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My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely

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Gender isn't just about "male" or "female" anymore - if you have any doubts, just turn on your television. RuPaul is as familiar as tomato ketchup with national radio and television shows, and transgendered folk are as common to talk-shows as screaming and yelling. But if the popularization of gender bending is revealing that "male" and "female" aren't enough, where are we supposed to go from here? Cultural theorists have written loads of smart but difficult-to-fathom texts on gender, but none provide a hands-on, accessible guide to having your own unique gender. With My Gender Workbook , Kate Bornstein brings theory down to Earth and provides a practical approach to living with or without a gender.

Bornstein starts from the premise that there are not just two genders performed in today's world, but countless genders lumped under the two-gender framework. Using a unique, deceptively simple and always entertaining workbook format, Bornstein gently but firmly guides you to discover your own unique gender identity. Whether she's using the USFDA's food group triangle to explain gender, or quoting one-liners from real "gender transgressors," Bornstein's first and foremost concern is making information on gender bending truly accessible. With quizzes and exercises that determine how much of a man or woman you are, My Gender Workbook gives you the tools to reach whatever point you desire on the gender continuum.

Bornstein also takes aim at the recent flurry of books that attempt to naturalize gender difference, and puts books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus squarely where they belong: on Uranus. If you don't think you are transgendered when you sit down to read this book, you will be by the time you finish it!

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Kate Bornstein

30 books486 followers
Kate Bornstein is a Jewish-American author, playwright, performance artist, and gender theorist.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
114 reviews
June 23, 2016
I'll start out this review by saying that this book would probably be a good book for someone who feels like they don't fit into either of the two traditional social genders. With that caveat, the book has some serious problems. Two in particular really stand out:

First, the theory of the book was awfully underdeveloped. The author's basic argument is:
1. Not everyone fits neatly into the traditional bi-polar gender theory. (or that the author didn't fit into it), therefore,
2. There is no such thing as gender. It is just socially constructed hegemony that oppresses freedom and self-expression.

While I can certainly buy the argument that some people don't fit neatly into traditional gender roles and therefore that gender roles can be very oppressive to some, the argument does not automatically follow that gender does not exist or that it is oppressing everyone. But the author makes these logical leaps and never looks back. While I might be open to the idea that gender doesn't exist, there seems to be a lot of reasons why it does. There seems to be a statistically significant amount of clumping of characteristics among people of specific genders. Furthermore, there are the physical characteristics that seem to have some effect on gender expression, an argument that the author admits briefly and then ignores in the development of the theory. Finally, gender seems to exist in almost all cultures. While these arguments are not conclusive, I would have liked them to be addressed.

The author then goes on to create a system of gender based on a theory that gender and power are intertwined, and that people with a collection of more characteristics of "ideal gender roles" have more power in the system. The theory seems incredibly bulky, perhaps because power is added in, which even if you agree with the author's argument, power would be a by-product of following the gender rules, not part of its definition. In fact, this theory really fails to describe gender at all, and it is not until the end of the book that the author casually defines gender as essentially any category. Therefore, every time you change your personality or appearance, you have changed your gender. Not only is this description unhelpful because it is overly inclusive, it comes 200 pages too late, leaving the reader confused by statements like "there are an infinite number of genders" or "gender doesn't exist". As you can see, however, these two statements are not consistent with each other.

To summarize the problems with the theory of the book, the author rejects the leading theory on gender because a small subsection of the population does not fit into the theory. However, instead of tweaking the traditional theory to account for the outliers, the author instead creates a theory that accounts for the previous outliers while failing to take into account the majority of the population that now does not fit into the new theory.

The second major issue I have with this book is the abusive rhetoric and angry undertones that run through it. The author seems to take an anarchist perspective in many parts of the book, complaining about the system just because it is the system. In several parts of the book the author creates an us versus them situation, often unnecessarily. However, even the author admits that there is no "them," leaving the reader confused at who is the enemy even while the author tells us to fight against them. In essence, the author comes off as a bitter ex-lover scorned by the world that rejected hir.

