Kate Bornstein's Amazing Voyage

America's gender outlaw takes us on a wild tour of trans-formation

"If you had mental charge [on the e-meter] and no crimes this lifetime, you had to look at your past lives and confess those crimes," Kate writes.

After about a year on the Apollo, Al was assigned to the fledgling "org" in New York City. He was sent there with instructions to take it over and "make it go right," in the tradition of the Sea Org. From time to time, Hubbard himself would come to town, and Al would cater to his needs. "He knew his New York pizza. He would only buy the original Ray's in the Village," Kate says.

Describing what it was like to be sent by Hubbard to whip into shape the New York org at the Hotel Martinique, Bornstein again makes the reader feel the excitement of Sea Org life. Sure, they were paid almost nothing, had few resources, and worked ungodly hours, but they were young, they loved the challenge, and they were helping transform the state of mankind itself.

When they were inevitably mocked by outsiders—Scientologists refer to the rest of us as "wogs," Hubbard's co-option of a derogatory British term for people of color—Bornstein writes that it only egged them on further. "Wait till we take over the planet," Kate remembers thinking. "Then we'll see who's laughing."

As a Sea Org lieutenant and then busted down to sales, Al Bornstein knew what made Hubbard's orgs work: money, money, and more money. "In Scientology sales, we were taught to find a person's 'ruin'—whatever it was that was making a person's life miserable and keeping them from achieving their goals. I could find anyone's ruin in minutes—and in less than an hour, I'd've sold them thousands of dollars worth of Scientology services to handle it," Kate writes.

"I saw Al once when he was in Scientology," Tony Lioce says. "That was a little scary. I was still in Providence, and he was in New York being the king of Scientology. That was the one time I saw Al when he wasn't Al, like he wasn't in the right body. He was distant. He was glad to see me, and he was welcoming, but you couldn't talk to him. It was the only time I've known him when you couldn't just drop the bullshit and talk. Every time I'd ask him about it, he'd say: 'You have to be audited. You don't get it.'

"And the thing that was especially strange about it was how military it was and doctrinaire, all the things in the '60s that we opposed. There was no room for questioning, no room for being antiauthoritarian. Of all people to adopt that? Al? It was very off-putting. I was glad to see that end."

Bornstein's tale of disaffection from Scientology has a sense of intrigue—it involves Swiss bank accounts, a rogue group of executives leading a series of purges, and hours of intimidating interrogations—but really, it's the same story we see repeated again and again. After years of superhuman dedication, financial sacrifice, and hermetically sealing themselves from outside influences, one by one, longtime Scientologists tend to reach the same precipice. Forced out through interrogations, disconnected from family members, and simply exhausted by the constant fundraising, many veteran church members go into free fall as they are declared suppressive or simply break away. Some then become the targets of retaliation known as "fair game," which is a well-documented history of using church-hired private eyes and legal harassment.

But Al had other concerns after being suddenly kicked to the curb. He returned home to New Jersey and, three years later, was ready to become Kate. In this revealing book, we learn some particulars about her surgery. And then, there's this rather remarkable little detail: On January 24, 1986, Kate legally changed her name—and remained unaware until much later that on that same day, L. Ron Hubbard died.

Officially, it was a transition for both of them. The church has maintained to this day that Hubbard chose to leave his corporeal body in order to pursue even higher levels of spiritual training somewhere in the galaxy. And Kate—well, she had her own new frontiers to explore.

'I met Kate when she applied to be the advertising director at On Our Backs in the late '80s," says Susie Bright, the well-known sex writer. "I was the editor: 'Entertainment for the Adventurous Lesbian.' It was such a thankless, exasperating job—no one could imagine selling anything to dykes or that gay women had any erotic or material concerns whatsoever. Our whole magazine was a contradiction in terms to most people.

"I remember sitting with Kate on Castro Street on the steps of a local ice cream store. I was so delighted to meet this person—talk about charismatic! She told me that post-surgery, she could orgasm in three different ways, and I was so impressed and envious. This is completely normal interview material for a lesbian-sex magazine.

"Being a former Hollywood resident, I knew all about Scientology, and we cracked each other up with a few war stories. I remember thinking then, When are you going to write your memoir?"

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