Notes for “The Tao of Mitzvah, Sabbath, and Boddhisatva,” by Kate Bornstein

versions of this talk were delivered to the 13th Annual NUJLS Conference, 2009 

and to the 3rd Annual Trans Religious Conference, 2009

My older brother died unexpectedly this January. It was a terrible shock. He’d been the family Patriarch. Not that he cared much, but he was the oldest male. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but most Orthodox and Conservative refuse to acknowledge my change of gender from male to female. 

So, hello to you… I’m speaking to you as the new Patriarch of the Bornstein family. 

And for this afternoon I’m speaking to you as your Kate-riarch, and you are my cherished children. Thank you all for inviting me, and for welcoming me with such warmth. Now it’s my mitvah to share with you what I’ve learned about making life more worth living as both a Jew and as a queer.


When I arrived at college in 1965, my room-mate was  a guy named Jim. These weren’t co-ed dorms. I was still a guy.  Jim was a nice enough young man, as was I. He was a gentle Christian man from the mid-west. I was not. I was a stressed out Jewish closet case from the New Jersey shore. And, the first day in our dorm room together, Jim looks at me kind of strange. 

“Bornstein,” he says, “is that a Jewish name?”

And for reasons aplenty, I bristled but joked off my edginess by saying, “No, it’s Roman Catholic.”

I thought he knew I was joking. But he didn’t find out I really was a Jew until six months later. In fact, when it finally came out that I was a Jew, he was positively convinced I couldn’t be a Jew. Why? Because all Jews have horns. 

Decent guy from a loving family, and he came to college believing that Jews have horns and it took him six months in college for him to find out we didn’t! I didn’t have horns, so I couldn’t be Jewish.

Am I a Jew? I’ve been having to look at this one very closely over the last few years. 

Am I a Jew?


I’m a transsexual dyke. 

I’m sadomasochist, which means I play with pain erotically. Mostly, I like to be on the receiving end, so that makes me a piggie masochist. 

I’ve got piercings in body parts I wasn’t born with.

Am I a Jew?

I’m a tattooed lady. 

I’m a radical left wing elder, artist and theorist. 

I’m a pornographer—a good one. 

I believe in gods and goddesses and angels and demons.

I’m an atheist. 

Am I a Jew?

I read Tarot cards and I throw the I Ching. 

I believe in reincarnation.

Am I a Jew?

Is anyone telling you that you’re less of a Jew by reason of your Desire?

Where are your horns?


We come to college with a great many misconceptions…

Most of us leave our homes and come to college believing that race, age and class have nothing to do with your gender or your sexuality.

Some people believe that it’s actually freedom and democracy that America is spreading across the globe at an alarming rate.

And many people come to college with a very common pair of misconceptions: There are only two genders: man and woman; and there are only two ways of expressing your sexual desire: homo or hetero.

Desire is one of three areas in life that can make our lives worth living: 

Who attended my workshop yesterday? You’ll recall I spoke some about the three areas of life that can make our lives more worth living: 

Identity… who are you? who do you wanna be? who are you role models? who are people just like you? who do you look up to? how do you wanna be treated in the world?

Desire… that’s wanting. As soon as you get your desire, you don’t desire any more. unless you desire more… which can become a problem if you don’t keep on top of it. Desire can be for anything, but for purposes of today’s talk—given who we are and how we identify—I’m gonna talk about sexual desire: who do you wanna fuck? who do you wanna be fucked by? where do you wanna fuck? do you wanna fuck at all? 

Power… and by that, I’m simply talking about fair access to the resources you need to make your life better for you and your loved ones, your family, your tribe. 

For thousands of years, humanity has governed itself by a politic of power that depends on authoritarian hierarchies. Our identities, our desires, and our power are all monitored by hierarchal systems of oppression, sanctioned and encouraged by the politics of power..

Power politics depends on obedience to those in power, or you die. 

“My way or the highway,” says the politics of power. 

“You’re either with us or you’re against us,” says the politics of power.

You never have to answer anyone who demands any either/or of you. 

Either/Or is the language of bullies. 

