The Yes Men: Not Your Grandpa’s Activism

I'm an old fart—a curmudgeon and a crone—so I get to say things like "Back in my day…" 

Like: back in my day (which was the '60s), we knew how to protest. Back in my day, we did street theater to fight the war in Viet Nam. And back in my day, we marched the streets in the very first Gay Pride parades, and we said things like "We're just like you…" which went over well with people who wanted to think they were worth us wishing we were just like them. 

All these actions sort of worked back then… before the right wing conservative think tanks figured out how to counter us. Bad news: the right wing has succeeded in countering old-fashioned activisms. Good news: there are new forms of activism they don't know how to fight yet.

Ny times by yes men This evening, I saw the film The Yes Men Fix The World. Please go see this movie if you can. It's the face of a new activism. It's an activism that the right wing think tanks haven't got a hold on yet, and I find that exciting. 

What do The Yes Men do that works? They lie. They lie BIG. They lie in a way that makes us wish they were telling the truth, and the right wing think tanks don't know what to do with that. Like this phony issue of The New York Times. Click on it to see it big, or download the full PDF.

Am I saying that activism in the form of big protest marches and street theater and shouting "We're just like you" are bad actions? No. I'm saying that these are your grandpa's activisms and they're not as effective as you might like them to be. 

The right wing has learned how to carve up the radical left wing into virtually separatist groups working hard to achieve equity in ten seemingly disparate arenas: race, age, class, gender, sexuality, looks, ability, religion, citizenship, family status, and age. Any truly radical 21st century activism must effect a coalition of all ten vectors of activism.

The Yes Men are pointing the way to a new activism. Like Michael Moore, The Yes Men are pranksters. Like Stephen Colbert, The Yes Men tell great big lies. Like Jon Stewart, they're smart. The Yes Men throw wrenches into corporate America's well-oiled machine. They're not alone. My friend Andrew Boyd, founder of Billionaires for Bush makes us laugh, makes us cry and makes us get off our butts and actually do something. If you're looking for a new activism—one that has a chance of succeeding beyond your wildest dreams and the planet's deepest needs—check out the links on this page.

As an old fart activist, I'm asking you: please, create or contribute to a new activism that fights for equity across the boards—including whatever might be your own oppression, as well as the systems oppressing others. That would make your activist grandma and grandpa proud. I promise. 

And I promise to do whatever I can to help you make that happen. Really. Tweet me, and let's see how we can build a shiny new coalition of activists.

With curmudgeonly and cronely love, respect, gratitude, and best wishes for success, I remain…

Your Auntie Kate

When Heroes and Heroines Die

Ted kennedy full My mother, Mildred Vandam Bornstein, died just over twelve years ago. I wrote a sadly funny piece about her funeral service. By the time she died, she and I had reconciled nearly all our big issues, and we had a deeply loving mother/tranny daughter relationship with each other. When she died, it took me a week of maddening grief to conclude there was only one way to go on living without her in my life: I had to embody the parts of her I'd relied on, and the parts of her I wanted to be. 

Never mind that my mother was an active alcoholic. Never mind that she was as depressed a mess as I am. She was a gracious lady, and a fiercely protective, loving mother. That's what I needed to embody so that her death wouldn't go on making me want to die. To heal the loss of my mother, I've endeavored to be a gracious, delightful lady whenever I possibly can. And to honor her memory, I do my best to be a fiercely protective, loving mother with my queer and freaky children all over the world. 

Now Ted Kennedy is gone, goddamn it. When I woke up this morning and heard him being eulogized on the radio, I wept like a child. I howled. I haven't cried this hard about a public figure's passing since Princess Diana died in 1997. She was another gracious, delightful lady. Through my eyes, Princes Diana was also the fierce, protective mother. I have no idea what Ted Kennedy has been to me, but I've begun looking. Never mind that he had shadows in his past. I'm looking for what it was about him that I've relied upon, what was it about him I wanted to be.

