Transgender speaker urges reversal of ‘bully culture’

Sarah Warning

Transgender activist Kate Bornstein urged students and Evanston community members in a speech Monday to accept the unusual in order to move past the either-or mentality alienating radical gender groups.

The event, which drew 80 people to Harris Hall 107, was the keynote address of Rainbow Alliance’s Rainbow Week, a series of events designed to increase awareness and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

Born as a male, Bornstein, who also is a writer and a performance artist, had a sex-change operation 17 years ago with the thought of becoming a woman. But after the operation, Bornstein thought neither gender identity fit. Bornstein now prefers to use the pronouns “hir” and “ze” instead of gender-specific ones.

The operation was part of Bornstein’s quest for happiness guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, Bornstein said. Others should not judge what types of happiness are legitimate, and outsiders should pursue their own fulfillment.

“Do you think it’s unusual to be listening in Evanston, Illinois, to hear a high-flaming sadomasochistic dyke talk to you about the Declaration of Independence?” Bornstein asked.

Bornstein tried to show that distinct classifications don’t always lead to fulfillment.

“Are you young or are you old? Are you black or are you white? Are you man or are you woman? Are you with us or are you against us?” Bornstein asked the crowd, playing off President Bush’s division of people as “for us or against us.”

Bornstein also autobiographical pieces the difficult experiences Bornstein faced, including coming out to family members and the awkwardness of attending a parent’s funeral as a daughter when the parents’ friends expected to see Bornstein as a man.

The gender conflict faced by Bornstein, who is Jewish, was in some ways made more complicated by this heritage, Bornstein said.

“Every day my mother woke up to hear her father and brothers saying, ‘Thank God I’m not a woman,'” Bornstein said.

Audience member Christian Engley said he was surprised at some of Bornstein’s experiences.

“It wasn’t what I expected at all,” said Engley, a Weinberg freshman. “It was interesting to talk about what it means to be Jewish and transgender — you don’t usually think about those two things going together.”

Bornstein’s mother preferred not to call her child transgender, Bornstein said.

“My mother preferred the word ‘lesbian,'” Bornstein said. “‘My son, the lesbian,’ she told her friends with a sigh.”

Bornstein said the foundation for an either-or way of viewing the world is laid in junior high school — where students are quickly categorized as either insiders or outsiders, and anyone who doesn’t fit in is bullied into becoming invisible. The same concepts have been carried into society today, , Bornstein said, with the rejection and marginalization of sexually radical culture.

Bornstein also said legislation cannot force Americans to “grow up.” Instead individuals must start being more accepting on a day-to-day basis, and citizens must stay informed.

“America has developed a unique bully culture, where they think people like me are evil, godless, in need of a ‘cure’ or salvation,” Bornstein said. “It’s time to stop carrying forward the junior-high-school way of excluding freaks from life.”

Other upcoming Rainbow Week events include Wednesday lectures about gay literature and queer politics, a barbeque Friday at the Women’s Center, and an annual date auction Thursday night in Norris University Center. A full listing of events can be found on the Web at groups.northwestern.edu/rainbow.