'THE NEW GIRL' For two months, Mike Reynolds
said goodbye to his old self and became Lisa Anne
Jim Shelton ,
Mike Reynolds of New Haven recreates his Lisa
Anne Weber persona, the basis for his book. Jeff
Two years after his big experiment, Mike Reynolds of
New Haven still can’t get his sex straight on his Connecticut
In fact, unless he produces letters
from a physician and a psychiatrist proving otherwise, the
Department of Motor Vehicles will continue insisting he’s
It’s not so far-fetched. For two months in
2001, Reynolds was legally a 35-year-old woman named Lisa Anne
dressed as a woman, talked as a woman, sought jobs as a woman
and even went to singles dances as a woman — all for the sake
of a literary treatise on gender.
Reynolds, author of "The New Girl," $19.95, Publish
America, will appear as several book
July 24, Edwards Bookstore in
Springfield, Mass., noon to 1:30 p.m.
18, Barnes & Noble at Yale, 77 Broadway, New
Haven, time to be announced.
Meriden Public Library, 105 Miller St., 7
Oct. 4, New Haven Free Public
Library, 133 Elm St., 7 p.m.
Also, the book is on
sale at Atticus Book Store-Cafe, Book Haven and the
Foundry Bookstore. It can be ordered at Barnes &
Noble or at http://www.mike-reynolds.com/.
became female to try and understand what it’s like to go
through life, or at least two months of it, as somebody else,"
says Reynolds, 41, who teaches media studies at Quinnipiac
University in Hamden and Sacred Heart University in
"Nothing I expected happened, other than
some guys being attracted to me," he laughs.
tradition of John Howard Griffin’s classic book, "Black Like
Me," Reynolds spent 24 hours a day in a different physical
persona and wrote about the experience. But while Griffin
transformed himself from Caucasian to African-American,
Reynolds chose to become an unemployed, overweight, unmarried
The result is "The New Girl," a 191-page
softcover book put out by Publish America.
Reynolds tells of his experiences as "Lisa" at local
restaurants, businesses, social events and religious services
at a prominent New Haven church.
"I was very skeptical
when he first told me about it," notes Michele Hoffnung, a
psychology professor at Quinnipiac and head of the
university’s women’s studies program. "It seemed unbelievable
this large man could pass as a normal-looking
Luckily, Reynolds had a brief gender-bending
experience before this. Several years ago, he was cast in a
woman’s role for an amateur theater production in Cheshire.
Reynolds noticed that other cast members acted subtly
different around him as a female, which gave him the notion to
develop his experience into a book.
"But in order for
people to take it seriously, I had to go out and do it, write
about it and get it published," he explains. "My plan was
simple. Of course it didn’t turn out that way, but the plan
MISTER MAKEOVER Reynolds, a
former speechwriter and advertising man from Chicago who moved
to New Haven in 1992, went to dramatic lengths to attempt his
It was necessary because of his size. He’s 6
foot, 1; weighs more than 200 pounds; and has a baritone
He prepared for more than a year. To eliminate
face and body hair, he went through a series of laser and
waxing treatments; to modulate his voice, he consulted a vocal
coach; to soften his skin and lend a slight curvature to his
body, he took low doses of estrogen with an herbal supplement
called black cohosh root.
As for his weight, Reynolds
lost 35 pounds through an intensive workout regimen.
Gradually, he invested in hip pads, a special wig, bras, a
cleavage enhancer, cosmetics and breast forms.
went to a New Haven judge to get his name changed. The judge
agreed, and asked Reynolds to send her a copy of the book if
he ever got it published. With the court order in hand,
Reynolds arranged for a new Social Security card and driver’s
He also needed a new wardrobe. For this,
Reynolds enlisted the aid of his girlfriend — now fiancee —
"We went shopping together, did nails
together," laughs Morris, who is a research analyst with the
University of Connecticut Health Center. "To the extent I
could, I helped."
Reynolds says it was crucial to the
experiment that he be viewed as a woman, rather than a female
impersonator or a man in the process of having a sex
"You have to have people see you and think,
‘Oh, she’s nice,’ instead of, ‘What’s he up to?’ You can’t be
thought of as a transvestite," Reynolds says.
as possible, Reynolds wanted to see the world through a
woman’s eyes. The value of the experience, he says, is to
discover how much of gender is biological and how much of it
is learned behavior.
"Part of it was intellectual
curiosity, of course," he says. "And the undiscovered country
element of it. I suppose there was also a little bit of anger,
about how women I’ve known have hidden behind the prerogatives
of their gender."
Reynolds took a leave of absence from
his teaching jobs as Lisa’s debut in September 2001 grew near.
He also told his condominium neighbors that he was going away
for a couple of months and his cousin Lisa would be
Reynolds decided to stay in Lisa mode day and
night for the duration of the project, keeping a journal of
each day’s events. He would call girlfriend Morris every night
to check in, but use only Lisa’s voice.
the first time she saw her boyfriend as Lisa. "I was
astounded," she says. "My first words were, ‘You have better
legs than I do!"