Perhaps most disturbing, however, was the author's occasional use of Nazi rhetoric. While the U.S. certainly is not the kindest to trans-gendered or non-gendered people, it is inappropriate to compare the discrimination currently faced by trans-gendered people with the mass genocide (that included "social deviants" like transgender people) that occurred at the direction of Hitler. There are times when such comparisons are appropriate, but they should be reserved for when genocide is actually occurring, not as way of inciting anger for one's own personal agenda. While the author is certainly not the first or the last to make this mistake, I still find it incredibly inappropriate and off-putting.

Surprisingly, this book failed to take into account the fact that people could be different, even though that is the premise of the book. The author states that it is wrong for the world to discriminate against people who don't fit into the traditional gender roles, but in the same breath the author dismisses people who follow traditional gender roles as oppressed, underdeveloped, and narrow-minded. The author even goes so far as to say that people who closely fit into traditional gender roles are of limited value to society. While I agree with the author's argument that people should not be discriminated against because they don't fit into traditional gender roles, likewise I believe the author undercuts the moral authority of the book by not offering the same respect to traditionally gendered people that the author desires for hirself.

On a lighter side, there are several things that made this book enjoyable. The author did a great job letting hir voice come through in the book, and by the end of the book, one almost feels like they know the author well.

Additionally, the book was written in 1998, and the author seems to be very interested in the Internet revolution that was taking place at that time. This comes through in the book in a quaint and endearing way, reminding the reader of the Internet chat room era that has now long since passed. The author even uses some Internet conventions in the book, something that could theoretically annoy some readers but which I found endearing and especially apt for the author's familiar writing style.
Profile Image for Jamie.
50 reviews4 followers
March 13, 2016
Options: Male or Female
This question on demographic surveys has irritated me for as long as I can remember. Who cares? Why do you need to know? And shouldn't there be more options? How about, "Other"? Reluctantly I choose female. That is who I am biologically and what I look like. But my personality rarely matches the social expectations associated with that biology and appearance.

As a young child, I was very verbally advanced and never shy about expressing myself. I was also considerably independent; so much that my mother often sadly commented that I didn't make her feel needed. It doesn't take long once you go out into the world and start interacting with society to learn that these traits are not considered "lady-like". My interests and disinterests tend to fall short of those expectations as well. All of this has just intensified as I've gotten older.

I enjoy "girlying it up," but when you look like that, then speak and behave as I do, you are bound to find a lack of acceptance. This issue has caused me great problems in employment and personal relationships. In dating men, those gender expectations inevitably rear their ugly heads as they expect me to eventually start acting like "a real girl". And female friendships are often difficult to form because I don't have the common grounds on which to properly bond. To extrapolate this issue, I have never wanted children and nothing more than the failure to reproduce disqualifies you from being, "a real woman". I was told this would change when I got older but, my stance has just strengthened with time.

I have never wanted to be a man, felt I should have been born a man, or that I was a man trapped in a woman's body. But the problem is, nearly everything about *who* I am as a person, does not (from a socially defined perspective) match this gender, female.

