A stunningly original memoir of a nice Jewish boy who joined the Church of Scientology and left twelve years later, ultimately transitioning to a woman. A few years later, she stopped calling herself a woman and became famous as a gender outlaw.
Kate Bornstein—gender theorist, performance artist, author—is set to change lives with her compelling memoir. Wickedly funny and disarmingly honest, this is Bornstein's most intimate book yet, encompassing her early childhood and adolescence, college at Brown, a life in the theater, three marriages and fatherhood, the Scientology hierarchy, transsexual life, LGBTQ politics, and life on the road as a sought-after speaker.
This wins the award for best title that I can ever remember seeing. I actually went to my library page requesting a different book, but when that wasn’t available it offered A Queer and Pleasant Danger as a possible substitute.
On paper I appear to be about the last person on the face of the Earth who should want to read this selection. I’m old not young, I met my husband when I was little more than a fetus and have been married nearly 18 years, I’m a mom (without the “mom jeans”) of a couple of small people who are constantly asking me to give them my hard-earned book buying dollars, I was raised in the Catholic church, etc. According to the experts, I should want to protect the sanctity of my marriage and take away whatever other rights I possibly can from people like Kate Bornstein. Buuuuuuuut, that’s just not gonna happen. I wish the world was populated with more people like Kate (and obviously more people like me).
Scientologists, on the other hand . . .
Admittedly, I am a little obsessed with Scientology. Isn’t everyone? Scientology is the most secret of super secret societies. Scientology is the driving force behind making Tom Cruise bounce on Oprah’s couch and proclaim his weird love – and later on is most likely the cause of said love hightailing it as far away from him as is humanly possible.
Kate not only tells of her experiences living as a Scientologist for 12 years, she also tells of her history as a man, woman, boy, lesbian, sadomasochist, etc., etc., etc. She literally tells all - with such honesty and humor that I sailed through the pages. While I recognize this book definitely isn’t for everyone, if you are looking for a truly memorable memoir (and aren’t easily shocked), Kate Bornstein’s life story is a good selection.
But let me start out with what bothered me, which was the apparent levity in which she treats her eating disorders and the desire to cut. S&M - different issue - I'm not here to judge. Both anorexia and cutting are serious issues that should be treated (or at least acknowledged) as such.
That being said, the apparent honesty and freshness in the way that she writes is amazing. Mark Twain believed that no man could ever write a completely true biography in his lifetime -- or ever. Kate Bornstein has come as close as anyone ever will to doing that.
I already knew that there are assholes everywhere, but the passages relating to her being discriminated against at lesbian or feminism functions and the community just sadden me.
Great for people with an interest in gender studies and LGBT rights/issues.
I'm not really sure what can I say about Kate Bornstein's new memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, other than WOW! This an amazing, intense, heartfelt read that's goes far beyond questions of gender and sexuality to examine, really, what it means to be human.
Written in a casual, conversational, sometimes rambling manner, this is a very easy book to enjoy. One of its many quirks that I found so delightful was the way in which Kate would tell a story, swear it was the honest-to-gosh truth, then turn around a page or so later and admit that it was a lie. In most cases, they were stories she believed wholeheartedly for years - until she shared them and was promptly shot down by her brother. It's a quirk that not only adds a bit of a comic feel to some chapters than definitely need a pick-me-up, but it's also a playful element that ties into Kate's personality.
Really, this is three memoirs in one, as the extended title suggest:
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy (1) who joins the Church of Scientology (2) and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today (3).
Let's start with the nice Jewish boy. Kate (then Albert) realized at the tender young age of four-and-a-half that she wasn't a boy and, therefore, must be a girl. With that self-realization, a youth of lying to the world, putting on an act, and hiding her true self began. She doesn't spend a lot of time wondering why she was different, or looking for answers (biological, psychological, theological, or otherwise), but there's one passage early on where she talks about her mother's previous miscarriage that ably demonstrates how she has so creatively imagined herself:
"Now here's what I think: I think no one knows what the previous tenant of my mom's uterus had left behind for me to pick up and use. I'm sure that girl body had been meant for me."
It's clever and simple, and the kind of imaginative leap you can only make if you are well-and-truly comfortable in yourself.