The politics of power has degenerated into global bully-ism.

Democracy is a sort of tranny politic: half way between a power politic, and an identity politic. Democracy is a great politic with two major drawbacks: 

1) If you’ve got enough money, you can thoroughly corrupt democracy and

2) In order to have a voice in a democratic government, you must be part of an acceptable demographic. None of us in this room has an acceptable recognizable identity.

In the history of humanity, we have governed ourselves using the politics of power and politics of identity. But there has never been a politic of desire. How about that? Never.


What do we Jews know about desire?

What do we queers know about desire?

As Jews, we are taught this: it was the desire for a binary system that led to the downfall of humanity. 

Maybe the Book of Genesis makes sense when read through the lens of postmodern queer theory: It was humanity’s desire for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil got us in trouble. God tried to warn us about the binary, but we weren’t listening. We wanted a world that was a simple either/or, good or evil.

As students of queer theory, as Jews who question everything: what does that mean, “The knowledge of good and evil?” 

And what motive did we have for that desire? 

Why does our culture desire the knowledge of good and evil? The serpent seduced us into wanting that.

Do you still desire the knowledge of good and evil?


I’m not saying that all binaries are bad. 

I’m saying that binaries are bad for us when we’re not conscious of binaries as simplistic statements of complex systems. 

Binaries become unconscious when they’re embedded within moral values. For what is morality but the knowledge of Good and Evil? 

So what is the Book of Genesis really telling us when it gives us a parable of world creation in which the downfall of humanity was humanity’s desire for morality? 

I don’t think it was ever God’s plan for sex to be part of any good-and-evil binary. He warned us away from that kind of thinking.

I don’t think it was ever God’s plan for gender to be part of any good-and-evil binary. He warned us away from that kind of thinking.


I’m not speaking against morality. Morality has great value to people who don’t trust themselves to decide for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong. Morality can teach us how to do good deeds.

All religions teach us to do good deeds according to each of their standards of good and evil. It’s frightening how many religions consider queers to be some kind of evil, isn’t it? 

And that is the basis of our conundrum, isn’t it? We want to belong to a religion who won’t accept us as members all because our harmless desires are somehow seen as morally corrupt. 

Please keep in mind that our harmless desires are only corrupt within in a system of morals that was after all the downfall of humanity.

As we learned more about Judaism—deeper than its flawed moral exterior—we learned that doing good deeds—performing mitzvah—is what makes us feel like we are indeed the chosen people. 

You and I are indeed the chosen people. And in the eyes of too many Jews, you and are still considered abnormal, apostate, and abomination.

Outlaws with hearts of gold, that’s us.

Demons with a conscience, that’s us.

Freaks on the cutting edge of a new politic of Desire.

That’s us.

Here’s good news: We can be told that we’re not real Jews, but no one can stop us from reaching our fulfillment through the performance of Mitzvah. No one can tell us how to enjoy our Sabbath.

And here’s the hard news: It’s living a life of doing good deeds: that’s what’s important, whether or not we are acknowledged as the Chosen People of Israel.


There’s plenty of room for good-hearted outlaws in Judaism. I’m sure there are scholars who’ve found a great many loopholes for good-hearted freak Jews like all of us.

Here’s two options I’ve found, and I haven’t looked all that hard:

We can agree with those who would cast us out of Judaism. We can say, OK, I’m not a Jew. And if we keep on performing mitzvah? 

That makes us Chassidey Umot HaOlam.

That makes us the righteous among nations,

If we’re thrown out of the synagogue, we can say good-bye for now, and we can become righteous gentiles. Who cares what we’re called so long as we perform mitzvah? That’s one way to leave Judaism and still maintain our ruach as outlaw Jews with hearts of gold.

There’s another option to abandoning the identity of Jew. Some Jews may refuse to recognize us, but there’s another doorway through which we can find a path to practice our Judaism: There’s the tradition of the hidden Tzaddikim: the hidden Jews whose ruach dictates that they anonymously take on the suffering of others 

Some Jews insist there are 36 Tzaddikim walking through the world. Some say they can prove there’s thirteen. In either case, you can bet that right this minute at least one of them is dying and that means that God is going to need a replacement Tzaddik. Well, that’s where we come in. 

