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Zen and the Art of Gender Maintenance

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Issue: 19 Section: Arts Topics: Women

June 24, 2004

Zen and the Art of Gender Maintenance

by Max Liboiron

Are you really in love? Does your best friend really hate you? Are you an annoying person? There is now a new quiz on the market to help with an even more important question: What gender are you, really? Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook uses the artistically neglected literary form of the women's magazine quiz to address the realities of gender politics. Since the demographic that magazine quizzes usually address is overwhelmingly female, and a fairly specific spin on female at that, Bornstein's quiz creates a tension within women-focused "literature". She uses a gender-constructed form to deconstruct gender, showing that the gender is completely constructed to begin with. The architecture of her argument is subtle and humorous. Reversing expectations, be they of literary format or gender, is what Kate Bornstein does best.

A sample from the quiz:

Your Gender Aptitude, Section I: Assumptions

Which of the following most accurately describes you?

A. I'm a real man.

B. I'm a real woman.

C. I'm not a real man or a real woman, but I'd like to be.

D. None of the above. I'm something else entirely.

Your Gender Aptitude, Section VI: No Gender

Which of the following statements most nearly matches your idea of gender?

A. Gender simply is. If you don't like yours, get over it.

B. I've been working on my own gender for a long time, and I'm getting to the point where I may actually have made my own.

C. I think there's a lot about gender that we don't know about yet, and I wonder why that might be.

D. Gender is what happens to me when I get dressed in the morning.

Which of the following statements most nearly matches your feelings about gender?

A. My what About gender?

B. I guess my feelings range anywhere from anger and frustration to happiness and exhilaration.

C. Gender confuses me. I don't know why it is the way it is.

D. I feel… I feel… I feel a song coming on!

Have you ever experienced the nature of gender itself?

A. No, it's not polite to question Mother Nature.

B. I question the nature of my own gender, but gender itself? No.

C. I question gender, but I get the spooky feeling that I'm not supposed to do that.

D. The nature of gender? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Have you ever killed off part of yourself you didn't like?

A. There's really nothing about myself I don't like.

B. I've let go of parts of myself I haven't liked, yes.

C. Sometimes. Are you saying that applies to gender?

D. Oh, baby, wanna see where I stashed the bodies?

Why are you reading this book?

A. I certainly didn't choose to read it, that's for sure.

B. I think it's important to try to understand what it is that other people experience.

C. It's been dawning on me that these might sort of be, well, my issues, too.

D. Because nearly everything else about gender has been positively dreary, darling.

At the end of the quiz, you can check your "gender aptitude" score that can range anywhere from "Gender Outlaw" to "You're Captain James T. Kirk!" Yet the quiz is just a vehicle for Kate Bornstein's message and explorations of gender. Transgendered activism is becoming increasingly visible. Sex-change operations have come under attack for staying in the constraining dichotomy of the female or male options, and the link between transgendered people and homosexuality has been all but severed. A call for people to acknowledge a spectrum or pyramid of genders has begun in the transgendered movement, bringing attention to babies born with ambiguous genitalia, Native American berdaches, and other physical hermaphrodites as proof. This spectrum is reflected in Bornstein's quiz (not to mention her own lifestyle); there are four choices per question and an accumulative "grade" at the end. None of the "grades" mention what type of gender you might be acting out, but they do evaluate your comfort and flexibility within that role. My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely was published in 1998, but is still contemporary as Oprah Winfrey is interviewing transgender children; as dozens of AIDS ceremonies and protests were timed with Ronald Reagan's funeral procession; and as the trial for the killing of transsexual teenager Gwen Araujo comes to a close. Yet whether reading the book for a taste of current affairs or for personal interest, you will find yourself asking questions not only about the construction of gender, but about what else might be bogus and spoon-fed to our culture.

As a writer and performance artist, Kate Bornstein's most recent work is a play entitled Strangers in Paradox, which opened in March 2003. She is currently touring and performing various works such as "Too Tall Blondes Do Texas," and "On Men, Women and the Rest of Us," which correspond with informal discussions, lectures, workshops and other innovative educational exchanges.

The quiz mentioned here is just a small part of My Gender Workbook.

If you would like to take the Gender Aptitude Test, go to: http://cydathria.com/ms_donna/ga_test.html

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