The Church of Scientology occupies a significant portion of the book, but as interesting as it is to peek behind the curtain, it does tend to wear thin quite quickly. The attraction of Scientology, her life within it, and (most importantly) it's continuing impact upon her life is important, though, and it frames perhaps the saddest, most heartfelt element of Kate's memoir . . . but more on that later. To me, the appeal of Scientology has always been inconceivable, but I can't say there isn't something beautiful and profound in its appeal to Kate:
"...they [the Church of Scientology] said I'm not my body, and I'm not even my mind. They told me I am a spiritual being called a thetan - from the Greek letter, which we were told meant perfect thought. Male and female is for bodies, they told me. Thetans have no gender."
Definitely an interesting thought, and you can clearly see how the theory so hooked a confused young transsexual. What follows is, no matter how you want to put it, a life inside a very closed cult, including an extended period where she lived at sea, with nobody around but other members of the Church. It was a life of spiritual, mental, and financial slavery (although Kate never uses that word), and one that ultimately cost her the love of two ex-wives, her daughter, and the chance to ever see the grandchildren that would come later. The chapter in which she describes her Excommunication made me so furious, I literally threw the book across the room and let it sit on the floor for a good week and a half before I could pick it up again without feeling the urge to tear it to pieces.
It's definitely the low part of her life's story, but it's true what they say - at least when you hit rock bottom there's nowhere to go but up.
The third part of Kate's story is the most fascinating aspect of the book, and even if it's filled with pains of its own, the sorrows of her transition are both honest and (largely) self-inflicted. Really, Kate begins her entire life over again (several times, in fact) finding what should have been solace and support though the medical community, except she chose the wrong doctor, one who held her back rather than helped to guide her forward. It's not entirely clear what an impact the unprofessional nature of that relationship had on her transition until she moves on to a new doctor, one who has her best interests at heart.
"When I was a girl, I was a thirty-eight-year old man and I had to make up for lost time. It wasn't easy. I had to learn girl from the ground up, just as I'd had to learn boy. It wasn't pretty."
When Kate says it wasn't pretty, she's right. Her transition is marked by stories of self mutilation (cutting), drug and alcohol abuse, anorexia, and more. She clearly struggled hard to become the woman she is today, and even if we know she's a stronger person for those struggles, they are still hard to share. Relationships were, as you might expect, particularly troublesome for someone struggling as much with her gender as her sexuality. While some may argue she simply traded one cult for another, Kate's immersion in the BDSM lifestyle was absolutely fascinating for me, and probably the point at which I began to first notice real, genuine, powerful emotion coming through her story.
As ultimately uplifting and inspiring as her story may be, however, it's framed by a sadness so deep, it's difficult to experience. She begins and ends the book with a virtual shout-out to her daughter, a heart-felt plea for understanding, acceptance, and simple acknowledgement. It's a testament to the intensely personal nature of her final passage, the raw openness of her plea, that she was able to so completely overcome those feelings of rage and betrayal I originally felt over her excommunication. Instead of throwing the book across the room and wanting to tear it to pieces, I instead clutched it to my breast and cried for what might have been . . . and for what, if there is any justice in the world, still might be.
I suspect that many of the people who read this book are hoping for the insider gossip on one of these topics: scientology, transmen, transwomen, lesbians, eating disorders, sadomasochism, cutting, and variations on gender queer including some you may not have thought of.
I was here primarily for the scientology which is head and shoulders the most bizarre thing in this book. To this little Australian, a belief in Scientology (along with a liking for grits) is the most incomprehensible part of American culture. Every so often, I’ll have grits for breakfast to remind myself that it still tastes like gravel from the bottom of a fish tank, and every so often I’ll read something on scientology to remind myself that it’s still disturbingly insane.
Given the stress on scientology in the title, I would have liked more insider goss on this. There’s stuff on sea org, and RJH and scary, scary stuff on auditing and interrogation, but it ends rather abruptly when Kate is chucked out of scientology for reasons that you hope were taken up and investigated by the IRS.
From this point, the memoir concentrates on Kate’s journey from man, to woman, to lesbian, to masochist, to gender outlaw. It’s fascinating stuff. Written in a very conversational style, it bounces around and over a life of change, of not belonging, of hurt, of acceptance, of love in many different forms, of loss of love, and finally (I hope) to Kate’s acceptance of who she is.
