By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
To set up his story of the night he met Kate Bornstein for the first time, Tony Lioce wants me to know some background about a different person—named Al—he had known previously.
"The thing that always surprised me was that Al was the last person in the world who would have been 'trapped in another person's body,'" Lioce says. "Al was a guy's guy. He got more ass than a toilet seat. He was the Richard Burton of Brown's theater program. He was gentle in a way that could now be seen as almost feminine, but it was the 1960s, and everyone was caught up in the hippie scene. He wasn't a tough guy, is I guess what I'm saying."
Lioce was a couple of years ahead of Al at college, but there was just something about the younger man. For the members of Brown University's theater scene in the late 1960s, such as actress JoBeth Williams—who would go on to gain fame in movies like Poltergeist and The Big Chill—Al was a transfixing figure. Someone you naturally looked up to, Lioce tells me.
"I smoked my first joint with Al," he says. "He said, 'Here, smoke this,' and then put on the Mothers of Invention." But after college, they drifted apart—until the big night nearly 20 years later that Lioce wanted to tell me about.
"It was a party for the head of the theater department, who was retiring," he says. "It was a gathering in New York. At that time, I had just heard that Al had become Kate. Nobody saw it coming.
"A lot of us thought Al was so outrageous and would do anything; maybe this was just another of his routines. Maybe he'd be in drag just to be the center of attention. But Al was also one of these guys who would go all the way to the end of the pier before jumping off, you know? Someone who would do anything to the limit. And if Al was going to do that, he was going to go all the way."
Al had indeed gone all the way—and had undergone gender-reassignment surgery.
"Nobody was bothered by it at all," Lioce says. Al was still Al—or rather, Kate—the focus of the party and someone who put everyone at ease. Well, except one person who Lioce remembers took it a bit hard.
"I remember running into JoBeth at the bar downstairs," he says. "She was hammering down the vodka." She wasn't upset, Lioce points out. She was just trying to assimilate what had apparently taken her by surprise. And he remembers what she was saying.
"Jesus! That was my first boyfriend!"
Kate Bornstein tells me she has a different vision of that night in 1986.
"In the musical-fantasy version of my life, JoBeth and I would burst into a Kander and Ebb love song. Generations of talented Brown University–theater folks would sing and dance in chorus to our happiness and our reunion. JoBeth would come out as a lesbian. We'd jump in a cab and live happily ever after in the West Village."
At least, that's the version Kate daydreamed in a draft of material that didn't make it into her memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, which was published this week.
Early in the book, Kate pauses to discuss the somewhat complex relationship her memoir has with the facts of her life. To begin with, she's 64 and admits that her memory is for shit, at least regarding parts of her life. (It has been hell trying to get specific details from her when I have questions about her time on a certain yacht sailing the Mediterranean in the 1970s, for example, but more on that later.)
On the other hand, when she fact-checked certain memories with the people involved and found the versions to be different—as in the case in which her brother has another take on how their grandparents met in Russia—Kate has decided she likes hers better and is just going to stick with it.
Kate's approach, then, is pretty much the opposite of what New York Times columnist David Carr took in his recent bestselling memoir, The Night of the Gun, in which he investigated his own life and printed the facts in his notebook rather than the legend in his mind.
But if Kate remembers some things differently than do the people in her life, it probably is best that she print the legend.
Because the result is some amazing trip.
After her reunion with her old Brown classmates, Kate Bornstein went on to become one of the country's most famous transsexuals, and certainly one of the most controversial.
Author of the 1994 book Gender Outlaw and a veteran performance artist of her own shows, such as Hidden: A Gender, Bornstein has managed to both anger and delight most camps in the LGBTQ universe; a male-to-female transsexual lesbian, she has felt rejected by both the transsexual and lesbian communities at one time or another while she has tried to educate the rest of us that people don't have to be either men or women. It was one of the many revelations in Bornstein's revelatory life that she came to the stunning notion that she was really neither.
Tony, thank you for sharing Kate's story with us.
Kate, thank you, for being yourself and continuing to make a positive impact on the world around you. I first heard of who you are from former SO's among my acquaintance, you have been spoken of with the highest regard.
You have all my best wishes,
Character is the indelible mark that determines the only true value of all people and all their work
Oh wow, I never really thought about it like that before.Better-Privacy.tk
I've met Kate a few times and always walked away saying, "that's about the nicest person in the whole world." Totally true. Can't wait to read the book. Big love to you Kate.
Hi Kate - I remember you and Molly from the Hotel Martinique days - your office I think was upstairs from the rest of the org. Looking at your pictures you look like you have lost some weight. You look good but I have a time making the pictures fit with my memories of you in a SO uniform. Ah well. I'd ask how Molly was doing but since you, like me, are no longer part of the Scientology world, I guess I'll let that slide. I know how the undeclared sort of slip away as life continues on without them. I must admit reading Tony's article was a bit of a shock as went from: Bornstein? I knew someone like that, to That Al! to Kate? But, you know, it's cool. I have come to realize that life is much like that old Sly Stone song -Everyday people. So good! I wonder where the people in my life went to, and it always a happy moment to find a lost thread of the fabric of my life.
Back about 1990 I had the pleasure of lunch with Kate. I had my own journey of transformation ahead, and meeting her gave me courage.
Blessings to you, Kate, if you read this. You are a blessing.
I just finished Kate's book. So amazing, funny, surreal, and touching. I have so much respect and love for the life of Kate Bornstein.
The journey of life is often difficult, and winding. To see someone else's path in such intimate detail reminds me of the type of bravery I only hope to have as I move through my own illusion.
I hope only the best for Kate in the future, and what a great article.
Holy smoke. I made the cover of the Village Voice. Holy freakin' smoke.
