Kate Bornstein: 'Don't Be Mean'

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Kate Bornstein didn’t go through with her sex change operation with the intention of tackling gender theory.  “No, I went through my gender change with the intention of being pretty,” the artist and author said at a performance last year at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I never set out to deconstruct a gender binary. I didn’t have a clue of what that is. I just wanted to be a pretty girl.”

But 22 years after going under the knife, Bornstein has four books, countless performances, an entire system of postmodern gender theory, and a new coalition of sex positivity to show for her work, as highlighted in the Summer/Fall issue of Shameless.

Bornstein’s performances focus heavily on pleasure and joy, and avoid excluding those of us who might not relate too closely to a “transsexual polyamorous sadomasochistic dyke pornographer,” as she calls herself. Though her entire audience isn’t always queer, Bornstein acknowledges everyone’s identity despair in her perfomances and books, most notably in Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws, now in its third printing.

The article’s author and Shameless editor Megan Griffith-Greene tames the tone of Bornstein’s lectures for the magazine aimed at teenage girls, and focuses mostly on the artist’s credo: “Don’t be mean.”

“The world needs more kind people in it, no matter who or what they do,” Bornstein writes on her blog. “The world is healthier because of its outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all those categories.”

Shameless took a chance in celebrating such a subversive figure among essays about summer camp and female inventors, but it’s a positive sign that the indie publication is filling a much-needed niche, and that Bornstein’s refuse-to-be-silent words are being heard.

“I’m giving myself permission to feel sexy,” Bornstein said at the VCU performance. “and that’s making life a whole lot more worth living for me right now. It’s giving me some time for myself that’s not all about politics and art. It’s just about joy. So do you feel sexy?”

Image courtesy of Kate Bornstein.

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