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No stranger to controversy: gender outlaw Kate Bornstein returns with Strangers in Paradox, an outrageous new play about death. (theater).

"What can you do when you are a total freak, but make the freak show more fabulous than it ever has been?" asks Kate Bornstein, smiling disarmingly. Those familiar with the transgendered author's book Gender Outlaw may be surprised to meet a tall, thin 55-year-old blond with Frida Kahlo eyebrows and a gentle, soft-spoken manner. But Bornstein's world is one of discovery and change. According to the writer-performance artist's own bio, "ze" (to use "hir" preferred gender-free pronouns) was born male and raised as a boy and underwent a gender change during adult manhood to become a woman. A few years later Bornstein "stopped being a woman and settled into being neither."

"Boy, oh, golly, I wish someone had written Gender Outlaw when I was growing up," says Bornstein. "I see the effect it has on preteens who are young trannies: Oh, wow, someone knows. But I wouldn't call it my mission to proselytize on behalf of a newly emerging minority; I'd like to be the aunt I never had."

But while Bornstein self-describes jovially as a "tranny Martha Stewart," Strangers in Paradox--the author's new play, which opened March 15 at San Francisco's Rhinoceros Theater--is bound to bother some and even anger others. The dark comedy imagines a television special on a pair of lesbian serial killers named Casey and the Kidd, and it doesn't pull any punches when it comes to blood and violence. Bornstein's outlaw grrrls are on a spree--mostly killing people who desire to die.

"The whole play is embarrassingly autobiographical," Bornstein says. "I'd always been fascinated with death since I was a tiny kid, but I had never really examined the notion of causing death. Strangers started out as a play about murder and evolved into one about suicide. I don't know about you, but there have been quite a few times I've come really close."

It was the harassment she experienced that drove Bornstein to the brink: "I think [considering suicide] is a common experience that goes beyond queer to freaks of all stripes--people who get picked on." But Bornstein believes that "if it is that common, my theory is, it's probably a healthy urge, the same way anger is--it's how we act on those urges that makes the difference. So Strangers ultimately became a play about killing off parts of ourselves that need to die."

For those familiar with Bornstein's past work, Strangers reveals a darker side to her identity: "I think, [as for] most queers, it has been a process of unveiling myself: Could you love me ff you knew this about me? OK, fine, then could you love me if you knew this?"

Despite advocacy against two genders, Bornstein concedes a continuing pragmatic need for the binary. "There are still places in the world, even within the borders of the United States, where two genders form the basis of economy. I spend most of my time walking around the world looking like a woman because I don't want to be killed."

But if binary thinking rules on the material level, Bornstein draws sustenance from the myriad possibilities on the philosophical level. Strangers in Paradox revels in that ambiguity: The serial killers do terrible things, but they are cuddly and lovable. "I'd like people to say, `I hate violence; I love them,'" says Bornstein. "ff one person can feel that heavy weightlessness of paradox, I'd be really, really happy."

Raymond lives in New York and writes on film and theater.
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Author:Raymond, Gerard
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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