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Transgender icon Kate Bornstein’s long awaited memoir A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today (Beacon Press) gifts readers with a brutally beautiful intimate look into the life of one of our communities most brilliant and canonical writers. Going deeper than Gender Outlaws, Bornstein drops the theory and tells the stories that led to her becoming the performer, activist, and leader so many of us have come to know today. Bornstein brings her readers through the childhood of a boy who desperately wanted to be daddy’s little girl who struggled to fit into his family, community, and body into Scientology, and later her decision to transition and her journey into an S/M Dyke. Bornstein has truly outdone herself with this long awaited memoir.
In each chapter Bornstein playfully, in her unique style, feeds us such heartbreak that at times I found myself literally laughing through sobs. Woven through the memoir, though never cliché are Bornstein’s admitted “Daddy issues.” Exploring her relationship to her own father, the searching for a “Daddy” that led her into Scientology, and ultimately the fractured identity as the father of her little girl Jessica. Once a high-ranking member of the Church of Scientology, Bornstein eloquently and playfully sheds light on this mysterious religious institution. Exploration of religious organizations is not a theme I have much personal interest in, and in other books I would have simply flipped to the next chapter. And yet, even here Bornstein captivated me. She spoke of being drawn into the inner workings of the church and forthrightly talked about her rise to power before ultimately being shunned and exiled. Bornstein is, we learn, considered to be a “subversive person” and we learn how she ultimately became shunned and exiled. Ultimately she is labeled a “suppressive person,” a status that defines her as dangerous to other church members, and bars anyone including her own daughter, Jessica, from being in contact with her.
In A Queer and Pleasant Danger Bornstein offers a raw exploration of her gender journey, including candid explorations of her lifelong eating disorders and their relationship to her conception of self and gender. Bornstein gives us the opportunity to see behind the scenes and into the early gender outlaw days of one of the most brilliant gender theorists and performance artists of our time. We watch as she grapples with coming out as a lesbian, learning how to work cute as an embodiment of gender, and find power in the body she transforms. Bornstein brings us into her early activist days, including a trip to the trial of Brandon Tina’s murders, visiting the house where Tina died, as well as to the stage of her first queer performance work.
Bornstein does not shy away from the dark, and controversial. She writes, too, in great and brave detail about cutting and the powerful force it has and continues to play in her life. This is not a tortured recovering self injury memoir, this is real, and Kate bleeds her struggles, truth and pain onto the page for readers. She gives us her truth, bringing strength and honour to what so many consider to be shameful demons. A surprisingly brilliant theme was Kate’s ongoing relationship to S/M kink. The candidness and honesty with which she spoke about her exploration into sensation based play, as well as D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationship dynamics offering some of the most exquisite writing on these themes in print to date.
Ultimately Bornstein has written us a profoundly brave book that cracked me open, leaving me quivering and grateful for the stories I hadn’t known I’d needed to hear. A Queer and Pleasant Danger is truly a singular achievement and gift to the generations of queers who consider her our Auntie, and all those who will follow.