I'm not a savvy politico. I only know the most superficial accomplishments and foibles of Ted Kennedy's life. But, somehow Ted Kennedy has crept into my heart as the good guy fighting alongside the people who don't have the power to fight for on their own. That's a start. I can start working on that one.

I told all this to my girlfriend, Barbara Carrellas, over tea today. I was saying that the older you get, the more people around you die, and so the more responsible you become for whatever good they were doing in the world. She nodded. We drank some more tea. Then Barbara said she hopes that Kennedy's colleagues in Congress get the same idea about taking responsibility for taking over his good work.

Many senators, she went on to say, have surely kept their mouths shut on sensitive issues, thinking, "Oh, Ted Kennedy will handle that one." And now that he's gone? Which senators are going to take on the mantle of political good guy, powerhouse, and warhorse? 

Okay, I'm gonna go cry some more, until I figure out how I can best fight alongside some folks who don't have the power to fight on their own.

G'bye, Senator Kennedy. I'll do my best. I promise.


Has Germaine Greer Become A Ghastly Parody?

GermaineGreer_cJonathanRing  I’m feeling pretty damned good about ground gained in western culture by transgender people. I was there at the beginning of this loosely-knit yet somehow united movement, and things are a whole lot better for trans people today in Western culture than they ever have been.

There are many people who are claiming and living lives far beyond man or woman. There are many people who live fluidly gendered lives.  There are many people who know the dangers of gender when it plays itself out as an unconscious social binary. 

It’s not Mission Accomplished, not by a long shot. But talented trans people are scaling the walls of political power and artistic genius. There are deeply compassionate trans people who are religious scholars and clergy. Transdora's box is wide open and we're never going back. I am tranny, hear me frakking ROAR! 

And then along comes Germaine Greer—genuine warhorse and goddess of feminism—on 20 August, 2009 with an Op-Ed piece in The Guardian she calls Caster Semenya sex row: What makes a woman? In this new piece, Ms. Greer refers to transwomen—me and my brave sisters and mothers and daughters—as “ghastly parodies” of women. 

I’m not going to talk about Caster Semenya’s dilemma beyond saying that she’s being treated with intolerable rudeness and disrespect by the media. It’s the same savagely uncaring journalistic strategy used against Dr. Renée Richards when she was so rudely outed to the world in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yes, yes. Ouch. It hurts to be called a ghastly parody. And that kind of talk feeds transphobia across the world. So, shame on The Guardian for printing these hateful words. But who is Ms. Greer to be hurling these invectives, and why? Greer is no one to dismiss as an idiot or complete jerk. Through her relentless work, Ms. Greer has raised the volume of women’s voices in the world. She got people around the world to start taking women more seriously. 

And here's the problem: all the time she was doing that great social activism, Greer believes to the core of her being that woman is an essential identity. The gender battleground on which Germaine Greer fought and learned her political strategies was gender-as-man-and-woman-only. On that battlefield, it's easy to attack transgender people as freaks.

The good news is that Germaine Greer's transphobia is more the exception among todays scholars, artists and activists. They work as tirelessly as Greer herself on issues of gender rights, freedoms, parameters, and dignity. Postmodern gender theory has been taught in colleges and universities around the world for over fifteen years. It's over-spilling the walls of academia. The battlefield/playground has shifted. Nothing is essential any more. 

Germaine Greer's tragedy is that she has not considered as even possible the theory of gender fluidity. For her kind of activism to work, MAN and WOMAN can and must be essential as well as easy to tell apart from each other. Greer is a fierce warrior, but to nail down the gender binary, she concludes her op-ed piece by saying,

“People who don't ovulate or menstruate will probably always physically outperform people who do.” 

Ms. Greer is claiming that biology is, in fact destiny.

The price of being a writer of vitriol is that it reveals your most private fears, which you've penned in the form of an attack on someone else. And sadly, that makes Ms. Greer a ghastly parody of herself. What she wrote was painful and destructive. But the loss of her fierce presence on the front lines of feminism is more to be mourned than scorned.