We sign up for the job, and we live our lives performing mitzvah—abnormal as we are, apostate as we are, abomination as we are. We dedicate our lives to mitzvah.

The Jewish Tzaddikim and the Buddhist Boddhisatva alike wear the mantle of the despised for the purpose of anonymity.  

The Jewish Tzaddikim and the Buddhist Boddhisatva  alike sign up for the thankless and most rewarding job of taking on the suffering of the world.

And excuse me, but, who says there can only be 36 Tzaddikim at any given moment? Why not 360 of us? Why not 3,600 of us? Why not 3.6 million Tzaddikim taking on the suffering of the planet?

That oughta scare us up a messiah or two… and then? 

Then we’re on the road to fun, fun, fun, 

…and that’s called queer activism!

You do excellent work. I hope you observe and enjoy excellent Sabbath.


Sabbath is honoring the goodness of yourself. That’s difficult. As a rule, most of us don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit. We’ve listened to people call us freak and bad and evil for so long, we default into thinking that way about ourselves. That’s got to stop.

No matter how many mitzvahs we try to accomplish, it takes a great deal of practice to truly honor our goodness. In Sabbath we honor our goodness through the exploration of our outlaw desires: as wet or as hard, as sloppy, as chaste, or as bloody as our outlaw desires may happen to be at any given moment. 

We move through life in Mitzvah. 

We rest and renew in Sabbath. 

That’s how we learn to trust ourselves to determine our own identities. 

We move in mitzvah, we rest in sabbath. 

That’s how we learn and enjoy the nature of our desire.

We move in mitzvah, we rest in sabbath. That’s how your generation will discover the blueprint for a politic of Desire, a politic to replace the oppressive politics of power and identity. 


Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts are taking on more and more power in today’s world, I hafta tell you: I am not at all proud to be entering mainstream American culture… not as a queer, and not as a Jew. It is far too sex negative and gender rigid for me to have any fun in. And when I do live out the fun of my harmless desires, mainstream American culture is downright mean to me. Mainstream American culture is nothing I want to be on the front lines of. So, what front lines of queer action do you want to be part of?

Over the past couple of decades, a great many kind, generous, and inclusive lesbian women and gay men stood fast on the front lines of queer action when they added the B and the T to their movement. At that moment, the lesbian and gay movement blew wide open—beyond an either/or sexuality to a more fluid expression of sex and gender. 

Over the last ten years or so, Queer Studies has brought about a redefinition of straight and queer, lesbian and dyke, gay man and faggot. Queer and straight became less about who you were fucking, and more about supporting or opposing sex positivity and gender anarchy. So we have in parts of the world more and more straight lesbians and gay men who want nothing more than gay marriage, joint stock certificates, and Gay Days at Disneyland. Thank goodness, there are also more and more queer heterosexuals who enjoy and support alternate sexualities and wacky gender expressions.

And those are the front lines of the queer revolution, because the front lines are always way out there on the dangerous edges of a culture. That’s where we live when we come to terms with our individual desires and dare to express them in a world that would rather see us dead. Any queer revolution must embrace of a Politic of Desire. So, what would that look like? 

A politic of desire would look like great sex: consensual, unpredictable, respectful and truly yummy. A politic of desire would embrace sex positivity and gender anarchy. 

Who is having sex with whom would matter less than the love and joy of sex itself. Gender would be more of a game and less of a power struggle. A politic of desire would follow the example of the brave lesbians and gay men who decided to be inclusive, back when they first added the B and the T to their movement.

LGBT is an uneasy, unstable coalition. LGBT can and does fall apart at any bend in the road. We divide ourselves by saying things like: “let’s leave trannies out of the non-discrimination act,” or “let’s make marriage equality our number one issue”—all at the expense of everyone who doesn’t have the great good fortune to pass and afford to live and pass with an identity acceptable to the George W. Fucking Bushes of the world. I dunno about you, but I don’t wanna be acceptable to the likes of George Fucking W.

