By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—
In late January, I saw Kate Bornstein at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Conn. If you don’t know Kate, she is a trans woman who is a gender theorist and author of several books on gender. Kate has been writing and doing presentations about gender since the early 1990s and her work is always quite thought-provoking.
Kate began her presentation by commenting on the “tipping point” for transgender people. She observed that trans people have become mainstream and now she wants to move towards a new “tipping point” of non-binary and genderqueer people. Kate defined non-binary as not subscribing to either the male or female gender while genderqueer was similar, but different because genderqueer is more outside of the box and very noticeable. Think of non-binary as rather subtle and genderqueer as “feathers and spurs,” as she described.
She also told us that the word “transgender” has come to mean what it did back when it was first coined by Virginia Prince in the early 1980s. To be a transgender person was originally meant to have the need to live your life in the gender opposite of your gender assigned at birth. Kate said that she and the late Leslie Feinberg changed the meaning of transgender to be an umbrella term to include anyone who challenged gender norms at any level whether it was occasional crossdressing, living full-time as the gender opposite to the one assigned at birth and all of the other variations in between and outside of the two groups. Today the word “transgender” has returned to its original Virginia Prince meaning, according to Kate.
She then shared her thoughts on the word, “tranny.” She prefaced by saying that she fully realizes that the majority of trans people find the word greatly offensive but that the origin of this word came from within the community back in the 70s and 80s. Back then, there were different variations in the community such as queens who live full time, drag queens and cross-dressers, etc., and they all disagreed with each other regarding their views of gender but they came up with a word that united them all, “tranny.” To be a tranny made everyone become part of the family. She was very sad to see it turn into a pejorative and now she wants to restore that word to its original intended meaning.
Kate also talked about being a cast member in season two of “I am Cait,” the Caitlyn Jenner reality series. She said that Caitlyn is one of her best friends and a wonderful person who is a good sport and a champion for trans people. She also told us of a difference of opinion that she had with Caitlyn. Kate told us that in episode two, while the whole group of trans women were riding on the bus, Kate was feeling a bit mischievous so she suddenly and without warning blurted out the question “Hillary or Trump?” Caitlyn immediately went into this anti-Hillary, anti-Obama, anti-democrat tirade and the other girls just watched her rant. Kate said that Caitlyn sounded like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News all wrapped up into one! Kate further shared that Caitlyn is a right-wing nut job and that all the other gals are left-wing nut jobs so they all decided that whenever the discussion of politics gets too heated that they all would break into singing “God bless America” to diffuse the tension. I’m thinking they may have sung a lot!
Most likely, because of her brush with death in her fight with two cancers, lung and leukemia, Kate has softened over the years with her actions. She said that she used to be more “in your face” with her “outlaw” ideas of gender but now she is more peaceful and she uses humor to get her ideas across. She mentioned that we should learn our opponent’s views, understand them and then use humor to win them over to our side because it works much better than yelling at your opponent, deriding their views, and calling them names.
Kate also said that she is now using humor in working on her new book, which will be titled “Trans! For the Fun of It!” In it she aims to further educate folks about gender and to bring the trans community together as a family again.
Wrapping it up, it was a great and very thought-provoking night. I love it when you see someone who opens your eyes to new thoughts and makes your head spin. I heartily recommend that everyone see her. You won’t regret it!
*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is a trans woman who has 3 grown children and is retired from 3M. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.