Guided by Galileo: Kate Bornstein’s message in a bottle

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly


Kate Bornstein will read from her new memoir, "A Queer and Pleasant Danger," Aug. 13 at Powell's. Photo by Barbara Carrellas
When Kate Bornstein first set out to write her memoir — “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” — three separate psychics tried to dissuade her.

“My girlfriend [sexologist and author Barabara Carrellas] is like the queen of urban tantra and is friends with all these psychics,” says the 64-year-old gender theorist. “Three psychics told me I was going to get horribly sick if I [wrote the book] and sure enough I did, exactly where they said I was.”

One of the psychics also told Bornstein that her spirit guide would be Galileo (the Italian scientist with the bold notion that the Earth orbits the Sun). This too turned out to be surprisingly insightful.
“Did you know the church kept him apart from his daughter?” Bornstein asks. “She was a nun and he was under house arrest by the Vatican and they were not allowed to talk to each other. … He made for a good spirit guide.”

Like Galileo, Bornstein and her daughter are divided by the Church of Scientology, which has declared the author and performer a Suppressive Person, someone Scientologists are required to dissociate from.

The 16th century scientist was able to communicate with his daughter via letters. “A Queer and Pleasant Danger” is Bornstein’s letter. Unfortunately, for her daughter to read the book would be a serious act of rebellion.

“The repercussions would be harsh,” Bornstein says. “She’d be immediately suspected of being a Suppressive Person. She’d become what they call a Potential Trouble Source. She would have to disavow again her connection with me, make [amends] for connecting with me, and petition for re-entry into the group.”

And that’s just because Bornstein wears a scarlet SP. The content of the book, of Bornstein’s life, could be difficult to swallow for someone who grew up sheltered in an insular religious community. But even if her daughter — Jessica Leah Baxter — doesn’t read the book, Bornstein wants her to know she is loved.

“If you know a friend who knows a friend who knows my daughter, give her my love,” she says.

In the memoir, Bornstein speaks in frank and compelling terms about the highs, lows, twists, and turns of her life. She reveals intense personal truths about anorexia, gender identity, and BDSM, as well as harsh realities about her time as a high ranking Scientologist working and living with founder L. Ron Hubbard on the Sea Org.

Such a dramatic tale seems almost too much to be true, but Bornstein says she has made a sincere effort to be honest (a challenge at times for a natural storyteller who admits to being adept at lying).

“I don’t want to lie,” Bornstein writes in the book’s prologue, “so before I sat down to write the first full draft of this book, I got five words tattooed onto the back of my right hand. They’re done in white ink, with shadowing the color of blood. They look like they’ve been carved into the back of my hand, and healed up as scars. ‘I must not tell lies.’”

The Church of Scientology wants you to believe she’s a liar, Bornstein writes, that’s what SP’s do. But she wouldn’t dare. She was terrified enough of the wrath she might incur by being honest about the dark side of an organization known for harassing those who make them look bad. That’s why you won’t find a single direct quote from the Hubbard’s writings in the memoir. A copyright infringement suit would be too easy.

“I am not the boldly forth kind of person,” Bornstein says. “I was screaming, crying, locking myself away. It was terrifying. They’ve done some very bad things. Google Paulette Cooper.”
Despite Bornstein’s fear of repercussions from the Church of Scientology for publishing the book, she says it’s been quiet so far.

“I was more than half expecting it, to wake up and walk outside my house, street poles littered with posters,” Bornstein says. After she was excommunicated, her wife at the time was told she was a thief and a child molester. “All I can take that [silence] to mean is that their lawyers read [the book] and said there’s nothing to be afraid of here. More trouble than it’s worth.”

So she leaned on her Twitter “twibe” for emotional support.

“I’m in link with over 14,000 people right now,” Bornstein says. “I think if I yelled ‘help’ enough of them would come. That makes me feel stronger. I don’t think I could have done it without that.”

But her Twitter followers do more than provide strength in numbers; they also provided content for “My New Gender Workbook,” a re-imagining of the 15-year-old gender studies staple, ”My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real or You, or Something Else Entirely.”

“The first version hinted without really stating explicitly how gender is only one space of regulation and it shares its impact on us along with other spaces of regulation like race, age, etc.,” Bornstein says. The new, partly crowdsourced edition “gets into exploding binaries,” and looking at the intersections of all kinds of regulated spaces.

In addition to finishing up “My New Gender Workbook,” Bornstein is being filmed for a documentary called “Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger.” Cameras will be rolling when she visits Portland on Aug. 13 at Powell’s Books — one of her favorite places.

“Last time I was in Portland, I got to an event late, I ran into the fucking hall, and there were like 350 people,” Bornsetin says. “I was blown away. I was crying with happiness in Portland. Whenever I think where am I going to move, Portland tops the list.”

Unfortunately, Bornstein’s partner is a “sun bunny,” so she’s not likely to relocate to rainy Oregon anytime soon.

“That’s why I want to win a Pulitzer Prize,” she says. “So I can summer in Portland.”

In the meantime, you can catch Bornstein at Powell’s Books Aug. 13 and follow her on Twitter @katebornstein.