WOW. there is a lot going on with this book, a memoir of how kate bornstein went from being a high-ranking & male member of scientology's sea org in the 70s to being the wild & wacky 60-something trans lady she is today. she claims that she wrote this book specifically for her daughter, jessica, & jessica's two teenage children. kate hasn't been allowed to see or speak to jessica since jessica was a tiny child, due to being branded a "suppressive person" by the church of scientology. jessica & her children all remain faithful members of the church, & as such, are not allowed to have any contact with "suppressive persons". but kate has some hope that one or all of them might find this book & read it to satisfy any curiosity they have, even though it's against the rules.
full disclosure: the fact that this is kate's stated reason for writing the book is part of the reason i am giving it three stars instead of four. kate's writing style is very engaging & she has one HELL of a story to tell, which means that i found the book really interesting. but part of kate's identity, privately & publicly, is that she is really into S&M. & boy does she ever go into EXTREME DETAIL on this subject. over & over & over again. to say nothing of the 9000 different sex stories that don't involve S&M. not only am i personally just not really into hearing this much detail about other people's sex lives, but i have a VERY difficult time imagining wanting to hear this much detail about the sex lives of my parents or grandparents. i can only imagine that i would feel more than a little horrified if, having never met me, THIS was the book my grandfather (kate repeatedly refers to herself as jessica's father & jessica's children's grandfather throughout the book) felt compelled to write to tell me who s/he is as a person. i'd probably come away with it feeling a certain degree of relief over not having a relationship with him.
i may have felt that way just as a non-related reader as well if not for the fact that i attended a talk kate gave at KU a couple of years ago. i wasn't a huge kate bornstein fan, but i'd read several of her books & thought they were more or less okay. a friend asked if i wanted to accompany him & it was a good way to socialize & also get out of cooking dinner, so i said yes. & i enjoyed the whole event far more than i expected to. kate really is just such a queer & pleasant person. she tells the craziest stories, but in such a self-effacing, charming way. it almost--ALMOST--makes it tolerable to hear about her sexcapades in excruciating detail. at the end of the day, that kind of self-disclosure is not my cup of tea, but i have no doubt that a whole lot of other slightly less prude-ish readers will eat this book up.
The subtitle says it all! Bornstein is a darkly humorous and enchanting storyteller. She’s been through some shit and is incredibly brave, but sometimes so self destructive. In a world that generally doesn’t understand her, she persists and succeeds. This isn’t quite like any memoir I’ve read before and I’ve absolutely gained some perspective. And isn’t that the beauty of reading? Learning about other people’s experiences is vital. Empathy is cool. Empathy is necessary.
Well no one can accuse Bornstein of hiding anything. Even by memoirist standards Kate is an over-sharer. Luckily she has some great stories.
I am fascinated by Scientology. So her experience in the org, particularly in SeaOrg, is riveting. As a salesperson she enjoyed a pretty cushy ride, until she didn't. In the end the org cost her her daughter (she talks about this in the first few pages, not a spoiler) and separated her from beloved family for many years. It also validated her obsessive behaviors, valued her skill at performative storytelling (also known as lying or using alternative facts), and provided her with a lot of opportunities to have random sex.
Also fascinating was Kate's journey to her current identity as a nonbinary trans lesbian. Its been quite a road. Her interactions with radical cis lesbians, especially butch lesbians, were really instructive. I know of course how crummy the LGBT establishment has historically been (and mostly still is) to trans women. there has been a lot written and discussed about this in the past few years, but the stories of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson alone tell the story. Kate's story is slightly different, perhaps because she is upper middle class and white, but still saddening.
The most disturbing part of this is the part that deals with Kate the masochist and cutter. She mostly seems to deal well with her borderline personality disorder, but she is an old woman who still cuts and it is implied enjoys when others cut her. (Actually, she said that she got off on being carved. No implication. There was detail. What is not clear if she outgrew the desire and practice or if she still enjoys being sliced up.) That is not okay, and my heart cries for her because she has normalized and accepted her self harm and invited cruelity. I am glad she triumphed over suicidal ideation, alcoholism, and other challenges, but she still has work to do.
At times when reading this I felt like a peeping tom, but I know in my heart she wants me to peep. An interesting bio all in all, honest, edifying, and a quick read.
