Sunday, 23 March 2014

'Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger' at the BFI

I went to see Sam Feder's film, 'Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger' at the British Film Institute the other evening. Kate transitioned to female in the '80s but, as she says, she's not a woman and not a man so what is she? That's what the film explores.

I didn't know anything about Kate before the film but she's one of those rare breed of people who find their own path and follow it. Going through university in the late '60s, becoming a scientologist in the '70s, marrying and having a daughter before leaving her behind and changing her body in the '80s but, seemingly, being the same person inside. She's written plays, been a performance artist, a gender theorist and writer and goes on book tours and continues to give public readings. She's been around.

The film was made over the last three years, with clips of Kate talking to camera, recordings of some of her talks, old film clips from the '80s, chatting about the past with friends, handing out her 'get out of hell free' cards to street performers and going back to where she grew up. She also tells us about being accused of being transphobic for using the term 'tranny', which is how she describes herself. She's undergone treatment for lung cancer and was clear for a while but it's come back - and we see her receiving the call from her doctor - and she's back in treatment. That meant she couldn't attend the screening to do a Q&A.

The title of the film comes from the memoir she published a few years ago, 'A Queer and Pleasant Danger', in which she tells her story as man, woman and gender outlaw. We're given a portrait of a very smiley person - I can't recall if there are any images in the film in which she's not smiling - who accepts people for who and what they are or want to be and perpetually drags on an electronic cigarette. It's a fascinating glimpse in to the world of someone who created their own world through sheer force of personality, taking on the world on her own terms and, if not winning, certainly keeping on an even keel.

I think it's important that films like this are made and screened, firstly as a record that people like Kate live and work to make the world a better place, but also to allow the rest of us a glimpse into a world we would probably, otherwise, not know exists. Or, if we do, would probably only see a skewed version of it. I saw a similar kind of documentary a few years ago about Candy Darling called 'Beautiful Darling' but I've heard nothing about it since then. Hopefully the portrait of Kate will be seen again.

As Kate says at the end of the film, standing on the beach with the Atlantic behind her,  'Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living, just don't be mean'.

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