Kate Bornstein in Chicago

By , November 1, 2011 4:49 pm

Had a chance to see Kate Bornstein speak today at Chicago Kent College of Law, which was lovely. My dad teaches at the law school, and I found out about the event through him. My notes are kind of disjointed, since I was only jotting down things that struck with me and don’t have the whole arching narrative of her presentation. That said, here are some things that stuck with me.

Kate talked a lot about things which were familiar to me, even if much of the audience hadn’t been previously exposed. Things like identity politics, the importance of allowing existence outside the binary, and how hierarchical systems of identity (where this age/gender/race/religion/class/etc is better than that age/gender/race/religion/class/etc) inherently create problems.

I liked her Venn diagram about “why live?” a question she examined in Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide. Kate argued that our whole person-hood consists of overlapping components of Identity (sex/gender/race/all that other stuff), Desire (what we want) and Power (our ability to get what we want). More specifically, they’re all interconnected: Our ability to get what we desire depends in part on our power which depends in part on our identity which depends in part on our desires, and so on and on.

Part of the reason binary systems create problems, she said, is that they limit all three of those components of our personhood. As she put it (which I love), “To see in binary is to lose your imagination.” (That may not be word-for-word, but that’s the idea.)

I also liked her post-modern examination of suicide, saying that the thoughts themselves aren’t “bad,” but it becomes a question of how to handle them. Killing off that component of one’s self, whatever is causing the pain or anguish, is A-OK, and is how suicidal desires should be looked at. Rather than an excuse to end everything.

I also loved her crazy acronym replacement for LGBT which, lets face it, usually just means LG and often just white-presentable-G. She had BLGTQQHAAASSSDDDIFFFBBMWGTKPPPEEAA. Lets see if I can remember all of em (EDIT: I couldn’t but a commentor directed me to the original doc at http://katebornstein.typepad.com/files/talking-points-post-trans-march-10.pdf):


Heterosexual queer (something arguable, but interesting in the goal of inclusion)
Allied – Kate put allied up, but crossed it out. She said, which I liked, she wants allies, but doesn’t know she wants them included in this alphabet soup community.
Sex worker
Drag Queens
Drag Kings
Drag Royalty
Two Spirit
Queer Artificial Intelligence
Ad infinitum

She summed all the above into Sex Positive Gender Anarchist, which can be rearranged to the lovely GASP.

All in all, it was great meeting her and getting to hear her speak. She said she had a chance to watch some of No Gender Left Behind on the plane, which was really sweet of her. Nice meeting people you look up to, and have them be awesome in person, too. Yay!

(Also, today is my birthday. Double yay!)

9 Responses to “Kate Bornstein in Chicago”

  1. Juliana says:

    Hm, I could get into being a Sex Positive Gender Anarchist, I think. I identify as straight and cis, but as a sex positive, poly and kinky woman I feel that I have a number of interests in common with this group of people (though I am aware that I am coming from a position of significant privilege), in addition to being concerned about equality for ethical reasons.

    “Heterosexual queer” sounds pretty arguable to me, but how exactly is this defined?

    • Mym says:

      I argue in favour of it; there are plenty of ways to be queer while hetero. Pegging, for example, is pretty queer.

    • Rebecca says:

      Kate didn’t really go into it, but I’d agree with Mym that there are straight-but-not-narrow people who might purely be boring ole’ monogamous heterosexuals, while still involved in the kink scene or more open discussions of gender/sexuality. That said, they probably fall into other areas of that long list.

  2. Danny says:


    I’m Danny, Co-President of the Law School’s Lambdas. It was great to meet you at the Kate event. I’m really glad that you enjoyed Kate. We were really passionate about bringing her to school, and it means a lot that the event had an impact on people. Thanks for posting about this.

    P.S. I found your blog through twitter (Emily A follows you, and I follow her). So, now I follow you, too!

    p.p.s. Emily will NOT shut up about how cool you are.

    • Rebecca says:

      It was great meeting you, too! It was wonderful seeing such an interesting speaker at Kent, and I hope to see lots more nifty people.

      PS – I’ll be sure to return the following favor

      PPS – She’s pretty neat herself. Of course, if she really wanted to prove how cool I am, you should bring me as a speaker to some event 😉

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