Kate Bornstein's Gender Outlaw is a canonical work in the world of postmodern gender criticism. The book is fifteen years old, though, and that is a veritable eternity in the realm of gender theory and trans* lives. Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman, picks up where the original work left off with a collection of essays gathered from different corners of the trans* community.
No punches are pulled. This book presents the trans* community in all it's glorious, infamous, funny, angry, sexy, ugly, empowered, debilitated, and otherwise blazing glory. These are our stories - they do not ring of sensationalism, or apologism, or attempts to pander to the "outsiders" to our trans* world - and yet they remain accessible to everyone. The book is at once a liberating and empowering experience for anybody who has either thought about the gender spectrum or lived in the nooks and crannies between "boy" and "girl."
Best of all, the book is fantastically entertaining.
The overarching theme of Gender Outlaws is intersection. Few essays in this book discuss gender identity alone, and even fewer reflect the traditional, step-by-step process of transition that dominates the mainstream trans* narrative. Trans male drag queens, disabled trans folk, biracial trans folk, trans activists in other countries, trans roller derby girls, trans bible stories, trans Muslims even trans furries find a voice in this book. (A few Bilerico contributors even pepper the table of contents!) These pieces oftentimes skip the usual "Trans 101" discussion to move into new a new territory where gender acts as a lens to explore the other -isms in our world.
Playing into this diverse narratives idea, the format of Gender Outlaws pieces seem to change with every page turn. Formal academic essays are followed by love letters to special needs restrooms. Free verse poetry precludes comic memoirs, followed shortly by a discussion of the beauty of a trans woman's penis. Even with the rapid changes the book still flows from piece to piece even as it careens dangerously close to coming apart at the seams, thanks to the careful editorial choices by Bornstein and Bergman.
The book revels in its subversion, questioning conceptions, stereotypes, and the sexual narrative from the perspective of self-described freaks, fags, and corporate investment advisers. Rally calls for the gender nonconforming and in-between queers pepper the essays. Take this bit from Sam Peterson about the place of trans people in this new age:
Transpeople are either mutants or the next evolutionary stage: Either way, it looks like it's gonna be great TV. We best pay attention now and not TiVo for later. Trans is here to blow the lid off: off the Tupperware container of marriage of any flavor, off the top of our sex-toy chest, off our insistence on four able limbs and two well-spaced eyes--it's messing with our dick and our pussy, the most mistaken-for-sacred idols the world has ever known, so if we're scared, it is totally okay. We should be. I'm scared, and I have no idea what to wear to this shindig.
The essays are at once vindicating and terrifying, insular and ubiquitous, hilarious and challenging. It's the first book I've read that's collected these stories of gender transgression in a way that didn't bookend the whole mess in a process - guilt, suicidal need, transition, happiness, surgery, completion - and just showed trans* folk for who they were, tiny breasts and binders and queer voices and all. This is our culture. These are our stories. Even editor Kate Bornstein sees this book as vital first step to our understanding of a postmodern world:
It's the first book out there that I know of that's giving abundant first-hand experience of postmodern theory that goes beyond theory into the practical. The people writing in this book are no longer postmodern theorists - they are postmodern practitioners. This has never happened before! If we can get postmodern practitioners acting in more areas beyond gender, in areas like race, sexuality, class, age, religion, and the like - that's going to change the worldview. That's going to put a big crack in the wall of either/or thinking or either/or acting. These are folks that are living it.
[. . .]
It shows that trans people have something to bring to the social justice table. Not just "we're so downtrodden" - no, we know how to bust binaries, and it's binaries that are keeping other -isms in their place. We know how to do it, and this book is evidence of that.
If this book takes off in a way even remotely similar to its predecessor I see it becoming the best-fit way for outsiders to experience our trans* world - not within their own understanding of male or female, but on our terms.