I enjoyed this book, and if you are reading this review, I imagine you will too. Because the author approaches gender as fluid and with many possibilities, there will likely be parts that you take and leave. Not everything resonated with me personally, but much did. Many times, I paused reading to either write on the exercises or simply reflect on thoughts about some of my own experiences. It asks a lot of questions and shares a lot of stories. It is, at the very least, a good starting point for this discussion. I finished reading this book feeling good and less alone on this subject of "no gender," which is how I more accurately feel about myself.
Profile Image for David.
8 reviews5 followers
September 26, 2012
A fairly charming tour through the world of no gender. This book is certainly not a complete or scholarly guide to ideas about gender, instead representing a single point of view told in a casual, magazine-like fashion, but it's rather pleasant point of view. Kate Bornstein, as she describes throughout the book, was born male and eventually transitioned to female and created an identity for herself as a transgender lesbian. Later one, her partner Catherine became David, isolating her from the lesbian community and destroying her established identity. She eventually came to realize that essentialist identities don't really work, especially when they exist in binaries. She writes this book to help guide readers who have questioned their status as "real men" or "real women" into a place of comfort in experimenting with newer, more flexible gender identities.
Bornstein's primary idea is that of a "gender pyramid." She says that since gender essentially means "category," there are a multiplicity of genders, tied to the ways we and society identify herself. She claims that not only are boy, man, and ftm distinct genders, but also white collar man, blue collar man, and so forth, with each subculture and each stratum of society having different ideas of what a "real man" would be. These genders are structured in a pyramid, with the identity of straight, cis-, middle-class white Protestant man on top, and lesser identities on lower and lower levels of the pyramid, wielding less power in society. She claims that our expressed gender is a form of communication, and that we all make subtle gender shifts every day to establish a role with each person we interact with. By that logic, she says, we could all be described as "transgendered."
This is where I have qualms with the book: in suggesting that we are all transgendered, she tends to trivialize the issues of those people who truly can't be comfortable with themselves without passing as the "opposite" gender, and considering that the transgendered are a ridiculously oppressed minority as is, one shouldn't write things that could be misappropriated to further suppress them.
Despite some flaws, I really enjoyed Bornstein's personality and the format of this book. We need more works on gender deconstruction that aren't in utterly dreary academic formats.
Profile Image for Eve.
162 reviews
January 31, 2013
Really not into it to be honest, it bugged me because of the tone and some of the underlying assumptions in the questionnaire. In the end I only read to the end of the questionnaire, and skimmed through the rest and kept being met with stuff that just.... bugged me! The book just wasn't for me I guess. I have thought so extensively and stressfully and analytically about gender, and had my fair share of gender angst also, so for as much as I could find good theory I was also overwhelmed with underlying theory that I could argue big holes into, and the tone was too camp for me to engage with. Some people will get a hell of a lot out of this book though, I know it, and so I have donated my copy to the library because they didn't have a copy in stock.
Profile Image for Grace.
127 reviews56 followers
June 3, 2015
Kind of the worst excesses of 90s rad queer liberal-in-disguise culture. The absolute low point (besides a protracted and explicit account of Bornstein's online BDSM conversations) is a quiz she has where she shows you how privileged or not privileged you are essentially. Bornstein asserts here that bpq people and BDSM enthusiasts are more oppressed than lesbian or gay people. Also she says that people with penises are automatically privileged for having penises (not true! and reflecting internalized transmisogyny on her part!). She assigns people with penises 250 privilege points (ugh) but assigns white people only 10 privilege points for being white (????!!!!!) To Bornstein, gender is a fun game to play with. Interestingly, at one point she includes a little quote from a queer woman of colour who notes that it is impossible for her to play with gender because of racist misogyny. If only Bornstein actually listened.
8 reviews2 followers
October 30, 2007
This is so accessible for people who have very limited knowledge of gender dynamics as well as what being genderqueer really means. This was one of the first books I purchased in my college career and it helped to open my eyes. I don't know that I recommend it for the seasoned gender studies student, but for someone exploring themselves and others this is a great, and humorous way to do so.
Profile Image for Charlie Hailey.
51 reviews2 followers
November 29, 2018
I oscillated between 3 and 4 stars just because this book is definitely full of some of the harmful, liberal queer theory that just doesn’t reach the heart of gender/sexuality/oppression. I can’t help but flinch when I read the words “heterosexual lesbian” and I just can’t get behind that as anything but harmful. That being said, this book absolutely helped me develop insights into the nature of gender and also brought me a lot closer to understanding the purpose and arguments of queer theory. Bornstein’s formula for gender as power + identity + desire is phenomenal and hir observation that gender does not exist, therefore there are infinite genders is what gave me some revelations about the way I view gender nihilism as a whole.

tl;dr good book, some great points, you WILL have to suffer through the unironic use of the term sapiosexual
Profile Image for Kennedy.
17 reviews3 followers
August 12, 2013
I've long considered myself "queer," but I'd never really consciously thought about or questioned my gender identity and presentation until I found myself in a long-term relationship with a genderqueer person. I picked up this book not only to better understand and support my partner at the time, but also to investigate my own gender identity and how I defined my personal "queerness" through my gender presentation and identity as well as through my romantic and sexual preferences. I worked diligently through the exercises--the book really is a "workbook" and there are plenty of writing prompts, activity suggestions, and quizzes to encourage readers to think critically about gender on a personal level as well as as a greater social construct.