Ok, gotta be honest. I did not give this much of a try. I read 50-60 pages. I just could not relate to the story. The adult cutter is not something that I enjoy reading about. And these days, I am all about enjoyment. I thought that the Scientology stuff would be more of an enticement, but it seemed clouded with the possiblility of a lawsuit and still kinda weirdly vague. Although the author's story is intriguing and the book summary is just the best brief description EVER, it was just not for me. I feel lucky that I won this book through the First Reads program with Goodreads, but I don't know that I would have bought it. Another annoyance, the time jumping in the narrative. Not that I couldn't keep up, but I just found the jumping around to be unnecessary instead of a normal chronological narrative.
Transgender issues are big within the liberal and feminist communities now, as they should be. As this is a life experience I know very little about, I was excited to read Kate Bornstein’s memoir, of her journey from manhood to not-quite-womanhood (she doesn’t identify herself with either sex pronoun, but I will use the pronoun “she” here for ease). I ended up feeling about this book the way I felt about some people at my alma mater, Sarah Lawrence, and I feel about some members of the liberal community: that they are so entrenched in various subcultures that I can’t really find my way into them. I certainly felt empathy for Bornstein, wishing for her to find peace of mind and be able to be her true self. Still, as she wrote in depth about being a Scientologist, a transgender woman, and a sadomasochist, I felt like I was watching her through a window and thinking “huh, interesting”, but not really finding a way in, emotionally, to her experience. This is, very possibly, my failing; I imagine that there are many souls out there who would find a great deal of comfort in this memoir. Still, it led me not to enjoy the experience of reading it as much as I had hoped I would.
This book is amazing. Kate Bornstein is amazing. She has been a personal hero/ine of mine since my early days of gender questioning. Everything she's written has been nothing short of life-changing for me, and this book was no exception. She speaks her truth, loudly and brazenly, offering an open invitation for others to do the same, and I have no doubt that she has saved the lives of many human beings of all sorts of genders by doing so. This book offered fascinating insight into the world of Scientology, about which I knew nothing previously, and made me really curious to learn more about the experience of others who have survived and left that world behind, so I appreciated that she provided a list of further reading on that topic.
This book is as real as it gets. I hope someday to have the courage to speak about my life as engagingly and authentically as Kate does.
cw: religious/cult trauma, graphic BDSM, anorexia (some messages that could be interpreted as pro-ana), graphic descriptions of self-injury, suicidality, transantagonist violence
I picked this up to read on the recommendation of someone that's recently been in a similar place to where I'm at and I went into it not knowing anything more about it/her than I picked up from the blurb etc. From the way it starts I wasn't expecting to find too much that strongly resonated with me, Kate is one of those people that knew from a young age she wasn't meant to be a man which is not something I've experienced. Then about a quarter of the way into it I was floored by how strongly I related to what was being described. In particular the way that activities viewed as "female" appealed to her, and very much the way that she has always fallen for those she wants to be really got me as I have been the same my whole life without realising what it was that I was doing (up until 4-5 months ago).
The book hooked me from that point on and I stayed up way too late a couple of nights in a row reading it. Around the halfway mark she talks about her twelve years in the Church of Scientology, and that's a period I certainly couldn't relate to but found very interesting nonetheless, and the way she describes how she got into it certainly makes sense. I'm sure there is plenty of contentious material in this section, it comes from the period where L. Ron Hubbard was still alive and the head of the organisation.
It was after this section that the book got me in another way and a couple of passages dealing with her parents had me teared up.
The final section deals with her finding her place as a lesbian transwoman and delving into BDSM. Some of this section can be a bit heavy going, and in the ebook version at least includes a link to skip the recount of one particular night.
The book is written so that her daughter Jessica can find out about her fathers life, Kate hasn't seen her daughter since she was 9 and is completely unable to contact her as she is still a organization climbing member of Sea Org in Scientology so completely cut off. It closes with a letter to her daughter that I think is wonderful advice for anyone.
Overall I found it a well written account of what by any standard is an incredibly diverse and interesting life, mixing humour, struggle, tragedy and triumph in a very compelling way. For anyone with interest in gender identity as a general thing I think you would be well served by reading it. For anyone questioning their own gender I would highly recommend it. Even for people without any interest in this aspect of it I think it is worth reading as a very unique memoir showing you a different perspective on life.
