Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review: Gender Outlaw

I picked up Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw the same night that I bought the aforementioned The Kiss Murder. I've been reading all sorts of fiction in the meantime, and reading Gender Outlaw when I was between other books. It goes that way sometimes for me and non-fiction, especially if the material is deep and philosophical. Boy, was this all that and more.

I read everything I could find about being transgendered when I was a teenager. There weren't too many books, but I worked in a library, so it was easier to find them. I wish I could say I found them inspiring, but in the main they were depressing. On the other end of the spectrum were books about crossdressers, mostly written by professionals. One library branch had a series of non-fiction books by Virginia Prince, the founder of Tri-Ess, but those weren't very helpful either. There were lots of helpful tips for passing, but there was always a caveat. Ms. Prince said that all crossdressers secretly wanted to be found out, so they'd leave tell-tales to aid in their discovery. Me, I was deathly afraid of anyone finding out, and the idea of setting myself up to be very disturbing.

In the inervening years, I found a few other titles: RuPaul's Lettin' It All Hang Out and Hiding My Candy, by the Lady Chablis (as seen in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). When I found these I was married, or very nearly so, and the stories were entertaining, but not as helpful for someone settling into quiet domesticity. At the end of my marriage, I discovered Jennifer Finney-Boylan's She's Not There. That was the last book by or about trans people I'd read, and that was nearly six years ago.

Gender Outlaw is not like any of these other books. It is Kate Bornstein's life story, in part, but it is also a manifesto on the concept of deconstructing the concept of gender. All of my life, I have looked at things in purely a male/female sense, never dreaming that there might be any way of thinking of things. If I'm not a man, then I must be a woman, right? But if I'm not a woman either, then what am I? "AAUGH!" as Charlie Brown used to say.

I wonder if I can wrap my head around the concept. For too long I've been rooted in the idea of two genders. Some of my friends at New Life call themselves genderqueer, and imply that they are neither. Then there are Kathy and LLLLL, who prefer to use neutral pronouns in place of the conventional he/him or she/her, they use ze/hir or ze/zir. I don't typically think of myself as being old, but I may be too old for this idea. Or not.

That said, the material is thought-provoking, and in that respect I think the book does its job. I can't stand it when I read a book that doesn't tell me anything new. No worries about that here.


  1. I <3 Kate. If you ever get the chance to see her perform, I highly recommend it.

    Gender Outlaw, for me at least, was the first book I picked up and read and was like "...someone else gets it!" It will always have a special place for me.

  2. Kate's really interesting with here ideas. I really liked "My Gender Workbook" too because it's pretty fun to go through.

    I really like Riki Wilchins though. She put together "Genderqueer". I highly recommend it! She started GenderPAC and has worked a lot with Camp Trans in the past...