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09 June 2011

Leslie Feinberg (1949 - ) author, activist.

Leslie’s preferred pronouns are ze and hir.

++=added later

Diane Leslie Feinberg was raised by Jewish working class parents first in Kansas City, Missouri, then in Arizona and Buffalo, New York. She left home as a teenager. Her parents debated signing papers to have her incarcerated, and even speculated that Leslie was possessed by an evil spirit.

Leslie Feinberg, 1973, Transgender Warriors, p19
Leslie originally did factory work, and explored the butch scene in New York State, Pennsylvania and Ontario. In the early 1970s she tried to femme her appearance in applying for a job, and was taken for a man in drag.

Therefore he tried to pass as a man, and got a job as a art-gallery guard. He started taking male hormones, grew a beard and had breast reduction. After a demonstration of the US class system when Nelson Rockefeller visited the art gallery, he quit and got a job as a dishwasher. Here he met fellow workers who were in the Workers World Party.

Leslie found a home in the party and, although passing as male, felt able to come out as transgendered. Ze felt alienated by the feminist and gay/lesbian orthodoxies of the early 1970s which condemned butch and femme lesbians, and drag queens. In 1980 World View, the publishing arm of the Workers World Party, ze published Journal of a Transsexual about hir non continuance as a transsexual.

Ze caught a tick bite in the 1970s and has suffered from untreated Lyme Disease and other problems ever since.

Feinberg became a high-ranking member of the Workers World Party, and managing editor of Workers World newspaper. Hir wife since 1992 is the lesbian poet-activist Minnie Bruce Pratt. Feinberg took out legal papers defining certain biologically-related persons as not part of hir family following their hostility.

Ze put out a Marxist analysis of transgender liberation in 1992, Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come. This was the first publication with 'transgender' in the title (although Richard Ekins had established his Trans-Gender Archive six years earlier), and foreshadowed the dialectic to come by using the word as an umbrella term, as a term of choice for one who declined surgical completion and as a rejection of the gender binary. Ze also addresses society’s negative reaction to non-standard gender expression in transgendered and other persons. Ze used the pamphlet as the basis for hir slide show which ze showed all over the US.

Ze followed it with hir first novel, Stone Butch Blues, 1993, about a transgender person growing up in Buffalo's butch-femme culture in the 1960s, which while not actually autobiographical draws on much of the author's life in that the protagonist starts a transition to male, and then withdraws and identifies as transgender. Stone Butch Blues won the Stonewall Book Award for Literature.

Minnie and Leslie, on Minnie's site.
With the success of this novel, Leslie, along with Riki Anne Wilchins and Kate Bornstein, became the major media example of transgender. Stryker describes Feinberg as 'one of the chief architects of the new transgender sensibility'.

In 1994, in the introduction to the second edition of her The Transsexual Empire, Janice Raymond discussed Feinberg along with k.d. lang and RuPaul as part of finding non-surgical transgenderism also non-acceptable. In particular she finds Stone Butch Blues deficient in its political analysis of gender.

That same year Feinberg, along with fellow trans activist Jamison Green, challenged the womyn-born-womyn policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival by asking to enter.

Leslie almost died in 1996 while suffering from endocarditis, when ze was refused medical care after the doctor noticed hir non-standard gender and ejected ze from the hospital.  When ze was finally accepted in another hospital, they insisted on putting hir in the women's ward, to some furor.

Ze published two non-fiction works on transgender: Transgender Warriors, 1996, a survey of trans persons in history, which also contains autobiography, and ++ controversially a few short sentences on Virginia Prince: “But the word transgender is increasingly being used in a more specific way as well. The term transgenderist was first introduced into the English language by trans warrior Virginia Prince. Virginia told me, ‘I coined the noun transgenderist in 1987 or ’88. There had to be some name for people like myself who trans the gender barrier’ “.  Outside Tri-Ess and IFGE this seems to be source of the misinformation that Prince coined the term. ++

  
Trans Liberation, 1998, was based on talks that ze gave in 1997 as hir health was slowly recovering.  Both books are interspersed with first person account by a variety of trans activists including Cheryl Chase and Sylvia Rivera.  Both books were published by Beacon Press, which is somewhat notorious among trans activists as it was the publisher of both Janice Raymond and Mary Daly.

Ze published a further novel, Drag King Dreams, 2006, about an aging trans man and a mixed group of trans person reacting to the killing of one of them, and to police harassment.  Ze also published a book in support of Cuba in 2008. Ze has been writing a column ‘Lavender & Red’ in the Workers World newspaper since 1995, which ze describes as a book in progress. It focuses on trans, gay and lesbian rights in the USSR, the USA and Cuba.

Ze regards hirself as polygendered and prefers non-gendered pronouns. While masculine in appearance, ze does not try to be fully male. Ze lobbied gay organizations to add ‘Bisexual’ and ‘Transgender’ to their names (GLBT rather than GL), and appeared at Camp Trans in 1999.

Ze has been acutely ill since 2007, and has been taking photographs rather than writing. Feinberg's younger sister, the author Catherine Ryan Hyde, had reconciled somewhat with ze, but then published a novel with a transgender character that has re-opened the gap between them. While her trans man character cannot be read as a portrait of Leslie, it does show how little she understands ze.

EN.WIKIPEDIA   AMAZON.COM    IMPERIAL COURT TRANS HERO   

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When writers such as Suzan Cooke, Cathryn Platine and Ashley Love rant about Transgender, Inc and the transgender conspiracy, I cannot but wonder what they have against Leslie Feinberg.

As some trans voices advocate abandoning support for gender expression, it is useful to go back and read Feinberg with hir repeated support for the concept.

Transgender Warriors is a light book.  However it does serve well the purpose for which it was intended: to explain transgender to the wider world.  Feinberg’s master work is Lavender & Red which is available online.   I recommend that for the more advanced reader.

Raymond, in finding Stone Butch Blues deficient in its political analysis of gender, is really saying that she and Feinberg have different political analyses.

Click here for a cartoon included in Transgendered Warriors.

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