Kate Bornstein Documentary Review: What Body Should I Wear Today?

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.

Image 1And, well, I came out of it with 103 questions.

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.”


Useful Sites:
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/









Opportunities in Creative Writing and English Literature at YSJ

The English Literature and Creative Writing departments offer more than you may realise. There are secret perks hidden in the nooks and crannies of the offices – including a bookshelf full of freebies!  There are places you can get your work published you might not of thought of, so in this blog post I aim to enlighten and surprise – have a read to find out what’s available to you!

Point Zero – A blog that this may appear on. Run by Tutor Adam Stock, the English Lit blog is a space for students to blog about their interests. You’ll find most of my posts revolve around sex with robots. Nothing is off-limits! http://blog.yorksj.ac.uk/englishlit/

Contact: a.stock@yorksj.ac.uk

Extra Lectures – Interested in a lecture but you’re not in the module? Email a tutor! Most tutors are more than happy to let you sit in on a lecture!

LGBT history month – LGBT History Month offers tonnes of events, 50 during February this year – to be exact, and a lot of them revolve around reading. From reading groups to pub poetry readings, don’t be afraid to tag along and talk gay writing! https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/events-calendar/events/lgbt-history-month-/

The Literary Festival – York holds an amazing Literary Festival. Including the likes of Sue Perkins and Mark Gatiss, the upcoming Literary festival has a whole host of events enabling networking, learning and open mic readings. https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/events-calendar/events/festivals/event-title-28032-en.html?timestamp=1490783160&ref=ecal&

Beyond The Walls – If you came to an open days, you may well have been handed a copy of the Beyond The Walls anthology. Run by students for students, the anthology is taking submissions until the 25th of February. Entry is free! https://www.facebook.com/BeyondtheWalls2017/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf

Student Showcase – An opportunity for students to give readings of their work to a wider, public audience! Currently taking submissions until the 28th of February, entry is free. https://www.facebook.com/YSJshowcase17/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf

Writing Workshops – Although not specifically for English Lit and Creative Writing students, keep an eye out around Holgate for leaflets on extra-curricular seminars on essential academic writing skills! An upcoming timetable of which can be found here: https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/media/content-assets/student-services/documents/Workshops-16-17-sem-2-programme-v2.pdf

Black History Month – Black History Month is developed mainly by the English Literature team. Frequently involving projects developed by students, and visiting authors, the month is inspiring and enriching – don’t miss it this October!

Writer in Residence – Royal Literary Fellow Mark Illis has been writing novels, short stories, TV and Radio dramas for around 30 years. He’s done it all, and can help you with developing your writing. If you head to a meeting, you’ll get 45 minutes of literary goodness. Check it out here: https://www.yorksj.ac.uk/student-services/learning-support/study-development/writer-in-residence/

Programme Representatives – Your elected Programme Reps are there to help – I’m one of them! Currently working with the SU to provide a book selling system in university, we are willing to voice any opinions you have about your course – let us know what you’d like to see, and stand for rep if you’d  love to help with feedback collection and course development.

The University Website – The university website hosts a tonne of resources. Indexed here are the key writing materials: https://www.facebook.com/BeyondtheWalls2017/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf

And more! – Check your emails frequently and flag up opportunities as they roll in. Thanks to the email system here at YSJ, I’m currently involved in a scriptwriting project for a suicide prevention short and will soon be heading on a trip to London to learn about literature and bees! There really is no limit to what you can achieve when you embrace the huge volume of opportunities to hand. If you want something, don’t be afraid to enquire with careers services or your tutors!

Lit events for York LGBT History month

York LGBT History Month 2017 runs from 31 January to 28 February, and is packed full of great events. With support from the School of Humanities, Philosophy and Theology, and the YorkYSJ Staff  LGBT Network, we’re running two events:

6 February, Eagle and Child Pub, 12.30pm

Dr Adam Stock (lecturer in English Literature) and Dr Kimberly Campanello (lecturer in Creative Writing) are hosting “Lunch Poems”.

Taking its name from gay New York poet Frank O’Hara’s celebrated collection ‘Lunch Poems’ (1964), Kimberly and Adam will host a lunch time discussion and reading group of poetry on LGBT themes, over lunch. Poems will be circulated in advance to ticket holders, but you do not need any previous experience or knowledge of poetry to take part in the discussion. Tickets are free, but do NOT include food.

Please register here to receive the poetry pack and menu in advance of the event.

13 February, Fountains Lecture Theatre, 6pm.

Kimberly and Adam host a film screening:

Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger

Trailer – “Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger” from sam feder on Vimeo.


Meet Auntie Kate.

Trailblazing performance artist-theorist-activist Kate Bornstein takes us on a mind-bending quest through her world dismantling gender and seeking answers to the age-old question: What makes life worth living?

An award-winning documentary by director Sam Feder

 Click here to register for free tickets

Free refreshments for all ticket holders!