I've been somewhat familiar with Kate Bornstein's life and work since studying sections of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us in a college Queer Theory class, so I was really eager to read her new memoir as soon as I heard about it. This definitely didn't disappoint, but it wasn't entirely what I expected. Though Bornstein struggled with gender identity since childhood, she transitioned fairly late in life, so relatively little of her memoir has to do with living as a transperson. That's okay, though, cause Bornstein has had a unique life even aside from her gender transformation.
The writing style makes this quite a light, entertaining read -- it's a bit chatty and rambling, with lots of jokes and tangents thrown in. Her likeable personality really shines through. Sometimes Bornstein will highly embellish an event and then 3 pages later will confess that the entire incident was all a lie. About the important stuff, though, she writes candidly -- even when telling the truth makes her look like less than a spectacular person.
So, I suppose a brief summary is in order. Bornstein was born (then Albert) into a fairly average, upper-middle class Jewish family on the Jersey Shore. His father was a super-macho doctor, and Al could never be masculine enough to please him. As a teenage hippie traveling the country, Al stumbles upon Scientology, where the concept of genderless "thetans" holds a unique appeal to the boy who has been hiding the belief that he's a girl for most of his life. He joins up, enlists in their Sea Org, and serves for a decade on a ship right alongside L. Ron Hubbard, until he's summarily kicked out (for reasons that are too convoluted to go into here, so read the damn book). Along the way, he marries three different women in an attempt to "pray the trans away", and has a daughter, Jessica, who he last saw when she was around five years old. He also struggles with depression, alcohol and drug addiction, anorexia, and self-injury. Eventually he sobers up, gets into therapy, starts living as a woman, gets genital reassignment surgery, and discovers she is a lesbian.
There's obviously a whole lot more to it than that, but it's a hell of a life story. There are some really hard parts to read, though. Bornstein's whole reason for writing the book is to reach out to her now-adult daughter in hopes that they will one day reconnect. It's heartbreaking. Additionally, this book should really come with a trigger warning
for eating disorders and cutting/SI. I wish someone had warned me, and I'm not usually that sensitive to triggers. Finally, there's a section in the last third of the book that gets pretty heavily into BDSM, and is quite graphic. Just so's you guys know.