So let’s talk about the mitzvah of inclusion. As inclusive as it’s become, LGBT is only the beginning. There are a fuck of a lot more letters with whom LGBT Culture can ally itself. In the burgeoning world of sex positivists and gender anarchists, in addition to LGB and T, there would also be:

Q for Queer

Another Q for Questioning

A for Asexuals

Another A for Adult Entertainers

S for Sadomasochists

S for Sex Workers

S for Swingers

And another S for Sex Educators

There would be I for Intersex

There would be an M for men who have sex with men.

And a W for women who have sex with women.

There would be a G for Genderqueer

And a T for Two-Spirit

There’d be an F for Feminists, and an F for Furries.

To include all of our sex positive, gender active family, there would be a K for Kinky

P for Pornographers

P for Pansexual

And another P for Polyamorists.

And while we’re at it, give me an H for sex positive, gender fluid heterosexuals.

Give me an E, a T, and a C for et cetera, 

And give me an A and an I which can stand for either ad infinitum or kinky artificial intelligence.

That’s a lot of letters, and I’d fight on the front lines of a coalition of desire like that. And that’s just the beginning.

Queer is the ever-expanding edge of Desire of any given culture. How can your generation articulate a vision and take action on an even larger frontline? You could put together a truly intersectional, international coalition of all the people in the world who form the ever-expanding edges of Identity and Power. 

That would be a lovely Mitzvah for your generation to perform. Because we cannot come together as a coalition of desire without including in our fight all the other people who are pushed out to the edges of the dominant culture.

Sure, it’s your religion, your sexuality and your gender expression that make you a target of both Jews and Queers. For some of us, age makes us a target. Your race makes you a target. Your class makes you a target of the dominant culture. Your looks, your ability, your citizenship all can make you targets of America’s bully culture that says to us: if you want any power in this world, then it’s our way or the highway. Choose one or the other. Well, either/or has no place in the politics of desire. 

You create a politic of desire whenever you desire well-being for people besides yourself and people just like you. It’s called generosity. It’s called compassion. Everyone in this room has known love like that. Mitzvah is always more than doing something solely for yourself or for people just like you. 


I’m going to leave you with a few words about sex that I hope you carry with you into a Sabbath that opens your heart to the true nature of your Desire. This is from my latest book, Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws.

Sex doesn’t have to mean marriage, children, or even I love you. 

Sex can be right this minute or next year some time. You get to decide. And you get to change your mind about that whenever you want to. 

Sex can be a passionless quickie. 

Sex can be any way you imagine it can be.
Sex doesn’t have to be any way you don’t want it to be.
Sex doesn’t have to be with one person all the time, or even with one person at a time. Sex doesn’t have to be with anyone but yourself. You get to control the guest list. 

Sex doesn’t have to happen only with other Jews. Sex can be with anyone of any race, religion, gender, age, class, education level or body type as pleases you. 

And sex doesn’t have to be for free. You can buy or trade sex for things if you need and want to do that. 

Sex doesn’t mean you’re a slut or a whore, unless of course that’s what you’d like to be. 

Sex doesn’t have to be genital and you don’t have to do it in private. 

Sex doesn’t have to end with an orgasm for everyone. 

During sex, you can be any gender you want to be. You can be any age, race, class, animal, object or alien life-form that you’d like to be as long as you both or all agree that’s what you’re safely being together. 

Sex doesn’t have to be in the missionary position. 

Sex doesn’t have to happen on the bed in a bedroom in the dark. 

Sex can be really yummy, sick-o, gross, painful, scary, bloody and/or degrading when you all or both agree to do it that way safely together. Sex can be hilariously funny. 

Sex can be a lovely gift you give someone or someone gives you. 

Sex can be a blessing, a prayer, and a generous act of healing. 

Sex can involve costumes, props and a script. 

Sex can be on your way home this afternoon, or even before I’ve finished speaking.


Look—and I’m wrapping up now—the ONLY way that the politics of power can deal with sex is to demonize, silence and invisibilize sex.

