Feinberg in 1997, in a photograph by Ulrike Anhamm
|Born||September 1, 1949|
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||November 15, 2014 (aged 65)|
Syracuse, New York, U.S.
Leslie Feinberg (September 1, 1949 - November 15, 2014) was an American butch lesbian, transgender activist, communist, and author. Feinberg authored Stone Butch Blues in 1993. Her writing, notably Stone Butch Blues and her pioneering non-fiction book 1996's Transgender Warriors, laid the groundwork for much of the terminology and awareness around gender studies and was instrumental in bringing these issues to a more mainstream audience.
Feinberg was born in Kansas City, Missouri and raised in Buffalo, New York in a working-class, Jewish family. At fourteen years old, she began work at a display sign shop at a local department store. Feinberg eventually dropped out of Bennett High School, though she officially received a diploma. Feinberg began frequenting gay bars in Buffalo and primarily worked in low-wage and temporary jobs, including washing dishes, cleaning cargo ships, working as an ASL interpreter, inputting medical data, and working at a PVC pipe factory and a book bindery.
When Feinberg was in her twenties, she met members of the Workers World Party at a demonstration for the land rights and self-determination of Palestinians and joined the Buffalo branch of the party. After moving to New York City, Feinberg took part in anti-war, anti-racist, and pro-labor demonstrations on behalf of the party for many years, including the March Against Racism (Boston, 1974), a national tour about HIV/AIDS (1983-84), and a mobilization against KKK members (Atlanta, 1988).
Feinberg began writing in the 1970s. As a member of the Workers World Party, she was the editor of the political prisoners page of the Workers World newspaper for fifteen years, and by 1995, she had become the managing editor.
Feinberg's first novel, the 1993 Stone Butch Blues, won the Lambda Literary Award and the 1994 American Library Association Gay & Lesbian Book Award. While there are parallels to Feinberg's experiences as a working-class dyke, the work is not an autobiography. Her second novel, Drag King Dreams, was released in 2006.
Her nonfiction work included the books Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue in 1992 and Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman in 1996. In 2009, she released Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba--a compilation of 25 journalistic articles.
In Transgender Warriors, Feinberg defines "transgender" as a very broad umbrella, including all "people who cross the cultural boundaries of gender"--including butch dykes, passing women (those who passed as men only in order to find work or survive during war), and drag queens.
Feinberg's writings on LGBT history, "Lavender & Red", frequently appeared in the Workers World newspaper. Feinberg was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry for transgender and social justice work.
In June 2019 Feinberg was one of the inaugural fifty American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn. The SNM is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history, and the wall's unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
In 2008, Feinberg was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a Tick-borne disease (multiple tick-borne infections). Feinberg has written that the infections first came about in the 1970s, when there was limited knowledge related to such diseases and that she felt hesitant to deal with medical professionals for many years due to her transgender identity. For these reasons, she only received treatment later in life. In the 2000s, Feinberg created art and blogged about her illnesses with a focus on disability art and class consciousness.
Feinberg stated in a 2006 interview that her preferred pronouns varied depending on context:
For me, pronouns are always placed within context. I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian--referring to me as "she/her" is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as "he" would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible. I like the gender neutral pronoun "ze/hir" because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you're about to meet or you've just met. And in an all trans setting, referring to me as "he/him" honors my gender expression in the same way that referring to my sister drag queens as "she/her" does.
Feinberg's widow wrote in her statement regarding Feinberg's death that Feinberg did not really care which pronouns a person used to address her: "She preferred to use the pronouns she/zie and her/hir for herself, but also said: 'I care which pronoun is used, but people have been respectful to me with the wrong pronoun and disrespectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.'"
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According to Julie Enszner, a friend of Feinberg's, Feinberg sometimes "passed" as a man for safety reasons.
Feinberg's spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt, is a professor at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. Feinberg and Pratt married in New York and Massachusetts in 2011. In the mid and late 1990s they attended Camp Trans together.
Feinberg died on November 15, 2014 of complications due to tick-borne infections, including chronic Lyme disease, which she suffered from since the 1970s. Feinberg's last words were reported to be, "Hasten the revolution! Remember me as a revolutionary communist."