by Kate Bornstein
Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer
ONLY ON THE WEB
You are a pretty tame human being. Oh, sure, you break out sometimes and go a little wild, but overall, you’re no threat to most people. You were domesticated years ago, you know when to hide your claws, and you stopped biting in preschool. You’re even housebroken.
But uncivilized? Hardly.
Author Kate Bornstein isn’t, either, but there’s a significant group of people that, she says, have labeled her as a “potential trouble source.” In her new book A Queer and Pleasant Danger she explains how she got to be so hazardous.
At four-and-a-half years old, most kids are just learning their ABCs, but Albert Bornstein knew at that age that he wasn’t a boy, so he must be a girl. He also knew that wasn’t what people wanted to hear, so he never spilled his secret; instead, he grew up wanting to be Audrey Hepburn—and if not Hepburn, there were other choices.
He always loved women. There were so many he could imagine being.
It was mid-1970 when Bornstein—twenty-something, anorexic, altruistic, and seeking spiritual meaning—started a cross-country pilgrimage that landed him in Colorado. There, while looking for new boots, he found a Scientology center.
He entered…and stayed.
Happy in his newly embraced “applied religious philosophy,” Bornstein became the perfect Scientologist: charming and silver-tongued, he quickly developed into a top-performing salesman of high rank. Two years after joining the organization, he was married; a year after that, he was a father.
He also began acting upon his girlish urges, but wasn’t bothered by it. Scientology taught that humans were spiritual beings called thetans, and thetans had no gender…so what was the harm in wearing women’s clothing and sleeping with men? His inner woman seemed unstoppable.
Then, 12 years after joining, when everything came crashing down (due to a still-dizzying misunderstanding), Bornstein was cast out of the community he’d embraced for a third of his life. Feeling bereft, and overwhelmed by his increasingly feminine notions, he sought therapy and a community of a different sort.
What he found was the person she was all along…
There are a lot of adjectives that one can use to describe A Queer and Pleasant Danger: snarky, funny, anguished, frightening. Heartbreaking. Brave. Honest.
Author Kate Bornstein worked six years on this memoir that she started for her daughter (whom Bornstein assumes will never read it), and for the teenage grandchildren who will likewise be denied the story because they are Scientologists and Bornstein is essentially dead to them. What Bornstein doesn’t say about Scientology, in fact, is more chilling than what she does say.
In writing this memoir, Bornstein puts on a certain bravado that doesn’t last in the presence of the vulnerability she often displays. This is a softer, sometimes sorrowful, side of the always-outspoken Kate Bornstein, and I loved it.
Be aware that there are painfully graphic scenes in this book, and some that are brutally blunt. If you can stand those (appropriate-to-this-memoir) paragraphs, though, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a wildly wonderful read.
A Queer and Pleasant Danger
by Kate Bornstein
2012, Beacon Press (beacon.org)
288 pages, $25.95/$30 Canada
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.