Bornstein, Kate 1948-
Bornstein, Kate 1948-
Born March 15, 1948, in Fargo, ND; daughter of a Lutheran minister; partner of Barbara Carrellas (a writer and performer). Education: Brown University, B.A., 1969.
Home—New York, NY.
Playwright, performance artist, and activist. Conducts public and private workshops.
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Caitlin Sullivan) Nearly Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure, High Risk Books (New York, NY), 1996.
My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely, illustrated by Diane DiMassa, Routledge (New York, NY), 1998.
Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws, foreword by Sara Quin, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of the Kate Bornstein Web log.
Kate Bornstein is an American playwright, performance artist, and activist. Born as a male, Bornstein grew up feeling that her personal identity was incomplete. She ultimately underwent gender reassignment surgery and began sharing her life experiences coping with the issue of gender by publishing books and conducting workshops and theatrical performances on the topic.
Bornstein published her first book, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, in 1994. The memoir outlines Bornstein's belief that the current definitions and limitations of gender cause social injustice and prejudice because a number of people do not comfortably fit or easily identify within those constraints of male or female gender roles.
Writing in the Lambda Book Report, Michael Klein discussed the opening of the book, stating: "Aside from the perhaps radical notion that everyone at one time or another probably feels like they're in the same plight Bornstein chooses to identify as the reason for her gender re-assignment surgery," the way she opens her book "isn't a very stirring way to open a memoir or distinguish it from anyone else's." Klein added that the book was "unusually repetitious, strangely nonpersonal, and lacks a kind of inquiry" of defining itself in a new way. Rebecca Gordon, writing in the Women's Review of Books, found that "in many ways, this is a gentle, playful, funny book. The author intends to amuse her audience, loosen us up a bit—as well as shake us up as much as the article in that medical journal shook me." Gordon continued by saying that "Bornstein is also gentle with lesbians who seek to exclude transsexuals from their groups and events." Gordon observed: "If I have a quibble with Bornstein, it's that her feminism, while heartfelt, seems undeveloped on a theoretical level." Gordon noted that "some lesbians who've consciously rejected the constrictions of traditional female roles are feeling pressure to redefine their lives not as a radical critique of those roles, but as a groping toward a true, ‘male’ identity." To this view, Gordon concluded: "I'm tempted to ask: … Is it good for women or bad for women? To the extent that it reifies the categories of man and woman, and perpetuates the domination by one of the other, I agree with Janice Raymond that trans-sexualism is one more dangerous trap for women. But if folks like Kate Bornstein succeed in wrenching their lives out of the hands of the medical profession and using them to present a radical challenge to women's oppression, how can that not be good for women—and ultimately, for all of us?"
Writing with Caitlin Sullivan, Bornstein published Nearly Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure in 1996. The novel introduces Winc and Scratch, two ambiguously gendered individuals who start a federal flurry after they amass a large following online and are pursued by the Federal Bureau of Census and Statistics.
Ty Burr, writing in Entertainment Weekly, described the novel as both "randy" and "engaging." Burr thought that the novel's biggest weakness was its "Big Brother paranoia," but he commented that "the characters have a tatty, profane earnestness that keeps the reader" interested. Rachel Astarte Piccione, reviewing the novel in the Lambda Book Report, remarked that the novel "presents an indisputable parallel between the oppressive mandates of the government for Internet users and that of society itself when it comes to how we deal with the definitions of ‘man,’ ‘woman,’ or ‘other.’" Piccione added that "the format of the book is as fascinating as the content."
In 1998, Bornstein published My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely with illustrations by Diane DiMassa. Here Bornstein asks readers to consider what life would be like if they were to relieve themselves from the burden of identity and gender representation common in society. She also suggests that by expanding the concept of gender beyond the two sexes, society will open up more to the actual existence (and later acceptance) of those who do not fit into this mold.
Celesta Atkins, writing in the International Gay & Lesbian Review, said that she "found this book intriguing, challenging, humorous, and impossible to put down. I had a problem, though, with the sex and gender chart," noting that "I believe it to be very problematic to equate rape and sex." Atkins also appended that "a minor complaint had to do with Bornstein's description of the person at the top of the gender/identity/power pyramid," finding that Bornstein's penis fixation here was overemphasized for the importance of the topic. Atkins concluded that "in the end, the positives completely outweigh these two negatives, and I highly, highly recommend Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook for those who are questioning their own gender, for those who are questioning the concept of gender, but especially for those who are really comfortable in their own gender."
