Published on June 27th, 2012 | by Wild Gender
A Wild Review of “Queer and Pleasant Danger,” New Memoir By Kate Bornstein
Right before I read Kate Bornstein’s memoir A Queer and Pleasant Danger, I read Mia Mingus’s keynote speech at the 2011 Femmes of Color symposium via a post on her blog entitled ‘Moving Toward the Ugly: A Politic Beyond Desirability.’ For me, it was a vital read.
“I speak to leave evidence for folks who have been told that disability is not as important as race, or that gender justice will have to wait until after class equality is won,” Mingus writes. “For folks who have been told that how you feel is less important than what you think; for those who don’t have the luxury of being able to rattle off 10, even 5, writers or books that reflect their identities or experiences…”
Before I move on to a review of Kate Bornstein’s book, I have to say that I feel so unbelievably fortunate, grateful, and privileged for my exposure to the memoirs, essays, and manifestos of numerous witchy and/or nerdy trans dykes, who are predominantly white and mostly abled-bodied, myself being a witchy, nerdy trans dyke who is white and mostly able-bodied.
Memoir is an important tool for survival and highlights the political nature of sharing our stories and remembering. It is important to know there are others like us out there who have paved the way for our liberation. Memoirs are also an important tool of witness, by which I mean being exposed to the struggles of people outside our own experiences and therefore make ourselves more effective allies. In the spirit of intersectionality—in our stories and struggles— I have listed some memoirs of other queer and trans authors, artists, and activists below. I would love if people added to this list via the comments section.
Now onto the review of A Queer and Pleasant Danger.
Kate’s work always weasels its way into my paws at such perfect moments. Gender Outlaw was gifted to me by an ex-partner when I first came out as transgender while living in a small town in Colorado. Back East and a couple years later, I eagerly awaited my pre-ordered copy of Hello Cruel World to arrive as I was processing an expansive foggy space between self-harm and harm reduction. I have not personally engaged in My Gender Workbook though have flipped through numerous well-marked copies while sitting in many a queer activist’s bathroom.
A Queer and Pleasant Danger (AQPD) came into my hands kind of by accident. As I am living in a tent in a small town in Maine and feeling a bit heart sick, I saw it on a friend’s dresser and offered to review it for them. Given my current situation. I was more than willing to snuggle up with Mama Kate as it poured rain outside for several days, with tiny snails, several spiders, and various kinds of ants seeking shelter in my magic femme enclave.
Kate frames AQPD as a means for Kate to communicate with her daughter and grandchildren while they are in the thralls of Scientology, a very intense, very scary cult religion founded by B-list scifi writer Ron L Hubbard. Kate was herself in such thralls for twelve years where she held distinguished roles, even serving under Hubbard himself, before being excommunicated entirely. I had known some of this from her previous books though not the whole chronological story. As someone who knows very little about Scientology, it was helpful that Kate integrated some history and logistics of the cult religion into the story.
Kate Bornstein is not someone who always stays on topic. Her narrative is cheeky and bold. She is unafraid to flit off in numerous directions like so many gorgeous, tortured fireflies. Still, the book comes across queerly and pleasantly colloquial. It was not a far stretch to imagine Kate sitting in my tent with me, processing the complicated relationships to her father and father-figure, Hubbard, recanting her struggles in being a boy, a girl, a man, a woman, and something entirely different, and discovering the emancipating qualities of BDSM and femme love. APQD also highlights the importance of Kate Bornstein as a queer and trans elder as her personal narrative weaves through underground cross-dressing culture, the AIDS crisis in the eighties, the murder of Brandon Teena, and into the contemporary transgender liberation movement. In one rather endearing moment in the book after a tense moment during a talk, Kate admits she is not an activist and her partner at the time replies, “you’re a mad, mad artist, my dear, and you are awfully cute.” Kate demonstrates that one can be an artist, a poet, a traveler, or whatever and still participate in activism and affect positive social change (while still highlighting the acquired skills and importance of seasoned activists).
My only caution to readers is in Kate Bornstein’s portrayal of her relationship to eating disorders and cutting, which is truthful to her own complicated experience though very graphic. If you also have a complicated relationship to eating disorders and/or cutting some of this book could be potentially triggering.
Kate Bornstein states she hopes to be famous so that her book may get noticed and possibly even read by her daughter or her grandchildren. However the case, I hope they do get to read AQPD and if not them then perhaps Kate’s great grandchildren or great great grandchildren. AQPD is destined to be an important relic for Kate’s future familial descendants and equally her story of survival and resilience will always be vital for transgender and gender deviant creatures in generations to come.
Before Night Falls Reinaldo Arenas
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name Audre Lorde
Notes on a Native Son James Baldwin
The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self Portrait Frida Kahlo
The Motion of Light on Water Samuel R Delany
Exile and Pride Eli Clare
The Last Time I Wore a Dress Dylan Scholinski
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Alison Bechdel
Mean Little deaf Queer Terry Galloway
Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels Mx. Justin Vivian Bond
Why Be Happy When You can be Normal? Jeanette Wintersen
(Note: Not all of these are strictly queer and trans but feature queer and trans writers)
Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology ed. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color ed. Gloria Anzaldua and Cherrie Moraga
Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation ed. Kate Bornstein and S Bear Bergman
Why Are Faggots so Afraid of Faggots? Ed. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme ed. Zena Sharman and Ivan E. Coyote
Live through This: On Creativity and Self Destruction ed. Sabina Chapadjiev
Without A Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class ed. Michelle Tea
Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism ed. Daisy Hernandez and S Bushra Rehman
Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption ed.Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinvere Oparah, and Sun Yung Shin
P.S. Above is what I picked up from my own and some friend’s shelves on Goodreads. Please add to it!