Leslie Feinberg, 1949-2014: Truly Brave Transgender Pioneer

Yesterday as I was going through my daily bookmarked sites I was shocked and saddened to see this news from the Advocate: “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.”

(Although Feinberg sometimes used non-traditional pronoun choices, in using “she” the magazine was following the lead of her wife Minnie Bruce Pratt, who submitted them a writeup regarding Feinberg.)

Feinberg had been an important fixture at LGBT writers conferences I attended in the 1980’s. Alongside fellow activist Kate Bornstein, at that time she was one of the most outspoken and visible transgender-identified persons the community had ever seen.

“We have a right to live openly and proudly…(W)hen our lives are suppressed, everyone is denied an understanding of the rich diversity of sex and gender expression and experience that exist in human society,” she’d later said in her nonfiction book Transgender Warriors (1996).

Like many others in the world, I also learned so much from her earlier semi-autobiographical novel, the award-winning Stone Butch Blues. 

As expressed by Mary Emily O’Hara, Vice, “When the novel Stone Butch Blues was first published in 1993, it quickly became one of the only depictions of masculine lesbian life to ever cross over into mainstream popularity, finding its way onto bookshelves and college syllabi everywhere.”

One of the most quoted lines from the book: “Everybody’s scared, but if you don’t let your fears stop you, that’s bravery!” That was Leslie Feinberg. A truly brave pioneer.

Just before her death Feinberg had actually been working on a 20th anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues; now the project will be completed by some friends. While waiting for it, you can find her other books on Amazon and elsewhere.

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