Norah did a philosophy degree at Williams College, Massachusetts, where she came out as lesbian. After some freelance journalism she worked at The Free Press during its neoconservative phase.
In 1994 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
In 1996 she wrote "Beyond Lesbian" which was published in The New Republic, in which she was critical of what she saw as lesbian conformity, and she started getting her writings published in conservative publications. In 1999 she was controversially hired to do a weekly column in The Village Voice. One of her first articles was a sympathetic article on Drew, a New York trans man. Vincent has also had columns at Salon.com, The Advocate, The Los Angeles Times at all of which she established her reputation of being a conservative lesbian.
In June 2000 in The Advocate, she described transsexuals as “the most draconian arm of the PC language police”, and concluded:
“So why, as adults, do transsexuals mutilate their bodies in order to make them conform to the fashionable version of the opposite sex and gender? That only reinforces oppressive stereotypes every bit as much as liposuction or a bimbo's boob job. If you're a man in a woman's body, then live androgynously if you're such a revolutionary. Don't conform. I do it every day, and it isn't particularly easy. Half the time I'm sir, and half the time I'm ma'am, and that's how it should be when sex and gender don't matter.In February 2001 she wrote up an approving article about an evening about male masculinities at Pace University. However a few months after that she blamed San Francisco giving transition costs as part of a health benefit package for employees on postmodernism and the death of the self:
If you truly want to thwart gender norms, don't pull a fast one on the dictionary or your poor blameless privates. Live with all the polymorphy God gave you, body and soul. It's a lot more radical.”
"If you take seriously the idea that a person cannot be himself without the intervention of modern technology, then you have lost the notion of a self altogether".Vincent was a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies 2001-3. Richard Goldstein featured Vincent in his 2001 book on gay conservatives, along with Andrew Sullivan and Camille Paglia.
In 2002 she moved to Philadelphia to be with her girlfriend, and was writing with candor about her struggles with multiple sclerosis and depression.
Self-Made Man, 2006. She concludes the book with:
"I, Meanwhile, am staying right where I am: fortunate, proud, free and glad in every way to be a woman".However, afterwards she slipped into depression and on the advice of a psychologist spent time in three different mental hospitals: one urban, public and ill-funded; one small-town; and one private and expensive. She turned this into her second book.
- Norah Vincent. "Beyond Lesbian". The New Republic, Jan 8, 1996. Online at: http://igfculturewatch.com/1996/01/08/beyond-lesbian.
- Norah Vincent. “A Real Man: Brooklyn girl grows hair on her chest”. The Village Voice. Nov 16, 1999. www.villagevoice.com/1999-11-16/news/a-real-man/1.
- Norah Vincent. “Cunning linguists”. The Advocate, June 20, 2000. Online at: www.thefreelibrary.com/Cunning+linguists.-a062741813.
- Norah Vincent. “The Big Switch: Trans-sexuals, Without the P.C.” The Village Voice. Feb 27, 2001. www.villagevoice.com/2001-02-27/nyc-life/the-big-switch/http.
- Norah Vincent. “Welcome to the Transsexual Age: San Francisco Gives In to Theorists”. The Village Voice. May 22, 2001. www.villagevoice.com/2001-05-22/nyc-life/welcome-to-the-transsexual-age.
- Richard Goldstein. Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right. Verso, 2001 – reissued as Homocons: The Rise of the Gay Right. Verso Press, 2003.
- Kevin Riordan. "Conservative contrarian amidst lgbt liberalism: An interview with Norah Vincent". PrideSource, 2/27/2003. www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=2736.
- Norah Vincent. Self-Made Man: one woman's journey into manhood and back again. New York: Viking 2006. London: Atlantic 2006.
- Norah Vincent. "Double Agent". The Guardian, 18 March 2006. www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/mar/18/gender.bookextracts.
- Norah Vincent. Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin. New York: Viking, 2008.
- Diane Torr & Stephen J. Bottoms. Sex, Drag, and Male Roles: Investigating Gender As Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010: 212-3.
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Vincent seems to have an ambivalence concerning trans issues, but is more sympathetic to female transvestites and trans men than to those of the other direction.
Self-Made Man is an odd book in that it is mainly a book for women who want to know what men do and say when women are not around. As Diane Torr says: “She makes little sustained effort to reflect critically on her own experiences as a woman passing in male-oriented environments … Moreover, she seems intent on reinforcing precisely the gender binaries that drag kings and trans performers have sought to challenge”.
I have elsewhere criticized the reluctance of sociologists and other academics (e.g Richard Ekins, David Valentine) making studies of trans people but not even being willing to cross-dress. So kudos to Vincent for doing so. If only more cis people would do so.
Vincent does seem to have an attraction to greater expression of her masculinity, but without having the whatever that makes a trans man. In this she is an interesting example of cis gender variance and female transvestity.
Vincent documents well how heteronormativity can oppress men, and admires their resiliance, but pays little attention to male strategies for escaping heteronormativity such as homosexuality, although she does have a chapter on monks. And thus there is no discussion at all as to whether some trans women are more motivated by escaping male heteronormativity than by 'gender identity'. Of course trans people rarely discuss this either.