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social sciences

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Bornstein, Kate (b. 1948)  

Kate Bornstein is one of the best-known contemporary activists in America. Born male in Neptune, New Jersey, on March 15, 1948, Kate grew up as Albert.

In 1985 Bornstein began living part-time as a woman and one year later underwent a sex change operation and began living full time as a woman. However, ze soon came to the conclusion that ze was neither male nor female. Like a number of other Western feminist and transgender activists, such as Leslie Feinberg, Bornstein favors over conventional gendered pronouns.

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In 1969 Bornstein became the first person to graduate from Brown University with a major in theater arts. Shortly thereafter ze joined the controversial Church of Scientology where ze become a highly successful spokes- and salesperson. Twelve years and three marriages later, Bornstein abandoned masculinity, heterosexuality, and Scientology for phone sex work, erotic dancing, and Buddhism.

Bornstein's first theatrical work as a gender activist drew on history--hir own as well as that of Herculine Barbin, a nineteenth-century French . Hidden: A Gender, first performed at the 1989 First International Lesbian and Gay Theatre Conference and Festival in Seattle, employs a talk show format to challenge "gender terrorism," the everyday practice enforcing conformity to the two-sex gender system. Included in the program as the result of a last minute cancellation, it proved enormously successful and was subsequently staged on university campuses and in local and other theater venues.

In 1994, Bornstein published Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. Part-autobiography, part "mind-altering manifesto," and part fashion guide, it pushed through some of the boundaries that constrained gender politics, and secured hir place in the emerging queer theory canon.

Bornstein maintains that the medicalization of , the only condition for which the therapy is to lie about one's biological past, precludes the possibility of building a community. By contesting the forced erasure of one's own history and the refusal to acknowledge gender as more fluid than fixed, Gender Outlaw vitally contributed to the political mobilization of transsexuals outside of medical ideology.

Bornstein also sought to bridge the increasingly bitter divide between transsexuals and the gay and lesbian communities, who at the time were embroiled in controversial practices of political and social exclusion. Hir claim that gender oppression united the two groups regardless of sexual practices immediately resonated with queer theorists and activists who rejected identity politics in favor of an anti-oppression framework.

Both Gender Outlaw and My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely (1998), an interactive text filled with quizzes, games, and exercises, consistently link gender with class, race, and other systems of social, economic, and political inequalities and social injustice.

Bornstein continues to challenge audiences to buck the gender system with new theater pieces, workshops, and more recently, fiction. Since Hidden, Bornstein and hir partner Barbara Carrellas co-wrote and performed in Too Tall Blondes in: LOVE (premiered in Boston in 2001), and more recently ze wrote and performed in Strangers in Paradox, which premiered at the Theater Rhinoceros in San Francisco in 2003.

Another of Bornstein's books is the lesser known Nearly Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure (1996), co-authored with cyber-friend and public radio broadcaster Caitlin Sullivan. Works in progress include a fictionalized autobiography, Hard Candy: The Tragic Lives and Comical Deaths of Candy Bromowitz and Hello Cruel World, a children's book aimed at combating teen suicide.

Currently based in Spanish Harlem, New York, Bornstein travels extensively. She has performed hir work throughout the United States, and in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

In the highly theoretical field of gender studies, Bornstein's characteristically humorous, playful, and compassionate style makes hir work among the most accessible and entertaining. Hir oeuvre continues to influence the entire field of gender studies.

Elise Chenier


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   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  Autobiography, Transsexual

Transgendered individuals have published autobiographies not only to tell or to clarify the stories of their lives, but also to educate others in an effort to gain greater acceptance for transgender people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Identity Politics

Not limited to activity in the traditionally conceived political sphere, identity politics refers to activism, politics, theorizing, and other similar activities based on the shared experiences of members of a specific social group, often relying on shared experiences of oppression.

social sciences >> Overview:  Intersexuality

Intersexuality (formerly referred to as hermaphroditism) is a congenital anomaly in which an individual's external genitalia or internal reproductive systems fall outside the norms for either male or female bodies.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender

"Transgender" has become an umbrella term representing a political alliance between all gender variant people who do not conform to social norms for typical men and women and who suffer political oppression as a result.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Activism

Since the late nineteenth century, transgendered people have advocated legal and social reforms that would ameliorate the kinds of oppression and discrimination they suffer.

literature >> Feinberg, Leslie

Political organizer, grassroots historian, and accomplished writer, Leslie Feinberg is a pioneer of transgender activism and culture.


Barbin, Hercule. Hercule Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite. Michel Foucault, intro. Richard McDougall, trans. Brighton, England: Harvester Press, 1980.

Baron, Dennis E. Grammar and Gender. New Haven : Yale University Press, 1986.

Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us. New York: Routledge, 1996.

_____. My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely. New York: Routledge, 1998.

_____, and Caitlin Sullivan. Nearly Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure Baltimore, Md.: Serpent's Tail, 1996.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Feinberg, Leslie. Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Boston: Beacon, 1998.


    Citation Information
    Author: Chenier, Elise  
    Entry Title: Bornstein, Kate  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated June 14, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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