Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us

by Kate Bornstein

Paperback, 2016




Vintage (2016), Edition: Revised, Updated, 320 pages


Part coming-of-age story, part mind-altering manifesto on gender and sexuality, coming directly to you from the life experiences of a transsexual woman, Gender Outlaw breaks all the rules and leaves the reader forever changed.


(177 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member wideocean
I don't agree with every single word, but basically it makes for an entertaining and fascinating read.
LibraryThing member noir_girl
This book completely flipped my shit into next week when I read it. I hadn't thought very much about the gender binary and Gender Outlaw compellingly tears that binary to shreds. An amazing and accessible book about gender stuff.
LibraryThing member realsupergirl
This book is amazing. It blew my mind the first tiem I read it. Kate Bornstein uses humor as well as research and personal anecdotes to effectively descontruct all our notions of gender and sexuality.
LibraryThing member olyra
a very enlightening book by an author who has changed my life.
LibraryThing member the_hag
You know this is not a subject that I know a whole lot about…though I do profess some interest and curiosity about the reasons why people choose gender reassignment surgery. Mostly I was interested in exploring the why’s and if’s about gender and the myriad of choices and ways of being that
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people encounter and deal with or embrace in their lives. I wasn’t sure what to expect…and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this book, but I’ve finished reading it and it’s time to write down my thoughts about it. First and foremost, this is a book that doesn’t just rehash the same debates one sees nearly everywhere these days about how little Tommy can play with dolls and Sally can play with cars or how Molly can be a doctor and Biff can be a nurse…this goes beyond what’s considered politically correct or “allowable” excursions outside the comfort zone of the tribe. In Gender Outlaw Borenstein really tries to examine why we need gender at all and how gender is really determined in today’s societies, she looks both backward and forward with regards to this issue in a way that is both informative and entertaining. Gender Outlaw is a strange blend of biography and gender theory written with a theatrical flair. The author is really not looking to redefine gender so much as she is looking to toss it out altogether, in favor of a gender model that is more dynamic and fluid. Now for what I didn’t like about the book…well, I do understand that the author is an artist and performer at heart, but I read because I LIKE to read and while I like most of what I read to be entertaining and informative, I DON’T like to have to struggle to read it because the author thought it would be interesting and creative to create columns and make the reader have to read from side to side skipping about on the page. There is a serious lack of continuity in the format of the text that makes it a bear to read. Everything does not have to be performance; everything does not have to be art. Sometimes a book should just be a book. Outside of that, I enjoyed reading Gender Outlaw, I think the author wanted to reach the mainstream and this book is certainly readable and accessible to the general public…now if we could just get them to read it and open their minds to the ideas presented. Borenstein certainly got there with me, as I had no quarrel with the gender I’ve been assigned, but it certainly gave me lots of food for thought and I’ll probably never think of gender the same way again. I give it a 4 stars (3.5 really, but since Amazon doesn’t allow ½ stars, I’ll settle for 4, round up instead of down).
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LibraryThing member gingerlewis
First of all I have to say that although I am transgendered, I do not necessarily agree with all of Bornstein's ideas, and a lot of what she says doesn't really apply to me. That aside, she is a wonderfully witty and intelligent writer with some very thought-provoking theories, and for anyone new
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to the idea of exploring gender, it's a great place to start.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
This is a brave and forward thinking book. Though much of this is dated, when it was written nearly 20 years ago it was clearly groundbreaking. I commend Ms. Bornstein on her vision, her humor, and her ambition. That said...a great deal of this is intellectually undeveloped. It doesn't acknowledge
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the real problem, the fact that we have a narrowly defined concept of gender, of what it means to be a woman or a man, and that orthodoxy excludes many people.

Gender Outlaw argues for the abolition of(rather than a different approach to) gender. That position is anti-scientific, and anachronistic. Gender is a thing. All scientific classification, whether phylum and species, or gender, or place in hierarchy or any one of a number of other breakdowns, is an artificial construct. These artificial constructs are necessary to help us understand how the natural world works, and to move forward. It is that simple. It is essential to make the distinction to, among other things, understand procreation, differing muscle mass and skeletal development, different hormone production, the ways in which disease or disorder present. The fact that some people don't procreate, or have hormonal imbalances, or have body frames which differ from most other of their gender does not invalidate the classification.

