As you may or may not know, I am a feminist. I’m also a gay rights supporter and, in the interest of expanding my mind a little, I decided to read “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” by Kate Bornstein. I think I read about it initially in Bust magazine. It sounded like an interesting book, especially since I knew little to nothing about trans/queer culture. Growing up in a small, conservative town, you don’t usually get exposed to much outside the culturally accepted “norm.” I apologize in advance if I don’t use the proper pronouns while trying to convey my thoughts.
My quick Google search turned up this review from Bitch magazine.
This was the first Kate Bornstein book I’ve read. (I plan on reading Gender Outlaw at some point in the near future.) This book begins by telling you, in her own words, why should shouldn’t listen to her. She outlines her relatively normal and also enormously dysfunctional childhood. His father is a doctor. His father also asks his uncle, a psychologist, to set up an appointment with a prostitute so Kate (who is Albert at this time) can lose her virginity. This is the first time she admits, out loud, that she isn’t really a boy. She doesn’t lose her virginity to the prostitute — they talk instead.
We also learn all about her spiritual journey and how almost killing herself on a mountain led her to Scientology. The most appealing part of this “religious philosophy” is that thetans, or spirits, have no gender. However, it is clear that Scientology does not condone any sort of gender exploration or homosexuality acceptance — they still view this as a sort of perversion. Regardless, Kate soldiers on (still Albert) and eventually finds herself married to a woman. They make a baby, Jessica, and try to become a power team for the Sea Org.
Eventually, it all falls apart. Kate gets Mexican divorce papers in the mail after sending Jessica off to California to visit her mom and never sees her child again. When Kate leaves Scientology, because she finds out the Old Man might be a fraud, she’s labeled a Suppressive Person and is shamed by the organization.
After we learn all about her experience with Scientology, we get a peek into her gender identity crisis. She’s not a man, but she doesn’t consider herself a woman either. It’s a lot of gray area and I would be lying if I said I completely understand it after reading just one book. However, it is interesting to me how fluid gender identity can be. I think women, in a way, have it a little easier than men when it comes to this because we can wear masculine clothes and it’s not considered a “perversion.” Maybe that’s why women, in general, have a more fluid sexuality. (As in, straight women can touch, hug and be affectionate without it being sexual while men are generally uncomfortable with the idea of being affectionate towards another man. Women also have more… permission, I guess… to find other women attractive without having to state “Not that I’m gay or anything, but…”)
Kate’s gray-area-gender-identity left her as an outcast in even the most outcasted of societies. She wasn’t considered a woman, man or lesbian. She wasn’t straight. She just didn’t fit anyone’s mold.
Kate also briefly explains her S&M lifestyle. Again, something I will not claim to understand, but to each their own! It was interesting and she explained why she engaged in it really well. The important thing about S&M is that it is all consensual and there are to be certain limits set as to how far one wants to go. I can honestly say I don’t see myself being involved in this kind of lifestyle, but I feel like I understand it a little better.
My favorite parts are the snippets where she’s talking about her relationship with her mother, especially the moments post-surgery. I loved that her mom came to accept her as a daughter. I especially liked Kate’s idea that the girl-body her mother miscarried before getting pregnant with her was meant to be her actual body. It’s kind of interesting to think that parts of the little girl spirit hung out in the womb to make Kate who she is today (despite the obstacles she had to overcome). The parts where her mother accidentally calls her Albert and Kate has to gently correct her — I felt like her mother was a great woman to try, and be able, to accept Kate as she was.
I hope this wasn’t too incoherent. I wanted to get my thoughts out, as unpolished as they may be, while they were still fresh in my mind. It was an excellent book. If you’re interested in people, struggles, gender identity, human sexuality, or trans/queer culture, this is a great first person account of life as they know it. It’s eye opening (especially if you’re a naive, small town gal like myself) and, I don’t know, I just came to love Kate. She’s a strong and amazing person. I’d recommend it.