The Hard Part

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

The Hard Part

Book excerpt

By: Kate Bornstein

Date: 2005

Source: Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Routledge, 1995.

About the Author: Kate Bornstein is a transsexual author, gender theorist, performance artist, and author of numerous books and plays.

INTRODUCTION

Kate Bornstein was born Albert Bornstein to parents in North Dakota; his father was a Lutheran minister and his mother had been Miss Betty Crocker of 1939. Bornstein was aware from an early age that his sense of gender identity was not "normal," that is, in agreement with the male and female options—boy/girl, man/woman—that he perceived in the people around him. Bornstein eventually underwent sex-change surgery and hormone treatments to become physically female and became a performance artist and influential author of books on gender issues. Although the word "he" has been used here to refer to Bornstein prior to the sex-change surgery, Bornstein herself and many other transgender persons often prefer various newly coined gender-ambiguous pronouns such as "ze" (which substitutes for "he" or "she") and "hir" (which substitutes for "her" or "his").

Bornstein's books include Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Teen Suicide, My Gender Workbook, Nearly Roadkill, Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, and Gender Outlaw (the book from which the selection given here is taken). She has toured widely speaking on gender, sex, and teen suicide.

PRIMARY SOURCE

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

SIGNIFICANCE

Many thinkers have, in recent decades, distinguished between "sex" and "gender." Sex, in this view, refers to the physical "equipment" of sexuality: one can deduce the sex of most people by examining their bodies. About one person in 2,000, however, is born with both male and female sex organs. Such individuals are called "hermaphrodites" (a combination of the names Hermes and Aphrodite, male and female Greek gods) or "intersexed." Surgery and hormones can "correct" this condition, but such treatment is increasingly controversial: some argue that to not make intersexed children definitely male or female is cruel, others argue that to do so is cruel.

"Gender," meanwhile, is a more elusive or psychological concept. Gender is defined as a person's self-concept: male, female, or something else. This may or may not correspond with their sex. That is, people with male sex organs may view themselves as male, female, or both simultaneously. Persons whose genders do not match their physical sex, who are intersexed, or who have had surgery to make their physical sex conform approximately to their gender, are often termed "transgender" persons. They may or may not adopt the dress and mannerisms of the opposite sexuality (for example, a physically male person who considers his gender female may or may not dress as a woman). Transgender persons who have had their bodies transformed surgically are "transsexuals."

But this is only the beginning of the distinctions and categories that might be listed. Vocabulary proliferates with the varieties of human sexual desire and behavior. Kate Bornstein herself has argued that while there is a fixed list of human gender categories, there is a continuum of genders or sexual self-concepts. Moreover, she argues that gender is not fixed or static even for individuals. "I think we do change our gen-ders all the time … In response to each interaction we have with a new or different person, we subtly shift the kind of man or woman, boy or girl, or whatever gender we're being at the moment."

A loosely unified transgender movement has come into being over the last few decades; as Bornstein puts it, this movement "seeks to position gender as an identity we build for ourselves, rather than something we're born with." It is closely associated with the gay and lesbian liberation movements, which in turn have modeled themselves after the feminist and civil rights movements.

The transgender movement advocates the passage of two types of laws: those that protect them from discrimination in housing and employment, and hate crime laws, which specify specific penalties for violent crimes motivated by the victim's gender. As of February 2006, eight states—California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Washington—have statewide transgender-inclusive antidiscrimination laws. At least seven states—California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Vermont—have transgender-inclusive hate crime laws. The "hate crime" concept, however, is controversial in legal circles: it is defended by many experts, but others argue that it criminalizes motives rather than actions.

The transgender movement's fluid views of gender are not commonly accepted. Many religious and social conservatives assert that sex should directly determine gender, and that persons whose sexual selfconcepts and behaviors do not match their physical sex are guilty of a morally reprehensible choice or, possibly, victims of a psychological disorder.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Web sites

Public Broadcasting System. "Georgie Girl: An Interview with Kate Bornstein" (June 20, 2003). Available at 〈http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2003/georgiegirl/special_quiz_kate.html〉 (accessed March 19, 2006).

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Transgender Civil Rights Project" (2005). Available at 〈http://www.thetaskforce.org/ourprojects/tcrp/index.cfm〉 (accessed March 19, 2006).

American Medical Student Association. "Transgender and Transsexuality" 〈http://www.amsa.org/advocacy/lgbtpm/〉 (accessed March 19, 2006).