"Die wahre Geschichte eines netten jüdischen Knaben, der bei Scientology landete und zwölf Jahre später zu der hinreißenden Lady wurde, die sie heute ist". So steht es auf dem Einband und ob dieser Lebensgeschichte habe ich mir gedacht, dass man in einer derartigen Biografie gar nix mehr falsch machen kann. Leider stimmt das nur bedingt.
Zwar haben mich die Erfahrungen der Autorin (des Autors) mit Scientolgogy die Probleme bei der Geschlechtsumwandlung, die Lesbenszene und sogar das Sado-Maso Kapitel extrem interessiert, also inhaltlich war das Buch der Wahnsinn, aber im dramaturgischen Aufbau hat mich das Werk sehr genervt. Wer eine Bio schreibt, sollte am Anfang beginnen, und chronologisch erzählen, anstatt ständig nach vorne zu springen und sich in dämlichen Andeutungen über die Zukunft bzw. kommende Kapitel zu ergehen. Fast bin ich geneigt, mit etwas Crowdfoundig der Autorin ein Dramaturgieseminar zu organiseren, aber Moment, sie kommt ja aus der Theaterwelt. An diesem Beispiel sieht man wieder, dass ein wesentlicher Unterschied darin besteht, ob Inhalte zwischen 2 Buchdeckeln oder Vorhängen präsentiert werden.
Fazit: Inhalt 5 Sterne, für den Stil muss ich jedoch 2 abziehen.
One of the themes of the book is that Kate Bornstein does not speak for all transgendered people. Still, I love having a memoir that speaks so candidly about many fringe groups--Scientology, trans-community, S&M community--that are seen as taboo. You may not agree with her choices (it bothered me a little that she mentioned it's very important to discuss entering a BDSM relationship before doing it, only to follow that with, "but we didn't and it was totally awesome (until it wasn't)!") but I believe it's important to have voices that say they are in these communities, and it makes them happy (or doesn't and then they left, as was the case with Scientology). To destigmatize it. Also it was written in a really cute, chatty way. I felt like I was listening to Bornstein tell me her life's story over coffee, rather than reading it.
Okay…when I read the synopsis of this book I was intrigued. A Jewish man who becomes a transgender woman who was a member of the church of scientology and enjoys sadomasochism. Sounds interesting … right? This book started out well enough. The first few chapters spoke about her and her upbringing, pretty typical stuff. Then she starts talking about her experience with the church of scientology. This went on for chapters and chapters. It is more than half the book. It was mostly interesting stuff about her time in the church, but after a while, I wanted to move on. Once she finished talking about her tenure there, the story picked back up.
The over emphasis on the scientology aspect of her life didn’t make it a bad book; however, I wish I would have known, because I might have not read it.
"It was femmes who saved my life - femmes and the film Romy and Michele's High School Reunion."
I adored this book. Kate's writing is so easy to read, full of humor and no small number of surprises. My own life seems devastatingly ordinary in comparison. Just loved it!
Side note: I can certainly see how some of the content could be triggering to others (especially with regard to eating disorders and self harm) but I was aware of the content warnings before reading the book and wasn't blindsided. I would definitely recommend taking heed if these topics are particularly upsetting to you.
I am not sure how I feel about this book. It was more hard core than I would have liked and that made it a bit disturbing. It also presented a couple o psychological self-harming issues as something that happens, no big deal. Nevertheless, I take my hat off to Mrs Bornstein, for having the courage not only to live the life she wanted but also to present her naked truth to the world.
WOW....what an amazing and refreshingly honest memoir. Yes, some parts might be a bit tough for some, such as the intimate description of of cutting. But for myself, it was a unique opportunity to understand another humans way of being....if that makes sense. I love HONEST memoirs!!
The subcultures manically rampaged through are ones I find interesting in theory. I think my lack of enjoyment of this book is that I'm no longer able to find narcissism "cute." Then again, I don't particularly find "cute" cute.
I never write reviews, but I recognize that my friends on the whole lean toward conservative, (myself included), and I figured this one would raise some eyebrows. I am also compelled to admit that I was nervous even to mark this one as read. That said, I’d like to justify this selection while trying my best not to offend anyone, (though I expect this to be the more difficult feat).
