Leslie Feinberg was a gentle-butch. Ze was, to me, an icon and hero. The world is an infinitely better place for having had Les in it. I miss Les and know there is nobody that can replace Les. Ze was one of a kind.
When I was first peeking my head out of the closet door, I remember that an acquaintance of mine told me that they were going to Provincetown for the weekend. I desperately wanted information about transgender issues. This was before the onset of the internet, back in 1993 or so. So I gave her all the pocket change I had and asked her to bring me back trans books from Provincetown. If anywhere would have them or they would be there, along with the Castro in San Francisco it would be in the legendary P-Town. When she came back she brought me three books: a book about transition and becoming a woman, a book that was a biography by Lou Sullivan called From Female To Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland. The third book was a novel by one Leslie Feinberg entitled Stone Butch Blues. I read the advice book first because I was very early in my transition and wanted to learn more about what it meant to be a transgender woman. I put the others in my pile of books as I was deeply immersed in school and trying to keep up with my course readings.
One rainy weekend I grew tired of studying and there was no desire to go out due to the weather. And so I went through my pile and picked up Stone Butch Blues. I had no idea what to expect. I read it in one sitting. It is a book that changed my life like no other. It was like holding a mirror up to myself and seeing myself reflected through the words of the novel.
I wrote Leslie a [snail mail letter] and boy do I wish I still had that letter. I told Leslie how much I admired hir writing and how much I would like hir to come to to my campus at UNH to speak. The first time ze called and said, “hi, this is Leslie Feinberg” I almost dropped the phone because I felt like I was talking to royalty. This is totally against Leslie’s frame of reference as a revolutionary communist, but indulge me for a minute.
We were able to have the talk and we filled the house. There were around 200 people in the student center and many of them were young queers like myself who were desperate for the message that Leslie had to impart upon us. Leslie won a standing ovation and many people lined up to buy hir novel and a now-classic pamphlet called “Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come.” The event was a success and it was great to talk to Leslie in person. Ze was just as friendly and open-hearted as I expected hir to be.
Over the years, I saw Les at various conferences. I saw the video of hir life entitled Outlaw. I saw hir appear on the daytime television talk show The Joan Rivers Show. And most of all I saw hir engage in various forms of activism: around HIV/AIDS, economic justice, socialism, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, anti-incarceration and the CeCe McDonald case. I saw Leslie write about these issues in socialist newspapers.
Once when I saw Leslie doing a reading from hir important book Transgender Warriors, I heard hir talk about being sick. At the time the root cause of the illness was a mystery. Only much later would it emerge that Les was suffering from Lyme disease and co-infections. I was heart-broken to see Leslie’s health deteriorate and how it made it impossible for hir to travel and to engage in writing books. Leslie passed away on November 15, 2014 at aged 65 in Syracuse, New York alongside hir long-term wife/partner Minnie Bruce Pratt.
The legacy of Leslie Feinberg for me is gargantuan. The reason is that Leslie Feinberg taught me to fight back. Ze taught me to revel in my difference as a non-binary gender nonconforming person. Ze taught me to stand up for what I believed in and taught me that no matter how much we had right on our side, the battle was not going to be easy. If I had to name five activist-writers who have made a difference in my life, Leslie would be in the top five. Thanks for all the sacrifices you made for us all Leslie. We will fight to preserve your name and your legacy.