It's taken me a few days to get it together enough to comment on this story. Tony Ortega is a brave man, a great writer. When he asked to do this story, I was floored. I'm even more floored by the story itself. It would have been easy for Tony to focus solely on the Scientology part of my life, and I'm glad that he *did* write as much as he did—most all of the people who know my work, know little or nothing about how much of an impact Scientology has had on my life. Tony did a great job laying that out.
AND Tony, you totally got the idea of not-man, not-woman. You totally got the idea of the changing definitions of queer and straight—how queer means less and less *who* you're having sex with, and more and more how cool you are about people having (or not having) sex. Sure, queer is a lot about transgressing gender rules—but it's more important that queer includes the celebration of people who do transgress gender, even if you yourself don't do that. So, Tony has written an awesome queer positive, sex positive, gender positive, trans positive story. AND HE MADE IT FUNNY!!!!!
Tony Ortega, you are one of this country's most accomplished investigative journalists, and I'm proud to have been investigated by you in this piece. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
big love & respect
I'm confused: why was she declared suppressive after a full year aboard Appollo? Was it one bad e-meter reading?
what would be more admirable would be if people dressed and acted however they like without involving the medical industry and/or constantly fighting back their true sex.
This is an example of sexual confusion caused by mental illness. And this person obviously had a lot of other problems not related to gender.
outlaw how? this seems to be the common trajectory for male-to-trans, no? not comfortable at playing 'masculine' so switches to playing 'feminine' YAWN
Tony, Did you switch off the Scientology Tag on this one on purpose, it doesn't come up on Scientology News feed .
Even though I personally don't relate to this kind of transformation,I do respect anyone who does and their universal right to go through it.And then share it with anyone who is willing to listen. Thank you Al/Kate.Sending love your way!
I got the book today. I couldn't put it down.
Kate, you ARE A STAR.
Tony, thank you. I wouldn't have known about Kate without your work. Thank you.
Sounds pretty awesome - the book I mean. Oooh, and it's available on Kindle. I bought one :)
(It almost went without saying that Kate is awesome, but I thought I would add it anyway :D )
". . . queer and trans activists tried to separate sex from their activism in the post–AIDS epidemic era," . . .
Food for thought.
To paraphrase Winston Wolf, Kate is a character with character. I hope she reconnects with her family soon.
Kate went from thinking she was saving the planet as a Scientologist, to a journey of self discovery that through her books and talks would shake up the way people think about gender, and especially help that category of unique individuals who struggle with gender issues on a daily basis and need to learn from someone who has also lived it. It may not be clearing the planet, but as she knows from the letters she gets, she has made an important difference in the lives of others. That is no small thing at all.
When I first read a review on Kates new book about 10 days ago I thought "This is a book I would NEVER have thought of reading, but I can't wait to get a copy", Thanks Tony, now I am more keen than ever to!!Great work both of you.
Hahahaha! Yep, I was a very chubby guy back then. Did we know each other? Thanks for your wide open heart. xo K
Read the book, Jgg. She was only on the ship circa 1971-72. Later, in 1982, she ran into the infamous "Financial Police," who only existed a short time. She got declared because she stumbled upon LRH's Swiss Bank connection. It's a fascinating story.
True! I've got LOTS of mental/personality issues. It's my journey through gender that's been keeping me sane and balanced.
It's not a blog post. It's the cover story of the Voice. So it will probably hit the web differently.
I got myself the Kindle version yesterday and read almost all night long. I always wondered what happened to them after Al and Becky came back to FSO. They had lended their condo to me until they came back. But after that we didn't meet anymore there. Al and Becky were humorous, warmhearted while in the Sea Org - opposite of the common anal retentive Scientologists. I'm glad I read her well written, moving, humorous and very special story! Thank you, Kate!
And this is part of the brilliance of Tony's article—he got in so much more than the simple tranny-in-a-cult thing. He analyzed a subculture and gave it some context. A lot of people have written stuff about me. This is my favorite piece ever.
I WILL read the book! The library here in Santa Monica is getting a copy.
My point is that I keep seeing dedicated scientologists "declared" because of one mistake--all their years of commitment didn't buy them any slack (Tory Magoo is another good example--she complained about the OT VII docs not saying much and got booted; so is Shelly Miscavige--one hiring mistake. Tommy Davis--let someone record him admitting that disconnection exists. This could be a book in itself). It is a very heavy handed, cruel organization.
If in doubt about US Banks, use Swiss Banks. Communication formula defined. Cash and gold rules.Every time. Just speculating here.
'gender' seems like such a meaningless thing to build one's life around.- doesn't strike me as progressive.
Omigod, I so want to get in touch with you. Yes, isn't Becky a remarkable woman? I still miss her. Please do get in touch with me—easy to do on twitter—and let's share stories. Please?
It's quite complicated: being effeminate, gay, transgender, trans dressing ang misogynist are all separate, ie a man can be hetero but effeminate, gay but macho, etc. among other things. I think it really depends on what the person likes, ie some people are happy with simple role playing, some not, etc.
Ah, then by all means please accept my sincere apology for any assumption that may have offended you. I tried to speak in the spirit of welcoming, no more than that.
not every homosexual wants to be included in this tribe; not every homosexual thinks in tribal terms
I am SO SORRY if I used queer in a way that made you feel on the outside of some cool club and that you were excluded. I use queer as a tribal political identity. You're gay? Darling, you're tribe. Gays and drag queens were the first ones to stand up and lead the revolution. You're not being left out as "just gay" when people like me say queer. You (like me) have passed the torch on to a new leading edge. You're family to me. And darling, gay has *always* been hip—a jewel of our subculture. Queer is just a weird I use to mean all of that, and I wanted to make sure you know I mean you too.
(but I'm not 'cool' enough to be 'queer' (which even heterosexuals can be now) anyway- I'm just gay)