Prior to this morning, I had never heard of the late author, Norah Vincent. Then I read the New York Times obituary that detailed her remarkable life and the books she wrote. Now, I’m going to have to add some of her books to my pile to be read. I wish I had found her in the early 00s, when she was a “media darling” for passing as a man for about 18 months as research for her book, Self-Made Man. The book was an instant best seller. Vincent was a lesbian, and she identified as a woman. Her pronouns were “she/her”. She was not transgender or non binary. She simply wanted to explore what it’s like to pass as a man in today’s world. Or, at least as it was circa 2003 or so, when she was a 35 year old journalist.
Vincent went to great pains to be convincing in her quest to “pass” as a guy. She got coaching from a voice teacher at Julliard, who taught her how to deepen her voice. She bound her breasts with a too small sports bra and wore a jockstrap with a realistic prosthetic penis in it. She cut her hair very short, and learned from a makeup artist how to make it look like she had beard stubble. She even built up her back and shoulder muscles through workouts designed to increase her upper body strength. Then she did hard core “masculine” things, like joining a bowling team, a la Fred Flintstone. During her time posing as a man, she called herself Ned, dated women, went to strip clubs, and experienced being “rebuffed” at bars.
The experience led to a reportedly excellent book, but according to her obituary, it took a toll on her mental health. She was left disoriented and alienated to the point at which she checked herself into a hospital to recover from severe depression. She spent the next year and a half bouncing from hospital to hospital, which resulted in her next book, Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin. That one sounds even more intriguing to me than the first!
More books followed, and people got to know her controversial maverick style. I haven’t read any of Norah Vincent’s books yet, but I can already tell that I’m probably going to enjoy her writing, just by reading her obituary. The author of the obit, Penelope Green, writes:
Ms. Vincent was a lesbian. She was not transgender, or gender fluid. She was, however, interested in gender and identity. As a freelance contributor to The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice and The Advocate, she had written essays on those topics that inflamed some readers.
She was a libertarian. She tilted at postmodernism and multiculturalism. She argued for the rights of fetuses and against identity politics, which she saw as infantilizing and irresponsible. She did not believe that transsexuals were members of the opposite sex after they had surgery and had taken hormones, a position that led one writer to label her a bigot. She was a contrarian, and proud of it.
Even though I doubt I would agree with a lot of Ms. Vincent’s opinions, I have a feeling I would enjoy reading about them. I admire people who are brave enough to express themselves and do so with intelligence and style. I like reading well considered and thought out viewpoints, even if they don’t agree with my own. I read that she was for fetal rights, but somehow, I doubt her argument is going to be the same as some of the pro-life males’ arguments in any comment section of a mainstream newspaper’s. I doubt her comments will be based on religious or political dogmas, as are most opinions shared by everyday people. I do think it’s interesting that she was pro-fetal rights, especially given the way she exited her life.
According to her New York Times obituary, Norah Vincent died on July 6, 2022, at age 53, having gone to a clinic in Switzerland to end her own life. In my review of Amy Bloom’s recent book, In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, which was about Bloom’s husband’s decision to end his life at Dignitas, a Swiss organization that helps people commit suicide, I wrote about how people can more easily end their own lives in Switzerland than they can in the United States. I don’t know what reasons Vincent used to justify ending her life. According to Bloom’s book, even the folks at Dignitas have to be convinced that the person committing suicide isn’t clinically depressed. The obituary doesn’t mention a terminal illness, other than mental illness. Below is exactly what Penelope Green wrote in Vincent’s obit:
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.
Having experienced clinical depression and anxiety myself, I have a slight inkling of what may have been tormenting her. Whether or not people want to realize it, mental illness is still medical illness, and it can make living very difficult. It sounds to me like Vincent was an unusually sensitive soul with unique ideas and incredible powers of creativity. Sometimes that combination in a person can be devastating, as the person goes from brilliance to despair. Perhaps her creativity made her experience life on a much more intense level that was just too much to bear. Or, maybe something else was going on that she chose not to disclose, because frankly, it’s no one else’s business.
A lot of people in the comment section, many of whom obviously didn’t read the article, were making wrong assumptions about her. Some were even bold enough to use her story, which they never bothered to read, to support their own theories about gender politics. I wish people would read more. And I wish they would at least read comments by people who have read before they chime in with their own opinions. Alas, people don’t want to spend the money on a subscription or take the time to read. Yet they want to be heard. I would like to know why we should listen to people who don’t bother to listen to others. I think it would be great if, somehow, social media platforms could determine if people had read before allowing them to post. It’s a pipe dream, I know. Especially given our First Amendment rights in the United States, which overall are a good thing.
I still have a lot of books to be read, so it may be a long time before I get to Norah Vincent. But I hope I do, because she sounds fascinating. I wish I had discovered her before she exited life. And the comments about her are equally interesting– from those who didn’t read and assumed she died in the United States, to those who accused her of being “ableist” for the title of her second book (even though she was suffering from mental illness herself).
I don’t know about you, but it really is becoming exhausting keeping up with all of the “ist” labels people throw out these days. You can’t win, no matter what side of the spectrum you’re on. Why do people have to put labels on behaviors the so-called “woke folks” determine are somehow “harmful”? I don’t like the term “snowflake”, because I think it’s become very cliched. However, I do think that constantly judging and criticizing people for their thoughts and opinions makes life more difficult than it needs to be. It’s tiresome and obnoxious. But maybe I’m just getting old and crotchety… and tired of the thought police.
Gonna close this post now, and head over to Amazon to buy a couple of Norah Vincent’s books, which I hope to review in the near future. I’m sure whomever is in charge of her estate will appreciate the sales. If you want to join me, you can click one of the links below. If you purchase through either link, I will get a small commission from Amazon, which would be nice for me. But if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine too. Because I don’t blog for money, in spite of what some people wrongly ASSUME about me. Below are the two I’m most interested in at this point.
As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.