Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness. She died at home in Syracuse, NY, with her partner and spouse of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side. Her last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”
— from an obituary by Minnie Bruce Pratt, written at Leslie's bedside, and submitted to The Advocate. You can read the whole thing here. (Don't get hung up on the pronouns. Les accepted any pronoun used respectfully. I'll be using the gender neutral sie/hir here.)
Tributes to Les, to hir life and work, have been appearing all over, from just about everyone. My favourites are by Ivan Coyote and Sasha Goldberg, along with Sinclair Sexsmith's piece ‘Long Live the Butch’ and Kiki DeLovely's ‘Love Letter to Minnie Bruce Pratt’.
My own introduction to Les's writing was Transgender Warriors – “hir prideful book” as I called it, naming Les as one of my Inspirations in 2011 – and so it is. An autobiographical memoir of hir own journey, of hir own investigations into trans – into pan-historical, pan-cultural trans and other gender-variant identities – its slow diffusion of pride is very powerful. The book effectively says: we're not alone; we're not an aberration; we're here; we've always been here; we're everywhere and everywhen – get used to it. (Okay, the class politics which pervade the text won't be to everyone's taste, but you can always ignore those if you feel you must.)
Hir book of collected speeches and essays, Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, is important too, not least (from my perspective) for hir speech to the 9th annual ‘Texas T-Party’, in which sie makes the connection between LGB and the specific T of (heterosexual) cross-dressers and (our) partners, asking in conclusion: “Have we reached the moment in history when this dialogue between our communities can begin?” That was back in 1997 and the question is still moot.
And then there's Stone Butch Blues, which was (and is) a hugely significant book for me. As I related in another post from 2011, it was largely through imagining myself as a mirrored version of the book's main character, Jess, that I began to understand myself as femme. Reading the various tributes, it seems many people have found themselves, their communities, their own and/or their lovers’ identities in Stone Butch Blues, which won Stonewall Book and Lambda Literary Awards in 1994. It's currently out of print, but the sort-of sequel, Drag King Dreams, is still available (“sort-of” because it isn't really a sequel; it just feels like one).
And now Les is gone :(
Dorothy Allison once wrote: “Writing is still revolutionary, writing is still about changing the world.” Through hir courageous writing and activism, Leslie Feinberg helped change the world for the better.
Thanks for everything, Les.
Leslie Feinberg 1949-2014
I'm not at odds with the fact that I was born female-bodied. Nor do I identify as an intermediate sex. I simply do not fit the prevalent Western concepts of what a woman or a man "should" look like. And that reality has dramatically directed the course of my life.