Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein
Read by: Anna/Copley Teen Room
This is a non-fiction title that explores… gender! What else would a book with a title like this one be talking about? Of course. Gender. Specifically, this book delves into the questions some people will have about the traditional gender roles and physical bodies that we’ve had almost since the beginning of time. Kate talks about days when transgendered or transexuals were seen as spirituals and how that changed over time. She covers wide ground in this book.
Some readers will be put off by the “collage” aspect of her writing. She includes quotes, poetry, mini essays, and even a full-length play toward the end. It’s all intermixed, so you never know what you’re going to get when you flip the page. Hmmm… sounds a bit like what she’s talking about with Gender, actually! You don’t have to agree with her thoughts at all. What she does is to raise questions to make you think. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a male to female transexual who happens to be a lesbian, who’s girlfriend ends up a female to male transexual? What does all this mean? What about those who define themselves as neither gender? She isn’t aiming for shock value here… well, maybe a little, but more than that, she wants to make you THINK about your life, about the people you see around you every day.
When you see a stranger down the street, if you can’t identify which country they come from it’s not nearly as annoying as when you can’t identify whether they are male or female. If you can’t identify their gender, you’ll stare at them until you come to a decision. If you can’t determine their race or age, you shrug your shoulders and move on. Why is that? Why?
I have to be honest, while I was thoroughly enjoying the book, I was a bit afraid of the play. I thought it would be dry and borning. I avoided it for a day and a half before I finally delved into it. It was very well written. I could easily picture everything going on in my head. I heard all three characters voices in my head as if they were talking right in front of me. In short: I loved it!
The overall questions she asks are brilliant. What is identity? What is YOUR identity? Yes, this book was written over ten years ago now, quickly approaching twenty years now, but her questions are still relevant. Some of the references (such as political activists and television shows) might not be recognizable by today’s teenager, but they can easily be looked up on the internet for a quick clarification. The important part is that she wrote the book to last well into the future, and that it does quite well.
Please note: There are a few mentions of adult content, but they are few and far between without going into great details. Over all, this is a fantastic book for anyone, teen or adult, who may be questioning their gender, or who may know someone else who is.
What is gender? And why are we so attached to a binary gender system when it’s becoming more and more clear that more than two genders exist in this world? Good questions. What do YOU think? Read the book and post a comment below.
Quotes from the book that I especially liked:
“A free society is one where it’s safe to be unpopular.” – Adlai Stevenson
Who was Stevenson? Adlai Stevenson was a leading Democrat of the 1950s, famed for his quick wit and deep intellect, and for his eloquence in support of liberal causes. He was the Democratic candidate for president in 1952 and 1956, losing badly both times to Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson was the governor of Illinois from 1949-53, and served as the American ambassador to the United Nations during the John Kennedy administration.
“Safe gender is being who and what we want to be when we
want to be that, with no threat of censure or violence.
Safe gender is going as far in any direction as we wish,
With no threat to our health, or anyone else’s.
Safe gender is not being pressured into passing, not
Having to lie, not having to hide.
Sane gender is asking questions about gender – talking
To people who do gender, and opening up about our
Gender histories and our gender desires.
Sane gender is probably very, very funny.
Consensual gender is respecting each others’ definition
Of gender, and respecting the wishes of some to be alone,
And respecting the intentions of others to be inclusive in
Their own time.
Consensual gender is non-violent in that it doesn’t force
Its way in on anyone.
Consensual gender opens its arms and welcomes all
People as gender outcasts – whoever is willing to admit it.”