The Feministing Five: Kate Bornstein

Kate BornsteinKate Bornstein is a queer and pleasant danger, and her time is coming! Really. To expand on that perfectly succinct bio though, she wears many hats including author, playwright and performance artist. Her books include Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives To Suicide For Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us”; “My Gender Workbook; and the cyber-romance-action novel, Nearly Roadkill. Kate’s plays and performance pieces include Strangers in Paradox, Hidden: A Gender, The Opposite Sex Is Neither, and Virtually Yours. Like any great feminist writer, you can expect powerfully brave work from Kate. She shares her personal experiences transitioning through gender, before finally coming into her own, to ground all of the work that she does.

This past month, Kate released a new version of her famous book, My Gender Workbook. It was first published in 1997, and with this newer version, she takes into account how gender interacts with one’s race, class, sexuality, and language. It features a ton of new puzzles, exercises and quizzes, and is overall a really fun read. If you’ve ever wanted gender and sexuality theory brought down from esoteric ivory towers, then this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. It’s easy to read, lays no judgements on readers, and most of all, it’s practical. Oh, and all of Kate’s different comic book personas talk to you from the sidelines, making it all the more interactive.

Kate is a huge pillar in the monument of feminist thought. Her writings are used in colleges across the country, and she continues to tour college campuses, high schools, conferences to teach about sex, gender and teen suicide. Hers is a much-needed voice in the cacophony of voices who claim that “boy” and “girl” are stagnant, inherently defined labels.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Kate Bornstein.

Anna Sterling: What prompted this new version of My Gender Workbook, and why now after so many years?

Kate Bornstein: I’m thrilled to say that version one of My Gender Workbook has been being regularly taught on college campuses—pretty much around the world—for fifteen years now. Given the speed of today’s information/culture matrix, fifteen years makes the content of that book highly suspect as to its significance in this entirely new century. In my college days, I got into Marshall McLuhan… the medium is the message: My Gender Workbook, just by the fact of its existence, fancies the notion that gender takes work. That’s what allows that sweet old book to have its relevance today. But the fact is, the world has sped far, far ahead of that book since its printing in 1998. The people who did the work in that workbook are now living more outrageous, courageous consciously-gendered lives than I envisioned when I wrote the book. It was time to add a new generation’s voice and values to the work of doing gender. But the real prompt for this new version of the book is my editor at Routledge Press, Erica C. Wetter. It was all her foresight and drive and talent that got the book updated to the snazzy new version it is today, with lots more sex, and robots, pirates, and God.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

KB: The Supremes and Marriage Equality. I am so over marriage equality. I’m so over marriage. Never worked for me, and I’ve been married four times—five, if you include the hand-fasting. It’s a classist institution. The way it’s handled right now, it violates the notion of church and state being separate. Please don’t get me wrong. I am ALL for everyone getting married to whomever they want. But I want ALL families to benefit from the 1400+ civil rights that come with church-and-state-sanctioned marriage. I want single moms to have those rights for their children’s sake. I want poly families to have those rights across whatever wonderland web they’ve woven of their love. What steamed my dumplings was seeing gay marriage played out on national media like it’s the be-all and end-all civil rights cause… it makes me gag. What about stopping violence against children? Huh? What if we’d poured our LGBTQIA etc. resources into helping out the freaky kids, whatever the reason might be that they’re freaky: gender, sexuality, race, class, religion, looks… whatever. That would be a civil rights cause that would encourage a coalition, don’t you think? What kind of coalition-building have L&G leaders forged beyond a stronger coalition of church and state?

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

KB: I’m pretty much an optimist on this one. Feminism has succeeded far beyond the vision of its founders. There’s more feminist thought in wider sectors of multiple cultures now. Have the goals been met? By and large, no. But the ground swell is there. You can feel it in the awesome blood-pumping feeling you get when you think of President Hillary Clinton. Right? There’s actually a shot. That’s success for the waves and waves of feminists who’ve gotten us this far. The challenge? I think feminism needs to understand that it’s an indispensable member of a wider coalition of sex positivists and gender anarchists. In the 80s, the big battle was with feminists welcoming queers into their ranks. Now, it’s reversed. The queers are extending a welcoming hand to feminists. I hope they take our hand. Can you imagine a real live coalition of kick-ass feminists and kick-ass queers? It’s already happening, and that’s what makes me an optimist.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

KB: Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica. Hands down. Though, Harley Quinn comes in a close second. But Starbuck is my gal. Femme, but in a diesel sorta way. Kick-ass fierce and deeply flawed. She’s on a mission from the gods, she’s going to find Earth for everyone. I’d like to do that—find Earth for everyone. The tattoo sleeve on my right arm—not finished yet—is so far Starbuck and Doctor Who, because I’m sure those two were companions. It’s the only explanation for the way Starbuck ends the series. I’m in a battle with cancer right now, and Starbuck is the best warrior role-model I’ve got, both of us being as crazy as we are.

Heroines in real life? My mother. Kick-ass fierce and deeply flawed. She was proudly high femme. She flirted with butches, constantly. She stood by her man, who could have supported her. But she wanted to stand on her own two feet, and she got a job teaching grade school. She was the sole white teacher in the black school, across the tracks from the two white schools, in 1950s Asbury Park. She stood up to my father, the self-proclaimed male chauvinist pig. Holly Hughes is a heroine of mine—the depth of her feminist passion, and her razor sharp ability to express that passion in words and onstage—gah, she takes my breath away. And speaking of breathtaking feminists… Mx. Justin ViVian Bond, thank you. Mx. Bond is blazing entirely new territory in trans* and queer arts. Well, Mx. Bond has been taking my breath away for over a quarter of a century. V’s new solo show, Mx America, is the very best of Mx. Bond! Lastly, I’d say Sharon Needles is a heroine for me. It’s marvelous, the ground she’s broken on behalf of the radically queer-looking kids of the world, the ones who could never fit in. That’s who Sharon Needles is, and that’s who she stands for.

AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?

KB: No brainer. The feminist is my girlfriend, Barbara Carrellas. Given our radically unpredictable touring schedules, it’d be a great joy to spend some alone time with her. And both of us love to lie on an island beach. Barbara is the kind of feminist I was talking about in the last question: she’s a sex positive feminist who’s got a radical welcoming for gender anarchists. Barbara wrote Urban Tantra, the first-ever non-gender-specific book of tantric sex practices. See why time alone together on the desert island is a no brainer? But wait, there’s more! Barbara has been an activist for sex workers’ rights since the 1980s. She’s an advocate for pornography. She’s better with the dead and dying than anyone else I know. One food we could agree on would be gluten-free, vegan pizza fixings. Drink? Seltzer, with a twist.

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