Meet Caitlyn Jenner’s Ex-Scientologist BFF
This season of E!’s I Am Cait will tackle a controversial subject—Scientology—thanks to its new cast member, Kate Bornstein. She tells Katie Zavadski her fascinating story.
If Caitlyn Jenner is going to be Ted Cruz’s trans ambassador, her newest co-star Kate Bornstein has offered to be his court jester instead.
The 68-year-old former high-ranking Scientologist turned beloved auntie of the genderqueer is living her latest incarnation as a reality TV star, parking her outsider status as she boards an RV Sunday night with America’s most famous family.
“I promise to give him at least one giggle a day, and I’d offer him a fair and balanced counterview to anything he’s got,” Bornstein texted this reporter about Cruz a day after our interview on the new season of Jenner’s show, where Bornstein is now a series regular.
“And I bet I could even make him blush,” she added.
The second season of Jenner’s eponymous I Am Cait follows her and a group of friends on a cross-country road trip. But the real drama, it seems, awaits us aboard the bus, where Cait and Kate’s contrasting personalities and politics clash.
“Cait’s a right-wing wingnut, and I’m a left-wing wingnut,” Bornstein told The Daily Beast, adding that she feels the Bern over any of the Republican candidates. “I’m a socialist anarchist. We make each other laugh now, but we were puzzled about how to talk.” (The Cruz campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on either of their offers.)
“What we learned this season is how to get those ideas across without shouting at each other,” Bornstein said.
The diverse group of women on the bus “became one of the most loving family groupings I’ve got,” she told The Daily Beast.
That family will help tackle Kate’s own past in Scientology, she said, after co-star Zackary Drucker asks about her long-estranged 43-year-old daughter, who Bornstein hasn’t seen since she left the church when Jessica was 9. (A minder from E! told Bornstein it’s best to just tease the storyline, which comes later in the season.)
“You gotta remember, you’re on camera almost 24/7, and I just broke down in tears talking about that,” Bornstein said. “And what evolves from that point is going to make for something. It hurts, and I’m proud that we went there. Let’s just say Caitlyn Jenner is a champion.”
Bornstein joined the church after graduating from Brown University, rising through the ranks of the elite Sea Org and working directly with L. Ron Hubbard. She was drawn to the idea that in Scientology we’re all thetans—beings that are neither male nor female, but have no gender. She married and had a child in the church before leaving more than a decade later.
As a so-called suppressive person, she’s had no contact with her daughter (and later, grandchildren) since.
But the individual storylines may pale in comparison to the real drama aboard the bus.
This season again captures Jenner learning about the community she’s found herself an unwitting spokeswoman for—no small feat when Bornstein says divisions in the trans community now run “deep and bitter.” Bornstein also locks horns with English professor and New York Times writer Jennifer Finney Boylan, whom she jokingly refers to as her evil twin. The fellow lefty “can communicate to areas I can’t reach,” Bornstein says admiringly. (Like Bornstein, Boylan is partnered with a woman, and tries in vain to convince Jenner that being a woman doesn’t necessitate dating a man.)
After her appearance on Season 1, Bornstein got blasted on trans blogs for referring to the trans community as “freaks”—a badge of honor for her, from the hippie days, but not so for others.
“I said we’re seen as freaks by most people, and I’ll stand by that,” she said. “All you need to do is go to the comments column of any trans blogger, including Caitlyn, and count the number of times ‘freaks’ turned up.”
Bornstein says she’s the token non-binary person on the show, and that those who identify outside the strict boundaries of “man” and “woman” now occupy the titillating space transsexuals held just a decade ago.
“You know, the X-Men are called freaks too,” she added. “Am I saying we’re mutants? No. But I’m saying we do have superpowers.”
Bornstein’s catalogued her outsider identities through decades of writing: trans, Jewish, and a masochist, among others. (Her 2013 memoir, fittingly, is subtitled “The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology, and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today.”) But she couldn’t give away too many spoilers about the new frontiers the girls on the bus would encounter—just that viewers won’t be disappointed.
“Is Caitlyn going to get dressed up all in leather and walk around with a whip? No, absolutely not,” she laughed. “I live for that day, but it’s not gonna happen.”
Instead, it will focus on the community forged on a bus full of differences.
“I’ve wanted, without changing any of my values or understanding about gender, to be ... more welcome in the mainstream. And that’s what happened,” she said. “I haven’t changed anything about myself, but the culture’s moved over to the point where someone in the position of Caitlyn Jenner, who’s got a big enough heart, and broad enough shoulders, can say, ‘You’re welcome on this trip with us, Kate.’”
Now back in her New York City apartment, Bornstein’s working on two books—one called simply Trans! Just for the fun of it!, and an updated edition of her classic, Gender Outlaw, which still carries mentions on AOL message boards. She’s recently back from the U.K., where her one-woman show, On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, performed to sold-out audiences on the West End.
“Broadway, here I come!” she joked. “It went really, really well in England. But then, England has always welcomed eccentricity far more readily than America has.”
And, after a recent cancer scare and increasingly seeing herself as an elder in the trans community, Bornstein’s begun to think about the legacy she’d like to leave behind.
“You don’t get asked that until you’re old enough to contemplate the possibility of a legacy,” she said. “And I think my legacy would be the notion of #stayalive.”