By Bethany Davies
As part of York’s LGBT History Month in February an array of events took place around the city. On the evening of 13th February, York St John hosted a free film screening of Kate Bornstein: A Queer and Pleasant Danger. On entry to Fountains Lecture Theatre, Dr Adam Stock and Dr Kimberley Campanello welcomed everyone to free refreshments. With a glass of red, a few friends and myself took our seats and waited to sit and learn about a woman called Kate Bornstein.
My head was spinning off its axis and I couldn’t quite pin down what emotion it was that I was feeling. The friends that came to the screening with me felt the same and as we sat and discussed our thoughts, we pondered on whether it was the documentary that confused us or the wine we were slowly sipping away at.
On entrance to the screening we had been handed feedback questionnaires to fill in. The opening question on the sheet gave four options for gender. You could tick: 1. Male 2. Female 3. Non-Binary 4. Not Listed as Above
What does it mean to be non-binary? Can you be something that isn’t male or female? That’s two questions.
Then as the film proceeded, terms came flying at me from all directions: gender queer; gender fluid; ambisexual; asexual; demi sexual and sapiosexual. What do these mean? Which one am I? Am I supposed to know these meanings? There’s another three questions – I’ve at least another 98 more I could list.
Kate Bornstein was a woman I’d never met before. Sorry, not a woman, not a man, but someone who identifies as “a tranny”. Not transsexual or transgender, but a tranny. Kate Bornstein has reasons for this controversial decision; “there’s a big battle going on between trannies who want to call themselves tranny and there’s trannies who don’t want to call themselves a tranny. I’m a tranny who does want to call herself a tranny. I use the word tranny a lot in my memoir. I’m just saying.” I searched, and the word “tranny” is said 17 times in the documentary. It’s a term that I had previously associated with being quite offensive.
Kate Bornstein was once a young male Jew, and became a Scientologist in her twenties. Years later, she is now a “tranny” – and still Jewish. She has tattoos and piercings. She always wears a bandanna around her head. It looks pretty good. A crucifix always hangs around her neck. She’s crude. Her identity is playful. She is a performer. An avid tweeter. She has lung cancer. And she is transgender and lesbian.
Those are the things I now know. Oh, and she has a golden penis mounted in her lounge as an ornament.
This documentary showed me a lifestyle in the LGBT+ community that I believe sits at a unique position in the spectrum. Tony Ortega writes in the The Village Voice that, “Bornstein has managed to both anger and delight most camps in the LGBTQ universe.” Well, I’m not surprised. If I was to sit and boil a brew with this woman, I’m not sure how long I’d last. Without having met her, just by sitting and watching her through a screen for an hour and a half, (note: with wine), I can tell that her opinions lie always on the tip of her lips. And most of the time I bet they end up sliding off. Now, this is to be envied. Opinions are too often suppressed, leading to lack of communication and misunderstanding. However, as I sat and watched, I empathize that some people in the LGBT+ community must find her vocalization difficult to handle. She has a fire most people don’t see in the day-to-day. She is strong-minded. Bold. Like Marmite.
The documentary shows Bornstein travelling to support groups and LGBTQ gatherings, showing her equally at home discussing gender and sexuality in the context of university seminar rooms or in sex shops. You get the feeling no topic of conversation is ever off-limits, no matter what the venue. Looking into Bornstein’s world is an eye-opening experience.
My main emotion leaving this documentary was pure confusion. I couldn’t pin-point exactly how the documentary had made me feel. But, the truth is, that Kate Borstein is just a spoonful of Marmite that I’ve never tried before. Her controversial opinions and bold outright statements highlighted just how little I knew about her community and the community of many others.
If you are like me, and you haven’t had the chance to know someone in this community or learn about it through school, the head of the YSJ LGBT+ society, Shannon Clay, provided me with some links that I’ll share below. Acquaint yourself with the knowledge. As Claire Fagin once said, “Knowledge will bring you the opportunity to make a difference.”
LGBT History Month: http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/
The Equality Act of 2010 that protects LGBT in the workplace: http://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-advice/discrimination?gclid=CjwKEAiAlZDFBRCKncm67qihiHwSJABtoNIgZuJDbjiqSa0NwCTQ2rNNctUOIzGufpG3uCDjx9DcghoC1mrw_wcB
Yorkshire Mesmac: http://www.mesmac.co.uk/