“Hi, I’m Kate Bornstein. I’m nearly sixty years old, and a lot of people think I’m a freak for a lot of reasons. I wrote this book to help you stay alive…the world is healthier because of its outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all those catagories, so it’s no big deal to me if you don’t…”
I read a lot of books. Some are good and some are bad, but it’s rare that a book hits me with so much meaning and relevence as Kate Bornstein’s Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws (Seven Stories Press.) Bornstein is no stranger to being an outlaw - she’s spent her life as a sexual outsider and written some groundbreaking books about struggling with and battling the status quo, and she’s changed many lives in the process. 101 Alternatives is her attempt to “help you stay alive.”
The premise is simple: Bornstein thinks the world needs more kind people in it regardless of who or what they are and what they do, and she wants those people to stay alive - and she’s created a list of 101 things to do instead of dying. The result is not as heavy-handed as the title suggests - instead she’s created a fun, brilliant and powerful book for everyone who’s felt like they just didn’t fit. This is not the kind of advice you’ll get in a high school counselor’s office- alternatives include “Get Laid Please,” “Ignore the Golden Rule” and “Shatter Some Family Values.” Bornstein recognizes that the blanket morality we’re suffocating under doesn’t fit everyone, and that living is certainly more vital than following someone else’s rules. She only asks that you be kind, regardless of the rules you choose to live by.
101 Alternatives is an empowering, candid and realistic approach to living while feeling like a freak, something that Bornstein has some experience with. As a self-proclaimed gender outlaw, Bornstein comes from a place of knowledge and honesty, delivering her lessons without judgment and revealing the flaws in a system that seeks to make us feel badly about ourselves. The book is worth a read for the her refreshing and non-judgmental take on “Hot Sex Tips and Dating Advice for Young Folk” alone: “When you follow these rules, you get to toss out your older rules about sex. You are chock full of yummy sexual energy, and you can share it safely, sanely, respectfully and consensually whenever and with whomever you like.”
How’s that for groundbreaking sex advice for teens?
Although the book is technically offering alternatives to suicide, it is also offering alternatives to feeling bad about who you are because we live in a culture, media and society that has tried real hard to keep you in line by making you feel that way. Instead, Bornstein asks us to “imagine the world as a place where anyone can safely and even joyfully express themselves the way they’ve always wanted to.”