I encountered her first in 1998 when I bought an advance uncorrected proof copy of her fabulous book My Gender Workbook: How to become a real man, a real woman, the real you, or something else entirely in a second hand bookshop in San Francisco.
As I took the Gender Aptitude Test (the link points to an archived version of the digitalized test so unfortunately you can’t get any results – but it’s still worth reading if you don’t know it), I found that I landed in the “Gender Freak” category. I was surprised, relieved, and very intrigued. I was surprised because as someone who was assigned female at birth and at that point identified as a lesbian femme who was mainly attracted to butches, I was used to being considered more “normally” gendered than my butch lovers and friends, including by said butch lovers and friends. I was relieved because the test finally confirmed my own feeling that I wasn’t as “normally” gendered as I may have looked to many people. And I was intrigued because I wanted to know how Kate Bornstein had managed to “get” me so thoroughly and what else she had to say.
And she does have a lot of really worthwhile things to say. I later read her books Gender Outlaw: On men, women, and the rest of us (1995), Nearly Roadkill: an infobahn erotic adventure (1996), which she wrote together with Caitlin Sullivan, Hello Cruel World: 101 alternatives to suicide for teens, freaks, and other outlaws (2006). All of these are very different from each other, and yet they are all Bornstein all the way.
But where’s the link to spirituality/paganism?, you ask.
Easy. With Hello, Cruel World, Bornstein has written a deeply spiritual book (by the way, here’s an interview with her so you can get an idea of what the book all about). I’m not sure that’s what she meant to do, but that’s what she accomplished. Not only does she hide the concept for a new tarot deck in Hello, Cruel World and dedicates one of the alternatives to Rachel Pollack of (mostly) tarot fame (I swear I’m going to make that deck eventually, although I still hope that by some strange twist of the Universe she’ll find the time and strength to create her own tarot deck + book and have Diane Di Massa create the artwork for it without having to take this time and energy from whatever else she’s doing). Not only does she sprinkle “zen mode” versions for many of the alternatives throughout the book, many of which deal with delightful paradoxes to ponder. Not only does she recommend several spiritual and pagan-ish methods of running a diagnostic checkup in another alternative (“since outlaws don’t always have access to traditional Western medicine or religious advice”). No, she also shows in very simple words on only a few small pages how binary concepts such as man/woman, gay/straight, normal/abnormal, black/white, crazy/sane, friend/enemy, etc. a) don’t work to accuartely describe humans and b) hurt and limit everyone they’re applied to. (Come to think of it, “binary” would have been a really good B topic as well…). She has also shown me that one can be kind without ever becoming any less of a fierce radical.
I’m realizing that this post doesn’t really do her justice because I’m not even able to say why she is such a wonderful person to have happened to this planet. I’ll still just leave it at this because it’s all I can do today. If I’m only a third as awesome as she is by the time I’m in my sixties, I’ll be a very happy Cat indeed who will have done a good handful of things that have made the world a better place.
I’m currently looking forward to her autobiography 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 which is due to come out in May 2012. And as I was looking up her blog and her twitter feed and the tumblr dedicated to her today to provide the curious among you with some further links to Bornstein goodness, I found that there will be an update of the Gender Workbook. Tweet-sized contributions are explicitly welcome. I might go full circle with this and send in some snippets of my own.