Book Review: Gender Outlaw – On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us

gender outlaw2Gender Outlaw – On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us
by Kate Bornstein
Memoir / Nonfiction / Gender Theory
299 pages
Published 2016 (1st edition pub. 1994)

This book has one of the best forewords I’ve ever seen. Bornstein explains that since 1994, when the book was first published, language has changed a lot, and terms that were used regularly then, like transsexual, are highly offensive now. So she has heavily rewritten the book to change the language, but she goes on to say that language is an always-changing thing, and in five or six years this edition, too, might be offensive in the language used. Then she apologizes for that. My favorite lines are one of the last paragraphs of the foreword:

Now, if anything you read in this book makes you feel bad or wrong or small and weak, then please know that I said something wrong. This book was written many years ago, and the culture I wrote it in is not the culture in which you’re reading it. So, if you find anything to be personally insulting, please accept my apology and keep reading with the knowledge that your identity and how you express your gender are correct only when you feel they are correct.

It was a wonderful note to start the book on. I just loved “if you are offended, if this invalidates your identity, then I AM WRONG.” Bornstein transitioned in the 80s, and has been an outspoken advocate of queer and trans people most of her life. She is definitely a figure in queer history that more people should read about.

The rest of the book is every bit as good as the foreword. Bornstein absolutely destroys the concept of gender in this book, dissecting it and looking at all the parts and pieces to attempt to figure out why society is so set on the binary system. She more than makes her case that gender is a spectrum, not an either/or. And not just a spectrum between “more male” and “more female” but a colorful kaleidoscope of gender expression and identity. She does not shy away from sensitive topics like surgeries and anatomy. She talks to the reader like she’s your favorite outrageous aunt, sitting in the family room gossiping over heavily-spiked tea.

The formatting was occasionally confusing; she has the usual justified text, but then she has left-aligned passages (usually quotes from other people) and right-aligned passages (side-bar like content; I’m unclear if these are notes she made on the original text or what, but it generally clarifies or alters what the main text is talking about.)

I would HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about gender issues. Bornstein has an incredibly entertaining way of writing, and she loves to challenge what we think of as gender.

From the cover of Gender Outlaw – On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us:

“I know I’m not a man . . . and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman, either . . . . The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other.” With these words, Kate Bornstein ushers readers on a funny, fearless, and wonderfully scenic journey across the terrains of gender and identity. On one level, Gender Outlaw details Bornstein’s transformation from heterosexual male to lesbian woman, from a one-time IBM salesperson to a playwright and performance artist. But this particular coming-of-age story is also a provocative investigation into our notions of male and female, from a self-described nonbinary transfeminine diesel femme dyke who never stops questioning our cultural assumptions.

Gender Outlaw was decades ahead of its time when it was first published in 1994. Now, some twenty-odd years later, this book stands as both a classic and a still-revolutionary work – one that continues to push us gently but profoundly to the furthest borders of the gender frontier. 

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Friday 56 – Frankenstein in Baghdad

frankenstein in baghdadThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week’s quote is from Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, translated from its original Arabic by Jonathan Wright.

The cat escaped once more to the roof and looked out over the courtyard of Hadi’s dilapidated house. Hadi scratched his head in puzzlement and looked all over the place for the body he had made. He imagined finding it hanging from a wall or hovering in that morning’s pure blue sky.

Despite the pains in his joints and his head, Hadi went outside and looked up and down the lane for a sign that something strange had happened, but he wasn’t willing to stop any of his neighbors to ask, “Excuse me, have you seen a naked corpse walking down the street?”

Hadi was a liar, and everyone knew it. He would need witnesses to corroborate a claim of having had fried eggs for breakfast, let alone a story about a naked corpse made up of the body parts of people killed in explosions.

Series Review: The Conqueror’s Saga

and i darkenAnd I Darken / Now I Rise / Bright We Burn
by Kiersten White
Alternate History
475 / 476 / 416 pages
Published 2016 / 2017 / 2018

I’ve heard a lot about this trilogy, but it was a close friend of mine gushing about it that finally brought it to the top of my reading list. Much like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I wish I had read it sooner, as the entire trilogy is excellent. It’s a dark trilogy – it’s based on Vlad Dracul, not Dracula, and it doesn’t shy away from the brutality of his story. Except in this trilogy, it’s her story. And I Darken tells the story of Lada’s childhood alongside her brother, Radu. How their father left them with the Ottoman Empire’s sultan as hostages against his good behavior. How they found a place there and started to grow up and possibly even make friends, or at least allies. It specifically details their friendship with the Sultan’s son and heir, Mehmed.

now i riseThe second book, Now I Rise, covers the early years of Mehmed’s reign as sultan, and the siege of Constantinople. Most of this book is spent on Radu, as the siblings are doing different things in vastly different places at this point. We still get glimpses of Lada’s life, but Radu is definitely the star here, which is good, as I like him much more than Lada.

I don’t think Lada is supposed to be liked. She is vicious, and brutal, and while you can see where the brutality comes from, and why she thinks she must be this way, it’s still not exactly an easy trait to like. I much prefer Radu and his unusual marriage.

The third book, Bright We Burn, brings Radu and Lada back together again. There’s not much I can say here, for fear of spoiling things, but it is an epic and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

bright we burnTaken together, these three books are an epic story. They span the length of the Ottoman Empire, involve love affairs with powerful people, hidden passions, and bastard children. There is blood and death and plague. Cities fall and fortresses are built. The story is true to the bones of Vlad Dracul’s history; gender-swapping Vlad into Lada was an absolutely inspired bit of storytelling.

