‘Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation’ ed by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman
Author: G. Stein-Bodenheimer
September 20, 2010
Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (Seal) is a result of its editors’ sense that in the 15 years since the publication of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Vintage ), a generation of transgendered, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming folks grew into their queer selves with the analytical toolbox that Kate Bornstein and other queer theorists—Judith Halberstam and Judith Butler are often cited as well—provided.
“People today are STARTING from further than I got when I’d finished writing Gender Outlaw” (11), Kate Borstein tells her co-editor S. Bear Bergman, the author of Butch is a Noun and The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You (a 2010 Lambda Literary Award Finalist).
The collection of nonfiction, poetry, comics, and even a recipe for Vegan Curry, “Which Ey [Telyn Kusalik] Would Much Rather Be Discussing,” gathers together a wide range of perspectives and gender identities. It is an anthology meant to pull the rug out from beneath you, so that whatever notions you have about gender will be destabilized, perhaps radically so. Yet I found a sense of familiarity, of coming home to a place where people know me and speak my language.
Bornstein and Bergman structure the anthology into five parts, with headings like “Do I look like an outlaw to you?” and “It might not be a picnic, but there’s a great buffet.” The introduction, intermission, and epilogue are all transcripts of AIM conversations between the editors. This conceit aims to capture the way that virtual space allows a certain fluidity with gender and how technology like AIM has aided access to queer subcultures and ideas around gender and identity.
The pieces in this anthology are by turns provocative, humorous, insightful, radical, and open to vulnerability and tenderness as well as strength. StormMiguel Flores’ love poem “Dear Austin Special Needs Bathroom” is a hilarious and clever take on the issue of bathroom access. J Wallace writes of his experience of pregnancy as a transman in “The Manly Art of Pregnancy.” Of the several comics contained within Gender Outlaws, “transcension” by Katie Diamond and Johnny Blazes is by far my favorite.
Many of the pieces are anchored in a sense of personal gender history as well as a queer history. The writers speak about their gendered histories, or certain events that have defined their sense of being transgendered, or being genderqueer. They speak of passing or not, of other people’s perceptions of them, the oppressions they’ve encountered, and the various ways class, race, sexuality, religion, and location on the globe intersect and inform their radical gender identities.
Raquel (Lucas) Platero Méndez in “A Slacker and Delinquent in Basketball Shoes” locates hir own present day outlaw identity in relation to M.H., a queer in 1960s Francoist Spain who was arrested and sentenced for cross dressing. Couched in a brief history of the fascist state’s policing of boundaries, M.H. appears to be both ahead of hir time, and at the same time, our Platero Méndez’s present is not completely of hir time, as the heterogeneity of ideologies in means that “even today you would still be a beaner tranny, unless you could adopt the right accent, skin color, and poise” (43).
Some authors contested the very concept of “outlaw,” a difference of opinion that gives the anthology depth and complexity. Quince Mountain talks about being put down by the queerer-than-Thou rhetoric in “Imposter.” Ryka Aoki pushes against the idea of the outlaw, a concept she finds unsustainable and unsavory for its violence and anarchy in “On Living Well and Coming Free.”
“Performance Piece” by Julia Serano critiques the Butlerian idea that all gender is performance: “when we talk about my gender as though it were a performance, we let the audience—with all their expectations, prejudices, and presumptions—completely off the hook” (86).
If gender is merely a performance, she argues, why would people express nonnormative genders that pose such high risks when expressed in public—i.e. being a transwoman when that means that she “runs the very real risk of being locked up in an all-male jail cell” (86). She declares: “So don’t you dare dismiss my gender as construct, drag, or performance. My gender is a work of non-fiction” (88). And that is one bad-ass manifesto.
Gender Outlaws does a good job of providing a myriad of voices to speak about their experiences and theories of gender. It is meant to unsettle and to inspire, to give strength to those who are struggling to find themselves and fodder to those whose sense of genders’ complexities, difficulties, and joys only grows more nuanced as time passes.
And to those folks who do not even know how to ask, this anthology will give them some place to begin deconstructing and re/constructing. As Sarah Dopp says in the endnote, “We are already here. We are already experimenting, expressing ourselves, facing our fears, and combating our shame. We are already asserting ourselves, creates spaces to play in, and giving others around us permission, by example, to join in” (277).
The Next Generation
ed. by Kate Bornstein; S. Bear Bergman
9781580053082, Paperback, 302pp