Bornstein, Lees and Late Posts

Forgive me, bloggers, for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last memorandum.

[For Kate Bornstein and Paris Lees business – skip to below the picture]

I don’t really have any excuses – I’ve just been editing the chapter (finally handed in) and planning lessons (ongoing and neverending). I have been outside more often though – I shimmied down south to see my besties and do our belated Christmas; I popped to London with Frizbot to see the brilliant Kate Bornstein and Paris Lees in conversation, and I’ve eaten out a couple of times.

Every week I’ve told myself that I needed to blog, but just never quite got round to it. I’m currently living between busy days and cave days. On busy days I’m out and about, lesson planning, editing, and haphazardly flipping through reference books. On cave days I’m mostly in bed telling myself that I should get up and do something that isn’t being in bed.

So, my chapter is handed in and it’s time to start planning the next one. I’ve had the previous one in my head for so long I literally can’t think of a single thing for the new one at the moment. When I was out with some of the staff from uni the other night I was reminded of mind-mapping, it’s always worked for me before, so I think I’ll give that another go.


On the 9th I attended an event, ‘Kate Bornstein in conversation with Paris Lees‘ at the British Library. As a long term fan of both I was unbearably excited and ready to have all of their words just all up in my ears, all up in there. I was not disappointed. They sat together at the front of the room on a small stage, neither of them with any notes to hand, and were just brilliant. They sparked effortlessly off one another, they flipped from serious conversation to repeatedly purring “sex, sex, sex” at one another and there was never an awkward silence.

This is Kate’s first UK tour, she’s ‘imparting her wit & wisdom through the medium of workshops, performances & talks in Manchester, London and Brighton throughout February 2016‘. She and Paris opened their conversation on the topic of the transgender tipping point – Kate noted that all trans people have to be careful where they’re out unless they’re a ‘balls-to-the-wall anarchist’ – she stated that the tipping point is ‘bullshit’ and that the trans narrative was starting to be ‘a tired white trope’. One of her main issues was that the ‘trans’ that society seems to be engaging with is still very binary and ‘all of the outsiders are still outside’ – and noted that ‘binary trans people have a certain deal of privilege – non-binary and intersex are the new “final oppressed”‘. Paris said that rather than feeling like a man or a woman, she ‘feels like a human being’ – something that I think gets pushed aside far too often in the high theory concepts of gender in academia.

Kate also spoke about her concerns about the in-fighting in the trans world, with the intersectional question being at the heart of it – ‘we don’t accept eachother’s truth of gender’ – and this is what her next book will address. [By the way, Gender Outlaws is getting a new edition to reflect the differences in the way language and definitions are being used these days]. Paris questioned the point of the academic study of gender, asking whether it actually had any real life impact. Kate stated that the value of writing/studying/debating gender theory is that it bubbles up in areas of culture that other activism doesn’t reach.

Something that I found massively interesting was the way that Kate used the ideas of ‘queer’ vs ‘straight’ with regards to trans communities – queer meaning the more liberal, sexpositive side, and straight meaning the more conservative, sex conservative side – irrespecitve of sexuality. This reinterpetation of existing terminology reminds me of the use of the word ‘passing’ – first used in homosexual and race contexts and then applied to trans communities (and now heavily criticised). I think such uses of queer and straight are more American at the moment, I’m not sure many people here in the UK would cotton on to your meaning immediately; but I like it, and I think it could do with being imported.

Kate took a minute to ask Paris about her forthcoming book, much anticipated and now almost a year overdue. Paris noted that the area in which trans people have been allowed to flourish is autobiography due to society’s obsession with transition- Paris wanted to do something different in her memoir so it wasn’t just a cookie-cutter transition narrative, however, it is kind of about transition because she transitioned and that’s been a massive part of her life. She wanted to talk about something aspirational, but she still needs to talk about her mental health because that’s the truth – social exclusion is scarring. They asked the audience if anyone had come away from transition unscarred, not a single person raised their hands.

Returning to the question of gender theory, Kate stated that it’s akin to particle physics, you need to go to new experiments – if you know what you’re doing, don’t do it. She stated that it discusses things that aren’t spoken about in mainstream culture. However, Paris countered that she finds that gender theory gets used as a justification, which is offensive. She stated, ‘just treat them like a fucking human – if you meet someone with one eye you don’t need to watch a documentary about it to understand it’ – just treat people like they’re actually people [unless they’re TERFs, then just put them in the bin].

In their closing remarks Kate stated that as a ‘trans elder’ her role is to provide context. She said that morality is a binary way of thinking and that’s something that computers can do; we need to get rid of morality and step up to ethics. She lambasted queer/trans infighting that is about trying to preach a dominant narrative, promoting instead the need to practice empathy and compassion with people who should be family.

It was an amazing evening and I felt richer for having been there.


Everything I’ve written here has come from some very messy notes that I wrote at the time – if you were there and notice anything awry/misquoted/misunderstood, let me know and I’ll sort it out.

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