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Author to class: Identity can have more than one meaning

Kate Bornstein, an advocate for youth and gender "outlaws," discusses systems of identification, and what happens when they're questioned.

“A person’s identity can have more than one meaning,” Kate Bornstein said to students April 11 in a women's and gender studies course.


By Natalie Allison '13

An author, playwright and artist who explores queer identity spoke with a women’s and gender studies class this week as part of a two-day visit to campus sponsored by the Liberal Arts Forum.

Kate Bornstein met with students in the “Current Controversies in Feminism” taught by Associate Professor Stephen Bloch-Schulman. The April 11 appearance preceded an evening lecture the next night in Whitley Auditorium where the self-described “gender outlaw” planned to speak on "the unnecessary conformity that reinforces homophobia and transphobia."

Discussing the limitations of what Bornstein describes as the current binary system of identity, the activist’s theories of queer identity take a postmodernist approach. “A person’s identity can have more than one meaning,” Bornstein said.

Bornstein's visit is sponsored by the Liberal Arts Forum.

Writing on the white board a list of terms such as “gender, mental health, race, family status, sexuality, religion,” Bornstein said that each of the attributes were expressed and accepted as a binary in society, and were rarely challenged.

“As soon as you question a binary, it explodes,” Bornstein said. “Binaries rely on their ‘unquestionability’ to exist.”

When other classifications are introduced that interrupt a binary system, Bornstein said society’s instinct is to create hierarchy to determine which classification is ideal. The “ideal” classification sits at the top, with the rest of society looking toward it as the standard, or seeking to fit in and be accepted by those subscribing to it.

The class, which had studied some of Bornstein’s gender theory and read one of the books she penned, My Gender Workbook, was able to ask Bornstein about a decades-long experience studying and theorizing about gender.

“She really provides a good model for doing your gender,” said junior Christine Pavey. “Typically people allow culture to construct what it is they should do.”

Bornstein is also known for her groundbreaking books Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us and Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws.

Eric Townsend,
4/13/2012 10:05 AM