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Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  5,030 ratings  ·  261 reviews
Part coming-of-age story, part mind-altering manifesto on gender and sexuality, coming directly to you from the life experiences of a transgender woman, Gender Outlaw breaks all the rules and leaves the reader forever changed.26 black-and-white illustrations.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 25th 1995 by Vintage (first published 1994)
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 ·  5,030 ratings  ·  261 reviews

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May 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Shawn by: Kyla
my mind was BLOWN

Lots and lots of food for thought (aka just read it):

"But the need for a recognizable identity, and the need to belong to a group of people with a similar identity--these are driving forces in our culture, and nowhere is this more evident than in the areas of gender and sexuality"(3-4).

"I know I'm not a man--about that much I'm clear, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm probably not a woman either, at least not according to a lot of people's rules on this sort of thing. The
this is a really engaging, witty read. kate bornstein must be a blast to hang out with. however, bornstein misinterprets basic radical feminist arguments & continually conflates sex/gender, thus betraying a lot of assumptions that i find troubling.

what i see time and time again is the assumption that for cis people, gender isn't an issue, and of course it is! particularly for cis women! and the failure to acknowledge that in so many of these texts is an issue for me that i find hard to overlook.
Oct 16, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
While Bornstein raises interesting points (the idea of a third sexuality, neither male nor female), her arguments against recognizing gender suffered from her nearly complete ability to ignore that one key signifier....the ability to bear children, and her failure to discuss this issue within her theories made the whole premise rather circumspect.

In addition, this is an entire book that might have really been two magazine articles; the first would cover Bornstein's thoughts on gender, summarized
It's weird how fast the culture changes, sometimes. When I was a kid in small-town Iowa in the '90s, the tranny joke was simply part of the repertoire of playground banter among boys. To a certain extent, so was casual homophobia -- plenty of things were called gay -- but I can say with certainty that that always made me a bit uncomfortable. My parents had gay friends, and they seemed alright. But trans folks -- not that we'd ever heard the word "trans" yet -- were a species apart, to be made fu ...more
Bek MoonyReadsByStarlight
Gender Outlaw is a reflection that is part gender studies, part memoir. This book takes on many topics related to gender and even sexuality, many of which are controversial even within the trans community. This text is very queer -- not just queer as in "gay" but queer as in "radical" queer as in "fuck your black-and-white". LGBTQ+ framework is constantly in flux, so as time goes on, the definitions that it covers might change -- framework, much like gender that Borntein describes, is constantly ...more
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: glbtqetc, _my-shelf
There's a lot of problems with the book (see the appropriation of the term "shaman" in a quote below, although this edition includes some commentary about the politics around that) but the good stuff is so so good.

There's a strength in knowing we have our own comics, our own jokers. But here it gets tricky. The pressure and temptation is to create art or politics for a particular group, which is in turn based on some inflexible identity: special interest groups, identity politics, whatever you w
Kate Haskell
May 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
Gender Outlaw was somewhat frustrating for me on a critical level. The whole book seemed to be written from a Marxist methodology wherein binary pairs are actually waging some kind of dialectic war. Since reading Levinas, I've never really seen binarisms in that way. Polar opposites are self-defining pairs, yes, but one need not be superior. Also, the extremes of the poles aren't the only valid options. Every binary pair is, in essence, a continuum. North has no meaning without South, but it als ...more
Jul 22, 2009 rated it it was ok
Don't let my review fully influence you. I'm sure this book is very enlightening and empowering for some genderqueer out there, but I just couldn't get through it. I just too fundamentally disagree with her on the value of science and biology, disagree on the most basic terminology and have no sympathy for how often she conflates the multiple meanings of words in different contexts as if they all shared the same context.

For those with stouter tolerances, have at it, but don't be surprised if you
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thank You Kate Bernstein!!! If only this book fell into my hands in my teenage...geez...pre-teen years, maybe I wouldn’t have spent so many nights crying into pillow wondering “what’s wrong with me”?
Oct 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
MIND BLOWN. Completely fucking brilliant. I want to buy this book for everyone in my life. As someone who feels pretty informed around issues of gender (IT IS PERFORMATIVE!), I need to write about, think about and unpick this all loads more. Which is brilliant, particularly as this book is over 20 years old. It still has so much resonance.