Back to my initial statement, how exactly does one stumble upon a title like this, or more specifically, a subtitle such as this, and not at the very least read the blurb on the book jacket? Following a quick scan of the synopsis and some prodding from the bestie, I gave in. And, that my friends, is how this book ended up on my To Read list.
Full disclosure, I love Jesus and can honestly say that the content of this memoir was pretty far outside my comfort zone. I was on board with the “nice Jewish boy” part, the Church of Scientology part piqued my interest, (strictly from a curiosity standpoint, not an I think I’d like to “explore” this religion standpoint), but I wasn’t sure I was ready for the gender reassignment.
Having made it through all but the 2-1/2 pages near the end that she warned me to avoid, I can now say the following:
I am still quite certain that I will never truly understand Scientology, and/or how anyone, let alone tens of thousands of people, subscribe to its beliefs. (I assume I’ve already offended someone.) Please don’t read this as me being judgmental, I’m just being honest – it confuses the hell out of me and just sounds like one of the most bizarre organizations I’ve ever delved into.
Also, the idea of feeling as though I was born the wrong gender is entirely foreign to me, and try as I might, imagining what that would truly be like is… well, I’m not there yet.
The story was an interesting one. Kate Bornstein has had a life about as different from my own as I could possibly imagine. The honesty and rawness of her storytelling, the intimate details she disclosed, and her willingness to share with the world her life experiences, was both admirable and a bit terrifying (at times). A lot of the talk about her sexual encounters was too much for me, and I don’t say that strictly from my conservative Christian background; my struggles were more with the fact that she wrote this book for her daughter. I would be horrified to know these things about my own parents.
That said I’m glad I read this. It was enlightening, at times funny, a little scary, but also fascinating. I think Christianity gets a bad rap because so many of us are too quick to judge. I can appreciate the fact that Bornstein and others like her, travel in circles I would never dare enter, and share experiences, pain and trauma I’m too afraid to examine for more than the few pages I run across them in a book. This book wasn’t really written for me – though I did gain some insights – it was for people who need to not feel alone, or like freaks, or condemned by those of us who just don’t understand.
The book was reasonably well written. I feel like it could have used slightly better editing, but it held my attention, and ended up being more engrossing than I’d anticipated.
The book is what I would describe as a “Chatty Memoir,” the kind that is written as though she’s sitting across from you lounging in your living room telling you her life story. It’s so engaging. She often addresses the reader as a pal, telling us to go ahead and google things while she waits. I’ve read a lot of Kate’s theory and seen her perform and keynote events but never got the full scoop of what she’s gone through. I mean, the process of getting to be a charming babe like Kate Bornstein is no less than spectacular. She went to an all-boys prep school and is one of the only two women degree holders from Brown University prior to 1970. She totally could have been a Normal and she isn’t. She chose to follow her truth and live an extraordinary life, often with great opposition, but by following her heart she came out on top.
And beyond just telling us the who, where, what and how of her life, she’s extremely revealing about her process. Not just some of the deepest parts of her personality (as Kate says in the book, “Life’s better without secrets,”), like her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, but also the internal process of what it was like to be here. She cracks open her heart and shows us the internal realities of growing-up and adulthood prior to transitioning, many ongoing touchstones of what it was like knowing she was “girl,” how she related to it and how she either leaned into it or away from it with facial hair, sex, weight and clothing. Her lifelong battle with anorexia, how she learned to starve herself and then how she learned to think she could be pretty while being voluptuous. What it is like as a cutter, the pain and relief and how she used it to get through. Vivid plans for suicide attempts.
I’ll be honest, parts of it were a little hard to read, but for me not the ones you might think. She describes the above processes in detail and I found those confessions comforting–we’re raised in this culture not to talk about that and not a lot of artists are brave enough to talk about all of this at once.
What I found hard to read was the huge section on Scientology! You guys, don’t ever take that free personality test! Did you read that 26 page article in the New Yorker about Scientology? I did and it freaked me out. I learned even more about what goes on in Scientology from this book and I had a crazy nightmare a few nights ago while in this section that Tom Cruise was trying to kill me. Kate’s memoir will convince you to never take that personality test for real.