What we need to be talking about is the cultural baggage we bring to the discussion of gender. I can be a woman and be a princess, or a football player, or research chemist. I can be a woman and want to have sex with women, or men, or both, or neither. I can be a woman and wear dresses, or jeans, or biker jackets. I can be a woman and wax myself from the scalp down, let my body hair flow, or use science to encourage additional hair growth. If you want to change your gender identity, that is fine (pre-, post-, or non-operative) that is a brave personal choice, and I wish you success and joy. But it begs the question, why can't people live as men or women and have feelings, desires, and outward appearances which reflect best in breed characteristics of those on the other side of the gender continuum? We don't need to (and ought not) do away with gender, we need to do away with defined gender roles. So. With a central thesis based on no more than the authors wish list I can't say I thought this was a good book, but I do think it was an important book, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a modern historical look at Trans thought.
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LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
Saw the author on "I Am Cait" and decided to pick it up for my personal diversity training. The author presents an interesting argument about seeing gender as being fluid, not simply one or the other. She says the bipolar systems of male/female, straight/gay will always mean that one side has the
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privilege and the other is oppressed. By considering gender along a spectrum, no one holds the power and we're all free from the borders set by culture and medicine (the moment the doctor declares "it's a boy"). I can sort of see where she's coming from and where I might have a bit more "maleness" in a couple aspects of my life. It's quite a concept to wrap my head around and I'll admit, I've bought well into the binary system. Still, it is something to think about. I skipped the section on queer theater and her play.
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LibraryThing member jimrgill
Bornstein’s book—part memoir, part commentary, part cultural analysis, part drama (it contains the full text of Hidden: A Gender, a two act play she wrote)—provides frank and intelligent insight into gender as a social construction and its damaging effects. Whether discussing her own
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transition, questioning the cultural tendency to consider gender strictly as a binary construct, educating readers about the questions she’s asked and the discourse of the trans community, or designing her vision of what a genderless society would look like, Bornstein comes across as an amiable and eager guide; her intellect and her wit enable her to establish an immediate rapport with her readership.

Originally published in 1994, the book contains some dated language (notably her use of the adjective “transgendered”—the “ed” ending is omitted in most current usage); her ideas and insights, however, remain relevant and urgent. Despite the passage of over twenty years since it was written, Gender Outlaw is still required reading for anyone who needs a clear and informative introduction to the trans community and the concept of gender identity.
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LibraryThing member PhoenixTerran
I've been meaning to read Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw for the last couple of years--even more so now that I've read Hello, Cruel World and have seen Kate in performance. I finally got to it.

Gender Outlaw is an exploration of gender (especially in the United States) as from the perspective of a
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person who was born male and had a sex reassignment surgery in adulthood, only to later discover that being female didn't quite fit or work either. Kate came to the conclusion that gender is not a strict binary as we've often been taught or coerced into believing, but that it is a vibrant continuum.

If I had read this book earlier in my life, it would have totally blown my mind and it would have been a very, very good thing form me. As it is, having already been exposed to various genders and sexualities, I was not taken aback--in fact, I found some of my own thinking reaffirmed. The book is a very accessible introduction to the discussion of gender. I can see how this book and this discussion would be offensive to some people, but Kate is adamant that this is only one person's point of view and that not everyone adheres or agree with it, trans or otherwise.

The prose isn't linear--it bounces between three sections: the main text, side notes and commentary, and quotations from other sources. Each of these sections has its own formatting and font. At first it seemed fragmentary, but ultimately the pieces created a cohesive whole. I got this same feeling from Kate's performance. In fact, the performance that I saw was very reminiscent of the book and several pieces came directly from it (or perhaps it was the other way around, I'm not sure.) The script of Kate's play, Hidden: A Gender, has been included as well as an additional afterword written for the paperback edition.

Originally published in 1994, Gender Outlaw still has a lot to offer, especially to those who have had little exposure to transgender issues. While transpeople and their lives have become more visible in recent years, there is still ground to be gained in this area. Not all will agree with Kate's position regarding gender (and some will vehemently disagree), but I think that this book provides an excellent place to begin that conversation. I find all of Kate's work to be honest, and despite the serious topics, filled with a fair amount of lightheartedness which make them extremely effective.

Experiments in Reading
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LibraryThing member Griffin_Reads
I first read this book after coming out as nonbinary almost two years ago. I found it to be super helpful in thinking more in depth about my identity and how I interact with the people around me, and has become foundational to me in my gender journey. Despite being nearly 30 years old, I still
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found it to be quite relevant and helpful in my own life.
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Original language


Original publication date



1101973242 / 9781101973240
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