The ONLY way that the politics of identity can deal with sex is to police it.

The ONLY politic that can LIBERATE sex is your personal politic of conscious desire, your personal politic of love. 

When I was a little boy, I made up prayers every night. 

Every night, I prayed to be a girl.

I’m working on a new prayer now, and I’d like to offer this prayer as my wish for you, my most cherished children:

May all your deeds be Mitzvahs.
May you find the fulfillment of your Desire in Sabbath.
May your power increase with every shred of power you give away in service to another.
May you realize the goodness in yourself by admiring the goodness in others.
May your face be the face of your most cherished Deity.
May you come to respect yourself
whether or not anyone else gives you the respect you wish for.
May you know your own worth to humanity 
whether or not anyone else knows this about you.
So say we all… Amen.

SistersTalk: New Politics, Served Up Old School



I came out into the world of lesbian community in the mid-1980s. I had just begun the process of my gender change to woman, and community was a new concept for me. Women called each other sister. Lesbians reached their hands to each other. A very few of them extended their hands to me, the new trans thing on the block. Not many 80s lesbians embraced tranny lesbians. The popular word was that we trannies had our sights set on taking over the women's movement. But a few good-hearted women ignored the warnings of their more conservative, separatist sisters. 

Networking has always been important to the many women's movements of the 80s. There was no internet back then. Lesbians networked by phone, or in meeting rooms and kitchens. Magazines and newsletters kept women informed of political progress and tribal whereabouts. The simple act of reading one of those early journals—written with such warm hearts—was enough to make a sister feel hooked in and part of something bigger.

I met Genia Stevens on Twitter. Genia (pictured, right) has been lead blogger for the SistersTalk website for over six years now. She weaves her postmodern political awareness with a tone that calls to mind the old lesbian print media of the 80s. I'm honored that she's asked me to appear on her blogtalkradio talk show: SistersTalk Radio. Genia and I invite you to tune in Sunday evening, March 22nd at 6pm, EDT. For more info, visit the radio site here

It's a call-in show, so please call in and let's network.

kiss kiss


Eulogy for Alan Vandam Bornstein

Eulogy for My Brother, Happy New Year 2009
kate bornstein

Thank you, Rabbi Stanway, for your sweet summation of my brother’s life. Thank you, Stacey for your loving words. Thank you, Jen for your loving heart. Thank you all for coming to my brother’s memorial service on such short notice. I know that most of you aren’t Jewish, but the Jewish thing to do is bing-bang get the burial over with in 24 hours. I’ve buried all my Jewish family within a day of their deaths. I know it’s a rush for you, but it’s been 3 days, and I’m not used to having all this extra time. Turns out not to be such a bad thing. I had time to get to know my brother’s family better. I had time to write this eulogy.

My brother was not a practicing Jew. He called himself a cardiac Jew—a Jew at heart.
If you know my brother, you know how much he loved to consult the internet for every little thing. So in honor of his love of his computer, the internet and gadgets in general, I decided to consult the internet and see what I could come up with in terms of wisdom about brothers. 

I found this quote by Clara Ortega on every quotation site I looked at, so I guess her words touch a lot of people as being true and wise:

“To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.”

I don’t know about you, but the past few days since Alan’s unexpected and untimely death last Tuesday, I have been living totally outside the touch of time. Really. See, time is measured by memories and dreams and when you’re outside of time, memories get lost or out of order. And dreams? We forget them in our grief. Or we misremember our dreams as reality. That’s what it means to be outside of time. 

My big brother is gone, and I want to honor his life. It’s not the first time I’ve done this. As my brother’s best man, I wrote the first toast at his first wedding. Today, as his surviving sister, I’m writing his eulogy. 

Did that line get ya laughin’, Alan?

I’m going to share with you some of the jumble of our shared memories that is my mind in these sad days. Like, did you know that for his college summer job, Alan managed two of Asbury Park’s largest movie theaters? He did: The St. James and The Mayfair. He used to get me in for free. On weekends, the St. James had kiddie matinees. There was always a raffle and a prize. One weekend, he rigged the raffle so that my friend Ricky McDonough and I both won. That week, the prize was a plastic model submarine, and he knew how much I loved building models.  In the summer of 1962, against my parents’ wishes, Alan let me watch the very adult film, Lawrence of Arabia eight times during its exclusive Jersey Shore run.

