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Gender activist coming to Center on Halsted

Former Scientologist Kate Bornstein also weighs in on Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes breakup

July 31, 2012|By Georgia Garvey, RedEye

Kate Bornstein gleefully describes herself as queer and truly is quite pleasant, but a danger?

Not likely, unless you're a Scientologist, transphobic, fussy or offended by brutally honest sex talk. OK, so there are certainly some people who might consider her dangerous. Her books—including her new memoir "A Queer and Pleasant Danger"—and her statements that she feels like neither fully man nor fully woman have won her fans and criticisms alike.

Bornstein, who joined the Church of Scientology and then publicly distanced herself from it and lost contact with her daughter in the process, visits the Center on Halsted in Lakeview the weekend of Aug. 4. She will be reading at Women and Children First bookstore in Andersonville on Thursday, speaking Saturday night and leading an acting workshop for queer youth Sunday. RedEye sat down with Bornstein for a Q&A about everything from Katie Holmes to gender-queer activism.

Congrats on your new memoir. Was it harder to write than you thought it would be?

Oh, golly, yes. I mean, you know, I'm really old. So there was a lot of ground to cover anyway, but then when you put all the disparate parts together, I turned in about twice as much as ended up in the book. I was like ripping my heart out left, right and center, bleeding everywhere. It was quite an experience.

Have you had people asking you about the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes situation?

I have. Are you?

I'm going to, yeah.

Good. Yeah, people ask.

You've got a different perspective in terms of Scientology. What's your take on it?

Katie Holmes is like the biggest danger [Scientology has] ever faced. Really, truly, I love that girl. I think she's like a feminist role model. She stood up to them, got what she wanted and now the church is scrambling to save face. I have no idea what Tom Cruise is going to do about it. But here's one interesting thing: Notice that Tom Cruise has visitation rights to Suri, his daughter. ... Me, I'm not allowed to see my daughter. If Tom's allowed to see his, I want to see mine. I want her to know that it's OK, that she's not going to get cooties or sick by saying hello and hearing me out while I say I'm sorry.

Have you ever gotten close to being able to talk to your daughter?

Not yet. I've had more hope. When I wrote the book, I had no hope. I figured, OK, after I'm dead, one of them, probably the grandkids when they're adults, will pick it up. ... The biggest hope that I've gotten is the fact that they've extended visitation rights for Tom Cruise. They've broken their own rules, and there's a group of us getting together to put, hopefully, some pressure on the church.

It was fascinating how regimented Scientology is, based on your book. Everything seems quantified, and measured. Is it strange to have that kind of certainty in the world?

Yes, and it's an accurate description of the mindset of a Scientologist. They're certain they have all the answers. That's what got me. The very first poster I saw was, 'Abandon your tedious search, the answers have been found.' I went, 'Really? Really!? Please!' Because in Judaism, everything you get is questions and more questions.

Now you're back with that uncertainty?

Yeah, and loving it. It's like, I'm not settled in anything. I'm now recognizing the mysterious edges of things and I can surf that. Gender was my first great, big one. Surfing 'not man, not woman' has been fun. I'm getting to do that with straight and queer, which are changing definitions in the world today.

What's the next frontier in civil rights or gender activism?

There are places in the world where [trans people would] still be murdered, and are being murdered. And there are places where trans people are welcome, like the White House. But I think what needs to happen on the left and the transgender collective movements, they need to get together to form a true coalition of the margins. And that would be gender activists joining up with age, race and class activists, with activists in religion, with activists who are talking family and reproductive status, with sexuality activists. ... The only way out of it's going to be getting together, I think. And the focus of joint work—rather than gay marriage, which only helps lesbians and gays—would be let's stop the violence against women and children. How about that?

So the first step is more unity?

Yeah. Well, unity is kind of impossible. Peaceful coexistence would be a nice next step.

Has the issue of gay rights become a political issue now?

Yes, and none of it is personal. Whereas, it needs to be personal again. When you talk personal when you talk LGBT, you're talking [bleep]ing. And nobody wants to talk about [bleep]ing. That's really what it boils down to. We are such a Puritian country. And you're welcome to use asterisks when you have to.

Will do. Also, I wanted to talk a little bit about "Hello, Cruel World." I know it's not a new book, but it seems like it laid the groundwork for the 'It Gets Better' campaign.

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