Bornstein’s frank, funny memoir will break your heart and tickle your ribs

books-02Kate Bornstein isn’t uncivilized, but a significant group of people have labeled her a “potential trouble source.” In A Queer and Pleasant Danger, she explains how she got to be so hazardous.

At age 4, while most kids are learning their ABCs, Albert Bornstein was preoccupied with something else: He knew that he wasn’t a boy, so figured he must be a girl. He also knew that that wasn’t something people wanted to hear, so he kept his secret; instead, he grew up wanting to be Audrey Hepburn.

He always loved women. There were so many he could imagine being.  In mid-1970, Bornstein — twenty-something, anorexic and seeking spiritual meaning — started a cross-country pilgrimage that landed him in Colorado. There, while looking for new boots, he found a Scientology center. He entered … and stayed.

Happy in his newly embraced “applied religious philosophy,” Bornstein became the perfect Scientologist. Charming and silver-tongued, he quickly developed into a top-performing salesman.

Two years after joining, he was married; a year after that, he was a father.

He also began acting upon his girlish urges, though he wasn’t bothered by it. Scientology taught Bornstein that humans were spiritual beings called thetans, and thetans had no gender … so what was the harm in wearing women’s clothing and sleeping with men? His inner woman seemed unstoppable.

books-01Then, 12 years after joining, when everything came crashing down (due to a still-dizzying misunderstanding), Bornstein was cast out of the community he’d embraced for most of his adult life. Bereft, and overwhelmed by his increasingly feminine identification, he sought therapy and a community of a different sort. What he found was the person she was all along.

There are a lot of adjectives that can describe A Queer and Pleasant Danger: snarky, funny, anguished, frightening. Also heartbreaking. Brave. Honest.

Bornstein worked six years on this memoir that she started for her daughter (whom Bornstein assumes will never read it), and for the teenage grandchildren who will likewise be denied the story because they’re Scientologists and Bornstein is essentially dead to them. What Bornstein doesn’t say about Scientology, in fact, is more chilling than what she does say.

In writing this memoir, Bornstein puts on a bravado that doesn’t last in the presence of the vulnerability she often displays. This is a softer, sometimes sorrowful, side of the always-outspoken trans activist and social critic, and I loved it.

Be aware that there are painfully graphic scenes in this book, some brutally blunt. If you can stand those (appropriate-to-this-memoir) paragraphs, though, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a wildly wonderful read.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 20, 2012.