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

Besides, as far as hitting women went, I'd met Jim's wife. She could knock the sass out of him with one look. She was a cool lady, and his respect for her ran deep. With her by his side, he looked almost like a porter who was just there to carry her bags.

When it came time to consider telling the other guys about me, Jim told me he wasn't sure how they'd take it. He said he honestly didn't know if they would beat me up. He thought it might be best for him to tell them in private first. We went back and forth on it for a week or two, and then on the following Monday in the middle of the game I just said to him, "Fuck it. Let's do it."

"All right," he said, sighing, "if you really want to. I'm behind you." He looked around warily and added, "I guess." He'd kept my secret for two weeks, two Monday nights with the guys. We'd exchanged a few meaningful smirks and whispers in that time, but otherwise he'd kept his head down, respecting my need to tell the others when I was ready. As I had with Jim, I tried to prepare the ground with Bob and Allen. I wanted to have their full attention, to have everybody sitting at the table at once. But the flow of the game was constant, with one of us always getting up to take his next turn as soon as someone else sat down.

"Listen, you guys," I said. "I've got something important to tell you."

They looked at me with vague interest but nothing more. I turned to Jim for help and he stepped in to reinforce the urgency.

"Yeah, guys, listen up. You're gonna want to hear this, believe me."

Bob had gotten up from his chair but he sat down again when Jim spoke. He and Allen both turned to me, curious now and expectant. I had their ear, but I knew I had only a moment between frames. I couldn't think of any way to ease them into a sex change that fast. There wasn't any room for hedging or segue, no way to hand off the bombshell gingerly. This wasn't the place for a tête-à-tête, and that wasn't their style anyway. It was loud all around us, with the radio blaring and guys cackling and gabbing on all sides of us. I knew that once I'd said the words I was about to say, everything would change irrevocably. Maybe they would laugh and take it as a joke, or even think of it as a welcome surprise. Maybe they'd be shocked into silence and we'd spend the rest of the night in excruciating discomfort avoiding one another's eyes. Or maybe they'd drag me into the parking lot and work me over with the broken end of a beer bottle. I had no way of knowing. I could find no clue on their faces. I was just going to have to say it and hope for the best. So I did. I said it plain as I could make it. "I'm not a man, you guys. I'm a woman."

And there it was. It was out. I braced for impact.

But Bob just nodded when I said it as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. He leaned back in his chair and took his typical drag on his cigarette, like an FBI interrogator whom nothing could surprise. He narrowed his eyes knowingly as if I'd just confessed to committing a crime that he'd marked me for a long time ago.

Finally, with amazing nonchalance he said, "Oh, yeah?" Then after a long pause he added, "I gotta hand it to you, that takes balls -- or whatever. I never would have questioned it."

Meanwhile, Allen looked puzzled.

"Okay, yeah," he said in a leading way. "So what?"

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