Renowned transgender author and performance artist Kate Bornstein spoke at Auraria’s event marking National Coming Out Day Oct. 11, held at the Tivoli Turnhalle and put on by the office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Student Services.
Bornstein shared her ideas about identity with the crowd.
“I think a large part of the problem with naming sexual orientation is it’s always been in terms of our gender and the relationship of our gender to the gender of our partner,” Bornstein said. “And there are a fuck of a lot more components to it than [that].”
Celebrated on Oct. 11 since 1988, the holiday was founded as a convenient way for gays and lesbians to openly share their identities. Twenty-four years later, the day has become an opportunity for not just gays and lesbians, but bisexuals, transgender people and individuals with a host of other related identities to “come out” as well.
Auraria’s celebration featured two talks by Bornstein followed by a book signing, in addition to a talk by openly gay state representative Mark Ferrandino. It also included readings by Auraria students of several stories published in “The coming out monologues” and a multitude of tables from various organizations.
“Coming out nowadays is a little more difficult,” Bornstein said. “I am not a man. And I am not a woman. I break too many rules of each of those genders to say that I’m one or the other. You could call me transgressively gendered, you could call me transgender. Me, I call myself a traveller. I’m just travelling, through all sorts of identities, picking and choosing what works and leaving the rest behind.”
Bornstein described her gender expression as “diesel femme.”
She has achieved somewhat of an underground celebrity status among LGBT people in the U.S. Known for challenging rigid sexual identities and traditional categorizations of sexuality and gender, as well as for her irreverent wit, she often speaks on college campuses around the country and internationally.
Bornstein has written several books, including “Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us,” “My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely,” and “Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws.” During her first talk, she even tested out on the audience a few worksheet pages from the updated version of “My Gender Workbook,” which is going to press.
In May of this year Bornstein published a memoir that bears the full title of “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.”
“I was a Scientologist for 12 years,” Bornstein said. “That’s more embarrassing than admitting you’re a transsexual.”
Bornstein’s second talk used a slide show to explain postmodern theory and its applications to identity and social justice in a down-to-earth manner.
She listed more than 40 identities that she associated as belonging under the broad umbrella of “gender anarchy and sex positivity,” including things like polyamorous, kinky, furry, asexual, pornographer, sex worker and burlesque artist.
As much as she challenges what she sees as the limiting system of classifying people as gay, straight, bisexual and transgendered, Bornstein does recognize the value of labels.
“We have to be careful about umbrella terms,” Bornstein said. “But I don’t see any problem with labels, as long as you can tear them off if you want to and sew another one on. But I see labels more like pitons [for] mountain climbing — you hammer them in and then you leave them behind for some one else who wants them in their journey.”
But National Coming Out Day, and the discussions surrounding it, do have relevance for some who might not normally fit under the LGBT umbrella.
GLBTSS office employee Craig Archuletta, who helped organize the event, said that one of the biggest problems with the way most people define sexuality and gender is the exclusive focus on heterosexuality and being cisgender [not transgender], and that “those automatically mean that you’re not part of some of the other things that affect our communities. So if you are a white, straight, cisgender man, yes you definitely hold privilege — yet at the same time, if you are a white, straight, cisgender man who does pornography, or has been a sex worker, or any of those things, that informs your awareness of your own sexuality and other people’s sexualities.”
More than 65 people attended the celebration, including students and members of the larger community.
“I’m from rural Kansas. There was no community there,” said MSU Denver sophomore Tracy Nguyen. “I just kept [my identity] quiet because I lived in a town of 40,000 people, and there were more than half a dozen churches there – and you couldn’t say anything, it wasn’t safe. Like [Bornstein] said, you only can come out when you feel safe. I knew going to Colorado, Denver especially, would be a [way] I could find more people like me, a better community.”
CCD freshman Jinx Allyn, who is involved with the school’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance, appreciated Bornstein’s style of being simultaneously humorous, serious, irreverent and challenging.
“This is life — life is funny, life is tragedy, life is confusing — but it can be great,” Allyn said.
Bornstein often refers to herself as a lesbian but is quick to point out that “that’s not quite right either.”
“I love people who are doing the hard work of being themselves in a world that wants us to be like everyone else,” she said. “That’s what I love.”
People: Kate Bornstein