“A Queer and Pleasant Danger”: Kate Bornstein Memoir

Kate Bornstein‘s new book 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 has been called by Kirkus Reviews “(a) nervy, expansive memoir from a pioneering gender activist.”

Bornstein, who has written several previous books about “gender outlaws,” also co-authored in 2006 Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide For Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws.

From the publisher’s description of A Queer and Pleasant Danger: “Scientologist, husband and father, tranny, sailor, slave, playwright, dyke, gender outlaw—these are just a few words which have defined Kate Bornstein during her extraordinary life. For the first time, it all comes together in A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein’s stunningly original memoir that’s set to change lives and enrapture readers.”

The book can be seen as having at least three parts involving the following: what is was like growing up before transgender issues were well known, living as a Scientologist, and coming into her real self.

Born Albert Bornstein, he became involved with Scientology many years ago when not yet in acceptance of his transgender identity (Scientology apparently nurtures such suppression quite well). His later excommunication was due to an inadvertent failure on his part to hide something else—not about himself, but about a financial scam related to Scientology. Along with having to leave Scientology came the loss of his nine-year-old daughter, now an adult with her own children whom Bornstein has never met.

As Bornstein stated in a recent interview with Mother Jones about the period beyond Scientology, “I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I had night terrors for about 15 to 20 years after I left. This is when you know you’re dreaming and you can’t wake up. Those stopped after I started writing this book. It got down to nightmares, and now they’re just bad dreams, so speaking about it has been helping…”

What I’ve read elsewhere is that Bornstein, who transitioned from male to female in 1986, four years following the excommunication, doesn’t actually subscribe anymore to the notion of a binary gender system and prefers a gender neutral pronoun system of ze for she/he and hir for him/her. From Mother Jones:

I don’t speak for all transsexuals or all transgender people. Certainly I honor anybody who wants to be a man and do the work of becoming a man. I honor anyone who mindfully becomes a woman. That’s cool. But, I really don’t get how there’s only two choices. There’s no two of anything else in the entire universe; why should there only be two genders? I don’t get it.

The following is from Kirkus Reviews (and doesn’t follow gender pronoun neutrality):

…the backbone of the book, and of Bornstein’s life, is her admonishment to ‘do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living.’

This cri de coeur, which appears in a letter to her estranged daughter and grandchildren, suggests that Bornstein has made real sacrifices to follow her own advice, and can therefore dispense it with integrity.

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