Born in Neptune City, New Jersey, into a middle-class Conservative Jewish family of Russian and Dutch descent, Bornstein studied Theater Arts with John Emigh and Jim Barnhill at Brown University (Class of '69). She joined the Church of Scientology, becoming a high ranking lieutenant in the Sea Org but later became disillusioned and formally left the movement in 1981. Bornstein's antagonism toward Scientology and public split from the church have had personal consequences; Bornstein's daughter, herself a Scientologist, no longer has any contact per Scientology's policy of disconnection.
Transition and post-op
Bornstein never felt comfortable with the belief of the day that all trans women are "women trapped in men's bodies." She did not identify as a man, but the only other option was to be a woman, a reflection of the gender binary, which required people to identify according to only two available genders. Another obstacle was the fact that Bornstein was attracted to women. She had sex reassignment surgery in 1986.
Bornstein settled into the lesbian community in San Francisco, and wrote art reviews for the gay and lesbian paper The Bay Area Reporter. Over the next few years, she began to identify as neither a man nor a woman. This catapulted Bornstein back to performing, creating several performance pieces, some of them one-person shows. It was the only way that she knew how to communicate life's paradoxes.
Bornstein also teaches workshops and has published several gender theory books and a novel. Hello Cruel World was written to derail "teens, freaks, and other outlaws" from committing suicide. "Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living," Bornstein writes, "just don't be mean."
Kate Bornstein at SUNY New Paltz in October, 2018. Photo by Morgan Gwenwald.
Bornstein's partner is Barbara Carrellas. They live in New York City with three cats, two dogs, and a turtle.
In August 2012, Bornstein was diagnosed with lung cancer. Doctors thought that she was cancer-free after surgery, but it emerged in February 2013 that the disease had returned. Laura Vogel, a friend of hers, launched a GoFundMe campaign on March 20 to help fund the cancer treatment.
In 1989, Bornstein created a theatre production in collaboration with Noreen Barnes, Hidden: A Gender, based on parallels between her own life and that of the intersex person Herculine Barbin. In 2009, Bornstein's Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws was a Lambda Literary Award Finalist for LGBT Nonfiction and Honorbook for the Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature. Bornstein edited Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation in collaboration with S. Bear Bergman. The anthology won Lambda Literary and Publishing Triangle Awards in 2011. Bornstein's autobiography, titled A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir, was released May 2012, and in April 2013, she released My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity. Recently, Bornstein has taken part in a theatrical tour in England. She also took part in being a cast member in the reality tv show of I am Cait.
Sullivan, Caitlin; Bornstein, Kate (1996). Nearly Roadkill: An Infobahn Erotic Adventure. New York City: High Risk Books. ISBN978-1852424183.
Bornstein, Kate (1998). My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely. Illustrations by Diane DiMassa. New York City: Routledge. ISBN978-0415916721.
Bornstein, Kate (2012). A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN9780807001653. The portrait-film, Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger by Sam Feder, will be released in 2014[needs update]
Bornstein, Kate (2013). My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity. New York: Routledge. ISBN978-0415538657.
Bornstein, Kate (2016). Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (Revised and Updated). New York: Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. ISBN978-1-101-97461-2.