And the point of all this is to assure you: it really has gotten a lot better for transgender people. There's a long, long way to go. But it's much, much better. I promise.

Kiss kiss,

Your Ever-Loving Kate

Who You Calling A Tranny?

Doris fish love forever This is Doris Fish, San Francisco's pre-eminent drag queen in the 1980's. She died in 1991 from AIDS-related diseases. She was generous, flamboyant, kind, and ultra talented. Her charisma rating was off the top of the chart. She'd moved to San Francisco from Sydney, Australia—then (and some say now) the undisputed home of the world's most fabulous drag queens. Doris took me under her delightfully feathered wings. 

I was afraid of her raw sexuality, but bowled over by her courage. Doris was amused by my quest to become a real woman.

I learned from Doris that in Australia, from the 1960's through the 1970's, most all of the male-to-female spectrum of gender outlaw began their transition in the fabulous world of sexy, over-the top drag performance. Like me in the late 80’s in San Francisco, the majority of MTF transsexuals just wanted to live their lives as closely as possible to whatever their notion was of "a real woman." They considered drag queens beneath them. The drag queens were amused by the MTFs pursuing the dream of real woman. 

No matter what ideas you might have about transsexuals or drag queens, if you were M headed toward F in any fashion at all, you moved into, through, up and out of the drag queen community. So there was always a bond between the drag queens and the MTF transsexuals in Sydney. The bond was so strong, they invented a name for the identity they shared: tranny. It was a name that said family. Doris Fish taught me that she and I were family.

Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn't allowed to co-opt the word "woman." Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn't a man, I wasn't a woman. By calling myself a gender outlaw, I had unknowingly reclaimed the right to name myself outside the language generated by the bi-polar gender system. Under that system, each of us needed to fit neatly into a pre-fab sex/gender identity.  

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and The Rest of Us was first published in hardcover by Routledge in 1994, just over 15 years ago. The book hit the world of academics, feminists, and sex and gender activists at a critical time—feminists were getting tired of being alone as gender's only activists. Gender Outlaw made it okay for more and more people to name themselves outside of a system that would rather see them dead for disobeying its rigid binary rules. The people who stepped outside their lines early on added a new energy to feminism by giving feminists allies and resources to tear down the sex and gender system that was—and still is—oppressing all of us.

Over the past decade and a half, people have been using Gender Outlaw as a stepping-off point on their personal gender odysseys. People of all sorts of birth-assigned genders have been naming themselves, and they've been getting together with groups of people who've done the same sort of self-naming. And now we’ve arrived at a time when the next generation of gender outlaws get to call the shots. To that aim, Seal Press has commissioned what we hope will be a ground-breaking new book: Gender Outlaws, the Next Generation, edited by S. Bear Bergman and yours truly, the older generation. 

Four weeks ago, Bear posted a call for submissions on his blog. In the interests of keeping the call as open as possible, we agreed to include as many trans-identities as we knew, so we used the word "tranny." And that's where the activist shit hit the postmodern fan base. People have been pissed. Here's their argument: FTMs are co-opting a word that belongs to MTFs. The word "tranny" belongs to MTFs, reason those who were hurt by our use of the word, because it was a denigrating term reclaimed by MTFs—ergo, only MTFs could be known as trannies. I spoke with Bear, and we agree that’s wrong on several counts:


  1. Tranny began as a uniting term amongst ourselves. Of course it’s going to be picked up and used as a denigrating term by mean people in the world. But even if we manage to get them to stop saying tranny like a thrown rock, mean people will come up with another word to wound us with. So, let’s get back to using tranny as a uniting term amongst ourselves. That would make Doris Fish very happy.
  2. It's our first own language word for ourselves that has no medical-legacy. 
  3. Even if (like gay) hate-filled people try to make tranny into a bad word, our most positive response is to own the word (a word invented by the queerest of the queer of their day). We have the opportunity to re-create tranny as a positive in the world.
  4. Saying that FTMs can’t call themselves trannies eerily echoes the 1980s lesbians who said I couldn’t use the word woman to identify myself, and the 1990s lesbians who said I couldn’t use the word dyke. 

