 20, 2006

Norah the Gender Spy

When journalist Norah Vincent wanted to find out what life was like on the other side of the gender divide, she went undercover and spent eighteen months living as a man among men.

It was a transformation that took months to achieve. She built up her physique with weights and took voice training classes. She wore baggy men's clothes (with a bust squashing sports bra and padded jock strap underneath) and got a buzz cut. A make-up artist put the finishing touches to her appearance including five o'clock shadow.

As Ned, she infiltrated traditional male bastions such as the bowling alley, strip clubs, a male only therapy group and a monastry. She learned how tough it is to chat up women, went on dates, and even (and this is of course where the whole thing gets most interesting!) ended up in bed with a woman.

The experiment was conducted at great cost to her own mental health, and she found herself becoming severly depressed because of the effort it took to suppress her own identity.

The experience changed her views of men and male sexuality forever:
I passed in a man's world not because my mask was so real, but because the world of men was a masked ball. Eventually I realised that my disguise was the one thing I had in common with every guy in the room. It was hard being a guy.
The Guardian has an extract from her book Self-Made Man: My year Disguised as a Man.

It's a book I won't be able to resist buying, I think.

33 comments:

The Eternal Wanderer said...

It was certainly interesting to read this journalist's undercover expose about what it feels like to be a male.

Now, I wonder if there's an opposite, where a man takes on the guise of a woman finds out what it's LIKE to be a female?

Talk about shattering the gender divide to the extreme!

animah said...

I suggest that all ulamas and judges of the shariah courts become women for at least 6 months to understand what it is that Muslim women go through.

The Visitor said...

wah, quite handsome samor!

starlight said...

i wish i could do something like that but i'm neither brave nor as strong-willed. hell, i even refused when my former magazine editor asked me to masquerade first as a callgirl for a night and second, as a Miss Malaysia contestant. No way Jose! the closest to undercover i've come is stalking prostitutes in chow kit in the dead of night and taking notes while my photographer tried his best to take tabloid-like shots without a flash.

starlight said...

and i second animah's suggestion!!

Spot said...

I third animah's suggestion and add the condition of married muslim women.

Anna said...

Spot, married Muslim women? Where, in Malaysia, I guess. For, other Muslim women are not that lucky! Having said that, I wish to see my Muslim sisters to be improving their condition, soon. Although, I have been told that while it is happening at large, here, you are.. regressing! What can be done? How can you melt the heart of these ulamas etc? Why don't they listen? Who is gaining from maintaining this situation? Isn't there a powerful woman to give them a good slap on the back? They are just men, you know! Why are you afraid of them?

Chet said...

"Now, I wonder if there's an opposite, where a man takes on the guise of a woman finds out what it's LIKE to be a female?"

I'm not sure if it has been done in real life, but certainly in the movies - Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire immediately come to mind. Plus another movie starring Ellen Barkin in which he wakes up as a woman and goes to the toilet, only to find nothing hanging between his legs. Okay, just checked us.imdb.com for her filmography - name of movie is Switch.

Greenbottle said...

*****She learned how tough it is to chat up women, went on dates, and even (and this is of course where the whole thing gets most interesting!) ended up in bed with a woman*****

ha ha...now you understand why there's so much porn on the net huh??

and starlight...i'm sure there're quite a few here who would be interested to be your, err customer...

Walker said...

Fascinating. I suppose transgendered individuals (of both genders) have been doing things like this for years. I wonder if opposite sex attributes (skeletal differences, hair, breasts, etc.) are easier to achieve with hormone drugs? I've certainly seen Female to Male TGs with genuine facial hair. (And apparently the female moustache is quite common in the American Mid-West. *duck*)

bibliobibuli said...

wah! starlight! that would have been some story!

eternal wanderer - we could dress you up as a woman if you wanted to go undercover and find out ...

i fourth animah's suggestion

chet - there's always M Butterfly play by David Henry Hwang and film ... work looks at the life and loves of Rene Gallimard, who learns that his Chinese mistress of twenty years is actually a man and Communist spy ... but all these examples are fiction

anna - "they are just men" exactly!

greenbottle - you think starlight is soliciting, huh?

bibliobibuli said...

walker - yes, the transgendered get to see both sides ... i mentioned some time back my friend john who became jennifer ...

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if opposite sex attributes (skeletal differences, hair, breasts, etc.) are easier to achieve with hormone drugs?"

I think usually it's surgery and hormones for sex-change candidates.

Anonymous said...

"Now, I wonder if there's an opposite, where a man takes on the guise of a woman finds out what it's LIKE to be a female?"

That would be interesting. By and large though, I think it's easier for a woman to be a man than vice versa. Men are generally very simple creatures I think.

lil ms d said...

i agree with animah. people can say all they want about the syariah courts and IFL, but wait til they go through a divorce. the woman almost always loses out. those men should be castrated.

Anonymous said...

.. and even so, I don't think it gives anyone any clue about what it REALLY feels like to be male, unless you judge your experiences by everyone's reaction to (and interaction with) you. I can't dress up as a female and then suddenly BECOME female. However convincingly I act, I'm still a guy in a dress. You can't experience masculinity (or femininity) by changing your outward appearance. She STILL doesn't know what it's like, and she probably never will. Some people think appearance is everything.

Walker said...

"I think usually it's surgery and hormones for sex-change candidates."

