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Transgender pioneer Leslie Feinberg remembered

Author of Stone Butch Blues dies at 65

Leslie Feinberg, author of Stone Butch Blues, has died at age 65. Credit: ULRIKE ANHAMM/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

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.”

― Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

Transgender pioneer and author Leslie Feinberg has died after a difficult and lengthy battle with tick-borne infections.

Feinberg, who identified as female, used the gender-neutral pronouns “ze” and “hir.” Feinberg is survived by hir spouse, activist and poet Minnie Bruce Pratt.

Perhaps best known for hir groundbreaking novel Stone Butch Blues, Feinberg was an intersectional activist and champion for a great number of causes, including workers’ rights, racial equality, transgender rights, lesbian rights and women’s rights.

Born into a dysfunctional working-class Jewish family in Kansas City, Missouri, Feinberg’s early life was coloured by much discrimination. Leaving home at 14, ze worked a series of low-wage contract jobs in Buffalo before becoming affiliated with the Workers World Party, a US-based Marxist-Leninist group that would stoke the flames of Feinberg’s activism.

Moving to New York City not long after that, ze had a hand in organizing massive pro-labour, anti-war and pro-choice protests, and famously took on the Ku Klux Klan during a Martin Luther King Day demonstration held in Atlanta in the late 1980s. 

Feinberg published six books over the course of hir lifetime, including Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come, Transgender Warriors: Making HistoryTrans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue and a second novel, Drag King Dreams.

Feinberg spoke to Xtra back in 2006 during the promotion of Drag King Dreams, noting ze still faced considerable discrimination because of hir gender identity: “People call me ‘sir’ and they call me ‘ma’am,’ but I’m never passing.”

“What people see when they see me is always gender queerness. When people are yelling, ‘Go get him,’ they’re assigning the ‘he’ to me, but it’s not because I’m passing, it’s because I’m being pursued.”

Feinberg was infected with Lyme disease in the 1970s but was properly diagnosed and treated only in 2008 — an error ze attributed to prejudice within the healthcare system toward transgender people. 

Hir obituary in The Advocate, written by Pratt, mentions that at the time of hir death Feinberg was preparing a 20th-anniversary edition of Stone Butch Blues that would be available online and that ze remained invested in intersectional politics. 

“[I have] never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities,” ze reportedly said.

Feinberg’s final words reportedly were, “Remember me as a revolutionary Communist.”