Rest in Power: Remembering Leslie Feinberg
November 17, 2014
We were shocked and saddened by the news that Leslie Feinberg, author and pioneering advocate for trans liberation, died this weekend from “complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections.” Feinberg was the author of two books from Beacon—Trans Liberation and Transgender Warriors—and is best known for the underground classic Stone Butch Blues. A tireless and impassioned activist for all human rights, Feinberg campaigned extensively for AIDS awareness, racial and social equality, and pro-labor causes, as well as for “trans liberation,” a term s/he coined to align the struggle for transgender rights in the continuum of other human rights struggles. As Feinberg said in a speech given at the 1997 True Spirit Conference in Laurel, Maryland, “None of us can ever be free while others are still in chains.... Trans liberation is inextricably linked to other movements for equality and justice.”
That speech is collected in Feinberg’s 1999 book, Trans Liberation, which is the last book Feinberg published with Beacon Press. We wanted to remember the remarkable energy, intellect, and spirit of Leslie Feinberg—whose last words reportedly were: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist”—by reprinting an excerpt from a different speech, also collected in that volume. It was given at the 9th Annual Texas “T” (Transgender) Party in Richardson, Texas, but Feinberg could have been talking to all of us. As one local bookstore appropriately put it, “Rest in power, Leslie Feinberg.”
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Leslie Feinberg—you can call me Les. I am a masculine, lesbian, female-to-male cross-dresser and transgenderist. Because I was raised as a female in this woman-hating society, my consciousness has been shaped by some of the experiences that girls and women of all nationalities generally share in the dominant society. In addition, being a very masculine female has also subjected me to experiences that neither non-trans women or men face.
I support the right of all people to self-determination of their own bodies. I am a resolute ally in defense of transsexual women and men and intersexuals, and in the struggle for women’s rights to reproductive freedom. However, I do not personally identify as a man, so I don’t believe I should have to change my body to “match” my gender expression so that the authorities can feel comfortable.
Being a masculine female means I am uni-gendered, not bi-gendered. So I have been “out” all my life. That places me—like millions of other masculine females and feminine males—in the social category of “pronoun-challenged.” please feel free to refer to me as “he” in this transgender setting, since in doing so you are honoring my gender expression.
Outside the trans communities, many people refer to me as “she,” which is also correct. Using that pronoun to describe me challenges generalizations about how “all women” act and express themselves. In a non-trans setting, calling me “he” renders my transgender invisible.
I would like to live in a world in which I would be described as “Les Feinberg.” But I live in a society in which I will never fit either of the little stick figures on public bathroom signs, and I cannot shoehorn myself into either the “M” or “F” box on document applications. Does the “M” or “F” on a driver’s license mean Male or Female, Masculine or Feminine? Those who created the M-or-F boxes may think the two are one and the same, since the contemporary dictate is that females will grow up to be feminine and boys to be masculine. But we in this room are all living proof of the gender variance that exists in our society and societies throughout human history.
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We have all been wounded in the ways we negotiate sex and intimacy; we fear communicating our needs and desires. Greater freedom to conceive the limitless potential of human sexuality, without shame, is an important and necessary contribution to all of humanity.
And we need more language than just feminine/masculine, straight/gay, either/or. Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. We all live on the same planet. The “separate planet” theories have been used to justify the discrimination, violence, and inequality women face. Everything that supports such spurious “theories” must be called into question. We need to refocus on defending the diversity in the world that already exists, and creating room for even more possibilities.
A person who lives as another gender—whether in a motel room twice a year or in a marriage, a flight of fantasy or a gay bar—challenges what it means to be male or female, what it means to be a man or a woman. Our partners share that confrontation. What is manliness or womanliness? What to keep? What to reject? Is there just one road to woman or to man? Is it common experience for African-American and white cross-dressers? Female-to-male or male-to-female cross-dressers? Corporate executive or sales clerk?
When we find the courage to live openly as who we are—trans people and partners—we begin a wild roller coaster ride. The weight of difficulties we endure as a result of our decision is a constant reminder of the unwavering force of social gravity. And no longer being tracked into” gender-appropriate” behavior and dress sends us hurtling into freefall because we are no longer able to easily define ourselves or our relationship to others.
But what a ride! Even at gunpoint, I would not choose a different path in life. My determination to remain a person who I can be proud of has made all of my views and insights and consciousness possible. It has made me see more clearly how many other lives in society are being limited through forms of discrimination and injustice. It has illuminated my relationship to them as an ally, and steeled my resolve to spend my life actively working for a world in which economic and social equality, and freedom of self-expression, are the birthrights of every person.
To continue our remembrance, we put together a short list of recommended books—essential reading by some of the most unique and beloved voices from the transgender community, including Les hirself, to help to raise awareness of transgender issues and perspectives.