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Biography Essay Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

REVIEW Becoming and Be/Longing: Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw and My Gender Workbook

By Bina Toledo Freiwald, 2001

It is perhaps only fitting that one of the key tenets of autobiography criticism at the dawn of the new millennium–that we become subjects through the workings of a constituting social order within which, however, we can still exercise agency and self-determination–should echo the teachings of the ancients. A Midrashic commentary of the seventh century has it that “a man is called by three names: one given him by his father and mother, one that others call him, and one that he calls himself.” 1 Here are two contemporary autobiographical articulations of this logic of self-naming. “I am neither man nor woman,” affirms Michael Hernandez in a short self-portrait included in Leslie Feinberg’s TransLiberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, “I just am” (76). And in her Foreword to the collection Boys Like Her: Transfictions, Kate Bornstein reflects on the pain she would have been spared if, as a youngster, she could have simply told the world: “‘I’m a girl, but I’m a boy, I am'” (11). The texts by Hernandez and Bornstein foreground issues of vital interest to contemporary autobiography studies: the “existential necessity” of having a sense of self–of affirming “I am”–and the function of self-narration as a medium of/for such self-creation (Eakin 46); the range of culturally and historically specific “vocabularies of the self” through which subjects are constituted (Bjorklund 7); and the possibility that a subject so constructed…

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