How Leslie Feinberg Changed Our Lives: The Autostraddle Roundtable

Kaelyn

I was a junior in college when we brought Leslie Feinberg to speak at our campus. A small group of student leaders from the Rainbow Alliance and Women’s Center, including my future partner, went out to dinner with Leslie before hir talk. We filled a small wood-paneled banquet room at Canale’s, one of the few semi-fancy restaurants in our small, working-class college town.

I honestly hadn’t read any of Feinberg’s books yet and I didn’t know much about hir. It was later, when ze spoke about hir intersectional theory of trans liberation, that I became a Feinberg convert. I doubt Leslie remembered any of this, but I remember so much about that night: the way ze spoke truth so effortlessly about the inherent connections between oppression, the need for theory to include the lived experiences of directly affected people, and about radicalizing our understanding of gender. I went on to read all of hir books and became a follower of hir activist work.

I remember so much about that night: the way ze spoke truth so effortlessly about the inherent connections between oppression, the need for theory to include the lived experiences of directly affected people, and about radicalizing our understanding of gender.

My partner, when we got together, brought his own copy of Stone Butch Blues to the relationship. When ze and Minnie (who is a badass in her own right) moved back upstate, I got updates on hir through my Syracuse, NY friends. As a writer, I am so grateful for the literary work Leslie has done, for the words ze leaves that are part of our collective queer and trans history. As an activist, I will strive to live into the values Leslie lived by, to fight for the rights of all, to be a true comrade to other communities, to forge new futures and connections. My heart goes out to Minnie and their chosen family. I hope Minnie knows and Leslie knew that hir legacy will live on in the hearts and minds and actions of the many who were inspired by hir. As ze once said, “Join us in the front ranks. We are marching toward liberation.”


Sinclair Sexsmith

For me, Leslie’s book Stone Butch Blues invented butch identity. If I had the word before the book, it was only as a slur, only as something nobody should want to be. If I had the word before Jess’s story and her tortured restraint of passionate love, it was only used to describe ugly women, unattractive and unwanted. It wasn’t until I read Stone Butch Blues that I realized it described me.

I could feel the power that came from being butch, the paradox of growing up a girl and then becoming the suited partner of a beautiful woman, the torture of being such a social outcast, and the deep craving hunger for being accepted.

I’m not sure I wanted it to, but I knew that it did. That book made me feel exposed, like someone had found me out. Vulnerable, like someone could come along and pluck my heart from my unguarded chest to do with as they pleased. But also, strangely, it made me feel powerful. I could feel the power that came from being butch, the paradox of growing up a girl and then becoming the suited partner of a beautiful woman, the torture of being such a social outcast, and the deep craving hunger for being accepted.

I have heard so many butches cite this book as their coming out root, as finally recognizing who they are by reading Jess’s story (Leslie’s story), and so many femmes cite this book as finally feeling like they could be queer and crave a masculine partner, or that it’s the “heartbreaking holy grail of butch perspective.” They have told me they see themselves in Theresa’s butch devotion. For so many of us, Feinberg’s book made our secret budding desires make sense.

Read more of Sinclair’s thoughts on Leslie Feinberg at Sugarbutch.net. 


Marni

Like a lot of people I’ve spoken to about the book over the years, Stone Butch Blues really did change my life when I read it. It’s not an exaggeration. It was around the time I started university, I was maybe 18 or 20, a baby butch, finding my feet in a new city and discovering my radical pinko commie leftist feminist politics for the first time. I had never read a book before that so profoundly resonated with me, never felt anything like what I felt reading Leslie’s story.

Before I read that book I thought I’d maybe known, but I just didn’t know. I didn’t know at all.

There were times when it felt like my heart was going to burst right out of my chest. “YES, THAT,” I’d think, heart pounding, practically unable to believe what I was reading. I would be sitting on the bus and start looking around me, suddenly feeling exposed, like everyone else could see inside my soul. Stone Butch Blues made me feel seen for the first time; it brought my own experiences with gender into focus for me and gave me a sense of belonging. And even more than that, it opened my eyes to the brutal struggles that our community faced in the generations before me, that some of us still face now. It filled me with rage and righteous anger and bewilderment and sadness. Before I read that book I thought I’d maybe known, but I just didn’t know. I didn’t know at all.

