Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman

Sixteen years ago, Kate Bornstein published a land mark book in the transgender community, titled Gender Outlaws: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. It became a landmark work, exploring gender roles, attitudes and the fact that there are far more than just two genders. Now, in the year 2010, Kate and her co-author Bear Bergman have brought forth this generation’s version, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.

Kate Bornstein, born into a male body in 1948, transitioned to a woman in 1986, and settled into the lesbian community as an author, playwright and gender theorist. However, while she definitely did not feel that she was a male, she also questioned whether or not she was female, stating that her transition to such was because it was the only other option to being male available to her. She launched into explorations of the gender binary and questioned the rigid idea that that only two polarities of gender – male or female – exist. Her books include Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure (Novel, co-authored with Caitlin Sullivan), My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely and Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.

Bear Bergman’s story comes from the opposite side of the gender fence. Ze was born in 1974, and is an activist, writer, theater performance artist and poet. Bear’s work and life questions all facets of gender and gender expression. Hir’s books include Butch is a Noun, The Nearest Exit May be Behind You, and now, with Bornstein, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation.

Gender Outlaws: the Next Generation is an anthology containing an Introduction, an Intermission and an Epilogue by Kate and Bear; and many essays, poems, and comics all profoundly exploring, deconstructing, rebuilding and revaluing the concept of “gender”. Also included is one recipe for vegan curry.

I love the multitude of voices in this book, the varieties of viewpoints and artistic expressions! The book is divided into five parts; Do I Look Like an Outlaw to You?, Being Reconfigured is Not the Same as Being Reimagined…Which is Why I am as Cute as I Happen to Be, It Might Not Be a Picnic, But There’s a Great Buffet, and the final, powerful, And Still We Rise.

Part one; Do I Look Like an Outlaw to You? opens with the essay “We’re All Somebody’s Freak” by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, founder of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Going straight for the heart of the matter, and setting the pace for the rest of the anthology, Smith questions the prejudices and barriers that exist within the transgender community towards each other.

In Part Two entitled “Being Reconfigured is Not the Same as Being Reimagined”, “Taking Up Space” by Kyle Lukoff, addresses the powerful issues of eating disorders and transgenderism. “The Wrong Body” by Scott Turner Schofield deals with the question of the bodies we are born into.

Part Three, “…which is Why I am as Cute as I Happen to Be” has one of the most humorous pieces in the book, “The Secret Life of My Wiener” by Corry Schmanke Parrish, as well as the return of a black belt martial artist to the mats and gyms once denied her in “Living Well and Coming Free”, by Ryka Aoki.

In Part Four, “It Might Not Be a Picnic, But There’s a Great Buffet”, “The Manly Art of Pregnancy” by j wallace explores being a man and pregnant, a scenario that is having more and more impact in today’s society. “Transgressing Gender at Passover with Jesus!” by Peterson Toscano restories one of the Bible’s great stories in transgender terms, and “Today’s New Name May Be Tomorrow’s Old” by Sassafras Lowry confronts the taboo subject of transitioning and then de-transitioning in the trans subculture.

Finally, Part Five, And Still We Rise takes on the tragedy of abuse and murder that haunts transgenders today, giving powerful voice to the violence we face. “Princess” a comic by Christine Smith addresses humorously but with great force, bullying issues faced in the schools. “Marsha P Johnson::ten suns the transformer” is an elegy for Marsha P Johnson, a famous Drag Queen whose death was possibly murder, but ruled a suicide. “Shot, Stabbed, Choked, Strangled, Broken: a ritual for November 20th” by Roz Kaveney is a haunting poem for the victims remembered on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. These are only parts of this stunning anthology – 47 authors, poets and artists all told speak out on the fluidity, the power and the changes in gender in the world today.

The book is bracketed by conversations between Bear Bergman and Kate Bornstein, a rollicking walk down memory lane of their association and the changes in the transgender community, (I am still boggled by mental images of Sarah Palin and Kate Bornstein on a desert island!) and a look to the future of Gender to come. It is not just a book about transgender, but about gender itself, how it is shaped in society and how it shapes individuals and how those individuals continue to stand societal conventions on end.

There are some shocking and unsettling moments in the book – “In Our Skin” by A. P. Andre and Luis Guterierrez Mock is the transcript of an erotic performance piece (complete with photographs) of love making on stage that bends gender in dramatic ways. This piece will be startling and perhaps difficult for individuals who pick this book up to read with no previous contact with transgender and gender bending cultures. “Jihad” by Azadeh Arsanjani and “Pilgrimage” by Zev Al-Walid are powerful, much needed essays of transgenderism within the Muslim faith that may also be unexpected and disconcerting in today’s political climate. All told, this book in its entirety is a powerful cohesive exploration of gender that speaks forth- rightly and with depth, poignancy and humor to a world that faces bewildering changes in the map of gender roles and expressions in the world today.

It would be my hope that “Gender Outlaws: the Next Generation” may reach a wide audience; not just those within the transgender community, but instead, travel even further to the world at large, becoming this generation’s contributions to the changes in gender in our world. I cannot recommend it highly enough! Finally, the books dedication to Bear Bergman’s son, Stanley Safran Bergman says it all – “…to the next generation”.


  1. Congratulations, Cameron, on your first professional review as this will also appear with both Midwest Book Review and Amazon. And thank you for the opportunity to review for WordWeaving as it has been several years since any review has posted under that name (as you kindly lent your words to that logo at Amazon). Your review is thoughtful, insightful and intelligent. Indeed, it’s a review that I’m proud to include under WordWeaving.

  2. Thanks for this post, Cameron! I didn't know that a new book building on the original Gender Outlaw is now available. It sounds really interesting so will try to pick up a copy and read it.

    And what queer book would be complete without a recipe for vegan curry?!?

  3. Well, first of all, can I say I know where my next free money to spend is going? This is most assuredly something I want on my bookshelf and something I will share with friends.

    Also, the review itself is great because if this book did /not/ touch upon something important to me, I would still want to pick up and give it a try after reading this engaging and thoughtful analysis.
    Thank you!

  4. Now this is a book review! Don't see many (any???) like this anymore. :-(

    It's as engaging as the book promises to be and not surprisingly makes one want to buy the book even though the subject matter may not pertain to them personally. Excellent job, Hannah!

    I'm off now to add this to my reading wishlist and I promise it will be one of the first I read after retirement.

    Love you!

  5. well done.
    Since I have a number of transgendered friends this one is going on my to read list.