At one phase in the evolution of transpeople-as-tribe, it was the male-to-females who were visible and representative of trans to the rest of the world. They were the trannies. Today? Ironically true to the binary we’re in the process of shattering, the pendulum has swung so that it's now female-to-males who are the archetypal trannies of the day. The generation coming up beyond the next generation, i.e. my tribal grandchildren are the young boys who transition to young girls at the age of five or six. They’re the next trannies. None of us can own the word. We can only be grateful that our tribe is so much larger than we had thought it would be. How to come together—now that’s the job of the next generation of gender outlaws.

Labels aren't all that bad when they're used consciously, but a major downside of using labels to describe an identity—even the labels we wear proudly as badges of courage—is that lables set up us-versus-them scenarios. The next generation of gender outlaws is seeking to dismantle us-versus-them. As a people, none of us deserves to hear the words “You’re not welcome here,” or “You’re not good enough,” or “You’re not real.” My Goddess, we just have to stop saying that to each other, all of us whose identity somehow hinges on gender or sexuality. We have to stop beating up on each other. The Sydney drag queens and transsexuals knew that when they came up with the word tranny to encourage mutual respect.

What’s more, the time has come for those who are coping with sex and gender oppression to raise ourselves up to a level of respectability of other marginalized groups—those working for equity along the lines of class, race, age, looks, religion, ability, family status, and citizenship. We’re not taken seriously precisely because our focus is on sex and gender. In the eyes of this culture that makes us morally suspect. What the fuck does our sex or our gender have to do with our morality?! We need to de-Puritanize this fucking culture, that’s what we’ve got to do. It's time to reclaim more than names. It's time to reclaim the moral high ground.

Those are the sort of topics I’d like to see in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation. The first generation of gender outlaws made themselves known in the world. The job of the next generation of gender outlaws is to weave all of us gender and sex positivists together as a globally recognized tribe. I'd like to be around to see substantial progress made along those lines.


TO BE CLEAR: Nothing I've said here or anywhere else should be taken as permission to call another person tranny until you know that's a word they use for their own identity—some people find the word extremely hurtful. So, please err on the side of caution and compassion.



kiss kiss




"Tranny," revisited by me five years later (2014), here:


Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation Submission Details

Submission Deadline: Sept 1 (early submissions are encouraged). Submissions should be unpublished; query if you have a reprint that you think we’ll swoon for. While we hesitate to list a maximum, please query first for pieces over 4,000 words. If you have an idea and need help writing it out, contact us to discuss an interview-style piece or other accommodations. 

Submit as a Word document or black/white JPEG (no files over 2MB). Please include a cover letter with a brief bio and full contact information (mailing address, phone number, pseudonym if appropriate) when you submit. Submissions without complete contact information will be deleted unread. Payment will be $50 and 2 copies of the book upon publication in Fall 2010. Contributors retain the rights to their pieces. Send your submission as an attachment to



My Tranny Hippie Girl College 40th Reunion at Brown

Kb_brown_panel I graduated Brown University in 1969. I’m only the 2nd woman in the world to hold a diploma from Brown University prior to 1970. Before that, women were enrolled in Pembroke College AT Brown University. Even though there was NO difference in our classes or curriculum, women graduating Brown prior to 1970 were awarded diplomas from Pembroke College AT Brown University. Except me. And Wendy Carlos before me.

I was a hippy-dippy actor/director and stoner during my days at Brown, and this year I got an email from our class president. I’d been identified, he said, as among the most accomplished, illustrious, and interesting members of our class. Hah! And, he continued, there would be a panel discussion about how attending Brown in the 60s effected my life, and would I participate? Would I?!

