Kate Bornstein and musings about gender in fantasy and science fiction

13 Aug

Tonight I attended a hilarious author reading: trans activist and performance artist Kate Bornstein promoted her memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger. She read excerpts to the enormous crowd (a large portion of which stood) and answered questions and chatted with the audience. On the topic of reincarnation and the bodhisattva path, she said it’s something like Doctor Who but without the time machine. Recently on Facebook, I read a post in which a trans person used Doctor Who to explain that changing gender is like regenerating as a different gender. Bornstein also has a tattoo on the back of her right hand that any Harry Potter fan would appreciate: “I must not tell lies.” I chose to buy a copy of her memoir and donate it to In Other Words, the feminist bookstore and community center where I volunteer. But I’ll read the book before donating it. I love memoirs and biographies.

On the topic of Doctor Who and Harry Potter, I think the genres of fantasy and science fiction are wonderful tools for exploring topics that trans people and feminists relate to: in particular, the fluidity of gender. Certainly, Joanna Russ wrote The Female Man, and there’s a collection of genderqueer speculative fiction called Beyond the Binary, and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin involves characters who can switch genders. In Patricia C. Wrede’s YA fantasy series that begins with Dealing with Dragons, the dragons get to choose their gender. Plenty of other examples are probably out there. It’s a wonder there aren’t more. These are two genres that can explore an unlimited number of sociological possibilities.

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