If you’re queer, trans, or any sort of gender adventurer with a copy of Gender Outlaw on your bookshelf, at some point, you’ve probably thought, “I wish Kate Bornstein were my mom.” Ironically, the one person with privilege of being the radical writer’s biological kid thinks Bornstein is “irredeemably evil.”
Bornstein’s daughter Jessica was born into the Church of Scientiology, where Bornstein rose through the ranks for twelve years until her dramatic exit and eventual excommunication. Scientology teaches that Bornstein is a “suppressive person” (SP), someone whose malevolent nature draws devout followers away from Sceintology’s “religious philosophy.”
And so, like any good SP, Bornstein wrote her memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today, with the hope that one day her daughter will read it, though she doubts Jessica ever will.
“My best educated guess is that she believes—with all her heart and soul—that I am completely and irredeemably evil,” Bornstein writes. “Fact is, there are many reasons that people would agree with her.”
This memoir shines a bright, unflinching light on those reasons and the consequences of living on the far edge of the fringe. Bornstein shares her experiences with anorexia, cutting, BDSM, and, of course, her wild ride from boy to man to girl to something in between. Bornstein’s controversial inclinations result in rejection by Scientologiy, family members, and transgender activists who balk at Bornstein’s refusal to call herself a woman. On her journey through self-destruction and survival, Bornstein shows us that the most unexpected things can be life-savers: porn, the power of cute, even Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (you’ll have to read the book to figure that one out).
Towards the end of A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Bornstein gives us a peek at her interactions with other trans revolutionaries like Riki Wilchins, Susan Stryker, and Leslie Feinberg. Shortly after the publication of Gender Outlaw, Bornstein gains a reputation as an “activist.” But when she’s thrown in front of the cameras at the Brandon Teena trial to speak on behalf of transgender rights, she fails to generate newsworthy soundbites and breaks down in tears. Bornstein confides that she “doesn’t know a thing” about transgender politics. I would have liked to have read more about Bornstein’s journey as a public figure. Her influence reveals that art can be just as valuable as political action. Perhaps she didn’t write much about this because she’s uncomfortable being propped up as an icon. Despite her undeniable influence on politics, art, and identity, she doesn’t see herself as a hero.
Bornstein’s self-deprecation throughout A Queer and Pleasant Danger is no ploy—it’s real. Her self-criticism humanizes the trans icon who has helped so many teen queens, baby butches, and seasoned gender warriors through difficult times. By the time I read Bornstein’s direct appeal to Jessica at the end of the book, I wanted to comfort her in the same way she has comforted me. But Bornstein assures us, “…for all my leanings toward self-destruction, the fact remains that for over sixty-three years, I have found a reason to go on living every day of my life.”
With the brave, adventurous life she’s led, Bornstein gives us a reason to keep on living, too.
Pick up a copy of A Queer and Pleasant Danger at your local independent bookstore and look for additional coverage of it in the upcoming issue of Bitch! For more information about Kate Bornstein, visit her website.