Did you know that my brother’s passion in high school—his favorite extra-curricular activity—was acting? Every time he was in a show, my dad drove us all up to Bucks County, Pennsylvania to watch Alan perform the lead roles of the Stage Manager in Our Town, and Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. He made me laugh and he made me cry. Twelve years later, Alan travelled up to Providence Rhode Island to watch me perform the role of Launcelot Gobbo… Shylock’s clown servant in Merchant of Venice. A few years later still, he watched me play King Lear. I made him laugh, and I made him cry. Alan’s love for theater and his finesse as an actor had a lot to do with my own decision to become a playwright and performance artist.

Alan and I grew up in a household that listened to Perry Como, Lawrence Welk, and Doris Day. My big brother changed all that. He bought us our first Hi-Fi stereo phonograph. He was always on the cutting edge of gadgets and technology. 

He brought the calypso beat of Harry Belafonte into our house. He brought folk musicians The Kingston Trio, and Country Western’s Johnny Cash. My brother made my Jewish family laugh by bringing home comedy albums of up and coming comedians: Steve Allen, Bob Newhart, and Bill Cosby. His favorite vocalist of all time was Eartha Kitt, who passed from this world just a week ago. She was 81. Alan was 67.

Here’s a favorite quote of mine from storyteller Garrison Keillor:

The highlight of my childhood was making my brother laugh so hard that food came out his nose. 

Gotcha laughing yet, Alan? Here’s a story I know is gonna make you howl.

My mother’s mother, Essie, lived with us. She babysat the two of us when my parents went out dancing or to dinner, or for a weekend at the races. One of my earliest memories of my brother was the beautiful, warm spring day in 1952. My parents were driving home from the Kentucky Derby. It was the first year they’d televised the Derby, and Alan and I watched for but never saw their faces on TV. Essie wanted everything to be perfect for them when they come home. It was a warm day in May, and she dressed me in a seersucker playsuit. I was four and I looked really cute. It was getting close to the time they’d be pulling around the corner in the huge Packard, which was four years old just like me. 

“C’mon outside so they can see us when they turn the corner,” my brother cried. And I followed him. I always followed big brother whenever he told me to.

“Stand right here. It’s the first place they’ll look, and you’ll be the first person they see!” 

Wow! I stood right where he told me to stand, just in time to see my parents pull around the corner in their big old car. I jumped up and down and waved. I saw them wave back through the windshield. And that’s when Alan pulled the cord, and let down the awning that had filled with water from the big rain we’d had the night before. 

Torrents of water poured over me. My seersucker play suit clung to my cold wet skin. Stunned, I saw my mother break into laughter. My father had stopped the car in the road. He was laughing, too. Essie had run out of the house and was chasing Alan with a rolled up newspaper. It was a terrible moment and a terrific memory.

My big brother had the best bedroom in the house. It was a second-floor front corner room. Here’s something our parents never knew: in the summer Alan would climb out the side window, slide down the shingled roof and catch himself from falling by grabbing onto the huge tree branch that touched our drain gutters. Then he’d shimmy his way along twelve to fifteen feet of branch and scurry down the tree trunk where his friend Nick Antich would be waiting. They’d go out riding their bicycles. I never knew what time they got back, or how he got back into his room. I’d always fallen asleep before they returned. 

When Alan moved out, I got his room, but by that time lightening had struck down the tree on the corner, which was just as well because I was way too scared and too chubby to following the acrobatic footsteps of my skinny brother’s derring-do late night life. Oh yeah, he was the skinny one. I was the fat one. He was Wally, and I was the Beaver.

When I was ten, maybe eleven, I was alone in the living room with one of my uncles. He was poking me in the tummy.

