Trans activist, author and performance artist will host workshops and a lecture/spoken word presentation
by David Moore . Q-Notes staff
‘I know I’m not a man and I don’t feel like a woman. That makes me laugh so that must mean I’m getting it all right.’
— Kate Bornstein
Photo Credit: Anita Khempka
Kate Bornstein is a beautiful mass of contradictions.
She had gender reassignment surgery 21 years ago at the age of 38. “I never felt like a heterosexual male,” she recalls. It was like an acting job. “So after the surgery I found myself living the life of a woman and learning to do the day-to-day things a woman does.”
Throw another item into the mix that leaves a lot of people — including some in the LGBT community — scratching their head: after gender reassignment surgery Bornstein eventually settled down into a long-term relationship with genetically-born female, author, sex educator and theater artist Barbara Carellas.
So why bother having the surgery to become a member of the opposite gender when you already enjoy having sex with partners of the opposing gender, you ask?
For Bornstein and fans of her books and performance pieces, the answer to that is obvious. “It’s about your gender identity, not your sexual orientation,” says Felicia Mackenzie, a 22-year-old trans woman from San Fracisco who identifies as bisexual. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are two totally different things. Gender identity is who you feel like inside. Sexual orientation is who you find yourself physically attracted to. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Now over two decades later, Bornstein says she’s neither a man nor a woman. And even though she’s about to turn 60, she concedes that she feels a bit like a 21-year-old girl.
Fact of the matter is, Bornstein does possess the enthusiam of someone far younger than her chronological years. It’s evident in her observations and her sense of humor. She likes to laugh. She likes to make you laugh, too.
Talking to Q-Notes from her brownstone apartment in New York City’s Spanish Harlem neighborhood, Bornstein says she and her partner have the best deal in town because they’re living in the last slum in all of Manhattan.
“We have 15-foot ceilings and our own backyard,” she offers enthusiastically. “We get along great with our landlord, too.”
Still, it’s evident that Bornstein, despite all her years advocating the life of a big city girl, is somewhat ready to slow down. “We’ll be here a couple of more years and then go somewhere else,” she says. “Probably someplace quiet, a little seaside town, but then we’ll probably keep a smaller place in the city.”
The author of such noted books as “Gender Outlaw,” “My Gender Workbook” and “Hello Cruel World,” Bornstein began life as a Jewish boy from New Jersey named Albert. She says she revolted against Judaism as a young hippie boy following an argument with a Rabbi.
“I ran off and left graduate school to fast for every a day of my life,” she recalls. “But I ran into The Church of Scientology. They were eating pizza. Enough with the fasting.”
So began Bornstein’s long-term involvement with the Church of Scientology and a personal association with science fiction writer and the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.
Of the faith she once embraced and later abandoned, she says: “I’m not angry with the church anymore, but I do want to tell the truth. According to the church — because I left — I’m really evil and all I do is destroy and tear down things. If that’s the case and I do that, I want to see how I can use that for good. I want to continue to do my best to tear down a society that deconstructs individuals.”
According to Bornstein, when Hubbard was nearing death, he told his followers that he was going away somewhere else to work on different projects. “My guess is he believes he will be coming back at some point. When he died he said he was coming back. In a lot of ways he was every scientologists’ best friend. He was everyone’s mentor. That’s what he wanted to be.”
Currently Bornstein is at work on a memoir about her life entitled “Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger.” The book includes her experiences with her family and the Church of Scientology.
“My involvement with the Church of Scientology was a long time ago. I joined in 1970. So, I’m sure a lot of things have changed. This book is about my life story and I’m certainly old enough to tell that story.”
There’s another reason Bornstein is penning her autobiography: her daughter. Before gender reassignment surgery, Bornstein fathered a daughter with another Scientologist who remains active with the church today. “They won’t let me see her,” says Bornstein. “So, the other reason I’m doing this is in case my daughter or her children ever want to know anything about their past and my life.”
Invited by the Women’s and Gender Studies Division of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC) to visit, Bornstein will offer two workshops at UNCC — one geared toward students and the other aimed at staff. In addition, she will offer a lecture/spoken word performance that is open to the public.
“Call it a crash course in post-modern gender theory,” Bornstein chuckles. “We’’ll look at men and women and ask what else is there and who says so? I’m also going to be talking about sex in culture and how it is specifically in this country really linked to gender.”
Interest in Kate Bornstein and her work has grown to cult-like proportions among college-age individuals over the past decade, continuing to pique after the publication of her most recent work, “Hello Cruel World,” which was written with that age group and younger in mind.
Ever the comedic cynic, Bornstein attributes their interest to something a bit more sinister than her literary musings on gender theory.
“I think it must be because I’m getting closer to dying,” she laughs, referring to her upcoming birthday. “There’s a certain joy in being tragically hip, you know. I wallow in it. I always have.”
— UNCC will present ‘Kate Bornstein: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us” on Oct. 4 in the Storrs Building located on the UNCC Campus at 9201 University City Blvd. The talk is free to the public and begins at 7 p.m. and is followed by a book signing and reception. For more information on the student and staff workshops and the main presentation, call 704-687-2290.