Leaving genital realignment out of the equation (as some TG individuals do for decades), the physical changes possible through hormone drugs alone are amazing.

Anna said...

It is already difficult to understand another female as a female, imagine a male! Although, it all comes down to chemistry, I believe. You can hate a female for what she embodies and feel tenderness for a male and vice-versa. Conditioning plays a key-role. The proof? Those muslin 'men' who are your same group socio-cultural buddies, and make your life hell! WHY??????????????? Can any 'enlightened muslim man' answer this question? Use your heart, please, my head is to tired!

Greenbottle said...

anna...what's all this about muslim men giving you hell? ...why? buddhist men give you heaven do they??

the thing is quite simple really...it's all science... women need to ensure that they propogate and perpetuate the best genes make sense too if they need to endure all those torture...hence must be selective ...on the contrary men just want to make sure they propogate and perpetuate their own genes..irrespective whether they are einstiens or retards...so we need to spray far and wide...and it's a lot of fun too...and no need to carry the burden for 9 months and all that...so men must make sure they get as much women as they can and women the opposite...hence all these trouble...nothing to do with being muslim or whatever... we're all the same ..just animals...only difference is, some think that we're higher level of evolutionary ladder...i'm not too sure...

Anna said...

Absolutely right, you are, Greenbottle! I am just trying to understand why Muslim women are discriminated before the law, that's all. You see, even if they are very careful in selecting the right male, that does not mean that once things turn bad, their initial prudence would see them better off than other less picky women (in case of divorce etc). The law is the law! Hence, we believe that the law could give us women equal rights on the 'evolutionary ladder'. I am not a Muslim, but I have strong teeth: one bite and your gone. No, really, Greenbottle, we all try to survive. Male or female, we are all... game!

Greenbottle said...

anna...don't want to make this a place for a forum on status of women in islam and to explain non muslims' misunderstanding about it...perhaps some other place...suffice to say...read objectively and perhaps you'll find the answers...i personally feel it's a lot worse for millions of catholic women who can't even get a divorce even if they want to! or can they now?

Anna said...

Greenbottle, I felt 'turned on' by Animah reaction to this posting story. Is that a crime? It went too far, maybe, from the initial subject. Can you give me the rules and regulations for blogging? And, yes, today, Catholic women are not discriminated anymore. They have the same 'spiritual rights' than men. And the civil law has followed. And believe me, to the extent that a Catholic man will not look down at you anymore as being 'an inferior entity'. Maybe a weak one. But then, this is another prejudice...
Ah, respect is not easy to gain. I understand why people hide behind diplomas, money, my sex is bigger than yours, my religion is better than yours, my daddy is stronger than yours etc. But this is another debate...

Greenbottle said...

anna...

happy to know that catholic women are getting better deals these days...though may be some catholic women in the philippines or african countries don't quite agree to this ...and oh...animah's comment...how naughty! she should be my wife..i can treat her like a pet...in fact i have a pet pussycat called aminah...i treat her better than many men treat their girlfiends or wives...muslims and non muslims included...

Anna said...

AH! I see your point Greenbottle: it is indeed very difficult to chat up women...

Anonymous said...

"it is indeed very difficult to chat up women..."

Not really. Before I became a fictional character I used to do it all the time. Actually, women chatted me up more than I did them. I guess they liked what they saw then, simple guy in a stable job, mowing a lawn uphill but slowly. After the tragic accident that turned me into a fictional character, then it got pretty hard because, well, how do you relate to a ficitonal character ?

Anna said...

How can you be productively... fictional? Lawn mowing is just for pennies or relaxing! Make the dream come true.

Anna said...

In fact, what I meant was: If you have it, you can give it. If you do not feel it, forget it! Do not try to be someone you cannot be.

Anonymous said...

"How can you be productively... fictional?"

Very easily. The PR companies give you an image that you pretend is you. If I was really true to myself I'd just attend stuff in shorts and an old t-shirt. Yeah, that's the way to sell stuff. :)

"Do not try to be someone you cannot be."

Even if it sells books ? it pays the bills, people expect you to be X so you have to be X, that's what they're paying you for isn't it ? they're not paying for you to be you. You have to pull off the illusion because your very survival depends on it.

Anna said...

Anonymous, sorry to hear that you are caught up in such a dilemma. I am a teacher, a philosopher and an artist at heart, which imply that I must seek the truth constantly to stay balanced, not to pay the bills! I have no choice. But I give back to life that 'magically' sustains me... All the best.

Anonymous said...

No problem. I'd simply _love_ to be me. If I was me, I'd attend everything in pajamas. I'd be a philosopher and appreciator (?) of life. My motto would be that of Montaigne's -- "mon metier et mon art c'est vivre" (my trade and my art is living). But it is not. So how do you pay _your_ bills ?

Anna said...

I pay my bills by being 'me'. Although, someone eagerly ambitious to make it into this world contributes to it. In exchange I trade some of my energy and my grey matter! We are all interdependent. It depends how much you are ready to give up on yourself. And how this takes place. There, I have a choice. Because I decided that I would have a choice. Not bad for a Sicilian girl who has been exposed to brainwashing in a catholic convent!? I am an old and strong soul.

Anonymous said...

Must be nice to have a contributor. When do I get contributors so I can pay my bills by being "me" ? :)

anna said...

Last suggestion: stop and think! And now I stop because I can't think anymore. Ciao anonymous.