There’s no magic in these books, so it’s not exactly fantasy, it’s alternate history, but it reads like fantasy. Swords and shields and sieges and medieval politics.

If you like epic fantasy, and don’t mind a bit of brutal combat – if you like Game of Thrones – you’ll like these. I loved them.

There’s a good bit of LGBT rep – Radu is very gay, and Lada is aromantic. There’s also a lesbian pair.

From the cover of And I Darken:

NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend – and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against – and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point. 

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.

Library Loot Wednesday

 

Well, I made up for last week! I picked up five titles that I’m super excited about this week. Superman: Dawnbreaker is the fourth title in the DC Icons series; I have previously read Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Batman: Nightwalker, and Catwoman: Soulstealer. I wish they were a little more connected to each other, but they’ve all been excellent, regardless. I’m sure Superman will be too. I now have the third book in the Conqueror’s Saga, Bright We Burn, which I very well may have read by the time this post goes up!

internmentPerhaps a little too on point is Internment, Samira Ahmed’s contemporary young adult novel that is supposed to be a dystopia, where Muslims are being kept in concentration camps in the US, but with recent events – well. I don’t know if it can actually be called a dystopia now. I very much enjoyed Love, Hate, & Other Filters by the same author, so I think I’ll enjoy this one too. (Enjoy might be the wrong word for this topic?)

 

Lastly I picked up two diverse Sci-fi/Fantasy anthologies. Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, and New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. I’m very excited by these two.

TTT – Books on my Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is your summer TBR list. I’m going to try to make this not just a hodgepodge of my last few Library Loot posts, though those are definitely all on my summer TBR list! You can find a linkup on Artsy Reader’s site to see what everyone else is reading this summer.

descendant of the craneTopping my list is Descendant of the Crane, which I received in May’s Illumicrate box and still haven’t read! I have so many library books that I feel bad if I read a book I actually own! Because it’s an Illumicrate special edition, it has gorgeous red sprayed edges and is just a beautiful book.

how to read novels like a professorHow To Read Novels Like a Professor is a book I picked up from Baldwin’s Book Barn several months ago and have yet to read. I’m hoping to pick up tips to make my reviews better!

I’m hoping to get Technically, You Started It and Wicked Fox from my library soon, but they’re both on order, so we’ll see how soon they make it through the process into the library catalog.

ash kickersAsh Kickers, the sequel to Smoke Eaters, is coming out in July, and I ABSOLUTELY have to get my hands on that. (I somehow missed that it was out in July, or it would have been on last week’s anticipated releases!!) I LOVE that cover.

fate of foodThe Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World is a new nonfiction book that speaks directly to my climate change/prepper interests, but again, not sure how soon the library will send it my way.

song of the deadThe sequel to Reign of the Fallen, Song of the Dead, snuck out when I wasn’t paying attention, so I need to snag a copy of that at some point.

bid my soul farewellAlright, this one isn’t out until September, so it’s more Fall than Summer, but it SHOULD have been on last week’s anticipated releases. Somehow I missed that it had a release date. AND A GORGEOUS COVER! Bid My Soul Farewell is the sequel to Give the Dark My Love, because I love my necromancer ladies.

Finally, I’d like to read a few graphic novels; I’m behind on my Goodreads Reading Challenge, and graphic novels are quick! Batwoman: Elegy looks amazing, and Moonstruck looks absolutely adorable.

So that’s what I’d like to read, in addition to my last few Library Loot posts. Can’t wait to see what everyone else plans to devour!

Book Review: Juliet Takes a Breath

juliet takes a breathJuliet Takes a Breath
by Gabby Rivera
Young Adult / LGBT / Contemporary Fiction / Feminist
264 pages
Published 2016

Ohhhhhh my. This is a short book, and a quick read, but MAN is it great. It tackles racism, microaggressions, white feminism, coming out, “it’s just a phase!”, polyamory, breaking up, trans-exclusive language…and so much more.

The plot revolves around Juliet’s summer internship with an author in Portland, Harlowe Brisbane. Many of the chapters begin with an excerpt from Brisbane’s fictional treatise on feminism, Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. One of these excerpts in particular took my breath away:

Read everything you can push into your skull. Read your mother’s diary. Read Assata. Read everything Gloria Steinem and bell hooks write. Read all of the poems your friends leave in your locker. Read books about your body written by people who have bodies like yours. Read everything that supports your growth as a vibrant, rebel girl human. Read because you’re tired of secrets.

Juliet reminds me a lot of me when I was detaching myself from Christianity and the conservatism I grew up with. Devouring books, learning about historical figures that I should have known about and was stunned that I’d never heard of. So I totally understand her wonder and shock at an entirely new world opening up before her.

Through Harlowe and her primary partner, Maxine, Juliet learns about polyamory. It’s a remarkably good example; even though Harlowe and Maxine have their issues, their arguments are reasonably healthy, and despite disagreeing on some topics, they still love each other and say as much.

In Harlowe, we have an example of a white feminist who tries to be intersectional, at least a little, but can still be blind to a lot of her own microaggressions. Maxine, her partner, is a woman of color, as are most of the other characters in the book, so Juliet has lots of opportunities to see how white feminism can be ignorant of issues and blind to its own faults.

As a white feminist myself, I took this portrayal for the warning it really is. I do my best to lift up voices of color by reviewing books by and about minorities on this blog as often as I can. I try to be as intersectional as possible, but I know I will make missteps, and I can always be better. But this book, though it’s meant for the other side of the equation, is a reminder to feminists like me to keep trying to be better, and the costs to other people when we screw up.

From the cover of Juliet Takes a Breath:

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff. 

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.