Thursday, February 25, 2010

pass it on

by a. broad
On Monday night, as I walked through slush and tried not to slip on any remaining ice, this thought passed vaguely through my head: "I'm carrying Kate Bornstein's pizza." And yes, it's true, I was. My girlfriend, badass that she is, had organized a workshop and talk with Kate and we were walking her back to her hotel via one of the local pizza places after the concluding performance. Kate Bornstein, in case you don't know her work--and it's entirely likely you don't, unless you or somebody you love is a self-proclaimed gender deviant--is an author, performer, and one of my first gender inspirations, so it's no large wonder that I was feeling a little surreal as I followed our group down a snowy street, holding the takeout order in my gloved hands.

It was late 2004 or early 2005 when a friend handed me a copy of Gender Outlaw--at the time I was utterly obsessed with drag kings and was also a total gender novice and maybe my friend knew what I needed to read more than I knew what I should be looking for--and it was one of those rare instances where I literally felt a shift inside myself, a large-scale reorganization of ideas. In no uncertain terms, Kate Bornstein probably fucked with my head more than anybody else I've read in recent and not-so-recent memory; as I recall, I was so freaked out that I was literally vibrating with enthusiasm for weeks. Because that's how I react to revolutionary knowledge: I go manic, preach at my friends about whatever idea I just had, whatever new thing I learned that has me all worked up. It's actually something I love about myself, the energy that I get from new knowledge, because it reminds me how amazing the world is and how much I appreciate it. Who can learn such fantastic things and stay stolid and unemotional? My enthusiasm, my joy, keeps me human and alive.

I had never really considered or even known about gender variance beyond "straight", "gay", and a very specific form of "transgendered", at least in more than a very academic and theoretical sense, and suddenly here was this person telling me that those categories were not only restrictive but, far more importantly, that the opportunity to transcend them was all around me. This wasn't just about words, or boxes, or even ideas, although those things were part of it; she broke the theory barrier and showed me that this was real, that there were people who understood things I couldn't even wrap my head around, that they existed and were living actual lives that I had never even imagined. Sometimes an idea is simply not enough. Sometimes you need a role model, somebody to show you that the living, breathing expression of an idea is possible and maybe even a lot of fun. For me and for a lot people I know, Gender Outlaw gave us something to work off of.

In any case, I never would have predicted that five years later I'd be carrying Kate Bornstein's pizza, that I would have eaten dinner with her and that she would kiss my copy of her book--my second, because I gave my first to my dear friend when he started questioning gender and I knew he needed a voice to listen to. He was at the talk too, and I saw him go up to her and tell her what that had meant to him, her book and her ideas and her self, and I almost teared up because I'm so happy for us all. We're reading and learning and passing on our knowledge to others, passing around the texts that can help to show us new ways of living, like a modern-day version of familial heritage. Take this book, read it, learn, and pass it on when you see somebody in need. We're building our new history by talking to each other and sharing our revelations.

To meet somebody who changed your life, to hug them or shake their hand and know that you can never really tell them what they've meant to you and yours: how can you ever quantify that? How can you ever say what you really, truly mean, have the experience be as much as you want it to be? Fuck quantification, I say. Our idols, they are real people too, and that's part of why we love them. I had dinner with Kate Bornstein, the person who literally changed my life and who, through her writing, helped me become who I am today, and my week is still progressing as always. She's a lovely person, is Kate, and I'm glad she exists; I'm also glad I exist, that my friends, my lovers, and the publishers that okayed her gender fuckery exist, that we are all alive. Alive, and talking.

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