“The big deal in all the tabloids was Christine Jorgensen
, 'ex-GI becomes blonde bombshell,'" recalls Kate, "but there was no humanity in the media presence of any trans people. It was mocking, and that was permitted, laughing at homosexuals and perverts was okay.”
At the dinner table, Kate’s father, a doctor, would joke about his patients; “I had another faggot in today, you can tell because when you do a rectal examination they’re all loose,” he’d laugh. Kate didn’t dare say a word about how she was feeling in terms of sexuality or gender.
“The thing I was sure of, from very early on was that I wasn’t a boy, and I didn’t want to grow up to be a man,” Kate recalls, taking her time as she speaks. “The only other option I could think of was that I wanted to be a girl.” Kate cross-dressed at every opportunity, a chance to explore what being a girl might mean, but it wasn’t the salvation she might have been hoping for.
“It’s not that I always wanted to be a girl, because I didn’t know what being a girl feels like! I only know what my
version of a girl feels like, but I felt like I must be, because there were only two choices.” Kate turned to acting in the 60s and 70s, because for her, she says, “theatre just made sense.”
“There I was,” she smiles, “spending my whole life learning how to be a boy, how to be a man, watching men to see what they would do and then doing it, all the time. What else is acting?”
But soon Kate was restless, something still didn’t feel quite right. The solution? Get hold of a VW Microbus, and take a “hippy journey” across the United States, stopping at religious communities and looking for answers along the way. She spent time with the Amish, the Bahia, Cabbalists, but ended up drawn into the world of Scientology, dancing to the tune of L. Ron Hubbard.
When I ask what drew her into the notoriously cult-like ways of the Scientology Church, she pauses, and looks down for a moment to think. “They said we don’t have a soul, that you are your own immortal soul, you’re not your brain, body or mind, you are a spirit. They told me we have nothing to do with time, energy, matter or space. In my mind, that meant we had no gender.”
Kate was sucked in, but 12 years and two failed marriages later, she decided it was time to leave, to explore her gender more openly. “I’ve ceased regretting it,” says Kate, “and what I learned was how not
to live my life.” She got out, at 35, and after another marriage disintegrated (this time to her childhood sweetheart), it was time for Kate to transition.
“Transitioning in the US in the 1980s was very different to now, it was mostly older folks [doing it] back then. People assume now that we did it when we were young, but that just wasn’t the case then. We were too scared, too frightened, and there was no Internet to find people who might support you.”
There were next to no services available, and Kate says there wasn’t much support coming from the lesbian and gay community either, “because they were dealing with the AIDS crisis, and didn’t know what the fuck I was.”
Over the last 30 years, Kate has become prolific in her field, creating theatre productions, editing award-winning anthologies, speaking out on gender, and writing well-received books, including the beloved Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws,
which many trans people cite as an inspiration. Kate mentioned to me that after leaving Scientology she felt suicidal, and she’s written extensively about having anorexia, being a survivor of PTSD and being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.