So, this past Memorial Day weekend, I travelled up to Providence, Rhode Island to attend my first ever college reunion in forty years. My partner, Barbara Carrellas, did all the driving and courage-building. Other panel participants included: Ira Magaziner, chairman of the William J. Clinton Foundation’s international development initiatives; Cornelia Dean, writer and editor for The New York Times; John Rizzo, past and current Acting General Consul for the CIA; five other classmates: a banker, a scientist, a philanthropist, a judge, and me. I didn’t find out until the day of the panel that John Rizzo was referred to as the “Architect of Torture.” Yikes.

So, this is me talking to over 200 classmates and their families. They asked me to speak for 5-7 minutes. I came in at 6 minutes, 56 seconds. Barbara Carrellas flipped the video. Enjoy.

This Is How I Remember Things

This past Christmas holiday, I visited my partner Barbara's family up in Middletown, RI. I've been going up there for Christmas for the past 12 years. This year, Barbara's cousin gave Barbara a rare photo of her family, gathered round for the wedding of her mom and dad. I told B's family I'd do my best to recover the picture. This is how the photo looked when I scanned it in.

I've been a PhotoShop enthusiast for many years. I've learned tricks and tips reading books by Scott Kelby, and attending his seminars. But I never sat down to recover a picture in as bad a shape as this one. There's scratches, missing faces, burnt out details. You can click on the photo to see it full size.

I went to work, adjusting contrasts, coaxing out details, sharpening blurry parts, removing scratches and splotches. Where the hole was too big, I had to fudge a face or two. In the parts of the photo that were almost completely grayed out, I had to invent new outfits for a couple of the gentlemen in the back row. After about a day's work, I ended up with this photo. I was even able to enlarge it a bit. You can click on it to see the full picture. It's not bad for a first whack at correcting an old photo.

I'm the last one left with many memories and stories about my brother, my father, and my mother. I'm 60 years old, so there's a LOT to remember and I tend to get fuzzy on details. I tend to tell what Mark Twain would call stretchers. But I've sworn to myself to make this new memoir I'm writing as accurate and as loving as I possibly can. So, how do I access the memories I alone possess? That worried me until I corrected this photo. See, I've long been a practicer of Cheri Huber's Zen koan: The way you do anything is the way you do everything. And I realized that the way I corrected this photo is the way I'm going to have to remember my mother, my father, and my brother.  

In writing this memoir, I'm going to be coaxing out details of my memory. I'll do my best to sharpen the blurry parts. If I have to fudge a face or two, I'm going to err on the side of love and the best in them. If I have to dress up any of the stories about people in order to fill in the holes of my memory, I'll do my best to make people look as good as I can most lovingly wish them to look. 

And that's how I'm going to remember enough to write this memoir.

Kiss Kiss


PS — A really good resource for PhotoShop users is the National Association of Photoshop Users. I'm a member whenever I can afford it. The monthly magazine alone is great, plus there's a live chat room with PhotoShop users who've always been able to answer my questions about how to get things done. 

Eulogy for my brother, Alan V. Bornstein


The memorial service for my brother was held down on the Jersey Shore yesterday, January 2nd 2009. The service was held three days after he died, according to the wishes of his wife's family who aren't Jewish and don't observe the 24 hour rule for burials. Anyway, my brother and I both decided we'd rather be cremated so that messes up any orthodox burial. On top of that, I've got a gazillion tats, and just one tat will keep you barred from a Jewish cemetery burial. I'm babbling.

I hate that my brother is gone. This is a picture of me, him, and our Dad's dog, Skippy. 

 I'm home with the flu and a bad case laryngitis I've had for two days now. The laryngitis went away for the 13 minutes it took me to deliver his eulogy, and then it came back. That's show biz, it is. The show must go on is part of my ethos.

