Author and transgender activist Leslie Feinberg is dead at 65
Leslie Feinberg, the author best known for the 1993 novel “Stone Butch Blues,” died Saturday at home in Syracuse, N.Y., of “complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections,” as reported in The Advocate and confirmed by Feinberg’s partner and spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt, a poet and professor at Syracuse University. Feinberg was 65.
An obituary written by Pratt describes Feinberg as “an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist” who “was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of ‘transgender liberation.’”
Feinberg’s debut novel, “Stone Butch Blues,” won the 1994 Stonewall Book Award for Literature from the American Library Assn., as well as the 1994 Lambda Literary Award for small press literature.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times that year, Robert Dawidoff noted: “This extraordinary story of Jess, a he-she growing up in a blue collar city in the 1950s, coming out into factories and gay bars in the early ‘60s and deciding to pass as a man in order to survive, recaptures the essential experience of the lesbian (or gay man) whose nature is perceived by society as somehow unnatural.”
The novel is now out of print, but Pratt’s obituary notes that before her death, Feinberg was “preparing a 20th anniversary edition of ‘Stone Butch Blues.’ She worked up to within a few days of her death to prepare the edition for free access, reading, and download from on-line.”
A native of Kansas City, Mo., Feinberg was also known as a political activist who served as managing editor of Workers World, a communist newspaper. She was also author of the books “Transgender Warriors: Making History From Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman” (1997), “Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue” (1999) and “Drag King Dreams” (2006).
Feinberg was estranged from her biological family. In a 2011 essay for the website Lambda Literary, she accused her sibling Catherine Ryan Hyde of “developing an embryonic biography of my life — fictionalized and unauthorized — to which I give no consent.” Ryan Hyde, best known for her novel “Pay It Forward,” had written a young adult novel called “Jumpstart the World,” which featured a transgender character.
“Catherine Ryan Hyde appropriates the description of my life in order to contradict my identity,” Feinberg wrote. “In her commentary, she co-opts my life’s journey, changes my sex, denies my pronoun(s) of choice, mis-describes my gender expression, and closets my declared sexuality.”
In a 2013 interview with the website the TransAdvocate, Feinberg discussed the language she used to describe her gender: “I have been referred to in my life as a butch, as a he-she, as a passing woman, as a drag king. None of those words were words that I chose. ... So I don’t feel that there is language that really adequately describes my experience in society or how I honor myself, but I’ll accept the language that best conveys to a large group of people who I am and what I’m arguing for.”
Pratt writes in the Advocate that Feinberg “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 disrespectful to me with the right pronoun and respectful with the wrong one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.’”
Feinberg’s last words, her partner Pratt writes, were “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”
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