Book Review: Kate Bornstein’s “Gender Outlaw” Transformed My Understanding of Gender
by Ryan Cassata
Before I read Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, I always assumed that I knew most things about gender. I’ve been out as trans for over a decade, but I have found that I was just really only scratching the surface. Within the first few chapters, I was proven wrong, and I had begun learning. I learned a whole lot throughout her book’s 296 pages.
Reading Gender Outlaw has been an exciting experience for me. It’s been an experience of growth and self discovery. It’s also been an experience of validation and even gender euphoria. I have identified as a trans man since I was 14, and I have always known that I didn’t ever feel like a “girl.” However, my gender expression, feelings of what makes a man were still slightly different than my fellow trans masc peers, who mostly all take testosterone and desire to “pass” as male in society. My ideas of gender have always been less rigid than many of my peers (whom I love and respect).
I have desired to “be passing” in several instances throughout my life. Mostly, every time I have desired to pass was because I didn’t feel safe in the body I was in, feeling outside the binary, and where I physically was in the world based on my surroundings. There are many people who desire to pass for this reason. In fact, I cannot ignore the amount of violence against trans people that happens on a daily basis. 22 trans folks in America have been killed this year due to anti-trans violence. Hundreds more all over the world. An overwhelming majority are trans women of color. It’s an epidemic that can no longer be ignored.
Passing can mean life or death for so many of us so I must acknowledge that I completely understand the desire to pass as cis-gender whether or not you feel completely binary in your gender identity or expression.
Gender Outlaw breaks down what passing means in a truly intellectual way. Kate explains it in such a way that allowed me to understand the cultural construct of gender roles, the desire to pass and fit into the binary and that cultural construct, and then the outsiders like me who just don’t fit into the stereotype of what a specific gender should look like.
Kate talks in detail about a lot of other things in this book — sexism and how it relates to transphobia and homophobia, surgeries, the media, interviews, relationships, art (specifically theatre), etc. Her book dives deep into so many topics that are important to know about. She openly and honestly shares her feelings with her readers as she dives deep into these topics, proving her authenticity. Not only that, but Gender Outlaw covers decades of experience and is a good documentation of how things have shifted over the years for trans people. It’s truly a slice of trans history that should not be overlooked.
Kate Bornstein’s book gave me words to things that I have always felt but never could explain or put into words. I was able to understand my own journey and experience with gender much better. Not only that, but after reading this book, I truly understood that there are others like me in the world. Others who just go their own way. Others who defy the binary not because they are trying to be rebels, but just because they are existing their own way and living their lives. Others who are gender outlaws.
Gender will keep evolving. Gender identities will keep evolving. Gender expression will keep evolving. The language that we use to talk about gender will continue to change and evolve. There is so much more to learn about gender and trans experiences. I will probably (and hopefully) spend the rest of my life learning.
I have always been proud to be trans and to have this experience. Kate Bornstein’s book makes me even more proud of my trans identity, gender expression, and experience.
About the Author:
Ryan Cassata is an award winning singer-songwriter, actor, performer, writer and LGBTQ activist & motivational speaker based in Los Angeles. With features in Rolling Stone, Billboard Magazine, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and The Daily News, Ryan has made the most of his young career, which started when he was just 13.
As a musician with over 550 performances touring across the United States and internationally, including dates on the Van’s Warped Tour, SXSW and at the worlds biggest pride festivals, Ryan has been praised by The Advocate saying he’s a “Transgender singing sensation”, Paper Magazine put him on the “50 LGBTQ Musicians You Should Prioritize” list, LOGO put him on the “9 Trans Musicians You Need To Get Into” list and Billboard put him on the “11 Transgender & Non-Binary Musicians You Need to Know” list and premiered his most recent music video for “Daughter.” He has also been heard on Sirius XM Radio, BBC Radio 4 and other radio stations around the world. MORE INFO AT: http://www.ryancassata.com/