Before becoming the gender outlaw we know and love today, Kate Bornstein was Al Bornstein, husband, father, and strappingly handsome lieutenant of the Church of Scientology’s Sea flagship vessel. In this selection from her memoir,A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate details the events leading up to her excommunication from the Church.
In Europe, Scientologists wrote us checks made out to the Religious Research Foundation, a shell company that maintained a Swiss bank account that was in no way linked to the Church of Scientology. Any money we deposited would be used in the service of the Church without having to pass through any country’s tax system—it’s a common business practice used by many international organizations. Of course, L. Ron Hubbard had no connection with that Swiss account because it was vitally important to keep all his personal finances on the up-and-up so that no enemy of the Church could use any inadvertent financial glitch against him. But that was unthinkable—(a) because he was so powerful, and (b) because he had both the Sea Org and the Guardian’s Office to protect him, and we protected him fiercely.
So, life was . . . great. Thanks to my high income, I’d become a Sea Org star. Crew members actually lined up at the doors to send me off on tour, or welcome me home. It all came unraveled on a sunny autumn day in Zurich, 1982. I had just finished making a sizable deposit to the Swiss bank account. I was out on a quickie one-week tour on my own; Becky was back in Clearwater. This was my first time inside the bank’s home office. What a beautiful old place it was! The reverence for wealth was manifest in the severe architecture, lightly touched here and there with tasteful elegance.
To continue our remembrance of Leslie Feinberg, who passed away earlier this week, we put together a short list of recommended books—essential reading by some of the most unique and beloved voices from the transgender community, including Les hirself, to help to raise awareness of transgender issues and perspectives.
Those who were fortunate enough to hear Leslie Feinberg speak in person know how powerful and inspiring s/he was. Trans Liberation gathers a collection of Feinberg’s speeches on trans liberation and its essential connection to the liberation of all people. This wonderfully immediate, impassioned, and stirring book is for anyone who cares about civil rights and creating a just and equitable society.
Transgender Warriorsis a fascinating, personal journey through history. Leslie Feinberg uncovers persuasive evidence that there have always been people who crossed the cultural boundaries of gender. This is is an eye-opening jaunt through the history of gender expression and a powerful testament to the rebellious spirit.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. This past spring, she approached Beacon with the goal of bringing out some of our titles in audiobook format on Audible, and we couldn't be more excited to announce that the first few books are now available. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks, with Aretha Bright reviewing new titles. Today's post is a cross-post of two recent reviews.
This week is Transgender Awareness Week, and we're highlighting two new Audible titles that are enlightening listening for trans- and cis-gendered folks alike: A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein and Just Add Hormones by Matt Kailey.
Kate on Audio! -- Jewish Lesbian Tattooed Tranny, with a Titanium Knee & Scientologist Past
Kate Bornstein writes books condemned by Pope Benedict. She's a self-identified jewish lesbian tattooed masochist tranny, with a titanium knee. She's the definition of an outlaw! So how did she get this way?
A Queer and Pleasant Danger is Kate's memoir, broken into three parts: growing up a Jewish boy in New Jersey, joining Scientology as an adult (and leaving 12 years later), and finally, transitioning into a woman, coming out as a lesbian, and joining the BDSM culture. Who says getting old is a drag?
Kate's story is a deliciously matter-of-fact narrative, narrated by Alice Rosengard. Alice, coincidentally, went to college with Kate when she was known as "Al." They were friends! She called Kate up and they collaborated on the narration process— an unusual and delightful reunion.
Matt Kailey Lays It Out -- The Transssexual Experience
Author Matt Kailey answers all the questions cisgendered people might be too polite to ask--- about what it's like to change from living as a woman, to living as a man.
Just Add Hormones has behind-the-scenes details on the female to male transitioning process, with both humor and serious contemplation.
This bookassumes you don't know about the process already, and explains the basics while moving into every detail. —From the therapist sessions to the chest surgery, the testosterone shots to the "clit-dick!"
We're launching a new feature on the blog to give you the low-down on top media hits for our recent books and buzz for our upcoming releases. Let us know what you think in the comments!
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 by Kate Bornstein
Entertainment Weekly.com’s Shelf Life column lists 8 books that should be bestsellers according to Goodreads. A Queer and Pleasant Danger is #6. The mention runs with a large cover and Entertainment Weekly calls it a: “one-of-a-kind memoir.” Entertainment Weekly.com
Bobrow-Strain’s mention in the New York Times’ dinning section is now online. The article by Jeff Gordinier, has been picked up by the Seattle Times, The Honolulu Star, and various online resources. NYT Dining Section Online
A Twist of Faith: An American Christian's Quest to Help Orphans in Africa by John Donnelly
Booklist Online Review of the Day, July 09; booklist.com and posted on Booklist’s Facebook and Twitter. “Compelling beyond belief, deserving the broadest possible readership… this is a tour de force about one American city and what it means to fight for the survival of your hometown.”