Some questions:

“What’s your gender?
When did you decide it?
How much say do you have in your gender?
Is there anything about your gender or gender role that you
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’ve had this book since I was fourteen and somehow never got around to reading it until now. Anyways - it was FANTASTIC. Very interesting, although sometimes quite a bit outdated (I didn’t agree with all of Bornstein’s ideas, and some of them likely wouldn’t fly in modern times, but the writing was all so thoroughly original and thoughtful. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone willing to spend time thinking about the complexity of gender - though they should probably have a decent understa ...more
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Kate Bornstein is so incredibly charming. This book is charming. But I'm already sold on most of what she is trying to convince me, uh... mainly "Let's not be defined by gender because it sucks being confined to stereotypes and anyway it's crazy." Agreed! Uh... now what?

But that question, "now what?" is difficult for this book to answer because it is an incredibly 90s book. Which I didn't think was too long ago but man, this book is nearly 20 years old. So "now" was 20 years ago. OMG i am so ol
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtq, queer
I read excerpts from this in college fifteen years ago and I thought I should actually read it all the way through sometime and it took me a while, but I finally did. Kate Bornstein is a trailblazer and an icon and a vivid personality and this book was a pleasure to read. This is an engaging and candid memoir and examination of gender identity that discusses plenty of things that, even now, let alone in 1994, are pretty radical. This book is almost twenty-five years old (1994!) and it is a bit d ...more
Audacia Ray
Here's the thing: when I was in college, I read Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, and it made me feel crazy. That book was my first intro to gender deconstruction, and it left my head spinning and heart hurting. I felt like I was trapped in the gender system, and that was a miserable miserable place to be.

Then I read Gender Outlaw.

Gender Trouble is the problem, Gender Outlaw is the solution.

Re-reading this book after 10 years, it was just as fun and fabulous as the first time I read it all those y
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt, non-fiction
'Gender Outlaw' is in my opinion a must-read for anyone who wants to be actively involved in gender theory. Although I disagree with a lot's Bornstein's points and conclusions, she expertly challenges us to re-evaluate what identity and gender really mean.

A lot of the points she makes are a bit scattered around the book and it's not a very cohesive book, but considering the way she looks at things I guess that makes sense. Kate Bornstein is a very intriguing person and I very much enjoyed the w
I wanted to love this book. I wanted so, so bad to love this book. When I picked it up and researched Kate Bornstein, and saw that they were an emerging voice in the world of gender studies and deconstruction of gender, a non-binary/genderqueer figure in a time where it was only them and Leslie Feinberg and a few others, vocally speaking out against the colonialist gender system, I wanted to LOVE this book. As an agender person -- someone who identifies with no gender whatsoever, who lives outsi ...more
Dana Jerman
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great memoir/gender studies discourse by the author of "My Gender Notebook". Bornstein is an assumed name for "her"- a MtoF Transsexual/S&M player whose "lesbian" partner is now an FtoM post-op transsexual.
The confusion of role switching, she not only brings to her relationships but to her work in "queer" theatre, where she revels in it the most. She constantly challenges her audiences to redefine the roles we each must find for ourselves in society.
Well written and quoted, with an emphasis on n
Max Seader
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Plenty of the language and the way in which we now discuss gender, especially in regards to trans people has changed since this book came out. But there was valuable discussion of gender theory, especially in regards to the way it intersects with sexuality and the other letters in the LGBTQIA acronym that I had not considered before.
Oct 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of the book is an interesting philosophical exercise in gender theory. You really need to go into this book expecting philosophy and social commentary, and not science.
The play on the second half of the book, was kind of a miss for me. Some parts were interesting, others felt incredibly self indulgent.
Raquel Smith-Cave
I love Kate so much. I love her wisdom, her humor, her mind, her body, her very unique and calm way of speaking that is translated into the written word with so much ease and love. I love her questions, and her answers which only formulate more answers, i love her infinite curiosity and sensetivity. I love that she published a revised edition 25 years after the first time this book was published, i love learning from her, and feeling seen and understood. I wish this book was translated into ever ...more
Feb 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: queer
It seems very obvious to me that Bornstein became involved in trans thought and politics before being involved in feminist thought and politics; the lens is not a feminist one, and I do wish she had brought in more discussion about gendered power dynamics, masculinity and femininity. She says in at least a couple bits and implies in many others that upholding our gender system upholds misogyny; breaking it down is inherently anti-patriarchal, while I think that it’s actually perfectly possible t ...more
duck reads
Feb 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfic
The "collage" style is not pleasing to me -- among other things, I fail to see why Beatles lyrics are relevant or necessary to the points being discussed. I'm also finding that too little support is given for the assumptions underlying most of the book's prescriptions: in one instance there is a mention that the author began to wonder if gender was socially constructed, and then the next paragraph assumes that gender is socially constructed, as do all subsequent paragraphs. There is a step missi ...more
The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health
Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein is a fabulous book on gender. It is a very engaging read with Bornstein’s humor and wit shining through, even while it is a book on gender theory. It is in part a chronicle of Bornstein’s journey through transition, having been raised a boy in a Conservative Jewish family, to transitioning to live as a woman, to the choice to move beyond the gender binary into new territory all together. However, it goes far beyond that into explo ...more
Evangeline Wilder
Worth reading. A lot of it felt boring, but feeling like a book like this is boring is a privilege I have in part bc of Bornstein. I imagine a lot of this book seemed (and was!) new and radical when it first came out. Interesting to see how Bornstein updated the book from the first edition to reflect new ideas abt gender, even new ideas about her own. The chapters were pretty hit or miss for me (see: starting this book in September and abandoning it half-read until January) but I’m glad to have ...more
Alice Lemon
I am a little torn about whether this book should get three or four stars. I thought that a lot of the material was interesting, but I found Bornstein's writing style really disorganized and many of the pages visually confusing: there were often multiple paragraphs aligned differently in different fonts, which I think were intended to be separate trains of thought.

