Review: A queer and pleasant danger

I just finished reading Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger, the “true story of a nice JEWISH BOY who joins the CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY and leaves TWELVE YEARS later to become the LOVELY LADY she is today” as the subtitle has it, attractively wound around the title page.  I have long been a fan of hers, so I was excited to get my hands on this.  It’s written in an engaging style, and casts a mostly  light, not always gentle, glance at a life lived to the brim, and plenty of drama. In her 1994 Gender Outlaw, she argued that she identified as neither male nor female, neither straight nor gay and, the biography shows, she lived it, too.  Born in 1994 in Jersey, she fell in with Scientology and spent 12 years in their elite Sea Org. She was ultimately excommunicated, and eventually became a post-op transsexual lesbian icon of sorts.

Writing about Scientology has been famously difficult for former members and scholars, too. Ironically, she notes this has become easier thanks to South Park (check out the iconic “What Scientologists believe”).

Scientology, it turns out, was attractive to her because it offered a lot of answers, and more importantly, stressed that humans are immortal, and gender-less souls–a seemingly perfect combo  for trans folks! Bornstein overcame her fears, and closes her book with a letter to her daughter,
Jessica, who is still in the Church, in fact, a powerful thetan (spiritual being) high up in the hierachy.

I am fascinated by the nexus  of conversion and gender change / coming out. Bornstein  transitioned, and I know a number of converts who, to my surprise, later came out. I always  wondered why this was the case. Why go through the trouble of joining a minority by becoming a  religious Muslim or Jew (the cases I know), and then joining a minority within the minority?   I suspect that the first transgressive act of a (religious) conversion freed up energy that enabled  people to go one step further, or several steps. Perhpas the conversion removed pressure, or added pressure, or was encouraging: Hey, I could do this, maybe I can do more to become who I think I should be? Religion, of course, is a powerful force, and most traditions are, well, traditional, at least in the way in which they are practiced and promulgated today, so perhaps some conversions are detours, I don’t know.  But I’ll keep reading.

I just started reading Sex before Sexuality (a clever play on words and earlier scholarship), a work  that surveys pre-modern attitudes to sex and sexuality. Most research on the topic focuses on the early modern period, but I am happy to see so much medieval work emerging as well.

I’d rather read than grade, but I have to earn my keep first.  Midterm-season!

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