Book Excerpt: Norah Vincent's 'Self-Made Man'

When he'd wiped the vestiges of the second shot off his lips, I started in.

"Jim," I said, "you were right. I'm not a guy. I'm a woman."

"Shut up, asshole," he said. "C'mon, really. What did you want to tell me?"

"No. That's really it. I'm a woman. Look," I said, "I'll show you my driver's license if you don't believe me."

I pulled it out of my wallet and put it into his hand. He looked at it for a second, then said, "That doesn't even look like you."

He shoved it back into my hand. "Besides, you can fake those easy."

"I swear, Jim, it's not a fake. That's me. My name is Norah, not Ned."

"Shut up," he said again. "Why are you doing this to me? I mean, I gotta hand it to you, if this is a joke, it's a good one. You got me, but a joke's a joke."

"It's not a joke, Jim."

He shook his head and took a big gulp of his beer.

"Okay, look," I said. "I'll show you every card in my wallet, including my social security card. They all have the same name on them."

I put all the cards on the bar in a row where he could see them. He looked at them all cursorily, then said, "Are you fuckin' with me? Because if you are, this is fucked up. I mean, if I'd thought of it first I'd have done it to you, but shit, you gotta tell me."

"No," I said, "I swear to God, I'm not fucking with you. I'm a woman. My name is Norah. Look, I don't have a protruding Adam's apple, right?" I put his finger on my throat and ran it up and down.

"I'm wearing a tight sports bra to hold down my tits," I said, putting his hand on my back so he could feel the straps under my sweatshirt. "Look, if you still don't believe me, let's go in the bathroom and I'll show you."

"No thanks," he blurted, jerking away from me. "I don't wanna see that shit. Jesus, man. You're fuckin' me up. And you were my coolest guy friend, too. Damnit. This is really blowin' my mind. You better not be fuckin' with me."

It took a while to get him to concede it, even remotely, and every once in a while he'd still say, "You're not fuckin' with me, are you?" But we sat there for a good three hours talking about the book and why I was doing it, and slowly I got the sense that it was sinking in.

"I gotta say," he said finally, "that takes balls . . . or not, I guess. Wow, you're a fuckin' chick. No wonder you listen so good."

We went through the whole rigmarole of hindsight, things he'd thought were a little odd at the time, but now made sense to him. We'd have long moments of silence, and then he'd say something like, "So that's why you always wear a sweatshirt even though it's so hot in there, right? It's to cover up your tits."

"Yep," I'd say. "It sucks, too, 'cause I sweat my ass off."

We'd lapse back into silence for a while and then he'd say, "That's why your lips and your cheeks are so red. I always noticed that and thought it was weird."

That was his way of saying I had a nice complexion, I think, nicer at least than all the leatherfaces in the league, which wasn't saying much. The only guy who had a face even remotely as smooth as mine, even with the stubble, was nineteen years old.

But for the most part, it seemed I'd pulled off Ned pretty well, because there weren't that many things Jim could look back on with recognition. In the end, he just said, "That stubble is really good, man. I just thought it was exactly like what I'd have at the end of a day."

That was satisfying.

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