A very loving 3. Kate, I love you. I am sure that's what you intended, and it works. I do love you. You're so unapologetically yourself, and so well-spoken without being self-important or angry or super-mopey, even though I know you can be super-mopey. The world is blessed to have people like you, who can assure transgender folks protesting your stuff with signs that say "Kate Bornstein doesn't speak for me" that you never have intended to and never will but are willing to share your own experience and say: having a unique experience of the world is valuable. Have one. Do it.
So, this book is basically three parts: youth, Scientology, and post-Scientology/transition to ladyhood. To me, the youth stuff was the most interesting and important. Kate really loves her family, wrote poignantly and kindly about her parents in good times and bad -- counted on her brother for fact checking -- and credited them for the support and love they provided even when she was doing totally weirdo things.
Then came the Scientology stuff. That stuff. was. weird. Scientology. It's weird. At first I was like oh okay sure, but by the time she (at the time a dude) was being tortured for a misunderstanding over a Swiss Bank Account, I was like um. Ok. Really? Even if the veracity of this was questionable, I think the point was made well and compellingly: Scientology is scary, dudes. Belief and loyalty can be kind of all-consuming. Be careful, guys.
Post-Scientology, life got at once weirder and more normal. Kate worked briefly for IBM, moved closer to and transitioned to ladyhood, moved to San Fran, and then became a famous actor/writer/tranny/sadomasochist. Woo! I actually found this to be the most disappointingly dry part of the book, a catalogue of achievements and a few relationships. And the last 15 years were squished into the last 10 pages or so of the book. Boo. Ah well, perhaps not enough emotional distance.
So basically -- I thought this book was embellished in some places and underplayed in others, and ultimately not self-analyzing enough. And that was a little disappointing. But on the other hand, that was refreshing, it was often laugh-out-loud funny and very readable. As a Bornstein fan, I really enjoyed it. But Kate, you always leave me wanting more! How cruel! Kisses, E.
"Disney will never make a movie about my life story, and that's a shame--I'd make a really cute animated creature" (page 3).
Some years ago, a friend recommended that I read Gender Outlaw. Naturally, it was out of print, and I had a perfectly awful time trying to find a copy (without resorting to Amazon). Imagine my pleasure when I finally ran across a copy and purchased it...and imagine my displeasure when I realised that it had been reprinted and was suddenly available all over the place, and therefore I hadn't accomplished such a feat in finding it after all.
Anyway, I never got very far into Gender Outlaw, but now I'm going to have to go back and give it another go: this book was funny. Oh, it was a lot of other things too: heartbreaking, and frustrating, and occasionally confusing; hard to believe, in places; a very peculiar way to reintroduce oneself to one's long-lost daughter (should said daughter ever stumble across this book).
Bornstein made for an interesting narrator in many(, many, many) ways, but one thing that kept me on my toes was her stance as an unreliable narrator: "I must not tell lies," she says. "And I promise you I'll be telling lies in this book--little lies, to make the story more fun" (page 7). As far as unreliable narrators go, she's reasonably, well, reliable; once the not-quite-true story's out there, she'll cop up and tell the (presumably) more accurate version. But it's also a reflection of the book as a whole, I think, in that she doesn't take herself or her past -- or her future, for that matter -- too seriously.
In places it's a little as though she's being as real and open as a person can be -- while at the same time holding back, choosing carefully which side of herself she wants to present. But even this makes sense, because she is, after all, a trained actress -- this is simply a different medium. It's not likely to make it onto my (theoretical) list of Best Books Ever, but I'm very glad it made it onto the book club rotation.
Reading reviews of this book online, I find few reviews by men. I think it’s difficult for gay men to accept female sexuality, at least it is for me. I am not a woman, I am not attracted to women, and the idea of female sexuality is one I’d rather not explore. Not to say I’m against it, not in the least. I am a staunch feminist, through and through. It’s just difficult for me. Some other things difficult for me include religion, S & M, and the concept of people not putting labels on themselves. I was able to be happy being a gay man when I was able to fully accept the label, to be the label, to wear it and live it. So the idea of rejecting labels is not something I’m familiar with. There’s many things though I’m not familiar with in this warm and open memoir by Kate Bornstein. I wanted to read this as I heard it was good and I want to know more about transgendered people. I don’t feel its enough to be supportive of the trans community, I feel you need to learn a bit about them and try going for a walk in their shoes. Kate is so DIFFERENT from me, with her tattoos and cutting and religion and everything, the book was always interesting. I felt it got a bit too much into the Scientology in parts, but I was able to get though it. What I wasn’t able to get through was the sex, the cutting, the S & M, the blood, I couldn’t take it. What was nice is that in the ebook version Kate included a link so you could skip over the worst of it, which I happily did without a glance back. Still, I really could have skipped more. I realize you can’t write a memoir without talking about what you do in the bedroom, but I honestly didn’t need to know. I may have nightmares. All this being said, the book was enjoyable, Kate writes well and you can tell it’s from the heart. I was glad to read a person’s experience that’s so different from mine, but I feel like parts were read looking between my fingers out of fear, which kept me a little detached.