“Those you send to war may come home with souls unclean and hearts drowning in bitter mistrust. But the need for purification after battle has vanished into the blind spot of our culture. We neither offer it to returning veterans, nor remember that we—for whose sake, in whose name, our soldiers went to war—need purification with them. Potent challengers of conventional thinking, rich in heart, those who speak here are voices you will not forget.” —Jonathan Shay, MD, PhD, author of Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character and Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, former Omar Bradley Chair of Strategic Leadership, US Army War College, MacArthur Fellow.
"Very important and deeply moving. I strongly recommend it.” --James H. Cone, author of The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Kirkus Reviews: “The authors’ accomplishment stands on its own, but their book also serves as a great introduction to a shared past that ought to be better known.”
Gather at the Table is an honest exploration into the deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice, as the authors work through their own prejudices in search of reconciliation--and ultimately find friendship.--Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate
“Tanya Erzen ventures into ‘the Twilight zone’ in this compelling and ultimately sympathetic foray into fan culture, exploring the appeal of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books and movies in a postfeminist age. Erzen argues that what fans do with a text is as important as, or even more important than, the text itself. Part Cinderella Ate My Daughter andpart Reviving Ophelia, Erzen’s book is my own personal brand of heroin.”--Jana Riess, author of What Would Buffy Do? and Flunking Sainthood
A Queer and Pleasant Danger is one of the books you can win if you enter our Pride Month Book Giveaway. For more info, visit: www.beacon.org/queervoices.
"If Kate Bornstein didn't exist, we would have to invent her. But luckily for queers, straights, gender outlaws, and general readers, Bornstein is out and out there." --Dan Savage
And now, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is out and out there as well! It's been about a month since the release of Kate Bornstein's memoir, and the media, blogs, and Twitter have been lit up all over with love for this book. Here's a quick roundup of her recent blog tour and other mentions.
Bornstein's tale of disaffection from Scientology has a sense of intrigue—it involves Swiss bank accounts, a rogue group of executives leading a series of purges, and hours of intimidating interrogations—but really, it's the same story we see repeated again and again. After years of superhuman dedication, financial sacrifice, and hermetically sealing themselves from outside influences, one by one, longtime Scientologists tend to reach the same precipice. Forced out through interrogations, disconnected from family members, and simply exhausted by the constant fundraising, many veteran church members go into free fall as they are declared suppressive or simply break away. Some then become the targets of retaliation known as "fair game," which is a well-documented history of using church-hired private eyes and legal harassment.
But Al had other concerns after being suddenly kicked to the curb. He returned home to New Jersey and, three years later, was ready to become Kate. In this revealing book, we learn some particulars about her surgery. And then, there's this rather remarkable little detail: On January 24, 1986, Kate legally changed her name—and remained unaware until much later that on that same day, L. Ron Hubbard died.
Officially, it was a transition for both of them. The church has maintained to this day that Hubbard chose to leave his corporeal body in order to pursue even higher levels of spiritual training somewhere in the galaxy. And Kate—well, she had her own new frontiers to explore.
In the Boston Phoenix, Thomas Page McBee tells Kate he gave a copy of My Gender Workbook to his mom, and they discuss how writing the memoir was different than writing her previous books.
"Most people don't think about, 'Well, if I remember back to a certain time in my life would I be able to embody that person who I was?" And, frankly, when I sat down to write the memoir I didn't think I was going to be able to. But then I started writing myself in the first-person boy — man — that I was, and it was easy. I just told the truth of it without judging myself. And yeah, it has helped me resolve a lot. Writing that book has helped me come to — a lot closer to not man, not woman, and both. And that's the kind of state of grace that I aspire to."
In an interview with Nicole Pasulka in Mother Jones, Kate talks about Judaism, Scientology, and being transgender:
"Growing up we were secular Jews, but what I got out of Judaism at that time in my life was questions. Everything was a question. "Dad, is there a heaven? Is there a hell?" You never could get an answer. That informed a lot of my reasons for getting into Scientology, because they had all the answers. They said I was not my body, not my mind. I don't have a soul; I am an immortal soul. I've lived many lives and I'll live endlessly into the future, and as an immortal soul I have no gender.
Now this is a big deal, because I never wanted to be a boy, and I didn't want to grow up to be a man."
Pop Matters (10 of 10): "But what Bornstein ultimately teaches us is that non-normal, or beyond normal, can be fun, challenging, but most of all rewarding. We need to accept expressive fluidity and understand that life is not a solo performance, but the actors certainly will change."
Lambda Literary: "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."
