Leslie Feinberg, the stone butch activist
While many in the LGBTQ community fought to gain us equal rights, activist and writer Leslie Feinberg fought for the rights of all oppressed– from blue-collar workers to those who fell through the cracks.
Feinberg not only was an advocate for the minorities and the poor but also for those who identified as transgender, the umbrella term referring to those between male/ masculine and female/ feminine that is distinct from transsexual.
Biologically female but presenting outwardly as a male, Feinberg refused gender-specific honorifics and used pronouns like ze (for she) and hir (for her).
As she/zie once said”: “I care which pronoun is used, but people have been respectful to me with the wrong pronoun and disrespectful with the right one.”
“It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect,” she/zie said.
Leslie Feinberg: The fight against discrimination
Born 1 September 1949, in Kansas City, Missouri, Feinberg was raised in Buffalo, New York by a working-class Jewish family.
She/zie started supporting herself at the age of 14 working on the display signs of a local department store and stopped attending high school, though she/zie still received her/hir diploma.
Because her/hir family was hostile to her/hir sexuality and gender expression, she moved out and even had legal documents that declared they weren’t her/hir family throughout her life.
She/zie faced discrimination everywhere she/zie went, which made it hard for her/hir to find steady work. For most of her/hir life, she worked low-wage temp jobs.
Leslie Feinberg: Marching for those oppressed
Feinberg then began her/hir work that identified her/hir as anti-racist white fighting for the working-class, transgender, lesbian, and female. She/zie also saw herself/hirself as a revolutionary communist.
She/zie joined the Workers World Party (WWP) after joining a demonstration for Palestinian land rights and self-determination in her/hir early twenties.
Aside from being a key organizer in the December 1974 March Against Racism in Boston, she/zie likewise led a group of lesbians on an all-night “paste up” of South Boston and was part of the national tour about AIDS as a denied epidemic.
She/zie was one of those who organized the 1988 mobilization in Atlanta against the Ku Klux Klan on MLK Day and supported Buffalo United for Choice and the Rainbow Peacekeepers against anti-abortion groups.
Before she died, she had said, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”
Leslie Feinberg: Writing for the future
Aside from marching on the streets, Feinberg was the first to push for a Marxist concept of “transgender liberation.”
She/zie is also well known for her/hir 1993 first novel, the coming-of-age novel Stone Butch Blues, an international bestseller and a landmark work in contemporary literature of gender complexity.
Aside from her second novel, Drag King Dreams, she also wrote two nonfiction books: Transgender Warriors: Making History and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue.
She/zie worked as a journalist for the Workers World newspaper since 1974 and was the the editor of the Political Prisoners Page for 15 years. She/zie later became the managing editor in 1995.
She/zie was diagnosed with Lyme and multiple tick-born infections in 2008, having first been infected in the early 1970s. She /ziedied on 15 November 2014 at her home in Syracuse, in the company of her partner and spouse of 22 years, activist and poet Minnie Bruce Pratt.
In a 2006 interview with the publication Camp, she/zie said: “I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian”– referring to me as ‘she/her’ is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as ‘he’ would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible.”‘