A Self-Made Man

In Vincent's final months as Ned, she managed to infiltrate all-male environments. A lapsed Catholic, Vincent thought it would be interesting to penetrate the cloistered inner world of a monastery. Ned managed to live there for three weeks as a trainee. The monks, Vincent said, were pious, smart men. But they were still men.

She said she witnessed a "desperate need for male intimacy and the lack of ability to give it" at the retreat. It was "really painful," she added.

Not only were the monks struggling to be open and intimate, Vincent said they were hostile to her feminine side. She said she was ostracized because of the monks' assumptions about her sexual orientation.

"Many of them thought I was gay, as one of them told me in confession. ... And I said, 'Well, yeah, but not in the way you think,'" Vincent said.

Vincent thought the perfect end to her 18-month saga would be to join a men-only therapy group, a place where guys tried to bond and show their emotions instead of hiding them.

Again, Vincent saw the men struggle with vulnerability. "They don't get to show the weakness, they don't get to show the affection, especially with each other. And so often all their emotions are shown in rage," she said.

Instead, Vincent said, the men talked about rage, often their rage toward women, and what they would do physically and violently toward women.

"A lot of this was blowing off steam. ...They would talk about fantasizing about chopping up their wives or something. It's not that they would ever do that, but it was a way to get out the blackest thoughts," she said.

Norah began to empathize with the fear and stress men feel for having to always be the strong provider.

Once again, some group members thought Ned was gay, but nobody suspected Ned was a woman. After eight sessions, the group went on a back-country weekend retreat, but Vincent's 18 months of being an imposter was closing in on her.

"The pressure of being someone that you're not and ... the fear of discovery and the deceit that it involves piles up and piles up. So, by the time I got around to doing this men's group, it was really reaching critical mass," she said.

"I was out in the woods with a bunch of guys who had rage issues about women and I was in drag ... and I thought, oh, God, you know, what am I doing," she added.

She continued her emotional descent, and a week later, checked in to a hospital with severe depression. Identity, she concluded, was not something to play around with.

"When you mess around with that, you really mess around with something that you need that helps you to function. And I found out that gender lives in your brain and is something much more than costume. And I really learned that the hard way," she said.

Vincent says she's healed now and glad to be rid of Ned. But her views about men have changed forever.

"Men are suffering. They have different problems than women have, but they don't have it better," she said. "They need our sympathy. They need our love, and maybe they need each other more than anything else. They need to be together."

Ironically, Vincent said, it took experiencing life as a man for her to appreciate being a woman. "I really like being a woman. ... I like it more now because I think it's more of a privilege."

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