In 2006, Bornstein published Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws, with a foreword by Sara Quin. With a 300 percent increase in teen suicide rates since the 1970s, Bornstein decided to offer her constructive advice to those in need of it. The book supplies at-risk teens with a number of measures to take should they feel they are spiraling down a dangerous path.
Lys Anzia, writing in Moondance, noted that "even if we've never been suicidal, even if our life has been relatively calm, this book is for us. It is chock full of the kind of advice all of us want to hear. We might even be talked into taking Kate up on some of her suggestions. Hello, Cruel World is definitely not just a book for crazy, troubled, suicidal teens." Anzia declared: "There is no way you won't fall in love with a ‘self-proclaimed outsider’ like Kate Bornstein. Kate's latest book Hello, Cruel World … is so compassionately honest we'll have to cry uncle before we let go of every lie we've ever carried and believed about ourselves." Reyhan Harmanci, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, remarked that "Bornstein's only instruction, the book's guiding principle, is impossible to argue with. Over and over, she says do whatever you want, but don't be mean. It's a piece of advice that rings true at any age, but perhaps never more necessary than when one is navigating the wilds of adolescence. You can take the alternatives to suicide or leave them, but staying true to the directive ‘don't be mean’ implies a sense of self and a connection to other humans that might, in themselves, save lives." A contributor to Tikkun described Hello, Cruel World as "the definitive book on suicide prevention for today's teenager."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bornstein, Kate, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.
Advocate, April 1, 2003, Gerard Raymond, author interview, p. 62; December 5, 2006, Sarah Kennedy, author interview, p. 44.
Archives of Sexual Behavior, October, 1998, Stephen Whittle, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 526.
Artforum International, April, 1995, Allucquere Rosanne Stone, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 31.
Biography, winter, 2001, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 35; winter, 2001, review of My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely, p. 35
Briarpatch, September 1, 2007, Tracey Mitchell, author interview, p. 7.
College Literature, June, 1995, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 178.
Curve, June, 2007, Diane Anderson-Minshall, author interview, p. 86; January 1, 2008, Catherine Plato, author interview, p. 42.
Entertainment Weekly, November 8, 1996, Ty Burr, review of Nearly Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure, p. 63; June 6, 1997, Ty Burr, review of Nearly Roadkill, p. 58.
Go, July 10, 2007, Rebecca DeRosa, author interview.
Lambda Book Report, September 1, 1994, Michael Klein, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 30; September, 1996, Rachel Astarte Piccione, review of Nearly Roadkill, p. 34; fall, 2006, Matt Bernstein Sycamore, author interview, p. 30.
Library Journal, May 15, 1994, Helen Rippier Wheeler, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 87; April 15, 1996, Nancy Pearl, review of Nearly Roadkill, p. 124.
Moondance, spring, 2007, Lys Anzia, review of Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws.
Ms. Magazine, July 1, 1994, Julie Felner, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 77.
Nation, July 4, 1994, Richard McCann, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 20.
Off Our Backs, December, 1994, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 13.
San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 30, 2006, Matt Bernstein Sycamore, author interview.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 30, 2006, Reyhan Harmanci, review of Hello, Cruel World, p. M4.
TDR, fall, 1995, Philip Auslander, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 170.
Teacher Librarian, April, 2001, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 30.
Tikkun, September 1, 2006, review of Hello, Cruel World, p. 81.
Women's Review of Books, November, 1994, Rebecca Gordon, review of Gender Outlaw, p. 18.
Amazon.com,http://www.amazon.com/ (March 8, 2008), author comments.
Beatrice,http://www.beatrice.com/ (March 8, 2008), Ron Hogan, author interview.
Eros Zine,http://www.eros-zine.com/ (March 6, 2007), author interview.
Feministing,http://www.feministing.com/ (August 5, 2006), author interview.
GLBTQ,http://www.glbtq.com/ (March 8, 2008), Owen Keehnen, author interview.
Hello, Cruel World Web site,http://www.hellocruelworld.net (March 8, 2008), author profile.
International Gay & Lesbian Review,http://gaybookreviews.info/ (March 8, 2008), Celesta Atkins, review of My Gender Workbook.
Kate Bornstein & Barbara Carrellas Home Page,http://www.tootallblondes.com (March 8, 2008), author profile.
Kate Bornstein MySpace Profile,http://www.myspace.com/stranger_in_paradox (March 8, 2008), author profile.
Public Broadcasting Services Web site,http://www.pbs.org/ (March 8, 2008), author interview.
Time Out New York,http://www.timeout.com/newyork/ (June 22, 2006), author interview.
What Is Enlightenment,http://www.wie.org/ (March 8, 2008), Susan Bridle, author interview.