Kate Bornstein on social justice, Scientology, breaking social barriers
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 07:09
The Tufts Social Leadership Initiative is hosting Kate Bornstein in Cohen Auditorium today for a lecture entitled: “World Peace through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity.” If that title isn’t enough to get you interested, the Daily had the opportunity to interview Bornstein about the upcoming event, her experiences in Scientology and being one of the first people to say that there’s more to gender than just a man and a woman.
Tufts Daily: Tell me a little about what your talk is going to focus on this Monday at Tufts.
Kate Bornstein: I’m coming up to Tufts to speak on social justice. There have been attempts of coalition of marginalized people in the United States for a long time, but people keep getting left out. People that get left out a lot are people with mental health issues, people with disabilities, people with different genders, people with different sexualities or even activists fighting on behalf of equity on any of those four systems.
I’m looking to forge a true coalition of the margins. I think there are 15 spaces of cultural regulation, and gender and sexuality are only two of them. So are looks, so is disability, so is mental health, so is religion, race, age, class: 15 in total. What I want to show is how what I’ve learned from my analysis of gender as a transgender person, how that can be brought to bear to deconstruct the binaries that the other 14 spaces of regulation are masquerading as.
TD: And could you talk a little about your experience in university?
KB: I graduated from Brown [University] in 1969. I was not out and trans when I was in college. It was not a safe time. Stonewall hadn’t even happened... the Stonewall revolution in New York City in June of ’69
was in response to Judy Garland’s death and was initiated by drag queens. Trans people actually started the gay revelation, and I didn’t know it — I had no idea at the time.
TD: So when did you come out as transgender?
KB: Well, I took a sharp wrong turn after graduate school. I got into Brandeis [University] graduate school for acting — I’m a good actor. I stayed for a year and I thought, “Well, okay, I can act, but why? What’s the good of it? What purpose is it going to serve?” And I went off to find the answer to the world’s problems.
Sadly, after a few stops, I ran into Scientology and stayed there for 12 years, which is a whole lot more embarrassing than saying “Hi, I’m transsexual.” I got out of Scientology in ‘81, and three years after that I came out as transsexual — transgender wasn’t an umbrella term back then.
TD: Could you talk a little about your experiences within Scientology?
KB: I was raised in a secular Jewish family
[We] went to synagogue once a week just to show up. Whenever I did speak with a Rabbi
all I got [were] more questions. I wanted answers. When I was getting out of graduate school I needed answers, and Scientology had answers.
Scientology, right as it is now, is in a very fundamentalist stage of its development. So
you do it their way or the highway
It’s system of good and bad, right and wrong, evil and good — that’s the way it was in Scientology, and it was comforting.
I was first mate on Elrond Hubbard’s private yacht — the founder of Scientology — and it started out as a grand adventure. It became a living hell. People were mean to other people, and that finally got me. When I finally left Scientology
I found out that Elrond Hubbard was skimming off a lot of the money for himself, and he had told us all along that he wasn’t. That did it for me and I left.
I was married twice when I was in Scientology, and I was still a guy, and my daughter was born into the church of Scientology. She was nine years old when I left, and she just turned 40 on the Fourth of July. She’s not allowed to talk with me. She’s still in the Church of Scientology [and] she’s not allowed to receive any communication from me or communicate with me.
That’s their canon, that’s how they deal with things — they shun. Many fundamentalist practices have shunning, and the penalties for violating that shunning are dreadful. Including up to years of imprisonment — they have their own private prisons. Instead of trying to reach out to my daughter — I did for a while, and then realized that she wasn’t going to get in touch — I wrote a memoir, called “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” (2012). I hope that it gets into my daughter’s hands one day.
TD: Gender is obviously a huge part of what you do and what you are trying to do.
KB: When I went through my gender change in 1985-1986, I was turning 40 myself. At that time there was one medical route. I had a choice: I could be a drag queen, I could be a transsexual or I could be a closet transvestite. Those were really the only choices for me.