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21 Comments

  1. May I ask of all of you who knew her, what do you think she would advise to cis lesbians about how to think about translesbians who wish to be a friend to a cis lesbian? And I ask with respect .

    • I’m confused about why anyone would need advice about that. Can the cis lesbians not simply just be the trans lesbians friends?

      • Of course they could be friends….. but the question was ….what would Leslie have advised was how to view such requests to be friends from a translesbian.
        Leslie’s feelings about people who identify as translesbians.
        Did she believe that only someone who is truly transfemale would ever identify as translesbian? Identify as a female if they did not know that they were indeed female…..regardless of their body.

        • I’m kind of confused by your posts, Cymbie, in that I don’t know what you are asking exactly. If you’re asking if Feinberg would have privileged one kind of trans lesbian over another, definitely not. I don’t claim to have known Feinberg well, but I know hir work and it was clear ze believed that gender doesn’t have to fit in a box, that gender identity can be fluid, that the choice to identify with label(s) or not is individual, and that no gender identity should be privileged over another gender identity. That’s what was especially radical about hir work, especially in the time ze was publishing hir work on gender.

          • Hi, KaeLyn, I guess what I am asking is this: If I told Leslie, that I am a female….even though I have a male body ( which is the truth), would she have understood that only a real female would have ever identified as a female…..that is, no male would ever identify as a female….as some lesbians believe…to trick them into sex…really???…. Guess what, we ARE female sexually….not f….ing male…..and we want the same love that you want….why can’t the cis lesbians trust that they know a female by how our heart speaks to them

          • Cymbie this seems only tangentially related to the article and best suited for some other thread. I’m sure everyone here agrees with you, of course trans women are female.

  2. I’ve been reading a lot of articles about what a great book Stone Butch Blues is, and I confess I’ve never read it. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print and used copies are very expensive. Does anyone know if the publisher that owns the rights is planning on releasing a new edition? I can’t be the only one who really wants to buy this book after reading articles like this one.

      • Thanks, I’ll give it a shot. Though at this point, if I found one, I’d be tempted to tell the store to list the book online and make bank. I do still hope someone releases a new edition.

    • I’m from Argentina and yes, in paperback, this book is impossible to find in my country.

      But I’ve found an ebook version on Open Library a long time ago and still it’s available. At this moment the ebook is checked out, but you can join the waiting list.

  3. Leslie Feinberg was the first person to show me that there was more to gender than cis and binary trans. It’s taken me an additional 14 years to figure out what that means for me – and who knows, maybe the rest of my life too.

    Rest in power, Leslie.

    • So….non binary trans…..that implies ….no discrete gender at all….infinite spectrum…..of genders

      or

      a reluctance to accept the transmale gender identity…..for social or political reasons

      Understandable, but logically evasive of current accepted gender nomenclature

      But, hey!, we all have our emotional biases, right? Me too!

      • Binary trans as in identifying as male or female despite being assigned the other gender at birth. Non-binary trans, to me, means not identifying as either (or identifying as both).

        • As I stated….no discrete gender….why are you and the other members so defensive and fearful of gender identity? I am so totally honest because male or female is not inherently bad or good! It is about the person and emotions that you are…and how you feel and act and connect with another human…..female or male.

          • Never said there was anything wrong with it! If someone is male or female, that’s great. But it doesn’t speak to my truth so much, and I’m glad there are people out there being visibly genderqueer and amazing.

  4. Leslie’s passing woke me up to zir work. I’m now midway through Stone Blue Blues and it’s hitting me like a ton of bricks.
    Some parts resonate with my experiences, but I also realize how little I actually know of our history. I know very few queer folks over 40 and while I have heard the stories, zir writing communicates the bravery and passion of our elders, in spite of their fear and the ever present violence.
    That bravery continues in the present, and I realize my privileges that I have never experienced that type of violence from the state.
    Rest in Power.

  5. Hello my people, I just wanted to share with you all this incredibly sweet and sensitive thing my mother just sent me in a personal message. I don’t think she would mind me sharing it with the world because it is just the most heartfelt thing and I am so lucky to have this incredible woman as the person who raised me:

    I was totally blown away by your tribute. It brought tears to my eyes. It really clarified your feelings to me and put me in touch with my own as well. I love you so much my beautiful child of two spirits.

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