“You’re puttin’ on some weight there, aren’t you, Albert?”
“You’re gettin’ to be a regular chubby little guy, eh?”
Poke, poke.
“In  few more years, you’ll be…”

And then my uncle wasn’t standing in front of me any more. My brother Alan had run into the room. He’d yanked my uncle away and slammed him up against the living room wall. He was holding my uncle by his shirtfront. He was furious. 

“Don’t you ever tease my little brother like that again. Ever. You hear me?” 

My uncle nodded his agreement, and he never did tease me again.

I know I’ve thanked you for that before, but thanks again, Alan.

My big brother loved Science Fiction, and I read his books second hand: Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Fredric Brown. We even had an old 1947 copy of Astounding Tales up in the attic, with a story in it by L. Ron Hubbard. This was years before Hubbard set up his cult of Scientology, which—in 1970—swept me away from my family for nearly a dozen years. 

I was the black sheep of the family. I mean, no duh! This is not how a proper Jewish man is supposed to look when he’s delivering his brother’s eulogy. I was always coloring outside the lines. I was the rebel, I was the hippie, I was the artist.

My brother wasn’t a beatnik. He was too clean cut for that. He was a fraternity man in college: Tau Kappa Epsilon, TKE. Every six weeks ago, he’d bring a dozen or so of his frat brothers home to New Jersey for sleep-over parties at my parents’ house. My father provided the beer, my mother made the lavish morning-after brunch. Girls slept everywhere upstairs, and boys slept everywhere downstairs. Bruce Hoffman’s father sat  awake on the stair landing all night, to make sure there was no hanky-panky going on.

Alan was a pre-war baby, 1941. I was born a year after the armistice in 1948. The seven years that separated us kept us apart most of our lives: me at home while he was away at summer camp or prep school, college, graduate school, the Air Force reserves. We saw each other infrequently as adults. By the time he moved back to the Jersey Shore, I was the one who was away at college, then graduate school, and then Scientology. 

Here’s another lovely quote from Clara Ortega:

The mildest, drowsiest sister has been known to turn tiger if her sibling is in trouble. 

I watched my big brother’s heart break once. Then twice. Then three times and four. If you know all the details about his heartaches, fine. If you don’t know why, it’s fine to simply know he was broken-hearted one time too many. 

Bornstein men, including me, when we’re that hurt? We isolate, we hide, we get angry, we want the world to go away. Well, Alan was badly hurt. He moved in with my mom who’d lost her husband to death and her younger son first to a cult and then to a sex change. For over a decade, Alan lived with our mother as a recluse. He stopped having fun. The two of them rattled around in that giant old house of ours in Interlaken. 

My big brother became a frightened, angry, pale-skinned old man. He was Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird. But then, our mother introduced Alan to Deborah. It was love at first sight, and Alan’s life changed for the better at that moment. Apparently the Beatles were right when they sang Love Is All You Need, because Deborah’s love and the welcome Alan received in her family—that’s what saved my big brother’s life and I’m grateful to you all more than words can say. In the arms of your love and your joy, he blossomed again like a flower. Because of you and your family, Deb, I can tell people that my brother died ahead of his time, but he died a happy man.

So, Happy New Year. This year, I plan to keep Alan’s spirit safe and happy. I’m dedicating my 2009 to the spirit of Alan Vandam Bornstein, Al, Doc, Pop Pop—whatever you called him—to the love he gave, and the love he inspired in others. When I miss you, Alan—and I will, I already have, and I will, we all will—but when that happens, I’m gonna look at the world through your compassionate eyes, your mischievous eyes, your generous eyes. And that’s how I plan to honor you, big brother. I am the fierce tiger standing guard over your honor. I promise. 

So, happy new year. In 2009, I invite you to join me in dedicating this year to living life the way our Alan would have loved us to live it. Thank you.

The Voice Lesson, Take 2

Whoops! I’ve been alerted that this film somehow fell off my blog. Here it is again.



Silly, Silly Kate

I’m not sending out any holiday cards this year, but I wanted to celebrate the spirit of all the holidaze that are happening just now, so here’s a silly, silly me movie. I made it at

So…. enjoy the season as best you possibly can!

kiss kiss