Published by Beacon Press on May 1, 2012
Genres: LGBT, Memoir
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
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A stunningly original memoir of a nice Jewish boy who joined the Church of Scientology and left twelve years later, ultimately transitioning to a woman. A few years later, she stopped calling herself a woman and became famous as a gender outlaw.
Kate Bornstein—gender theorist, performance artist, author—is set to change lives with her compelling memoir. Wickedly funny and disarmingly honest, this is Bornstein's most intimate book yet, encompassing her early childhood and adolescence, college at Brown, a life in the theater, three marriages and fatherhood, the Scientology hierarchy, transsexual life, LGBTQ politics, and life on the road as a sought-after speaker.
In A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Bornstein chronicles her time spent in (and escape from) Scientology, her exploration of her own gender identity, and the darker aspects of her life (addiction, anorexia, sadomasochism, suicide attempts). It’s candid, gritty, dark; yet Bornstein’s humor often has you laughing where you feel like you shouldn’t. She admits she loves a good tall tale, and she treats us to that here and there: “That’s a lie, but that’s show biz.” Without this humor, her memoir would have felt overwhelmingly dark.
Kate Bornstein really is a gender outlaw! She skates between the lines of all sorts of labels. She claims the word “tranny” and unabashedly uses the word “she-male.” It is what it is. [Here’s a thoughtful clip from I Am Cait where Bornstein and Jennifer Finney Boylan discuss “tranny.”]
Bornstein provides first-person insight into early feminist and trans rights movements. Reading about her experiences helped me understand some of the attitudes of older trans women I’ve met (Bornstein grew up in that Father Knows Best / Leave It to Beaver era). I didn’t understand their perspective at all before, but I gained insight learning about the troubled history between feminists and trans activists, and infighting within the trans community.
The bulk of A Queer and Pleasant Danger talks about Scientology, because Bornstein was involved in that for twelve years, until she formally left in 1981 and was banned from contact with her family (including her 8-year-old daughter Jessica, who is now an adult with children of her own) . There’s a lot of information here, much of it downright chilling. The memoir ends with a heartfelt letter to Jessica, should she and her children ever read the book.