Introducing Kate Bornstein

Posted by – February 22, 2010

I had the lovely honor of getting to introduce Kate Bornstein when she spoke at Lawrence, & thought those of you who couldn’t be there might want to know what I said.

Welcome Lawrentians, Appletonians, geeks, freaks & Others with a capital O

Thank you for coming.

What I first started working as an advocate and ally to the transgender community, one of the first authors people recommended was Kate Bornstein. What self professed tomboy could resist a title like Gender Outlaw? I couldn’t stop reading it and I still haven’t. I still re-read sections of it with my classes  & on my own. I read My Gender Workbook – and took all the quizzes – and Hello Cruel World, which taught me that superheroes are, after all, outsiders. So it was a real pleasure, and honor, when a website that features interviews with authors by authors asked me to talk to her. We had been introduced long before then, but that was when we really met. & What surprised me and impressed me the most – amongst all the other possibilities – was how many questions she asked. She is, after all, the Grand Dame of transgender activism and has influenced a generation or two of gender activists, artists, & theorists. As our one hour on the phone turned into three, I realized that it might be because she asks such good questions – of others, & of herself – that she is the star she is.

The questions she has asked of herself have not been easy ones, and they tend to be the kinds of questions most of us would rather avoid. They’re sticky, troublesome questions about identity, and desire, and the dark things that go bump in our psyches when we’r ealone. They are questions of survival, first, but of joy and creativity and community too. She asks them with curiosity & a kind of Puckish delight, which is why she is the 21st century role model for the many communities she inspires.

Please join me in welcome the astonishing, rule-breaking, and shame-liberating Kate Bornstein.

She did tell me she very much liked being referred to as a Grand Dame. Rachel & I had the lovely honor and pleasure of getting to hear a reading of one chapter from her upcoming Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, and let me/us tell you: we are in for a real treat. It will be published in Spring 2011 by Seven Stories Press.

2 Comments on Introducing Kate Bornstein

  1. ginasf says:

    I have to say… I mostly don’t like Kate Bornstein (although I think hir book about suicide was good). Most trans women don’t like Kate Bornstein.

    1) Zie uses transsexual as a noun as in “I am a transsexual”, as though transsexual is an ending state in and of itself. If someone wants to say “I am a queer” that’s their own right, but I would rather they say I am queer. I think she regularly belittles the idea that assigned male-bodied transitioners feel they’re women. Yes, some of it is done with humor, but zie uses our identities (not hirs) as a point of humor, and zie does it for mostly queer audiences who already have a lot of issues about acknowledging trans people’s identities (especially transmasculine queer people, who tend to have a lot of issues with transwomen).

    2) She claims her big motto is: “Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living,” she writes, “just don’t be mean.” However, she makes a video like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVprxVvhix4

    It’s about trans women feminizing their voices which is about as mean-spirited as they come. Yes, she’s trying to make a point about gendering and expectations of what womanhood is, but zie ultimately holds trans women’s need for congruity, expression and safety up to ridicule (and, again, in front of audiences whose attitudes towards transwomen are not especially evolved). One has to ask “why did Bornstein get a boob job/facial surgery” if that’s just a social assumption of what womanhood looks like? Why transition at all? To me, expressing myself with a voice which overlaps the category “women’s voices” was as much about congruity as SRS or taking estrogen. Bornstein uses transwomen as objects of ridicule whenever zie wants to make brownie points with hir queer audiences… and that’s just plain mean. Basically, I see her as an exemplar of “tranny face.” Please, no one should use hir as any kind of a spokesperson for trans people.

  2. Véronique says:

    I don’t know Kate Bornstein personally, nor have I ever seen hir speak. I don’t even follow hir on Twitter, since at this point I’m not using Twitter. So I “know” hir only through Gender Outlaw. That was not one of the first books I read on my journey. I read it only recently, and I found that it rarely spoke to me. And I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Gina wrote.

    I’m all in favour of “gender outlaws.” I think that if people want to smash the gender binary, that’s just fine. For my part, however, I find little in common with gender outlaws. I count several among my friends, but I’m not like them. I was born transsexual in a male body. I transitioned socially, hormonally, and surgically so I could have a female body to match what my brain insisted on — and that had little if anything to do with gender, and everything to do with anatomical sex. I’m afraid I’m rather boringly conservative that way. I tried transgressing gender, but it didn’t make me happy. What made me happy was to become female. And now, if someone asks about my status or if it becomes necessary in conversation to reveal it, I will, but in most of my life I’m just a woman.

    I remember noticing something odd in Gender Outlaw along the lines of what Gina mentioned. Bornstein says ze is outside the gender binary, yet ze states that sex reassignment surgery was important to hir. I’m afraid I don’t get that.

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