“Objects have more than one meaning at the same time depending on the point of view and the context”
Kate Bornstein is utterly postmodern. She is a proud embodiment of a hypnotic yet distasteful theory that attempts to explain the dissolution between opinions on high art and popular culture, and the subsequent redefinition of what it is to have intrinsic ‘meaning’.
Kate has spent the last few years touring the USA trying to recruit people to the idea that they should live their lives in whatever way that they want, whether illegal, immoral or sadomasochistic, as long as they “don’t be mean” to anyone. And she makes an incredibly convincing case.
She began her life as Albert, a middle-class conservative Jew from New Jersey, who quickly got drawn to the ‘church’ of Scientology and began to climb the ranks of the Sea Org (Google it, I dare you). She eventually had gender reassignment surgery in 1986 and wrote a number of books denouncing gender binaries – most famously, Gender Outlaw, which she proudly announces was banned by Pope Benedict. Since then she has given lectures and book readings around the country on a mission to subvert conventional wisdom (i.e. boring) about gender roles using her own story as a focal point (She has the words ‘public property’ tattooed on her arm).
Sam Feder’s documentary allows her to explain her theories, both explicitly in interviews and implicitly through natural footage of her life, and espouse her optimist outlook on life and individuality. She is funny, fierce and iconoclastic – at one point in reference to her daughter Jessica’s children, her friend states: “you’re a grandmother”, to which she replies “I’m a grandsomething!” This playful attitude towards gender is present throughout the film.
And if her ideas around gender weren’t interesting enough (they are), then she is also a recovering Scientologist – a phenomenon of which I have been drawn to myself in as a subject for university essays. Kate explains that the element that first interested her in L. Ron Hubbard’s writing is his idea of ‘Emotional Tone Scales’ – an idea that proposes that it is possible to predict the ‘rise and fall of emotions’. Yet as is ever the case with Scientologists, her rebellion has led her to become considered a Suppressive Person – someone that should be alienated and targeted as a threat. This has obviously caused her an enormous amount of emotional heartache, but she isn’t as bitter as I would be and ultimately relishes the fact that she has more twitter followers than the church. Kate 1 – Hubbard 0.
The film is a joy to watch due to its colourful misé-en-scene and upbeat optimism, and has such a delightful array of characters that the running time utterly flew past. I hope that the film can introduce a whole new legion of questioning young adults to the wonderland-rabbit-hole of postmodernism and queer cultural studies, because if everyone had the same positive and comfortable attitude towards their own bodies that Kate has then the world would definitely be a clear and pleasant place.