This semester I’ve had the pleasure of reading my favorite book in my college career, Gender Outlaws: The NextGeneration by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman. The book is a collection of submissions by gender outlaws that include poems, comics, research, and short vignettes. The book is outstanding, but it wasn’t the gorgeous writing that got me, or the way it pushes the boundaries of everything you thought you knew about gender, it’s my favorite because it touched my heart.
When I picked up the book for the first time I really didn’t expect to have a personal connection with the content. I am no gender outlaw. I am a cis woman who conforms to gender expectations- a girl who loves nail polish, long flowing dresses, and romance stories. I expected it to be interesting and illuminating, like everything we’ve read, but to learn more about other people than I did about myself. Let me tell you a secret: there are times where I don’t feel queer enough for the community, not radical enough or knowledgeable enough, wondering if my lived experiences fit in with everyone else. This unlikely book was for me.
About 60 pages in, I sat, heart pounding as I read my feelings in plain typeface, “I’ve somehow managed to foist my way into a community to which I don’t really belong”. Suddenly, ironically, the miles disappeared and I felt connected to Quince Mountain, the author of the piece. I felt like he was sitting right next to me, holding my hand and letting me know how he re-found his place as “part of an enormous, queer thing” and how community is not necessarily about who we are as individuals, but what we create together. At the end of his story he reminded me that “no, I am not colorful enough, not queer enough to reshape the world. It turns out, no one of us is”.
And it didn’t end there. Throughout the book I have dog-eared pages and underlined phrases and I realized that though our lives and identities are completely different, this book was filled with a chorus of voices that spoke to me with our common experiences.
And this almost transcendental experience got me thinking. We spend so much time wrapped up in our identities, defending our right to feel how we feel. Identity politics can be really healing, and I’ve also seen how cutting identity politics can be. Our groups fragment into subgroups and we start bickering about who is and isn’t allowed to be present or worse, we start devaluing identities we perceive as a threat.
Instead of identity, I like the idea (also from Gender Outlaws) of organizing ourselves by experience, because that’s what drives our thoughts, our politics, and our healing. Obviously no two people will have exactly the same experience but I found so many of my own thoughts and feelings in the different stories of Gender Outlaws that I can’t imagine it not working at some level.
This book was for me. It spoke to me with my own words from different voices, identities, and life stories and taught me a lot more than I bargained for.
But really, this book is for everyone, because I believe that we can all find ourselves within someone else and I’d be surprised if anyone could get through this book without finding themselves within the pages.