Religion Dispatches: "QAPD is at least three books in one, each of which is a page-turner. The first part is a powerful, at times painful, autobiography of a transgender woman growing up before the category even existed. In some ways, LGBT-youth-memoir is a conventional narrative, but Bornstein has never been conventional and—Goddess help us—never will be. If QAPD ended at page 54, it would be a must-read for anyone interested in transgender, queer theory, or LGBT lives more generally.
But then there’s part two, on Bornstein’s twelve years in Scientology, and part three, on her eventual liberation, transition, and embrace of her kinky, post-gender, post-fame self. (Bornstein’s new book gives her status as a “cult hero” a whole new meaning.) These are also two complete books, and also indispensable."
en|Gender "We were lucky enough to have Kate read us a chapter – the one on her expulsion from Scientology – a few years ago on a drive from Appleton, WI – where I’d convinced her to come speak at Lawrence University – to the big queer midwest college conference in Madison, WI, where she was the keynote speaker. Sometimes it’s striking what kinds of things you remember, things that maybe no one else would, but anyone – anyone and their favorite aunt – would definitely remember eating Taco Bell with Kate Bornstein in a car on a Wisconsin interstate while she reads to you from her as-yet-unpublished memoir."
io9: "How I Helped L. Ron Hubbard Take Over the Planet" "On the subject of taking over the planet, Scientology staff worldwide were at an emotional tone of 3.75, between Strong Interest and Enthusiasm. On the subject of doing their own jobs, however, the international tone level dropped to 0.95, smack-dab in the middle of Numbness and Terror. "Gotcha!" exclaimed the Old Man, pounding his desk for emphasis. He outlined his plan to bring worldwide Scientology staff upscale to where their feelings about their jobs matched their feelings about taking over planet Earth. Because staff were so low-toned emotionally, we had to pitch the first campaign at a level of Anger (1.5). We watched the statistics as they came in at the next week-ending. Damned stats went up, pretty near one for one. There was much celebration aboard the Flagship that night. LRH's breakthrough in public relations had worked like a charm, which, in a way, it was."
Queer Fat Femme: "I’ve read a lot of Kate’s theory and seen her perform and keynote events but never got the full scoop of what she’s gone through. I mean, the process of getting to be a charming babe like Kate Bornstein is no less than spectacular."
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
“I was born male and now I’ve got medical and government documents that say I’m female—but I don’t call myself a woman, and I know I’m not a man. . . .”
Scientologist, husband and father, tranny, sailor, slave, playwright, dyke, gender outlaw—these are just a few words which have defined Kate Bornstein during her extraordinary life. For the first time, it all comes together in A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein’s stunningly original memoir that’s set to change lives and enrapture readers.
Wickedly funny and disarmingly honest, this is Bornstein’s most intimate book yet. With wisdom, wit, and an unwavering resolution to tell the truth (“I must not tell lies”), Bornstein shares her story: from a nice Jewish boy growing up in New Jersey to a strappingly handsome lieutenant of the Church of Scientology’s Sea flagship vessel, and later to 1990s Seattle, where she becomes a rising star in the lesbian community. In between there are wives and lovers, heartbreak and triumph, bridges mended and broken, and a journey of self-discovery that will mesmerize readers.
"A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a brave, funny, edgy, and enlightening new memoir. I loved it and learned from it. Kate Bornstein shares her fascinating journey—through gender, Scientology, and more—and it was a thrill to tag along on the ride. This book is unbelievably powerful and affecting. If Kate Bornstein didn't exist, we would have to invent her. But luckily for queers, straights, gender outlaws, and general readers, Bornstein is out and out there." —Dan Savage, author, columnist, and architect of the "It Gets Better Project"
"To me, Kate Bornstein is like a mythological figure or a historical literary character such as Orlando or Candide who, by illustrating her struggles, shows the rest of us how to live. This book is destined to become a classic." —Mx Justin Vivian Bond, author of Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels
"Kate Bornstein's journey from moon-eyed Scientologist to queer icon is harrowing, heartbreaking, and amazing. This narrative is surely not for the squeamish. And yet, in the story of a sea-dog named Al who became a trans goddess named Kate, we see the messy, unsettling, inspiring struggle of a lady trying—and at last succeeding—to let her own soul be known. Disturbing and wondrous." —Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There and I'm Looking Through You
“I read A Queer and Pleasant Danger over four nights in a bathtub and bed and was totally transported to Kate Bornstein’s world. Kate boldly lets us look under the hood of her own transformations as Jew, Scientologist, boy, girl, Buddhist and parent, leaving us with a richer understanding of the true identity underneath: human. A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a page turner, making sweet love to the paradoxes we all face." —Amanda Palmer, musician and co-founder of The Dresden Dolls
"Bornstein is hilarious, honest, acerbic, and fearless in her writing…QAPD is at least three books in one, each of which is a page-turner."—Religion Dispatches
"Breathless, passionate, and deeply honest, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a wonderful book. Read it and learn."—Samuel R. Delany, author of Dhalgren