A nervy, expansive memoir from a pioneering gender activist.
When she was Al Bornstein and a member of the Church of Scientology, Kate Bornstein (Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws, 2006, etc.) signed a billion-year contract pledging to serve the church in both his present and future lives. Though she eventually left the church, the idea that a soul can endure forever doesn’t seem so implausible when you read her story, which takes us from a bizarre childhood to a troubled young adulthood to her stint in Scientology, which lasted more than a decade. That’s just the first two parts of the book, and even one of those experiences could have been the basis of a full memoir. Bornstein then goes on to discuss, with frank and arresting detail, her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, her transition from Al to Kate, her immersion in the S&M community, her emergence as a powerful voice in the transgender community and her success as a performance artist, author and speaker. Bornstein frequently exposes the slippery nature of truth by telling a compelling and believable story and then immediately informing the reader that it was fabricated. Late in the book, some of the dialogue with her friends in the lesbian/S&M community reads more like a script (Bornstein is also a playwright) than conversation. Nevertheless, the backbone of the book, and of Bornstein’s life, is her admonishment in to “do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living.”
This cri de coeur, which appears in a letter to her estranged daughter and grandchildren, suggests that Bornstein has made real sacrifices to follow her own advice, and can therefore dispense it with integrity.