Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us

~by Kate Bornstein

I've been meaning to read Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw for the last couple of years--even more so now that I've read Hello, Cruel World and have seen Kate in performance. I finally got to it.

Gender Outlaw is an exploration of gender (especially in the United States) as from the perspective of a person who was born male and had a sex reassignment surgery in adulthood, only to later discover that being female didn't quite fit or work either. Kate came to the conclusion that gender is not a strict binary as we've often been taught or coerced into believing, but that it is a vibrant continuum.

If I had read this book earlier in my life, it would have totally blown my mind and it would have been a very, very good thing form me. As it is, having already been exposed to various genders and sexualities, I was not taken aback--in fact, I found some of my own thinking reaffirmed. The book is a very accessible introduction to the discussion of gender. I can see how this book and this discussion would be offensive to some people, but Kate is adamant that this is only one person's point of view and that not everyone adheres or agree with it, trans or otherwise.

The prose isn't linear--it bounces between three sections: the main text, side notes and commentary, and quotations from other sources. Each of these sections has its own formatting and font. At first it seemed fragmentary, but ultimately the pieces created a cohesive whole. I got this same feeling from Kate's performance. In fact, the performance that I saw was very reminiscent of the book and several pieces came directly from it (or perhaps it was the other way around, I'm not sure.) The script of Kate's play, Hidden: A Gender, has been included as well as an additional afterword written for the paperback edition.

Originally published in 1994, Gender Outlaw still has a lot to offer, especially to those who have had little exposure to transgender issues. While transpeople and their lives have become more visible in recent years, there is still ground to be gained in this area. Not all will agree with Kate's position regarding gender (and some will vehemently disagree), but I think that this book provides an excellent place to begin that conversation. I find all of Kate's work to be honest, and despite the serious topics, filled with a fair amount of lightheartedness which make them extremely effective.