This book carries a magical type of rawness. When Kate Bornstein tells their story, I really do feel like listening to a queer, trans, nonbinary elder.
It's not a particularly easy read, because the topics that are being discussed are heavy and complicated and, sometimes, a little twisted. I definitely would advise to be careful if you feel uncomfortable reading about self harm, anorexia, (at times unsafe) SM, TERFs or life within Scientology. But while you could put a "lifetime of struggles" stamp onto the book, it didn't actually feel like that.
Yes, the way Bornstein describes their fights with borderline personality disorder, anorexia, and suicidal thoughts does hurt. It's not easy to follow the decades of gender dysphoria, questioning, coming out as a trans woman in the 80s, then coming out as nonbinary in the 90s (before that was a word). Not to forget that the book is entirely dedicated to Bornstein's daughter that is still living within Scientology.
But Bornstein tells it all with such a unique and even light-hearted tone that their words feel like a big hug: I did make it through all of this, and you will too. xoxo, your tongue-in-cheek trans lesbian auntie.
This book is a danger, it is queer and it is pleasant. It made me think a lot about how life refuses to be put into boxes and how sometimes, just by being yourself, you can scare the some people, but also encourage the right ones.
Interesting, dark, uplifting, sad. I could go on for a long time just listening descriptive words for this book. I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting to be made wary of the author - to potentially have an unreasonable narrator in a memoir. When the narrator and the person the book is about be the same person. I have never encountered that in non-fiction before but at the same time I feel that you should always approach a memoir/biography/nonfiction book in this way. These are this person's memories/perspective on this topic. It was incredible.
This book was also hard for me to read/listen to (I listened to the audiobook). Not really for the triggering content, which I do want to warn for! (TW: suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, self harm, alcoholism, transphobia). But what made it hard for me is that this book is not really for us as a reader. I mean it was published so in a way it was for us but in truth this book was for Kate's daughter Jessica. And what made it so hard is going through the book and being aware that Kate has no contact and might never have contact with her daughter. That they may never get to have to connect and talk and share memories of each other. It makes this book so incredibly sad.
What a wild ride Kate Bornstein's life has been. Born and raised as a man, Bornstein's journey through scientology--including her marriage and fatherhood--seems stranger than fiction. As another reviewer wrote, "In the first six pages we learn that Kate is an anorexic Jewish sadomasochist lesbian transsexual woman with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and lots of tattoos and a bionic knee and borderline personality disorder, who writes porn and used to be in a cult and wants to be cremated when she dies and managed to dodge the Vietnam war through a psychiatric deferment, all of which is considerably more than I know about the majority of my friends."
Bornstein reveals more than we really want to know about her, and she does it in an endearing, disarming way...but I have to laugh when she says she's writing this book for her (estranged) granddaughter! What person would want to read about his or her grandparent's S&M adventures? I thought the scientology bits were interesting and eye-opening, and I have to admire Kate's gutsy spirit.
I've long been curious about what it's like to be a transgender person and have felt tremendous empathy for what seems like an intensely difficult and invalidating growing up / self actualization process. I can't imagine how challenging it is to have your body and all its hormonal processes be so at odds with how you genuinely feel, like you're trapped in a prison that's moving around with you wherever you go.
Kate Bornstein's life is so full of statistical improbabilities that a book about any part of her life experience would have been fascinating:
She grew up a Jewish boy in New Jersey, became a top ranking scientologist, was excommunicated, then emerged as the transgendered activist she is today.
She writes with an engaging, intimate, honest voice. I only wish she might have gone into more detail about any part of her experiences, but given how much she had to cover, I can understand why she only writes a few chapters about each part of her life. I'm impressed by her honesty and courage.