How Leslie Feinberg Changed Our Lives: The Autostraddle Roundtable

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!

Alley Hector

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.

Heather Hogan

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.


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 


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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  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


      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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