Bornstein, Kate Papers
Span Dates: 1910-2018
Volume: 21.5 Linear feet (18 record center cartons, 2 oversize file boxes, and 1 2-size box)
This collection consists of the papers of Kate Bornstein, performer, playwright, author, and transgender activist who graduated from Brown University as Albert Bornstein in 1969. The collection documents Bornstein's personal and professional life and trans activism, and includes biographical information, correspondence, diaries, conference material, draft writings, writings by other authors, subject files, print material, ephemera, photographs, and electronic records dating from 1910-2018. The collection is arranged into 14 series.
Katherine (Kate) Vandam Bornstein was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey on March 15, 1948 as Albert Herman Bornstein. Bornstein's parents, Mildred Vandam Bornstein and Paul Bornstein met while Mildred was attending Pembroke College in Brown University where she graduated in the class of 1939. Mildred and Paul married shortly thereafter and had a first child, Alan Bornstein, in approximately 1941. Paul Bornstein, a physician, served in North Africa during World War II as a medical administrator with the United States Army and the American Red Cross. Upon returning home, Mildred and Paul had a second son named Albert.
Interested in acting, the performing arts and writing from a young age, Albert attended Pennington School in New Jersey where he became the editor of the school yearbook. After high school, Albert chose to attend Brown University where a number of his relatives, including his mother, had also attended.
While at Brown, Bornstein intended to follow in his father's footsteps and study premed but quickly switched concentrations to English and theatre studies. Bornstein joined the Brownbrokers and Sock and Buskin organizations for performing arts and acted in various plays while on campus. Brown theater director, John Emigh, and Professor of Theatre Arts and Perfomrance Studies, James O. Barnhill, mentored Bornstein during Albert's tenure at Brown.
During childhood and Bornstein's college years, Bornstein acknowledged struggling less with sexuality but always with gender identity. Bornstein dated women throughout college and soon after graduation in 1968, Bornstein married for the first of three times, all of which ended in divorce. Bornstein is now partnered Barbara Carrellas, a notable sexologist and author of Urban Tantra (2007). The two have been partnered for over 20 years.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Albert Bornstein was struggling significantly with his gender identity. Married at the time to a woman named Molly and father to one daughter, Jessica Leah Bornstein (later Jessica Baxter), Albert followed Scientology while he and his family were living in New York. Albert Bornstein ascended throughout the ranks of the Church of Scientology notably becoming First Mate aboard L. Ron Hubbard's personal yacht, Apollo.
In 1981, Bornstein went to church elders to discuss his gender identity concerns, the church was unwelcoming. Bornstein left Scientology as a result of this discrimination. Around this time, Bornstein and his wife divorced while Molly and Jessica remained within the religion. Due in part to Scientology's restrictions on communications between past and current members, Bornstein has not seen Jessica in over 30 years.
In 1985, Albert Bornstein began the process of gender transition, including legally changing names from Albert Herman to Katherine Vandam Bornstein. Bornstein underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1986.
Bornstein worked in sales during this era and lived in various locations from Philadelphia to San Francisco to Seattle and later New York City. At the time, Bornstein was also writing about gender identity, both in fiction and non-fiction genres, speaking publicly, and participating in activism about transgenderism and being a trans person.
In 1995, Bornstein published the groundbreaking book, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. The book became widely popular and propelled Kate to fame enabling her to begin performing and speaking professionally about gender identity issues, in theaters across the United States and often on college campuses. At the time, the United States was experiencing a post-Stonewall wave of civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Gender Outlaw and Bornstein's performance pieces gave voice to marginalized people at a flashpoint for that community.
Bornstein went on to publish other books, articles, and essays, including Nearly Roadkill with Caitlin Sullivan (1996), My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely (1997), and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws (2006). In 2012, Bornstein published A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir, where Bornstein wrote about personal family history, physical and mental health issues including disordered eating and bipolar disorder, and about being gender fluid and identifying neither as a man nor as a woman.
Exploring the constructs of gender and braking down binary gender barriers has been Bornstein's life work. As of 2018, Bornstein continues write and act, recently performing in Young Jean Lee's Broadway play, Straight White Male – the first Broadway play to be written by an Asian-American woman. Bornstein currently lives in East Harlem with Barbara Carrellas along with their two cats, a pug, and a turtle.
An online finding aid is available.
This collection is housed at Brown University Library, University Archives,
Scientology | Trans activism | Author/editor