“I know I’m not a man . . . and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman, either. . . . . The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other.” With these words, Kate Bornstein ushers readers on a funny, fearless, and wonderfully scenic journey across the terrains of gender and identity. On one level, Gender Outlaw details Bornstein’s transformation from heterosexual male to lesbian woman, from a one-time IBM salesperson to a playwright and performance artist. But this particular coming-of-age story is also a provocative investigation into our notions of male and female, from a self-described nonbinary transfeminine diesel femme dyke who never stops questioning our cultural assumptions.
Gender Outlaw was decades ahead of its time when it was first published in 1994. Now, some twenty-odd years later, this book stands as both a classic and a still-revolutionary work—one that continues to push us gently but profoundly to the furthest borders of the gender frontier.
“In an age of often hostilely expressed gender politics, Kate Bornstein . . . is sweet, sincere, lucid, and sometimes as corny as Kansas in August.”
—The New York Times
“A foundational voice. . . . Kate Bornstein is a historic figure in the queer and trans community.”
—The Huffington Post
“[Bornstein is on the] leading edge of contemporary debate about sexual identity and gender. [She] asks fundamental and challenging questions about what it means to be a man or woman in our society.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Gender Outlaw is an eye-opening book, combining the emotional force of a coming-of-age story with a savvy cultural critique.”
“A radical document.”
“While Bornstein covers an incredible range—from the ‘nuts and bolts’ of her surgery to more abstract musings on a brave new gender-free world—the book never stops fascinating. [She offers us] an abundance of questions—thoughtful, disarming, revelatory questions. Gender Outlaw is an invitation to a dialogue, and it’s a conversation well worth having.”
“Kate Bornstein argues eloquently and passionately for scrapping the categories of women and men. Agree. Disagree. Read it!”
—Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues
“The first book of gender theory written by a transgendered person . . . includes countless insights, trenchant cultural analysis, and generous wit. . . . [It] will surely become a classic.”
“Kate Bornstein celebrates the power of claiming an identity without getting mired in the tarpits of identity politics. A breath of fresh air, the best of both worlds, strong enough for a man, yet made for a woman.”
—Holly Hughes, performance artist
“Kate is an orgasm on two legs. Reading this book gives me a heart orgasm, and it could give you one too! Gender Outlaw is a great work of love.”
—Annie Sprinkle, performance artist
“Kate Bornstein is a fierce and funny voice on the front lines of gender and sexual identity. Her wise heart and wild imagination challenge us to really own our bodies, our desires, our dreams.”
—Tim Miller, performance artist
Kate Bornstein divides their time between New York City and the Rhode Island shore. She can be seen in all episodes of Season 2 of the reality TV show I Am Cait. Their stage work includes the solo performance pieces The Opposite Sex Is Neither, Virtually Yours, and On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. When not writing or performing, Kate can be found cuddling with Maui, following Doctor Who, prowling Twitter and Instagram, or playing pinball in their hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey.
first things first
(Note: for electronic purposes, the paragraph formatting in this excerpt has been simplified. The paperback and ebook editions contain the fully formatted text.)
I keep trying to integrate my life. I keep trying to make all the pieces into one piece. As a result, my identity becomes my body which becomes my fashion which becomes my writing style. Then I perform what I’ve written in an effort to integrate my life, and that becomes my identity, after a fashion.
Some Fashion Tips
People are starting to ask me about fashion. I love that! Maybe they think the doctor sewed in some fashion sense during my genital conversion surgery.
I see fashion as a proclamation or manifestation of identity—so as long as identities are important, fashion will continue to be important. The link between fashion and identity begins to get real interesting, however, in the case of people who don’t fall clearly into a culturally-recognized identity—people like me. My identity as a transsexual lesbian whose female lesbian lover transitioned to gay male is manifest in my fashion statement—both my identity and fashion are based on collage. You know—a little bit from here, a little bit from there? Sort of a cut-and-paste thing.
And that’s the style of this book. It’s a trans style, I suppose. I can see it in the work of Susan Stryker, Sandy Stone, David Harrison . . . the list is getting longer and longer.
But the need for a recognizable identity, and the need to belong to a group of people with a similar identity—these are driving forces in our culture, and nowhere is this more evident than in the areas of gender and sexuality. Hence the clear division between fashion statements of male and female, between the fashions of queer and straight.
In my case, however, it’s not so clear. I identify as neither male nor female, and now that my lover went through his gender change, it turns out I’m neither hetero nor homo. What I’ve found as a result of this borderline life is that the more fluid my identity has become—and the less demanding my own need to belong to the camps of male, female, gay or straight—the more playful and less regimented my fashion has become—as well as my style of self-expression.
Will the identification with a trans writing style produce an identification with a trans experience?
Anyone who knows fashion will tell you that the operative word is accessorize! That’s how I dress in the morning. That’s how I shift from one phase of my life to the next—first I try on the accessories. And that’s also part of the style of this book: I’ve added some accessories here and there to spice it up a bit.
Welcome to my runway!