See also: A re-reading of Leslie Feinberg's Transgender Warriors.
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|
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 trans. 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 transgender 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.
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.
Leslie died November 2014, succumbing to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness. Hir last words were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”
- Diane Leslie Feinberg. Journal of a Transsexual. World View 21 pp 1980.
- Leslie Feinberg. Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come. World View Forum, 1992.
- Leslie Feinberg. Stone Butch Blues. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books 1993. Los Angeles: Alyson Books 320 pp 2003.
- Janice Raymond. “The Politics of Transgenderism”, the Introduction to the Second Edition of The Transsexual Empire. Teachers College Press. 1994. Also in Richard Ekins & Dave King (eds). Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing. London & New York: Routledge 1996: 218-221.
- Leslie Feinberg. Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Rupaul. Beacon Press 218 pp 1996. Paperback: Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Beacon Press 218 pp 1997.
- Leslie Feinberg. Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Beacon Press 160 pp 1998.
- Interview by Mark Gabrish Conlon. ""Leslie Feinberg: 'Poly-Gendered' Author, Activist Speaks Out". Indymedia, 19.06.2003. http://sandiego.indymedia.org/en/2003/06/6567.shtml.
- Leslie Feinberg. Drag King Dreams. Carroll & Graf 280 pp 2006.
- Leslie Feinberg. Rainbow solidarity: in defense of Cuba. World View Forum, 2008.
- Susan Stryker. Transgender History. Seal Press. 190 pp 2008: 123.
- Diane Torr. Sex, Drag, and Male Roles: Investigating Gender as Performance. University of Michigan Press, 2010: 91-2
- Leslie Feinberg. "While a hostile relative re-writes my life: ‘Who is, and is not, my family’". Questioning Transphobia, Jan 14, 2011. www.questioningtransphobia.com/?p=3568.
- Catherine Ryan Hyde. "In response to a recent issue". www.catherineryanhyde.com/blog/2011/1/14/in-response-to-a-recent-issue.html.
- Leslie Feinberg. Lavender & Red. Workers World, 1995-2011. www.workers.org/lavender-red.
- Leslie Feinberg. Transgender Warrior. www.transgenderwarrior.org.
- Minnie Bruce Pratt. “Leslie Feinberg”. www.mbpratt.org/mylove.html.
- Minnie Bruce Pratt. "Transgender Pioneer and Stone Butch Blues Author Leslie Feinberg Has Died", Advocate, November 17 2014. www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/books/2014/11/17/transgender-pioneer-leslie-feinberg-stone-butch-blues-has-died.
EN.WIKIPEDIA AMAZON.COM IMPERIAL COURT TRANS HERO
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 Transgender Warriors.