After finishing "My Gender Workbook," I was still very much the same person. I hadn't had any major gender epiphanies--I still identify as a cis woman--but I felt much more confident in my identity and presentation as a queer woman. I used the prompts in the workbook to create and define my personal gender identity rather than trying (and failing) to fit into a "standard" queer/lesbian "look"--chapstick, femme, butch, etc.

This was a fantastic resource and I honestly enjoyed what was honestly sometimes a painful learning process. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels like they could use a little help understanding gender on a personal or social level (and really to everyone because for real people do not think about gender enough and it's a major problem).
Profile Image for Jackson.
140 reviews18 followers
October 26, 2011
This is a great book for someone exploring their gender or trying to understand gender. I would definitely recommend it for teens.

One thing, though, I kind of think this book and Bornstein's other books create and support the narrative that cisgender folks use to justify their appropriation of trans identities. This really sucks and pretty much drives me crazy and sucks cause I do actually love Kate Bornstein--I just really hate the way that trans people's bodies and lives get used as a this example for cis folks to learn from and I think we pretty much get sold out in the process. I don't think this is Bornstein's intention and I still think she has some great things to say that can help some people understand and accept themselves.
899 reviews26 followers
February 18, 2016
This was the first gender-related book I ever read, when I was about 18 and had absolutely no consciousness of anything outside the gender binary. It changed my life forever and it remains one of the most important books in my life. I re-read it every couple of years just to make sure it's still a part of me, and I get something new out of it every time. It's also a COMPLETELY different book from the updated "My New Gender Workbook" by the same author, and I highly recommend seeking out the original as it is full of insight and information that did not get included in the update. Even if you are 100% secure in your gender identity, this book will offer you new ways to think about gender and the world in which genders exist. Easily one of my top 10 books of all time.
14 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2011
Was a while ago that I read this, but it was very interesting at the time. There was a lot of quite clear information and thought-provoking material. It's one of the few books about Genderqueer and Trans issues that presents a viable middle-ground.
Profile Image for Maxine.
118 reviews8 followers
May 16, 2018
As a (young) academic, I'm often unable to read "intro to gender" books without ranting to the disembodied author about oversimplification and glibness. This book does not have those faults--rather, it is an honest, sometimes intense, but always funny and compassionate look at how we are gendered and what we can do about it. This old edition does have some hiccups when read now, particularly the sections on the freedoms of cyberspace--the online arena hasn't quite retained the utopian vibe Bornstein once found in it. But that's a minor quibble: cven as a cisgender femme female, I found much to think about here. I can only imagine how helpful and interesting it might be to someone more actively questioning gender. I'll probably have to read this again, and that's a recommendation in itself!
Profile Image for cara.
40 reviews
September 27, 2020
3.5 stars.

I bought this second hand and did not know there was a newer edition. I probably would have given the newer edition a better rating as I'm sure some of my issues with this one were likely resolved.

As it is, I really found this book helpful! I can't remember a time that I felt sure about my gender or comfortable with claiming one or the other. Even in childhood, I wasn't too sure about what I was assigned and I wasn't too sure about the other gender available either. This book helped me realize a little bit better where I stand, though the language used isn't what I would use now.

Probably the least useful for me was the S&M stuff because I don't really have an interest in that. I would recommend the newer edition for people who are starting on their gender journey and want a fun little workbook to help them figure themselves out a little better.
Profile Image for Frida.
47 reviews7 followers
April 8, 2021
This is a mix of self-help book and some theory with interesting little anecdotes scattered throughout. I liked the exercises and quizzes and I loved the 101+ gender outlaw answers to the question “Who Am I?” (really cool to see Del LaGrace Volcano on the list). Having said that, there are a few things I found a little frustrating. We can and should definitely fuck around with, and deconstruct (the idea of) gender as much as possible but we should also keep biology (the fact that there are biological differences between the sexes) at least in mind, otherwise, other valuable points in the argumentation might get lost and dismissed as absurd as well.
That aside, this book is definitely nice for somebody who is just starting to get into queer theory and dabbling with the idea of something beyond the gender binary.
Profile Image for Akiva Ѯ.
716 reviews46 followers
October 4, 2018
Read in college, for leisure. A lot of other books and blogs I was reading referenced My Gender Workbook, so I was excited to finally get my hands on a copy. Sadly, it's not really what it says on the tin. Rather than presenting different options and asking difficult interesting questions, My Gender Workbook has a strong agenda, all the exercises push you towards that agenda, and there's not a lot of other interesting stuff, especially if you're already familiar with the (101-level) arguments. I ended up skimming it.