MEETING THE PEOPLE Reynolds
started with a couple of trial runs. He visited Hoffnung in
her office as Lisa, for instance, then met with one of
"I can’t say enough about the way
he transformed his appearance," Hoffnung says. "It was
remarkable. When he was in my class, it was really clear that
they related to ‘her,’ and ‘she’ related to them." Also, Lisa
discovered the aggressiveness of inebriated men.
sat at the bar of a Hamden restaurant and a small, thin man in
his 30s began making conversation. After some superficial
smalltalk, the guy made a pass. Lisa thwarted the advance only
by allowing the man to walk "her" to her car.
official launch was Sept. 22, 2001. In the first few days,
Reynolds visited stores, shops and restaurants, applied for
jobs at Yale, the Shubert Theater, the Peabody Museum and
Southern Connecticut State University and attended a suburban
He also noticed how long it took him to do
his makeup, how often he ran out the door late and how
difficult it was to deal with a purse.
"It turned out
to be this completely liberating, emotional roller-coaster
ride," Reynolds says. "There’s no emotional middle ground when
people are treating you as female. You’re perceived as the
recipient of everyone else’s agenda. One whose value is
involved in what somebody else does."
But not everyone
was convinced by his ruse. The manager of a Hamden fitness
center, for example, tried tactfully to ask Lisa which locker
room "she" planned to use if she joined. When Lisa said her
driver’s license showed her to be female, the manager
apologized. He explained there had been a previous incident in
which a man going through a sex change had wanted to use the
women’s locker room.
Another time, a man in
conversation mentioned that Lisa’s voice sounded somewhat like
a female impersonator. Reynolds responded with an indignant
tone and the man didn’t pursue the argument.
Thursday of each week, I was exhausted," Reynolds
WORK, PLAY, WORSHIP Meanwhile, the job search
Reynolds encountered potential employers who
stared at his fake breasts and others who automatically
steered Lisa toward jobs below her qualifications. Lisa
attended a networking event at New Haven’s Zinc restaurant and
made the rounds of every arts organization in the Audubon
In all, Lisa completed 47 job
applications and had 30 interviews. Lisa’s only success was
finding a part-time gig selling ads for a non-profit
Although Reynolds can’t prove there was
discrimination, he notes that he later got an assignment as
himself from an area advertising firm that had turned him down
As for Lisa’s social life, one of the most
intense aspects of the experiment was a singles dance at the
North Haven Holiday Inn.
That night, Lisa shared
flirting strategies with a group of women at the event, and
one of the men at the dance took a shine to Lisa. They danced
several times before Reynolds decided he’d taken the encounter
as far as he could.
"This guy was very attracted to me
and he didn’t look like he would take no for an answer,"
Reynolds says. "I really had to sneak out a back way and try
to find my car." Yet, perhaps the most meaningful
relationships Reynolds had as Lisa were at Trinity Episcopal
Church on the Green in New Haven.
Lisa began attending
services at the venerable church. Almost immediately, Lisa was
asked if she’d like to be an usher.
"After the service,
the other parishioners began coming up to me en masse to
introduce themselves and their families, shake my hand, and
warmly welcome me to the congregation," Reynolds writes in his
book. "It was only the second week I’d attended as Lisa, and I
was, frankly, surprised. This had never happened to me here in
Soon Lisa also was attending weekly "house
churches," which are smaller, weekly prayer group gatherings.
Lisa developed a fast friendship with a woman named Rachel
(Reynolds changed most of the names in his book) and the two
talked and exchanged e-mails throughout the next few
As Lisa’s time in New Haven drew to a close,
Reynolds fretted over what to do about Rachel. Their
friendship was one he hoped to continue in his true persona,
but it was based on a lie.
He broke the news to Rachel
after a house church meeting in which the members had given
Lisa a birthday cake. Rachel’s reaction?
"Oh yeah. I
She had assumed Lisa was a transsexual, trying
to assimilate into society. When she learned the truth, Rachel
grieved at the loss of her friend, Lisa. She felt unable to
maintain the same level of intimacy with the same person as a
"We effectively became strangers," Reynolds
THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE And now Reynolds
is telling the world — or, at least those people who buy "The
New Girl" or come to his book signings.
more intrigued about the change in gender than in what I
found," he says.
His fiancee, Morris, also worries the
public will pick apart Reynolds’ physical characteristics as
Lisa. "I think he was able to hit most of what we do as
women," she says.
"I’m cheering him on, rooting him on.
He’s put his whole heart into this for three years and I hope
it flies. He had to have so much nerve to do this, and faith
in himself, to not give up halfway through."
At one of
his initial book signings, at the Cheshire Public Library,
Reynolds faces some mild skepticism.
More than a dozen
women and a few men are in the crowd. They listen quietly to
Reynolds read from the book, then come to life during the
question-and-answer phase. Mostly, they have
They critique his hands, his gestures and his
voice. They question whether he was able to fool many people
into believing his disguise.
"There are some things you
just can’t hide," one woman says.
his findings were valid. He also notes he and Morris will wed
in August and that he still attends Trinity Church.
one thing he lost when he returned to the male population, he
tells the audience, is the ability to connect emotionally with
women even in casual conversation.
"I miss the ease of
bonding," he says. "I don’t have that ticket in my