Gender Outlaw: Kate Bornstein visits UIS


Filmed By Lori Beckham, Edited by Kati Maseman

On Wednesday evening, Queertober kicked off with author, playwright, and performance artist Kate Bornstein in Brookens Auditorium. Bornstein talked about her book, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (1994), a coming-of-age story about her experiences as a transsexual.

Bornstein was born out of a Jewish-American family. She is 64 years old and underwent sex reassignment surgery 26 years ago. She has since written books on gender theory.

“I travel around the country now, giving lectures and performances,” Bornstein said to the audience. “This is not the kind of work I thought I would do when I went through with my gender change. But this is what I do: I write books and give these kind of talks.”

Bornstein performed several monologues from her written works. One piece she wrote called “Hoowahyoo?” appeared in The New York Times in 1998 under the title, “Her Son/Daughter.” The story is about Bornstein attending her mother‘s funeral after her reassignment surgery and being bombarded by strangers with the question, “Who are you?”

While addressing serious issues that transgender people encounter, the monologue was humorous as well as her other performances, such as her impersonation of her 8 grade teacher she named, “Mr. Blunt,” who talked about pronouns and gender.

Another monologue called, “The Seven Year Itch (whatever goes around, comes around)” from Gender Outlaw was written by Bornstein 7 years after her reassignment surgery. She said she does not claim herself to be man or woman. She read: “After 37 years of trying to be male and over 8 years trying to be female, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither is worth all the trouble.”

Toward the end of her presentation she talked about her gender theory.

She explained that identities, sexual desires, and access to resources are being controlled by a long list of factors, including gender, race, age, class, religion, looks, sexuality, and political ideology.

She clarified these are not bad things, “But when [gender, race, etc.] start dictating the individual, who you can be, who you can f**k, then…I don’t respect that.”

She talked extensively about the gender binary and how “they rob us from our imagination.” She said a binary means a person is either one thing or the other, such as white person/person of color, man/woman, Democrat/Republican and adult/child. She said, “We’re told that these are 2 and 2 only.”

Bornstein argued that people can be neither, using herself as an example. She said, “I am not a man. I am not a woman…Once I really got that, I haven’t been able to take any binary seriously…Because every one of these is so much more than either/or.”

Bornstein encouraged UIS students to do whatever it takes to “make life more worth living,” as long as it is legal and it follows her number 1 rule: “Don’t be mean,” taken from her book, Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws (2006).

“So now when you meet someone new, and/or maybe different than you, please practice the activism of radical wonder and radical welcoming. This is what I’m asking you to do when you meet people who are different from you on this campus,” she said.

Michael Murphy, Assistant Professor in Women and Gender Studies, said it is Bornstein’s, “Sharp wit and a naughty sense of humor” that is the reason her book Gender Outlaw has been assigned to over 200 colleges worldwide.

He said, “Although Kate Bornstein is not your canonical academic author, I do not think it is possible to overstate the influence her writing has had on academia, especially in the fields of women and gender studies. Her work is remarkable for using her life experience as a window into a wider analysis and critique of the gender binary, which as Kate’s life aptly demonstrates, is a cultural fiction that oppresses us all and has long outlived its usefulness, if indeed it ever had any.”

Bornstein can be followed on Twitter and Facebook. Her memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger was released last May and her rewritten book, My Gender Notebook, will be available for purchase on Valentine’s Day.