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Confusion about "My Gender Workbook" by Kate Bornstein

Nicole D

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I recently finished "My Gender Workbook" by Kate Bornstein. I found it to be a bit confusing. In particular, I found Kate's definition of gender to be different from anything I have heard before.

Sources I came across before Kate's book defined around 10-20 or so gender identities, most of them bearing some relation to the traditional male/female or in-between. However Kate considers age, race, class and other things to be part of gender identity. She has constructed a gender pyramid as shown below:




In the exercises in the book, Kate is asking about gender as she defines it. So it includes all these aspects. That makes it kind of confusing. for one thing, the "ideal gender" that society wants us to achieve is the top of the pyramid, which is rich white male. She also mentions an "ideal female" gender, but never says how it fits in exactly.


I think perhaps she is trying to encourage us to buck societal pressure and become "gender outlaws". That is all very well if that's what you want to do. But most people I have encountered online recently don't seem to want that. Most of us identify as either male or female, some gender fluid or bi-gender, and a few in other categories (trying not to exclude anyone here). But most of us very much want to fit in to whatever gender we personally have chosen.


Also if the society-driven notion of gender is just a kind of propaganda to reinforce the status quo, what sense is there in pursuing one particular gender? Isn't that kind of demoralizing for somebody who tries?


I recently had a conversation with my spouse about this. She is a feminist (and I also consider myself to be a feminist). She had trouble understanding my point of view after I had read Kate's book and tried to think in Kate's terms. My spouse thinks in terms of male and female. She is happy for people to choose which they are, or choose in-between or neither. But she has trouble thinking about it in terms other than male and female and in-beween. Perhaps I wasn't the best at explaining my point of view, and perhaps I don't fully understand Kate's point of view. It was a confusing conversation. I think maybe trying to understand Kate's book I confused myself to the point where I was difficult to make sense of.


So do people really consider all of this (race, class, age etc) to be part of gender? Or do you think this is just Kate's way of calling out society as the judgmental exclusionary monster that it is?





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First of all, Kate Bornstein's  workbook there is nearly 40 years old, and yes at the time she was encouraging us to go deeper into the puzzle of what is called Gender.  I have met Kate in person and have sat in on discussions where she has admitted that she would write things differently today than she did then.  We have many newer writers today who have a different slant on things.  "Aunt Kate" as she told my group we could address her in person is one of our early pioneers and deserves full respect and love for what she did observe back in her day, but is also a person who is happy to let you explore who you are as you wish.


46 minutes ago, Nicole D said:


So do people really consider all of this (race, class, age etc) to be part of gender?


That all depends on which Social Scientist you happen to hear at a given moment.  Some do, some don't, some can't, and some won't.  All races and classes do have their own views on what constitutes gender roles, which matches people with expected life actions and goals of what their cultures define gender to be.  Look at various religious communities such as the Amish, and even some elements of Roman Catholic and Southern Baptists and you will see "gender roles written in stone so to speak.  Believe it or not GRAND parents are separated from parents as to gender roles. 


I would recommend Julia Serano's book Whipping Girl and its updates as a closer approach to Trans gender things in general, and while reading. or whenever, discuss your personal ideas with a Gender Therapist who will about 99% affirm you as YOU and you will be the right you. 1% error for personal safety reasons.

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Thanks, Vicky. I'll add Whipping Girl to my list. Right now I'm working on Dara Hoffman-Fox's "You and your gender identity: a guide to discovery". I have been looking around for a GT, or at least a therapist with some background in gender.



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14 minutes ago, Nicole D said:

I have been looking around for a GT, or at least a therapist with some background in gender.


Check with your LGBTQ Center up there for a recommendation is my best suggestion.  If you are a Kaiser Health member they have good competent counselors.  Planned Parenthood would be another source of Gender competent therapists.


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  • 1 month later...

Hi @Nicole D! The post is a touch dated, but I've read the book, using it as a workbook. After getting about halfway through, I felt I needed something different & found as you, You & Your Gender Identity. I found the second a lot more helpful for understanding me. I did find Kate Bernstein's book very helpful in opening my eyes to gender beyond the binary, she opened the door for me very well, she also helped me grasp gender is on a spectrum & can change. Both were very helpful to me in taking an honest, open look at my "dirty little secret".




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Hi @Delcina B. Yes, Kate is fun and good at exposing the world of diverse gender. She is pretty out there 😀. Now I'm seeing a GT so I've put the workbooks down. But I also liked Dara's book. They had a clear methodical approach, from what I saw of it.

@VickySGV, I just finished Julia Serano's Whipping Girl recently. Wow, she is well-read. That book is dense. I liked the way it was fairly informal and contained touching experiences from her own life. Julia really cuts to the core of all the -holy buckets- that is out there. I found myself at times saying "you go girl". Thanks for the recommendation.




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