Before his body was cremated, I got to sit with my brother for awhile. I told him what I wanted to tell
him. I listened to what he had to say. I could hear him laughing. I hope I'm always able to hear him laughing—he loved a good joke. I promised him I'd write him a kick-ass eulogy. I promised him I'd make people laugh and I'd make 'em cry. He liked that. So this is the text of that eulogy

I hate that my big brother is gone. I hope the eulogy makes you laugh and makes you cry.

Happy new year. 


Rest In Sweet Peace, Alan. I Love You.


My big brother, Alan Vandam Bornstein passed unexpectedly this evening, Monday December 29th at 11:15 pm. He was 68 years old. He would have been 69 on January 12th. He and I were the last two survivors of our immediate family. He's survived by his loving wife Deb, his daughter Stacey and his son Brian. I'm heading down to the Jersey Shore to help with funeral arrangements. I'll post those as soon as I know them. 

This photo is Alan on the left, our dog Rocky, and me. Alan was a great big brother. 

He always had my back. He always stood up for me, no matter what. Damn, I miss him deeply. 

Whoops…. I’m Healthy!

My friend, Helen Boyd just now pointed out the embarrassing fact that I’ve not posted a follow-up blog to the announcement of my surgery this past summer and some people are worried about me. SORRY! I’M JUST FINE! See, this is a picture of sassy, healthy me! (photo by Jamie Ann, a new friend of mine in Minneapolis.)Kb_by_jamie_ann_2

The surgery went GREAT! My surgeon calls me his poster girl for success. Honest, he said that right in his crowded waiting room. I love my surgeon. He embraced the New Age affirmations I got from the book, Prepare For Surgery, Heal Faster. He credits the book for my fast, successful recovery. He’s even recommending it to other patients now (the ones he thinks can deal with it).

The hospital staff, doctors, nurses, physician assistants, everyone at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York—with one or two inevitable exceptions (shit happens)—were kind to me. I gave out about two dozen copies of the (downloadable) comic book I’d prepared ahead of time, and it made people laugh.

Beth Israel Medical Center has a policy to give trannies a private room for post-surgical care. After I got over my paranoia of ghettoization, I begrudgingly enjoyed my at-no-extra-charge private room!

I’m eating well now… anything I want to eat!! No more worries about food restrictions. And my energy level is nearly back to FULL. So, I’m sorry I didn’t post this earlier. I’m doing fine. Thank you to everyone who’s been concerned.



My Latest Life Lesson in Needing Approval

I’m on tour in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. It’s one of my favorite places in the USA: sweet people, great politics, strong human rights movements, and stellar academia. I’ve been having a great time here, meeting wonderful folks and connecting on many levels of mind, body, spirit, and theory. But yesterday, I ran headlong into an old buried obsession of mine: my obsessive need to be recognized as a peer within PhD circles—something I’ve not experienced in the 20 years I’ve been writing postmodern gender theory with my lowly BA degree in Theater Arts.

Here’s what happened… I was invited to a luncheon at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The IAS is based on a great idea: when anyone in any discipline needs to do high level research with anyone from another discipline, the IAS plays matchmaker, provides some grant money, and the research actually gets done. Voila! Coalition building at the level of higher education. The theme of this year’s Institute is “Body and Knowing.” I was thrilled to have been invited, because I felt I had a great deal to offer and a great deal to learn from the multidisciplinary scholars.

I arrived early with two undergrad students who were my driver and companions for the day. We were met at the door by Angie, the gracious woman who manages the day-to-day workings of the Institute. She showed us to the luncheon room, gave us vouchers for our lunch in the cafeteria, and accompanied us as we bought lunch and returned to the room just before noon, when the luncheon was scheduled.

Thirty minutes later, it was still just the four of us in the room. Not a single one of the Institute’s scholars had come to attend the luncheon to which they’d invited me. At the insistence of the IAS, no one else from the U of M campus was invited to this lunch. It was a closed door affair for members only, and me. Well, I took off, leaving the gift of a “Get Out of Hell Free” card for each of the absent scholars. I asked Angie to please phone me when she had any word as to why this had happened.

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