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

Jim had told me a similar story about a confrontation he'd had a few days before with a coworker who'd been talking about gay characters on network TV shows like Will and Grace. She'd said: "Well, I don't have a problem with gays, but why do they have to keep shoving it in my face?"

And Jim said, "Oh, okay, so you're fine with gay people so long as they stay in caves and back alleys. Is that what you're saying?"

He said he'd really pinned her to the wall for it, saying finally, "Either you have a problem with gay people or you don't. There's no 'but.' "

These guys were starting to sound like a progressive party meeting and all I'd done was laugh along with them when they'd said things like, "If you're really a chick, then how the hell do you have such big feet?" But I was grateful for their support however they showed it, and I felt more than a little ashamed of how I'd underestimated them.

They had taken me in, and I had deceived them. They took it astonishingly well nonetheless. I had condescended to them all along, even in my gracious surprise that they were somehow human. They had made that leap on my behalf without the benefit of suppressed snobbery. I have condescended to them still in these pages throughout, congratulating myself for stooping to receive their affections and dispense my own, for presuming to understand them. Class is inescapable in tone, and even a pseudointellectual will always sound like she thinks she's earning points in liberal heaven for shaking hands with the caveman or, worse, the noble savage. The most I can say is that they were far better men than I in that, and undoubtedly far worse or just as bad in ways that I would never and could never know. They made me welcome in their midst, and by so doing, they made me feel like a bit of a shithead, like an arrogant prick know-it-all. In a sense, they made me the subject of my own report. They bowled with irony after all.

They made me look ridiculous to myself and they made me laugh about it. And for that I will always be grateful to them, because anybody who does that for you is a true and great friend.

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