It has been a little over a week since we lost transgender lesbian activist Leslie Feinberg to a long battle with Lyme Disease. In the last few days, our team has talked a lot about what Feinberg’s work meant to us as we wrestled with our own ideas about the spectrum of sex and gender, and about how those ideas have manifested themselves in our identities today. It is truly remarkable how many queer women were fully emotionally and intellectually transformed by reading Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues at formative moments in their lives. We hope you’ll share your feelings with us, too!
It seems cheesy to say that Leslie Feinberg changed my life but ze did. The nuance and aplomb with which ze approached gender makes my daily living feel valid and strong. Whether it was the semi-fictional Stone Butch Blues or the accessible academia of Transgender Warriors, I have embraced Feinberg’s writing in ways that have made me both cry and cry “yes!” Ze has never shied away from complication and imperfection and I have appreciated that as much as Feinberg’s brilliance.
I’m not a good decision maker. I think and overthink every tiny decision I make from what ice cream flavor to order to whether to buy that new pair of shoes (usually yes in that case) to what tattoo to put on my body forever more. So when it comes to my gender identity it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for over half my life. I have questioned who I am and who I want to be since I first met other trans youth nearly 20 years ago at age 13 or 14. And, I’m not sure quite how to express this, but in some ways I am still not sure.
It’s not that I don’t know who I am. I am quite secure in who I am. It might not make sense to anyone else. And I might change my mind some day about what pronouns I may go by, what hormones I add to my chemical composition, what surgeries may be important for me to feel like my body is my own. Feinberg also doesn’t always make sense to others. I, myself, was confused by the term “transgender lesbian” when I first heard it because it can mean something very different to others that apply the label to themselves. But according to Feinberg we can all live in our own definitions.
Feinberg’s bravery, humor, kindness, articulate allowance for for intersectionality, love and acceptance has allowed me to live, to be me.
Feinberg has said that pronouns are important to hir but that at the same time respect can come even from someone that falters with language and disrespect even from someone saying just the right thing.
This resonates especially with me. I have been heard saying that I don’t care what pronouns the world uses for me, and on a simplistic level I don’t. But I do care that people care about each other and what matters to each of us. I tend to use female pronouns for ease of use but also because I feel that it is important to promote and default to that which is female in this world that so often degrades and downplays all that is female. It’s my own tiny, private war against the patriarchy. And Leslie Feinberg is the kind of person that would have understood and supported that.
Feinberg’s last words were “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.” That is a level of badass I can’t even begin fathom. I’m not that badass. My last words are most likely to be something akin to, “I’m scared.” But Feinberg’s insane courage in this world and entering the next, has allowed me to be brave at least in this life. Feinberg’s bravery, humor, kindness, articulate allowance for intersectionality, love and acceptance has allowed me to live, to be me. Feinberg will not only be missed but will be thought of every day as I move through this world as a nonconforming individual, as an activist just for being myself. I, like many people, owe my very existence to Feinberg others like hir.
Leslie, you have given me strength; you have given me voice; you have given me life, and I will hold space for you in my heart, and my head, for the rest of that life. I only hope that we can continue to do you proud as we struggle with how to move forward without you.
The first girl I loved gave me a Bible. The second girl I loved gave me a copy of Stone Butch Blues. You can guess which one changed my life forever. (The second one.) Growing up in rural Georgia in the ’80s and ’90s, my understanding of gender was girls in pink dresses on one side and boys in blue suits on the other and anything else was just weird and wrong. I was weird, weird, weird and wrong, wrong, wrong. People coughed “butch” at me on the school bus and “dyke” at me on the basketball court and “lesbian” in church and sang “Walk Like a Man” at me when I walked down the hallway. The message wasn’t coded; I was an outcast.
Leslie Feinberg introduced me to a whole new world, where gender wasn’t a set of poles with a minefield in the middle, or a mind game of black and white. Leslie Feinberg was like a prism in the sunshine, showing me gender as a cacophony of color, the “poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.” Feinberg’s writing and lived example taught me that my masculine leanings weren’t things I should hide or be ashamed of, that gender wasn’t something I was, but something I could choose to do, however I wanted.
Leslie Feinberg was like a prism in the sunshine, showing me gender as a cacophony of color, the “poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.”
When I was a little kid, my wonderful grandma bought me a beautiful, frilly, lacy dress to wear for Christmas, but I didn’t want to wear it. I never wanted to wear dresses. They made me feel like I was trying to live my life in someone else’s skin. My parents yelled, they spanked me, they forced me into that dress — but my grandma said, “No, honey, take that off and wear what you want. You should look like you.” This summer, at my dad’s third wedding, I wore a suit and bowtie. When my grandma saw me in it, she smiled so big and wrapped me up in a giant hug and said, “That’s my girl.”
It made me think about Feinberg. So many things make me think about Feinberg. I thought about how ze said, “You’re more than just neither, honey. There’s other ways to be than either-or. It’s not so simple. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people who don’t fit.” And I realized choosing not to fit actually is what made me fit, and I never would have had the courage (or knowledge) to do it without hir.