tl;dr: Good for people who haven't ever thought about it before; less good for people who already have significant trangst.
Profile Image for Say.
203 reviews1 follower
October 8, 2019
I read this a while ago. I would love to say that I was "hip" to all of this from the get go, but I wasn't. I think this is good for people who think that sex=gender* but are willing to be accepting of others not conforming to that idea. I would say come in ready to learn, it just may help you become a more accepting human being. Also, understand that you may be challenged in your beliefs/habits- I found out that although I am fairly typical (I don't get to say that too often) cis-woman, much of what I think that entails has been given to me by the culture I exist in.

*although it plays a influencing factor, the sex of a person does not always equal their gender
November 25, 2018
There is so much to think about when you first come out to yourself and this book helped me so much! It made the journey to discovering my gender-identity exciting and fun. I think this workbook is helpful for anyone questioning their gender and for anyone who isn't, because you learn a lot about yourself and the way that gender is constructed in the process.
Profile Image for Jess d'Artagnan.
296 reviews15 followers
March 24, 2020
This is a thought provoking read. When it comes to determining gender identity, Bornstein's workbook seems biased toward an end of gender rather than an exploration of gender as identity. They subtly and not so subtly lead the reader toward agender/nonbinary as the "best" gender. I didn't agree with all the points, but it did make me think which is what I wanted from the book.
7 reviews
February 27, 2020
Need to reread every few years and think this through. So many great ideas on how to look at gender and gender expression.
2 reviews
January 6, 2022
Rather dated and not particularly insightful if you already know about gender, but it is kind of fun and amusing to engage with.
19 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2017
This is an engaging introduction to / guided reflection on gender. I didn't agree with every argument and model in the book. That being said, I appreciated the panoramic overview of gender and found the exercises to be very helpful in practical terms. I went in as a cis woman with a lot of half-buried discomfort around my gender and came out the other end having found myself to be a transmasculine nonbinary person. It was a healing experience for me.
Profile Image for puck.
95 reviews8 followers
August 5, 2015
it's been a long time since i read this all the way through, but i always find myself misquoting these bits, so i thought i'd stick them here:

"I've always wanted to be included. I've always been tempted to settle myself into one identity and say "Hey, now I'm one of you, now can I spend time with you?" I like companionship. I like hanging out with folks. I just don't want to lock myself into an identity in order to do it, and what I've done is move on when I no longer have any room to shift and grow."

"Pure identities (or identities that pass as pure) are valuable things. They're valuable to those who have them, because there's a sense that someplace will always be home, a space with others who claim pure identities. And our pure identities are valuable to others. We become easier to deal with. Other people know who we are. So we begin to lean into an identity, we support our lives on some identity, and when we or someone else starts to mess with it, then all of a sudden we've got something, this identity, to lose, and we get very protective not only of our own identity, but of the purity of that identity as a membership requirement fur others. This might be how identity politics does itself in. We need to get past this."
Profile Image for Sarah.
49 reviews13 followers
December 11, 2012
This book was used as a text for a introductory course in Gender and Sexuality studies by a professor I was a teaching assistant for. I thought it was a great book that was highly accessible for students who were having their first ever experiences with gender studies and also for students who where more advanced in the field. It was thought provoking and fun to read which I think helped keep students engaged. It helped create some great discussion in tutorials.

Some students did seem to get confused with the material as they had never encountered ideas such as gender binaries, moving beyond static gender identifiers, etc and couldn't get past the idea that they just needed to memorize the book and then spit it back out at the exam. This is less an issue with the book and more an issue with the state of education that doesn't teach critical thinking and critical reading to young students.

