Kate Bornstein – Demorest Keynote Speaker

By: Dr. Arielle Zibrak

Kate Bornstein, who signed my book “Auntie Kate,” was the Keynote Demorest speaker during the Casper College Humanities Festival. The author of texts such as “Gender Outlaw” and “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” is also a playwright, performance artist, and gender theorist. Identifying as a “nonbinary” gender, Kate does not go by the pronouns “she/he,” “him/her,” but rather “ze/hir.” The humanities festival theme this year centered around identity, and Kate discussed with fervor the implications of gender on identity. Beginning with an interactive exchange between audience and presenter, ze posed questions not so easily answered, such as, “Do you have a gender? Where is it?” The final point of this round of question was reconciled with the question, “Is gender something we have … or something we do?” The final interactive exercise is one in which Kate asked the audience to sit for an entire minute, in silence, and “DON’T CHANGE!”

The reality of this, communicated through this simple exercise, is that everything changes. In a binary system, however (or a circle divided in half with ideas in opposition), nothing ever changes – nothing can change. “The nature of a binary,” Kate says, “… is the nature of a battlefield.” Ze then introduces three separate fields of study or discipline that all suppose a way out of this battlefield, a possibility of deconstruction of the binary so that things can move, can change: postmodern theory, Eastern philosophy, and quantum mechanics. The introduction to these fields of study, or thought, was used to support the idea of deconstructing a boundary. Kate outlines that postmodern theory suggesting that, “there is nothing natural about a binary,” that Eastern philosophy relies on, “nonduality,” and that quantum mechanics introduced a third figure into the binary system previously containing only ones and zeros. The importance of the interjection of these varying schools of thought is that they provide the groundwork for Kate’s new theory.

Ze mentioned she will be publishing a new book, titled “Trans: Just for the Fun of It! Compassionate Gender Strategies for Divisive Times.” In this text, rather than a binary system into which each individual is plugged (and consequently then in opposition) – Kate suggests a “dialectic,” not two sided in opposition, but a network of people contained together in conversation with each other. In a “dialectic,” Kate explains, everyone exists together and everything is changing, and in this way – instead of two rigid, never moving sides, the possibilities for change and conflict resolution can take place. The idea behind a dialectic, as opposed to a binary system, is that more understanding and less rigidity will take place, “The nature of a dialectic,” says Kate, “…  is the nature of a playground.”

Probably the most interesting topic brought up by Kate is that of the transience of labels. Ze uses “transgender” as an example. The nature, the definition, the purpose of the word has evolved over time, so much so that it represents a variety of meanings now, with seemingly “opposing” definitions. Therefore, even language can exist within a rigid system, maybe not a binary – but very close to it. Transgender was once the name of a movement, and then become the name of those identifying within a binary system of gender, and now is used for anybody that is “playing around” with gender. Kate uses examples such as “queer” and “straight,” as well. The distinction Kate makes is that even language is fluid and changing, so that identification by specific terms or labels must also change.

Overall, Kate presented to the audience very complex questions about identity. How much is gender informing identity? For ourselves? For others? With a light-hearted humorous, and genuine spirit, Kate deconstructs the binary system of gender on stage, and presents love in its place. Formulating identity is play, it can be fluid and ever-changing, but, Kate said, “… use gender to do life’s work with the deepest level of fun.” In Kate’s eyes, the greatest level of fun is love, and she shared that love with the audience and with her fans following the talk, and with her message of compassion and understanding. Kate Bornstein quoted Eastern philosophy in saying, “Eloquence is to tell the deepest level of truth in order to ease one’s suffering.” In the end, after all the theory and quantum mechanics and systems – in the end, the most important fact of identity is one that eases suffering and promotes happiness. In the end, the entire presentation was meant to share love, and I believe Kate Bornstein successfully achieved this.

Media contact: Lisa S. Icenogle

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