Kate Bornstein's Amazing Voyage

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

It was a long road to this new book, and along the way, Kate told her story in different ways in various theater pieces. It was after one of those in San Francisco that brought her another adventure.

"She tends to get holes in her clothing. Her shoes. Her tights. There's something about that," says David Harrison, a trans artist who first met Kate in 1989 after a performance of Hidden: A Gender, which also featured Justin Bond.

"I thought it was amazing. Here was this theater artist who was baring all, and not only writing about her experiences but also playing a person indeterminate in gender. I thought this person must really be in control," Harrison says. "I just had to go backstage and say hello."

At the time, David was Catherine, and he hadn't yet transitioned from female to male. "We were together for four and a half years," Harrison says. "It was a very important relationship for both of us. She made it safe for me to look at my own gender stuff."

When they met, Catherine was a lesbian. "I'd never had a romantic relationship with a man," Harrison says. "She knew before I did that I would transition. And she knew that I'd be gay. 'If you transition, you're going to want to be with men,' she said. And she was right."

"I was now a lesbian with a boyfriend, but I wasn't a real lesbian, and he wasn't a real boy—so did that make us a heterosexual couple the other way round? Don't talk to me about paradox," Kate writes.

"We never broke up. It just transitioned into something else. I love her deeply," David says.

I asked him if, as a trans artist, he'd experienced some of the same difficult politics that Kate did. "There are politics in the trans community like there is in the gay community, and I try to stay away from that," he says, and notes that trans men picketed Kate at a Portland, Oregon, appearance. But Kate was more confrontational about things in articles that she wrote about transgender politics.

"She really got slammed from trans nation," he says. "I don't know if she got death threats, but she's gotten more flak from the trans community than from anywhere else.

"There are a lot of people who disagree with what she says, but she's not asking everyone to agree with her," David says.

"When I met Kate in the late 1980s in San Francisco, she was the first trans person I had ever met who wasn't trying to be a 'real' woman and didn't see herself as having been a 'real' man," says feminist publisher Amy Scholder. "Kate exploded all those categories for herself, and I learned how radical—and brave—it was to defy the binaries and be truly queer.

"Kate is not only completely radical and original, she has also had amazing prescience. In her novel Nearly Roadkill, which I published in 1996, Kate predicted the kind of takeover the Internet and social networking would have over our lives. She understood the sort of gender-free possibilities that could exist in the cyber world and depicted the loneliness and finally the sensual vacuity of relating online only."

But it was her 1994 book, Gender Outlaw, that really made her name in the sexology industry, Annie Sprinkle says.

"Kate's book is a bible for differently gendered people," Annie says. "But Kate is also kinky. She writes about sexuality. She's put her body out there in ways that are controversial. She's being herself."

Writing for a more mainstream audience in A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate warns readers about that controversial material and even recommends that they skip a certain chapter about her days as a slave to a couple of Seattle women she calls Sailor and Lula in the book.

Tony Lioce, Kate's old friend from Brown, says that material still makes him wince.

"The slave stuff. I was surprised by that. Kate had told me about that," he says. "And I still don't get the cutting, and I'm a little bothered by it. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing a happy person does. But what do I know. Maybe I should try it."

Over the years, Kate has drawn upon her experiences in Scientology for several of her shows, and she admits that she used to worry it might get her in trouble with the notoriously litigious organization.

But in recent years, Kate has started to relax as she has noticed the press and popular culture increasingly expose the church.

"South Park was the first time I started to breathe easy," she says, referring to the infamous 2005 episode "Trapped in the Closet," which revealed Scientology's bizarre upper-level teachings involving the galactic overlord Xenu.

"And I also loved the South Park tranny episode," she says, referring to that year's "Mr. Garrison's Fancy New Vagina."

Some in the transsexual community were offended, Kate says. But not her. "Most trans activists have no sense of humor."

I asked Kate if she is still concerned about some form of retaliation from Scientology over the book.

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115 comments
Anon!
Anon!

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,

Anon!

RungoTing
RungoTing

Sounds like a prety good plan to me dude. Wow. www.Total-Privacy dot US

Rudabaga
Rudabaga

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.

Mimsey_borogrove
Mimsey_borogrove

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.

Best,

Mimsey

Heather Grace
Heather Grace

Sensational. It's good to know you, Kate. <3

Rabbi Ruth Adar
Rabbi Ruth Adar

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.

Jared
Jared

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.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

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

Kate

Jgg
Jgg

I'm confused: why was she declared suppressive after a full year aboard Appollo? Was it one bad e-meter reading?

Trip
Trip

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.

Kim O'Brien
Kim O'Brien

You are amazing Kate ! Thank you for sharing your story ~ great coverage at The Daily Beast too ;)

BB53
BB53

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.

RE
RE

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

scilonschools
scilonschools

Tony, Did you switch off the Scientology Tag on this one on purpose, it doesn't come up on Scientology News feed .

DodoTheLaser
DodoTheLaser

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!

DeckardCain
DeckardCain

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.

jensting
jensting

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 )

Jon
Jon

". . . queer and trans activists tried to separate sex from their activism in the post–AIDS epidemic era," . . .

Food for thought.

Ivy Mapother
Ivy Mapother

To paraphrase Winston Wolf, Kate is a character with character. I hope she reconnects with her family soon.

MarkStark
MarkStark

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.

scilonschools
scilonschools

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.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

Thank you—and big love right back. Next time we meet, please let me know it's you. xoxo

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

Hahahaha! Yep, I was a very chubby guy back then. Did we know each other? Thanks for your wide open heart. xo K

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

And blessings back to you, rabbi. We've come a long way, haven't we?

TonyOrtega
TonyOrtega

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.

DodoTheLaser
DodoTheLaser

It pops up all over the Internet now. Good.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

True! I've got LOTS of mental/personality issues. It's my journey through gender that's been keeping me sane and balanced.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

Really? You can yawn at this story? What an awesome life you must lead.

TonyOrtega
TonyOrtega

It's not a blog post. It's the cover story of the Voice. So it will probably hit the web differently.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

Taking your love happily into my heart, and sending some of mine back to you. xoxo

ReRe
ReRe

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!

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

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.

DodoTheLaser
DodoTheLaser

Indeed and I hope so too. Having a book/s out is a very wise move.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

You ALWAYS have good words. Thanks for aiming some of them at me.

Jgg
Jgg

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.

DodoTheLaser
DodoTheLaser

If in doubt about US Banks, use Swiss Banks. Communication formula defined. Cash and gold rules.Every time. Just speculating here.

Jgg
Jgg

" LOTS of mental/personality issues" so did Hubbard, but he would never admit to them

Aardvarking
Aardvarking

'gender' seems like such a meaningless thing to build one's life around.- doesn't strike me as progressive.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

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?

Jgg
Jgg

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.

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

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.

Gdp
Gdp

not every homosexual wants to be included in this tribe; not every homosexual thinks in tribal terms

Kate Bornstein
Kate Bornstein

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.

Aardvarking
Aardvarking

(but I'm not 'cool' enough to be 'queer' (which even heterosexuals can be now) anyway- I'm just gay)

ReRe
ReRe

I'd love to, got to get familiar with Twitter though

 
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