Book review: A Queer and Pleasant DANGER
I think it’s pretty important to say from the outset, that with regards Kate Borstein’s books I’m a bit of a fanboi. Two of her earlier works – Gender Outlaw and My Gender Workbook are generally viewed as seminal for those of us whose gender expression fails to fall neatly into binary tick boxes. Bornstein in person is feisty and unapologetic about where she feels she has had to travel in order to become more herself.
Bornstein’s voice in her writing is almost always frank and personal, her earlier writing providing a queer generation an inspiring picture of a transgender warrior in action. In this new memoir – A Queer and Pleasant DANGER she has provided us with not only a deeper understanding of her gender journey, but also a vivid depiction of how a person seeks to find spiritual meaning in the midst of it.
The lion’s share of the book focuses on Kate’s time (pre-transition), as member of the Church of Scientology’s elite “special forces” wing. Early life struggles with the weight of parental expectation deliberate self-harm and anorexia became partially subsumed by the demands of life within the Church. Kate paints a vivid picture of life within Scientology, and for someone who is estranged from her daughter and grandchildren because of their continued involvement she is remarkably even-handed.The book is framed a love letter to her family and at times I felt like a voyeur viewing her personal pain.
For me it wasn’t hard to connect to the colourful world of a comic book loving introvert who found meaning in the philosophy of a bad sci-fi writer.Her struggle to make sense of the Church’s philosophy runs alongside her deep seated questioning of her gender presentation and how this gets played out in her relationships with both men and women. Her eventual departure from the church seemed to be precipitated more by knowing too much about Scientology’s alleged tax arrangements than no longer “believing”.
Once deemed as a “suppressive person” and excommunicated by the church the lid truly comes off Kate’s need to make sense of both her gender and her sexuality. The second part of the book is devoted to her gender re-assignment process and her participation in both the Lesbian and BDSM communities. Through her relationships and theatre she is unwilling to settle for the easy answer even within relatively minority or left-field communities. Her willingness to explore and play with identity is inspiring.
Kate’s journey is definitely a queer one. Not for her the “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body” as a compliant narrative to gain medical approval. However valid this might be for others, this is not her path. Although her surgery has allowed the self-confessed Femme to feel more congruent with her liminal self, her identity frustrates easy pigeon holing.
I highly recommend this book as a testament to personal bravery and the desire to explore identity. Personally I connected deeply with the way in which the sensitivity of the Fey and the Queer can find expression in spirituality, sexuality and art. This sensitivity may make us vulnerable to exploitation as we seek to truly belong but personally I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A Queer and Pleasant DANGER is available from Beacon Press (h/back, £22.99). There is also an edition available for the Kindle
Kate Bornstein’s blog