All in all, this book was fun, accessible, and engaging. It's a book I would consider using to teach in my own classrooms in the future to get students thinking about these ideas in a meaningful way. I recommend it.
Profile Image for Eli.
201 reviews17 followers
November 5, 2010
This book changed my life... twice. It is indeed a workbook, asking its reader for time, thought, writing, questioning and doing. I didn’t have to agree with Kate’s theory or politics to get something out of the experience. I only had to be willing to consider her many questions, and see where my own answers took me. And I absolutely adore that Kate is a warm, kind and loving guide on the journey.

(The above is my 2013 review, after reading cover to cover. I read the first half in Fall 2010 and wrote the following: "I absolutely adore this book, despite having come across a lot of the content before. Kate's approach and underlying theory is delightful and thought-provoking. I am about halfway through the book, but I will be setting it down for a while, simply to fully absorb what I've read and thought about so far.")
Profile Image for Jaina Bee.
264 reviews48 followers
March 19, 2010
This is one of the most exciting, helpful, challenging, hilarious, moving, [insert enthusiastic adjective here:] books I've ever read of all time. Golly, I learned so much… about myself, the culture, humanity, and that Kate Bornstein is totally HOTTT. And smart.

Kate is able to wrangle big messy scary ideas, rumors, facts, experiences, gossip, and visions, percolate them in hir magnificent brain, then produce a written interpretation so clear and concise that you can't help but learn, be inspired, feel better.

PS: After glancing at the other reviews, it seems to me there are some serious misconceptions about what this book is for. It is a WORKBOOK. You can only appreciate it to its fullest extent if you do the WORK. I promise, it's worth it!
Profile Image for Christy McDaniel.
30 reviews15 followers
May 12, 2015
Gosh, seeing this brings back (pleasant) teaching memories.
I first encountered Kate Bornstein in Grad school (for the M.A.); I integrated several of the exercises in this "workbook"--it's a lot more than that--into the daily and participation components of both the Comp and Crit Thinking courses that I taught as a GTA and,then, as a new instructor. It's been updated, of course, but the original is still near and dear, as is much of the rest of Bornstein's work. Pick it up if you're new to this content for its historical and social context/perspective; then, check out the newer edition for current additions, changes, applications, etc.
11 reviews
December 3, 2007
Exellent introduction to questioning/exploring your own assumptions and ideas about gender (your own/in relation to others/in abstract).. ever so slightly annoying style (i spose i just prefer dry theory or rousing rhetoric to chatty friendlyness), and the theoretical analysis should be supplemented with other ideas, but that's made up for with loads of other goodness in the form of people explaining their own experiences on the margins of gender, and the Kate Bornstein's inclusion of bits of hir own writings (plays, ramblings etc..)
Profile Image for Page.
13 reviews8 followers
July 27, 2007
"Autobiographical theory"! I love that! I love genre hybrids, as anybody who knows me and pays attention to what I read (which, probably, constitutes a crowd of 2, tops) knows that. Anyway, this book blew my mind when I was 18 and I highly suggest it for anybody but especially gender essentialist. I even got this for my mom years ago. Bornstein is an amazing mind - she went to Brown and clearly not in a legacy kind of way - and she makes theory not only digestible but thoroughly entertaining.
21 reviews62 followers
March 15, 2011
Borstein explains gender by metaphorically traveling with you to another continent of the gender concept completely, leaving you there, and daring you to attempt to find your way back to the way you originally conceptualized gender, if at all possible after the numerous stops and detours along the way. Make sense? Neither does most of her book. But it makes a good point in that gender is performative and dynamic.
Profile Image for James.
Author 6 books19 followers
April 11, 2011
By mimicking the format of a self-help book for a twelve-step program, Bornstein slyly challenges society's binary assumptions about gender. Through a series of quizzes, assignments, testimonies, and her own personal story, Bornstein elaborates the metaphoric aspects of gender, linking them to situations, roles, and relationships. We're reading this in my GLBT Lit class before we read Virginia Woolf's Orlando--I think it sets up the fluidity of identity well.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews

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