Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She Is Today hits bookstores today. Not your mother’s memoir, Bornstein dedicates her book to her estranged daughter and grandchildren—estranged because Kate was excommunicated from the Church of Scientology after being deemed a “subversive person.” In fact, members of the Church, including her daughter and grandchildren, are encouraged to take violence against “subversive” outcasts, “gender outlaws,” like Kate.
For an outlaw, Kate has made herself a hot commodity within the queer community, and more recently the mainstream public, appearing in a landmark segment on “Being Trans in America” on Melissa Harris-Perry’s weekend show last month. She also going to be featured on the cover, and in an immaculate, seksi spread, of this week’s Village Voice—the feature will highlight the major events documented within her book, most prominently, her twelves years of (what I’m not at all reluctant to call, in allusion to Bornstein’s S&M-speak writing style) "indentured servitude" for L. Ron Hubbard, El Capitan of the Church of Scientology.
“I worked on the yacht, his private yacht, the largest private yacht in the world.... And I was the first mate. Then I ended up doing public relations work, directly with L. Ron Hubbard. He was daddy. He played daddy to the hilt. He was not a nice man. He was a charismatic man. He could be a really bad daddy, which you don’t want. You ended up wanting to please him.”
Her story of her time in Scientology is fascinating, even surreal. But what really piqued my interest about this book—what made me love it and read it voraciously, starting and finishing it in one sitting—was how it depicts her ethics, how she lives life for fun and without apology.
And isn’t that, as Nietzsche might say, the gayest, most noble, way to live?
Kate isn’t of the School, attended by many-a-queer, of Shame; she is a student of self-fashioning and self-affirmation (even in her episodes of cutting). And these qualities are ensconced in the emergent ethics of the text.
These are also qualities that got her into some trouble with the "p.c." factions of both feminist and trans communities. “I do not speak for you,” she tells a trans audience in Portland one evening in the early 90s. No: Kate speaks for her self and never at once prescribes an ethics onto other people. She will never judge you, rather, she is here to entertain and to inform through entertaining. Her signature writing style, as the aforementioned Nietzsche reference suggests, is playful and light, tonally in line with the earlier mentioned S&M-speak, and always, always, brutally honest:
“I was born male and now I’ve got medical and government documents that say I’m female—but I don’t call myself a woman, and I know I’m not a man.... I call myself trans, or tranny—and the latter angers a small but vocal group of transsexual women who see tranny as the equivalent of kike to a Jew. Right, I’m a Jew, and everyone knows someone who’s got a thing about Jews. I’m also a tattooed lady.... I’m a dyke on top of all this.... My right knee is titanium and space-age plastic and it never gets weak, and that makes me the bionic tranny.”
What I love about Kate’s writing is that, even in its self-awareness, it never tends to self-aggrandisement or self-adulation. Her writing is refreshing not only for avoiding the genre’s tendency to self-worship but also the genre’s (and the LGBT community’s) simultaneous and contradictory tendency to self-loathing. Kate—besides the fact that she’s a dyke from New Jersey (holla!)—is my kind of queer. Forget born this way; Kate’s made herself, and will continue to make herself any damn way she pleases.