On a more personal level, I felt that the book just didn't resonate with me as a non-binary person in the ways I had hoped it would.
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have a lot of thoughts about this book and I wanted to review it when I had them more in order. when I started reading it, I was really, really into it. I loved the authors voice and I thought they had great insight on gender. They didn't ignore the privileges they did have and they stated quite a few times that their experience of being neither male nor female did not speak for all non-binary people. having said that, there were parts of the book that really confused me. the more philosophica ...more
Elliot Ratzman
After reading Michelle Goldberg’s New Yorker article on trans vs radfem I set out to understand the transgendered movement in more depth. Bornstein is a theater person (performer and playwright) as well as a significant voice in the movement. More than a memoir, I found the book a clear explication of gender queer theory and practice. Released around the time that Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble was establishing the philosophical-theoretical deconstruction of gender, Bornstein gets to Butler’s in ...more
this book is problematic in an ignorance kind of way, but she apologizes in the afterword, like hey i published this years ago, what can you do? which i guess i don't really have any say in whether she's forgiven. i feel like that should be noted.

also, a lot of the terminology is dated. it's amazing how far that stuff has come since just 20 years ago.

what's stuck with me about this book, even months after reading, is something bornstein pointed out about orientation-based discrimination - that
Nov 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book has the strange symptom of knowing it makes no sense whatsoever yet claiming it does. Why on earth would someone who has so impossibly transcended gender get a sex change, and spend their career simultaneously renouncing gender roles and relishing certain ones? At the end of the book in the FAQ, "why did you get a sex change" was answered with "because I didn't know what I know now", followed by "would you do it again" answered with "absolutely!" As far as I've been able to glean from ...more
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Largely useful as a lens into what the trans community was like in its fledgling days/formation of the community itself. The author expresses many counter-productive and at times outright transphobic ideas and the rhetoric used to discuss everything is rather dated (expect lots of "transgendered" "ftm" "Mtf" etc.) The author does bring up nonwestern genders outside the binary, however its almost always done in a manner which summarizes millenia of a culture in a paragraph and then dismissively, ...more
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Kate Bornstein is a Jewish-American author, playwright, performance artist, and gender theorist.

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“The first question we usually ask new parents is: “Is it a boy or a girl?”.
There is a great answer to that one going around: “We don’t know; it hasn’t told us yet.” Personally, I think no question containing “either/or” deserves a serious answer, and that includes the question of gender.”
“Never fuck anyone you wouldn't want to be.” 29 likes
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